SM Entertainment sees a future in its own universe
Once the biggest entertainment company in Korea, SM Entertainment intends to take the lead again with a K-pop audition program set in Hollywood, new content dubbed the SM Culture Universe (SMCU) and a possible Hollywood movie.
SM Entertainment uploaded a video entitled “SM Congress 2021” on its YouTube channel Tuesday morning with its vision spelled out by executives and artists. The video featured the company’s masterminds: chief producer and head Lee Soo-man, SM Studios’ CEO Kim Young-min, and SM’s co-CEOs Lee Sung-su and Tak Young-jun.
For star wattage, it included boy band NCT, girl group aespa and singer Max Changmin of TVXQ.
A keyword in the blueprint was “prosumers,” or consumers that aren't passive — they take content and make it their own. SM Entertainment referred to videos on TikTok in which people took popular K-pop songs and did something new with them. K-pop prosumers are taking content consumption a step further, it said.
New content will be based on the SMCU — the kind of universe so successfully cobbled together by Marvel Comics — which begins with the back story of SM's latest girl group aespa. It will expand into a K-pop "metaverse" the company plans to build using the digital platforms it owns such as fan community app Bubble.
“People who loved SM and its artists have been calling themselves ‘Pink Blood,’ taking the company’s official color pink and saying that pink blood runs in their veins,” said Lee Soo-man. “With a new genre that we have dubbed the Cawman — which includes cartoons, animations, webtoons, motion graphics, avatars and novels — we plan to expand our culture universe and provide a new form of content for everyone to enjoy.”
An introduction to the SMCU was uploaded in a cinematic video entitled “Black Mamba” on May 15, where the story of aespa and its four matching avatar members was unraveled. The four members of aespa and their avatars, called ae, will venture into the Kwangya and stand against Black Mamba, which keeps humans and their ae friends from connecting with each other. The story began with aespa but will be joined with back stories of other SM groups in the future, to form a large-scale universe.
“I once mentioned that K-pop is like bibimbap,” Lee said, saying that the essence of K-pop comes from a mixture of various types of music and features of culture. “K-pop is a mix of everything. If you try bibimbap, then you will understand the taste of K-pop and the SM Universe."
Lee mentioned that a Hollywood movie based on the SMCU is being discussed. But before that, the company plans to debut a boy band named NCT Hollywood — a subunit of SM’s NCT franchise, which includes boy bands NCT 127, NCT Dream and WayV.
SM Entertainment will co-produce a TV talent program called “K-pop goes Hollywood” with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios to choose 21 contestants who will join the NCT family and debut as a K-pop boy band in Hollywood. Another NCT subunit named NCT U will also launch this year.
Other projects include the SM Remastering Project, through which the company will remaster and remake over 300 music videos it created in the past, as well as SM Classics, an orchestra music company that will remake SM’s popular songs.
A private academy named SM Institute will be started with Jongro Academy, one of Korea’s biggest hagwon (cram school) franchises, and modeling agency ESteem to educate young students who aspire to become a part of the K-pop industry.
SM Entertainment was founded in 1995 by Lee Soo-man and led the K-pop industry for more than two decades with top-tier K-pop acts such as BoA, boy bands TVXQ, Super Junior, SHINee, Exo and girl groups Girls’ Generation, f(x) and Red Velvet. Its fast-growing rival HYBE took its crown in the last couple of years with the success of BTS.
But SM Entertainment has kept up its innovations. The superpower-concept back story of Exo, the first-ever paid online concert dubbed the “Beyond LIVE” series that ran last year due to Covid-19 and a girl group featuring avatar members are just some of the company’s new ideas.
It launched its fan community service Lysn in 2018, a year earlier than HYBE’s Weverse, and its subsidiary Dear U developed a service named Bubble in February last year through which fans can receive personal messages from celebrities for a monthly fee. SM Entertainment and JYP Entertainment have been collaborating since last year and founded the Beyond LIVE Corporation, a new company to expand and manage the "Beyond LIVE" online concert series. JYP’s artists also joined Lysn, and their fans can connect with them through Bubble.
SM Entertainment laid out plans for a metaverse platform it plans to build in the future. Metaverse describes a space where avatars will allow users to act out social, economic and cultural actions. SM will use its SMCU content and display it in the metaverse service.
“The history of SM is not a story of the past, but the future,” said Lee Soo-man in the video released Tuesday. “We will keep on challenging ourselves to create an infinite content universe so that each and every one who loves SM’s content and K-pop can become a prosumer who makes their own culture.”
BY YOON SO-YEON [email@example.com]