An Idol Army: Thoughts On The Mega Group

Too many!

That’s what a lot of netizens say when offering an opinion on new or returning idol groups with extremely large numbers. They may have a point, but I also think that there is something to be gained from mega Kpop group.

While fans are always noting the sheer number of idol groups that debut, they seem to be especially sensitive to groups with large numbers. Five members may be ideal, but when numbers start to climb beyond that, as it does with groups such as U-Kiss (seven members), T-ara (seven members), Infinite (seven members) , ZE:A (nine members) and After School (nine members), people get antsy.  Given their success, fans seem to have accepted the large numbers in SNSD and Super Junior, but that was not easily achieved. So I wasn’t surprised at the reaction to newer, larger Kpop groups. Something seemed to snap in fans when Golden Goose Entertainment announced plans for a Japanese debut for APeace (formerly Double B/21) back in March. With 21 members in tow (yes, 21!), some viewed APeace as a science experiment gone horribly wrong, one that created a monster with the numbers of Super Junior and SNSD combined. Kpop fans flooded forums with their displeasure at the high number of members. Some wondered how all 21 of them get paid. Others complained about not being able to see them all. And still others lamented having to learn all of their names.

I have to confess, I like APeace. I like their single, Lover Boy. I find it to be a great dance song. But what can prepare you for the music video for Lover Boy? It makes me absolutely giddy, and it has everything to do with the fact that there are eventually 21 of them dancing on the screen at one time!

Maybe I like this video so much because it brings back memories of being in a marching band. I especially like the move at :41, which I’m sure will be come the international sign for “baby girl.” However, beyond my potential fangirl-y reaction to APeace, I do think that they learn from some of the challenges that other mega groups like Super Junior face, and, as a result, could make it work.

Mega groups mean mega profits for agencies, as they can strategically place members in multiple places at once, so it makes sense from their point of view. Clearly, SM Entertainment did not foresee how attached fans would get to the initial membership of a mega group like Super Junior. Now, before we get started, I like Super Junior, so I want all the ELFs to take a deep breath. I am not hating on Super Junior, but there are some things that we all know to be true. For instance, all was well in Super Junior land back in 2007 until SM Entertainment started making noises about adding more members, like Henry, to the already super large Super Junior. This prompted some fans to take action to protect the membership. Asianbite.com featured a story about fan protests over the plan. One fan stated, “We do not want Henry or anyone else to be added in Super Junior. We want Super Junior to be a safe 13-membered group.”  I believe that some of this anxiety came from the fact that fans perceived the membership of Super Junior to be set, and that the addition of Henry was not something they signed up for. As a fan, you would wonder whether or if the additions would stop.  SM Entertainment could just keep adding members, with no end in sight. However, APeace avoids this by hitting you with 21 members up front. 21 is a large number, so if you accept that APeace has 21 members, you are not likely to have anxiety about the possibility for additional members. If they added more members (gasp!), would it really be that big of a deal?

The creation of subgroups by SM Entertainment to capitalize on as many markets as possible contributes to even more anxiety around the mega group. Hey, when you are working with 10 to 13 people, you have options. But sometimes these subgroups cause challenges of their own, especially for new fans. I encountered Super Junior M before I encountered Super Junior, so I didn’t understand the relationship between the subgroups and the main group. I could not understand why I couldn’t find Henry or Zhou Mi in what I have come to call Super Junior Proper.  And don’t get me started on the guest status of Sungmin and Eunhyuk in Super Junior M right now. Are there more subgroups on the horizon? One never knows with SM Entertainment. However, APeace has the foresight to establish their subgroups up front. According to their official website, we can look forward to APeace Lapis, APeace Jade and APeace Onyx, three subgroups with seven members each. This move avoids fan disappointment and confusion.

The number of members and the subgroups are not the only things that causes anxiety in fans in relation to a mega group. One of my issues with Super Junior is the presence of the membership of Super Junior at any given time. When a news story runs that Super Junior will make an appearance, can you really be sure who is going to show up? How often do you see all of them together? Yes, we know that Kangin has a good excuse, as he is doing his military service, but when was the last time you saw Kibum? Is he even still in this group? I miss him.  This inability to predict which members of the group participate in group activities is in part linked to the busy schedules of individual members, and this is a problem for me. I was introduced to Super Junior as a group. I kinda expect them to act like the other groups I like.  You know, to be together, to show up, together. Sometimes, it just seems that they are individual artists who get together once in a while and make music. However, I don’t even expect APeace to function as a group in that way because they are rolling 21 deep. I’m not looking for them to have a deep bond with each other. I don’t know APeace, but I don’t feel that I’m expected to know them individually in this 21-member unit. Yes, I vaguely remember them introducing themselves, but who remembers that? I remember them being introduced as a 21-member group, so I don’t invest in their group dynamic, as I did with SS501 or SHINee. APeace, with its large numbers, lowers your expectations about the interaction among the members. I see them more as individual artists who come together to form the mini-nation that is APeace every once and a while. So if fans rarely expect to see them all together, then they are less likely to be disappointed.

I guess this is why I’m not up in arms about APeace. I know I won’t convince a lot of you that bigger is better, but that’s not my goal. What I am saying is that creating a viable model for a large Kpop group is worth exploring. Whatever you think of APeace or any other mega group coming down the turnpike, it takes a certain amount of expertise to promote a mega group. Somebody had to arrange 21 voices on a track. Somebody had to choreograph a dance for 21 people, and I think APeace pulls it off. They are so in sync, a friend of mine thought it was a special effect. Somebody had to film 21 people in motion. There is something to be said for the people who work behind the scenes and for the members of mega groups themselves. You try doing anything with 21 people.

Sources:

“Super Junior Fans Protest Against Addition of New Member,” Asianbite.com

Profile, apeace.jp

Photo Credits: thehottestprimadonna

Video Credits:

APeace, Lover Boy, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvUuSfXlA7I

One Agency To Rule Them All?

Originally published on hellokpop on July 14, 2011

On June 24, 2011 several high-profile idols, including Kim Hyun Joong, Super Junior, TVXQ and 2PM gathered to help launch United Asia Management, an agency that represents a collaboration among the top Korean agencies, including SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment. While this may be a great way to pool resources to extend the global reach of Kpop, the collaboration could also worsen some of more suspect elements of Korean idol system.

This isn’t the first time that the major Korean agencies have collaborated on a project. Last year, The Big Three and other companies embarked on a joint venture, Korean Music Power Holdings, that would focus on the production of programs and digital music distribution. United Asia Management could also expand all the things we love about Kpop.

Before you get all up in arms, this is not a praise party for The Big Three. I do not own stock in any of them. Actually, a lot of my most favorite groups are not represented by them. We’ll get to the critique of how they do business later in the editorial. Whether you like or dislike them, the fact is they are responsible for a sizable amount of the Kpop you and I listen to. Often, fans complain about what they see as exploitation of the artists. Yes, there is a school of thought out there that says that anytime you have one group of people doing the work and one group of people making profit off of that work, you will automatically get exploitation. However, there is another school of thought that says even when you have one group of people managing another group of people who do the work, the people who do the work consent to do the work because they are comfortable with what they get out of it. In other words, artists do have some agency–they do choose to be idols and we have to leave room for the possibility that they know what they are getting into. This is particularly true now that we’ve had so many other artists enter the idol system. New recruits have more of an idea of what to expect because they can look at the careers of other artists. It is too simplistic to go with either one of these positions; the reality is  probably somewhere in between for any given artist at any given time. Here’s my point: The Big Three can give a glimpse into how United Asia Management could treat its artists and affect fans around the world, both for good and ill.

Even if you think it is evil incarnate, the fact is that SM Entertainment represents a model for the global promotion of Kpop. They have international Kpop cred, having produced a number of successful Kpop artists, including  BoA, SNSD, SHINee, Super Junior, and TVXQ. These aren’t just one-hit wonders, getting their 15 minutes of fame and then disappearing into the night. They all share the distinction of sustaining successful careers since their debut. SM Entertainment is doing something right, something that others are eager to know. Before his resignation, Lee Soo Man gave a lecture to business school students from Stanford University on “theory of CT (Culture Technology)” as well as “the aspects of SM Entertainment’s successful globalization and business management strategies.” It also hard to dispute SM Entertainment’s high-profile presence in international markets, such as its two recent shows in Paris or its previous show in Los Angeles. If United Asia Management could reproduce this on a global scale, it would be groundbreaking for Kpop. Artists would be able to travel to more countries. Kpop could go to far more places, both figuratively and literally. The prospect of international fans seeing their favorite artists in the flesh increases tremendously. If individual agencies represent a town, a family and a nation, then United Asia Management would be its own solar system. The collaboration represented by United Asia Management could also allow artists to directly compete with one another by erasing to a certain extent the individual agency identifications. Also, fans could be treated to more collaborations between artists with a de-emphasis on agency affiliation. Imagine joint projects by some of your favorite Kpop artists.  Let’s face it, sometimes the agencies, in trying to get attention for their artists, engage in tactics designed to get fans to choose, not just among artists, but among the agencies themselves. For example, JYP Entertainment consciously branded itself, just like SM Entertainment and YG Entertainment, to promote concerts and artists overseas. But, agencies do not give fans names and assign fan colors. Fans are fans of artists. With no individual agency jockeying for their loyalty, fans can focus on the artists.

At the same time, United Asia Management could face the same problems faced by The Big Three on a larger scale. With great power comes great responsibility, and it is hard to miss how often artists sue, leave or generally criticize their treatment by large companies like SM Entertainment. asiafanatics.net points to the common complaints by fans regarding SM Entertainment’s treatment of its artists, including a vindictive attitude towards and exploitation of artists and generally unfair business practices.With potentially more money at stake, United Asia Management could operate in the same way, especially with even more artists at its disposal. We could see more stories and more instances of friction between management and artists.

United Asia Management’s collaboration with The Big Three could also result in a drop in the variety of artists we see in Kpop. SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment represent different flavors of Kpop, seeking to cater to different audiences. By bringing all The Big Three under United Asia Management, those differences could be erased, resulting in a whole lot of Kpop that sounds the same and possibly fewer artists overall.  It is also unclear how this large-scale collaboration would affect smaller entertainment agencies who have solid artists of their own. Some of the more up-and-coming artists are not always found in The Big Three. BEAST and A Pink are with Cube Entertainment.  DSP has KARA. NH Media has UKISS. FNC Media, a subsidiary of Core Contents Media, which is Mnet Media’s primary entertainment management label, has FT Island and CN Blue. Could these companies continue to survive, or would UAM just squeeze them out? And what happens to the variety of artists they bring to the table?

Who knows? I really think it could go either way. I guess we will have to watch and see how United Asia Management actually operates. I mean, the one agency could unite them all for good or evil.

Sources:

allkpop.com, Major entertainment companies establish joint venture KMP Holdings

allkpop.com, Lee Soo Man gives a Hallyu lecture to visiting Stanford university students

allkpop.com, JYP Entertainment family titles itself “JYP Nation”

asiafanatics.net, SM’s Court Verdict Refutation Unleashes A Flood Of Criticism From The Public

Photo Credits: soohyundreamer.blogspot.com, oneasiaa.wordpress.com

Video Credits:

Ystar, United Asia Management Red Carpet, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRloFhFHin0