The Korean Wave is advancing into Europe. Korea’s largest showbiz management agency SM Entertainment is making the first move with “SM Town Live” at the 6,700 capacity concert venue Le Zenith de Paris on June 10 and 11.
The concerts proved extremely popular, with tickets for the first show selling out online in just 10 minutes. SM Entertainment originally planned to hold just one concert, but on May 1 several hundred French K-pop fans demonstrated in front of the Louvre and demanded a second.
SM founder and CEO Lee Soo-man is the person who is leading the bold move. “At one point, I was worried that we might be making reckless investment in something that could happen only in the far future,” he told the Chosun Ilbo from the U.S. “But the plans to globalize our pop culture that we’ve been quietly preparing for more than a decade are starting to bear fruit.”
SM Town Live in Paris will feature five popular Korean bands — TVXQ, Girls’ Generation, Super Junior, SHINee, and f(x).
“We’ve been building relationships and content with composers in various countries for a long time to globalize K-pop,” Lee said. “This series of concerts is the fruit of those long-term efforts. SM has a pool of over 300 composers and producers in the U.S. and Europe, so we’re capable of producing music that can appeal to people all over the world. I’m confident that we can captivate young people in France, the U.S., Britain and Germany with our music.”
Asked about criticism that Korean-style showbiz management relies on “slave” contracts that bind singers and actors to their agencies for 10 years or more, Lee said, “These criticisms come from people who don’t realize that this system is the driving force of the globalization of the Korean Wave. We select talented youngsters with a lot of potential at an early age, and nurture them into highly competitive entertainers through rigorous training.”
But he claimed agencies are “also committed to giving them a normal education. There is a limit to American and European agency system as it only makes investment in already proven stars. But in Korea, we have a system that constantly discovers new stars. There is no place for those who seek a windfall or jackpot with a one-off investment in the Korean entertainment industry. We have produced stars through long-term planning and investment.” In fact, he insisted the U.S. and Europe “are trying to learn from our system these days.”