Monday, August 13, 2012

K-pop continues to thrive

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when the country – South Korea is mentioned? For the politically attuned, the spotlight will be on its relationship with its Northern neighbor. But not for me. South Korea’s stars aka Korean pop stars hog the limelight in my dictionary. The star factor has risen to such a great magnitude that a sub-culture is formed – ‘Hallyu’ wave and there is no stopping of its appeal. Judging by the looks of how the wave is sweeping rapidly across continents, one becomes curious on the origins of the ‘Hallyu’ wave, its creators and most importantly – factors attributing to the success of this worldwide phenomenon.

 My love for all things Korean caused me to first set foot on the land a year ago. The surreal feeling of stepping on Korean soil for the first time was like a dream come true! Walking down the streets in Seoul, it is hard not to notice, the flood of star-endorsed advertisements ranging from daily necessities to luxury goods. Every one of those celebrities has a big $ sign attached – cash cows to their companies. Though these performers are only in their early to mid twenties, they are highly talented and versatile – often wearing several hats such as acting, hosting, modeling, etc. The reason for the success of these pop groups is sheer amount of investment and sacrifices made. Appalling as it is, trainees in their early teens sign a contract of 7 to 10 years with the entertainment company – slave contracts in my view. A mental picture depicting a soldier serving military service comes to mind - tough but necessary preparation for stardom.

To those that survive the process of metamorphosis to debut onstage, the return on investment is generous for the individual and the company. According to the source,, SM Entertainment – one of the big three companies that manages the 9 member girl group Girls Generation, the sunk cost incurred for their debut is at least US$1.8 million and the company is expected to incur about the same amount even after the group debuts. If you are thinking that is a huge negative figure for a start-up, you are spot-on. But looking at statistic figures from the Financial Supervisory Service’s data analysis retrieval and transfer system, the company is definitely getting the longer end of the carrot. It is reported that the girl group made a whopping KRW 68.811 billion (approximately US$ 60 million) from 2009 to the third quarter of 2011. With the group’s popularity fast gaining momentum globally, the profit and the entourage of followers will definitely snowball. This will in turn spawn another trend of following - the fashion styles of idol groups.

As long as the wave is still at its peak, the opportunities to spin money off these groups are endless. The constant question that the creators have is how do they maintain their stars’ global appeal and feed the bottomless appetite of Korean pop followers. Well, in my opinion, the ‘secret potion’ is knowing overseas music trends, chic styling, massive amount of publicity and building an ideal idol image and ‘poof’ - boy group, EXO is born.