Korean entertainment, in so many respects, follow the trajectory of Hollywood. Before Hollywood became a free for all mud wrestling arena, it was dominated by a handful of studios that "created" celebrities in an attempt to build a fantastic world of glamour and elegance. We now call it "old hollywood".
South Korean entertainment is still in its infancy and it is what Hollywood was when it was born. It will be interesting to see how it will develop. One thing is for sure though, regardless of the Kpop's future, it wouldn't be possible if it isn't for these 10 events.
#3 BoA Signs with Avex
BoA was already enjoying a good amount of success at thirteen years of age – with her debut album ID; Peace B entering the Top 10 of the South Korean charts and selling 156,000 units, but it wasn’t until her record label SM Entertainment made arrangements to get her signed with Japanese label Avex Trax in order to launch her music career in Japan.
Some may balk at the idea of putting her moderately successful Korean career in order to focus in Japan, especially since she started out singing at the Avex-owned club Velfarre and only reaching the top 20s of the Oricon chart, but BoA kept slugging it out and even taking Japanese lessons on the side, which led to her second Japanese studio album, Valenti. The album was a massive success, selling over 1.2 million units and catapulting her to the top of the charts.
Impact on Kpop
- Before Rain claimed to be Korea's Asia Representative and way before DBSK became a legitimate superstar in Japan, BoA was the queen and, in so many ways, still is. She was the first one that poked a hole in that might wall that shuts Koreans from Japan. She may have not paved the way but she certainly cut down all those trees to create a trail for other artists.
- She paid the dues for many Koreans. She was the guinea pig and her success taught Avex, SM and other Korean talent agencies on how to approach the Japanese market. One of those learning is Japan's preference for "cute performers" over overly sexual ones.
- Her success in Japan not only opened the doors to other Korean artists in terms of getting past the Japanese listeners’ territorial nature, but it also showed artists that there are other paths to success: instead of trying to make it big in the already saturated South Korean market, they can choose to start in Japan first where they occupy a different niche, and then leverage that success to make it big back in their home country. One of the more recent examples of this approach is Younha.
#2 Seo Taiji and Boys Debuted
If you ask many of the current biggest names about their influences, chances are you’ll get a wide variety of names thrown about. But most of them will list one group as an early influence: Seo Taiji and the Boys. Seo Taiji & the Boys (consisting of Seo Taiji, Lee Juno, and Yang Hyun Suk) debuted in the early 1990s, bringing with them a style that fused American pop music with Korean lyrics. The group achieved massive success and prompted many copycat acts.
Impact on Kpop
It is SEO Taiji'sstyle and formula that was copied by many record labels, due to the potential for profit and repeatable formula for success. The formula is still used to this day, which means that Seo Taiji and the Boys the whole K-Pop industry – from the entertainment companies to the talent that they manage - owes a large part of its existence to Seo Taiji & The Boys.
The formula is as follows:
- songs that are simple enough for the crowd to sing to
- catchy lyrics
- dance steps that anyone can dance to
- flashy and risky outfits
- good looks and varied personalities of the members
To date, every idol group uses that formula.
A more direct impact of SEO Taiji & the Boys on Kpop is the fact that they became inspirations and idols for many kids during their time, and many of those fans eventually became Kpop idols themselves upon growing up.
#1 Lee Soo Man Studiesin the US
During the early 70s, a singer going by the name of Lee Soo Man debuted in South Korea and enjoyed a moderate amount of success via the songs Happiness and One Piece of a Dream. He also worked as a TV host, and eventually formed the Heavy Metal band Lee Soo Man and 365 days in the 80s. At the time, the government was heavily censoring the media. There was no room for Heavy Metal, at least not without watering down the concept and turning it into a mediocre shadow of what it was in the West.
Disgusted at the lack of opportunity to innovate, Lee Soo Man decided to go back to his original dream: to be a top engineer. So he moved to California and attended the California State University, Northridge, where he pursued his Master’s degree on the field of robotics. In most stories, that would have been the end of that. But in Lee Soo Man’s case, the music industry is what’s really in his heart.
At the time, pop in the US was booming. The names Michael Jackson, Madonna, Cindy Lauper and everyone else around them were contributing to the US pop industry. He knew he can bring that home. When he witnessed the mainstream revolution going on at the U.S. during the 80s, he felt that he finally found the formula for commercial success without compromising his vision out of fear of censorship.
After earning his master’s degree, Lee Soo Man went back to Korea and continued his entertainment career as a singer, a TV host, a Radio DJ, and even a restaurateur. When he saved enough money for a starting capital (reportedly around 200,000,000 won), he founded SM Entertainment and the rest, as they say, is history.
Impact on Kpop
SM Entertainment, as one of the three biggest companies in South Korea's entertainment industry, is responsible for the discovery, training, and marketing of various artists that have come to represent the Kpop industry . These include BoA, DBSK, Super Junior, Girls Generation, and other modern pioneers of the genre.
More importantly, SM is the first entertainment company that introduced the process used by all other talent agencies in Korea in discovering and launching artists. The process of training, developing their personalities, covering their expenses to ensure that they live and breath their job and surrounding them with a team to attend to their every needs are all thanks to the vision of Lee Soo Man.
Many may hate the man but the truth is that, all other talent and management agencies nowadays were formed as a reaction to SM.
His vision didn't just involve creating his company but shaping the whole entertainment industry of Korea. He created a world filled with glamorous celebrities living glittering lifestyles. He armed them with images that twinkle and music that people can relate to and aspire for. This vision dictated how the media treat these celebrities. The media watch them like a perpetually thirsty voyeur. This vision also dictated how the market reacts to the "products" he launches.
This world of glamour for the whole Korean entertainment in general. His efforts to shape his talents to become "perfect" and "fantastic" affected the way the market consume their products. He affected how the fans show their support.
The expectations from these celebrities, the work ethic, the behavior and everything else in between was all because of his vision.
Kpop wouldn't be Kpop had Lee Soo Man didn't leave to study in the US.