How critical is the nationality of musicians to pop music fans? Maybe not very much, considering that few Beatles' fans like their music just because all the band members are English, or ABBA's because they are Swedish.
So, why are all the pop music, films and television dramas from this nation branded overtly "Made in Korea" in overseas markets, capitalizing on the "Hallyu (Korean Wave) phenomenon?" After all, it is the content quality not the country that counts the most for worldwide cultural consumers.
"Talking about the current Korean Wave syndrome, what worries me the most is that it is encouraging even unproved, second-grade Korean cultural contents to be sold in the overseas market", SM Entertainment CEO Kim Young-min said during an interview with The Korea Herald.
"It seems to be harmless for now, but in the long run it could worsen the image of the country, not only that of its cultural products".
Born in Korea and raised in Japan for 16 years from the age of three years, Kim came here to work for a local production house in 1999, when opening the country's market to the Japanese entertainment industry was one of the hottest issues. From the outset, the former simultaneous interpreter (Japanese and Korean) led the company's project to make BoA
a top pop star in Japan.
In making his point about the Korean Wave, Kim compared its present status to the years when Hong Kong films were all the rage. What could be dubbed the "Hong Kong Wave" swept through the mid '80s through early '90s, best represented by the films of Jackie Chan
and Chow Yun-Fat.
Their movies were great, Kim recalled, but the problem was that poor Hong Kong films rode the country's popularity as the Asian film capital, eventually tainting the image of Hong Kong movies. "It may sound ironical, but to continue the Korean Wave, Korean cultural products should be recognized for more than just their nationality. Otherwise, the syndrome will be nothing more than a 'short wave'", he said.
The Korean Wave term was coined by Chinese media when now disbanded idol pop group HOT - also promoted by SM - toured China for concerts from 1999 to 2000. It was reinforced by the huge success of "Winter Sonata"
and became a new phrase in the dictionary of the world entertainment business.
Kim, who was director of SM's overseas business division at the time, points out that overseas concerts of top Korean pop singers are just one of many possible approaches of SM's globalization strategies. "BoA
is a good example of localization strategy. From the beginning, she was trained for Japanese pop music market", said Kim who majored in sociology at Korea University.
Last year, SM Entertainment Japan, the Japanese branch of the entertainment giant, discovered a Japanese girl singer Tia and trained and promoted her so well she won the "Rookie of the Year" award at the Japanese Golden Disk Awards. The company now hopes to duplicate this success in China in the near future.
"We are exporting more than stars. We are exporting the system to make stars as well", Kim said. "SM is a company that owns BoA
. But more than that, it is a company that can make BoA
Currently, more than half the company's net profits come from its two overseas branches: SM China and SM Entertainment Japan.
As the CEO of a company that is almost as well known as its stars in China, Kim emphasizes the importance of Chinese pop market repeatedly.
"The Chinese pop market has surpassed that of Korea in terms of size already, with its CD and DVD market estimated to be worth more than 20 billion won, excluding the illegal pop music market that is estimated to be almost four times bigger", he said.
Kim said he added that he feels sorry when he sees Korean pop stars behaving differently in Japan and China, showing an appreciation for Japanese fans while looking down on their vast Chinese audiences and not paying them as much attention. They underestimate the potential of the Chinese market, he said, adding that "besides, entertainers are supposed to be modest all the time".
It is widely agreed that a country needs a minimum population of 100 million for its entertainment market to bloom by itself and Korea does not have that luxury, unlike Japan and China. The Korean industry should focus on being the entertainment intermediary between Japan and China, Kim said.
To this end, the government, rather than supporting the development of cultural content, should assign more funds for hosting international conventions and festivals where various people in the entertainment industry could meet to exchange ideas, he added.
By Lee Yong-sung