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I love SM Entertainment

by kbrecordzz December 4, 2023 K-pop, Red Velvet, deep dive, SM Entertainment

Last year I wrote a text about the best and most timeless K-pop girl groups, and later I realized that almost all groups I mentioned there are produced by the company SM Entertainment. It seems like they're the ones making the most creative and fun things in the genre. Many of the things that make K-pop great, inspiring, weird and outrageous was started by SM Entertainment. Red Velvet was created by SM Entertainment. I love K-pop, and everything I love in K-pop seems to made by SM Entertainment, so let's talk about them and try to understand what they do, mostly when it comes to keeping your creativity as a big company. I'll use Red Velvet as an example in the text, because I love Red Velvet and I just bought some Red Velvet merch:

As you see, SM Entertainment makes merch with soul in it. With their own thoughts behind it. No fans were asking for some kind of symmetrical "ancient bling" stickers to put on your fridge, but that's what you get with Red Velvet's album "Chill Kill". SM Entertainment has the confidence to not follow trends and be truly creative instead, which shows in the excessive amount of merch I got that I don't know what to do with. Red Velvet especially manages to constantly do weird, interesting and creative stuff just for the sake of it, which shouldn't be that unusual because artists are supposed to do that, but the weird thing is that the group is 100% created by (not just signed to) a big company! With their own skyscraper in Seoul, where people probably sit in meetings with "A&R" people to plan the next release. Big companies aren't usually very creative, and the fact that SM Entertainment never forget about their obsession with creating unique things during those meetings is incredible (it's very easy to forget your mission in a meeting trying to agree on something with 10 people). SM Entertainment are obsessed with creating something unique, that's what company employees and CEO:s talk about all the time in interviews, and it seems to be and always have been the company's absolute core. If it wasn't, they would follow trends, be scared of risks and cater to what people currently seem to like, instead of creating whatever they think is the coolest at the moment. But they don't, and that's why my text about great and timeless K-pop girl groups was mostly about SM Entertainment. The video game company Hazelight is another company that always keeps its creative spirit, because Josef Fares never stops talking about creativity, in an almost inspiringly obnoxious way, and maybe that's how SM Entertainment does it too. Talk about it, write it on the wall, mention it in every meeting. It sounds simple, but is probably hard, because most entertainment companies forget about creativity somewhere on the way because other things tempt more. Because being creative is a risk, and big companies have a lot (of money) to lose...

The producer duo Moonshine, who has made several songs for Red Velvet, say that they like the creative freedom they get when working for SM Entertainment. That may be another way to prevent a big company from becoming slow and uncreative: You let two Swedish dudes have fun and create songs, in the same way you and I would if we tried: without a capitalistic pressure over you. SM Entertainment understands that the best creations comes from the moments when you're having fun and creating something because you want to. Maybe that's why so many artists like working with Rick Rubin (not related to SM Entertainment, but his thing is to therapeutically get artists into the feeling they had when they first started playing in a band, when it was all about the fun and not about the fame and the job)? You can get the vibe of a group of friends having fun, even at a big company, because SM Entertainment seems to do it.

"Finally, our second is over. What time is it now? - 6 o'clock in the morning."
(Red Velvet 레드벨벳 ‘Birthday’ MV Behind I RV Collection - YouTube)

I don't know how often Red Velvet work until 6 in the morning (as they do in the video above), and I don't know if it's good (I would never do it, and I think doing it too much decreases productivity), but I think more cool stuff gets done if you work with people that wouldn't hesitate to sacrifice their sleep for creating something great. That's the people you want on your team. These people are harder to find in Sweden, because being extremely ambitious isn't the norm, because if you work too much someone will call the unions and end the fun. SM Entertainment started the "trainee" system, which means that the future idols - the singers/performers/artists - from a young age train a lot on their skills before debuting for "real". To actually debut in a real group you have to be better than everyone else, and you have to sacrifice everything. Like an athlete, but for music. The people in really good K-pop groups are good at singing, dancing and performing, because they have to record music and perform live, and they're nice, funny, charming and good looking, because they have to be in interviews and on TV shows, and they have real artistic talents, because otherwise the songs wouldn't sound good (even if they don't necessarily write the songs). And they also have to be able to evolve and become better. And if you're not willing to work until 6 in the morning, you probably won't ever debut in a group. This is the level of talent and persistence that is the standard of SM Entertainment, and of K-pop in general.

SM Entertainment seems to find the absolute best people to work with (for example, they started the "songwriting camp" trend, where people from the whole world come together to make the best songs). When reading interviews with SM Entertainment employees I get the picture of SM Entertainment being a headquarter full of music philosophers. But they always keep it personal, they don't let it become a chaos of different ideas and directions, which could easily happen when more people are added into the mix. The founder Lee Soo-man can still control details, like cutting Seulgi's bangs to let her "baby hairs" stand out in a music video. It really feels like his personal vision flows through everything, regardless of how many professionals work on the songs.

Seulgi with her baby hairs

So, SM Entertainment has an obsession both with creating unique things and with working very hard (they share the latter with the rest of K-pop and all of South Korea, I think). They do both the entrepreneur and the creative genius, because you don't have to choose. Lastly, in my previous Red Velvet posts I have in some way mentioned something about every member - except for Joy - but when I saw her part in the behind the scenes footage of the "Chill Kill" recording, I immediately realized I had to write this paragraph.

(And no, it's not Lee Soo-man on the cover image, it's Shigeru Miyamoto.)

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