Promoter of Korean wave wants part in Chinese Hollywood
It has cultivated icons such as BoA, TVXQ and Kang Ta to stardom in Asia, and promoted many lesser R&B and hip-hop groups. Tune into any radio station or music video channel and before long you are bound to see somebody who is managed by SM or has at least passed through their doors on their way up.
Last Tuesday, the company celebrated its 10th anniversary. Nothing could have described the mood better than the Korean saying, “Ten years is an epoch.”
In that period, SM has grown from a five-person operation to a major entertainment player with 20 billion won ($21 million) in annual sales.
The JoongAng Ilbo met with Lee Soo-man, the founder and largest shareholder of SM Entertainment (the SM originally stood for Soo-man, but Mr. Lee later changed it to “star museum”).
Q. During the past 10 years, SM Entertainment has become a driving force behind the Korean wave in pop culture.
A. When I founded this company in 1995, my goal was to succeed in Asia. I think I did succeed in setting up an initial pop network in Asia, but this is only the beginning. The public and the media think hanryu (the Korean wave) is only about exporting Korean television dramas and making Korean stars popular abroad. But hanryu should evolve.
We need to establish a company in China with a Chinese CEO who knows a potential Chinese star when he sees one. Korea should then pass on its cultural contents and producing skills.
By the time an Asian version of Hollywood is created in China, at least one-third of it should naturally belong to Korean companies. My goal for the next 10 years is to build the number one entertainment business in China.
What could be a possible setback?
The overall collapse of the music industry. Entertainers should be given credit for their talent, succeed in Korea and then make it abroad. But the reality is different. We are pushing our stars to fight abroad without armor or a loaded gun.
I blame the Korean government for sitting back and watching the music industry collapse. It has simply left illegal downloading to continue. I doubt whether one could even estimate how many downloads there have been. Whether legal or not, we should know what songs were downloaded in order to upgrade the stars and the quality of songs, just like films are appraised for drawing a certain number of viewers.
SM might start a service to download MP3 files for free, however. It will be free for users, but will carry advertisements so the company can profit.
SM Entertainment has started managing comedians and actors also.
By the end of the year, I plan to present a television drama produced by SM Entertainment.
SM had been preparing to become Korea’s leading entertainment business and a content provider. Some people might think that TVXQ suddenly jumped to stardom, but there was six or seven years of hard work cultivating them.
How do you respond to the criticism that SM is producing “artificial” commercial stars that look the same?
There are always different ways to look at things. But a company that does not profit in a capitalist society cannot survive long. People grumble that SM has filled Korean pop charts with dance music. But that eventually led to hanryu, don’t you think? Criticism and opposition is evidence that things are working out well. I wish people would admit that we are just more competitive in this field.
by Lee Kyong-hee