K-pop stars rise on rigorous training

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K-pop stars rise on rigorous training


K-pop fans wait outside Le Zenith de Paris concert hall for the start of the “SM Town Live World Tour” concert on Saturday afternoon in Paris. [YONHAP]

PARIS - The successful debut of five K-pop bands at a concert in Paris over the weekend was fueled by a unique and rigorous system of artist training developed by mega-management agencies such as SM Entertainment, the Korean agency that organized the concert, according to the agency and other sources.

The concert, “SM Town Live World Tour,” drew thousands of fans and featured five bands represented by the agency - TVXQ, Girls’ Generation, Super Junior, SHINee and f(x). It was held at Le Zenith de Paris concert hall on Friday and Saturday.

An article in the French daily newspaper Le Monde on Friday said that Korean pop culture is spreading in Europe even without the help of advertising thanks to video sharing services such as YouTube and social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter.

The article focused on describing the system developed by Korean entertainment agencies to nurture new singers and said it was also a major factor in the bands’ popularity. The system has artists learning singing, dancing and even foreign languages over a period of several years.

The training system originated with SM Entertainment and Lee Soo-man, its founder and chairman. Lee is the person who came up with the idea of molding singers into well-designed products.


Lee Soo-man, chairman of SM Entertainment, talks about the steps he is taking to bring K-pop to Europe in a meeting with 70 European composers and producers in Paris on Saturday. [YONHAP]

He explained the system at a conference on Saturday with more than 70 composers and producers at a Paris hotel.

“The methods that we use when selecting and nurturing aspiring singers into real gems are part of CT,” he said, referring to “culture technology,” a term he coined. “CT includes not only the broad system itself but also the techniques we use to make music, choreography, music videos, live performances and even the stars’ makeup.”

Lee said the system started with the boy band H.O.T. in the mid 1990s. Lee picked out five talented young men and gave them intensive training over a two-year period. The five-member group soon became popular in Korea and then in China and Southeast Asia and is remembered as one of Korea’s first boy bands. H.O.T. disbanded in the early 2000s.

Lee’s next project heated up Japan. The pop star Boa made her debut after a training regime that was more intensive than that for H.O.T. Under Lee’s training regime, Boa learned a variety of foreign languages before making her successful debut in Japan in 2005. Boa attracted the interest of the Japanese public even before the TV drama “Winter Sonata” starring Bae Yong-joon helped launch the Korean Wave in that country in 2002.

In an interview with the Joongang Ilbo directly after Boa’s debut in Japan in 2005, Lee said he always focuses on three things when selecting and nurturing new singers - the ability to sing, play or compose good music, the ability to dance and the ability to learn foreign languages.

Good looks are almost certainly another factor.

“K-pop seems to attract Europeans because of the singers’ and bands’ music and their ability to dance, which may even be stronger than the music, as well as their excellent physical appearance,” Kim Young-min, SM Entertainment’s CEO, said in an interview in Paris on Thursday.

Lee’s latest products are the five groups that performed in the “SM Town Live World Tour” concert in the French capital last weekend.

Lee is also making an effort to improve the quality of the music to attract a global audience by employing European songwriters.

He said at the conference on Saturday that he is increasing cooperation with composers and other artists in other countries to produce Korean Wave products and that development would occur in three stages.

“The first stage is the export of Hallyu [Korean Wave] products made in Korea,” he said. “This is being followed by collaboration with foreign entertainment companies to increase our presence in foreign markets. The third stage is to set up joint ventures with foreign companies and pass Korean CT to the locals so that a localized Hallyu can eventually be made.”

Also participating in the conference was American record producer Teddy Riley, who has worked with Michael Jackson and other top artists. He described K-pop as more than music, but a movement in which people can participate.

Kim, the SM Entertainment CEO, spoke about the reason why Paris was chosen as the venue for their first concert in Europe.

“The European center for pop music is regarded as Germany, he said. “but after reconsidering France’s cultural significance, we decided Paris would be where we held our first concert in Europe.”

Responding to questions about whether the K-pop concert would become an annual event, Kim expressed some doubt.

“But if this concert goes well, we hope to add European countries to our list of countries for a world tour, perhaps every other year.”

By Lee Ka-young, Chung Kang-hyun [symoon@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

이수만 “한국 가요로 세계 대장정 … 14년 전 꿈 이뤘다”

월드컵 경기장 같은 … 파리의 K-POP 공연장 열기

“14년 전 저는 꿈이 있었습니다. 제가 프로듀싱한 음악·아티스트와 함께 세계로 나아가는 꿈이었습니다. 2000년 HOT의 베이징 공연을 시작으로 바로 어제(10일) 프랑스 파리 공연도 전회 매진되는 성공을 거뒀습니다. 아시아의 조그만 나라 한국에서, SM엔터테인먼트에서 시작된 대중가요의 붐이 어떻게 ‘한류’라는 고유명사를 획득할 정도의 발전을 가져왔을까요.”

11일 파리의 한 호텔. 이수만(59) SM엔터테인먼트(SM) 회장의 ‘자기고백’에 장내가 숙연해졌다. 이날 열린 콘퍼런스에서 이 회장은 1997년 SM을 설립한 이후부터 그간 걸어온 길, 그리고 한류 성공의 과정 등을 공개했다, 70여 명의 유럽 작곡가와 프로듀서 등이 기립 박수를 보냈다.

이 회장은 한류의 성공을 ‘문화기술(Culture Technology·CT)’ 이론으로 설명했다. 미국에서 컴퓨터엔지니어링을 전공했던 그는 “14년 전 우리 문화 콘텐트를 갖고 아시아로 나가기 시작할 때 IT(정보기술)와 구별하기 위해 CT란 용어에 주목했다”며 “IT가 지배하던 90년대 이후엔 CT 시대가 올 것이라 생각했다”고 말했다. 그는 “CT는 IT보다 더 정교하고 복잡한 기술로 IT 기술은 3개월 정도면 습득할 수 있지만 CT는 배우기가 쉽잖다”며 “연습생을 뽑아 수년을 훈련시켜 ‘보석’으로 만드는 과정이 CT며 음악·댄스·뮤직비디오·메이크업 등의 노하우가 여기에 포함된다”고 설명했다.

이 회장은 ‘한류 3단계’ 발전론도 제시했다. ▶1단계=음반 등 한류상품을 직접 만들어 수출 ▶2단계=현지 회사 또는 연예인과의 합작으로 시장을 확대 ▶3단계=현지 회사와 합작회사를 만들어 현지인에게 CT를 전수하는 단계다. HOT가 중국 시장에서 인기를 끌던 때가 1단계 한류고, 2006년 강타가 대만 F4의 바네스와 결성한 ‘KANGTA & VANNESS’가 2단계 한류에 해당한다. 3단계는 2010년부터 SM이 준비하는 현지화 사업이다.

이 회장은 “CT의 3단계는 현지화에서 얻어지는 부가가치를 함께 나누는 것이며 이것이 한류의 궁극적 목표”라고 말했다. 이어 “중국에서의 3단계 한류를 준비 중이며 중국에서만 활동하는 슈퍼주니어 M을 만들고 여성 아이돌 그룹 에프엑스에 중국인 멤버를 영입한 것도 이 과정”이라고 밝혔다.

그는 “이제 ‘made in(원산지)’이 아닌 ‘made by(제조자)’가 중요하다”고 강조했다. “3차 한류의 스타가 중국인 아티스트나 중국 회사가 될 수도 있지만 그 스타가 바로 SM의 CT로 만들어질 것”이라고 자신했다.

이날 콘퍼런스엔 마이클 잭슨의 프로듀서 출신으로 ‘뉴 잭 스윙’을 창시한 ‘세계 3대 프로듀서’ 테디 라일리와 유럽의 대표적 음반 발매자인 윌리 모리슨도 참석했다. 라일리는 K팝에 대해 “단순한 음악장르가 아닌 일종의 현상이자 ‘무브먼트’다”고 말했다. 모리슨은 “10일 공연을 보며 과거 영국 비틀스에 열광하던 팬들이 생각났다”고 평가했다.

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