If you’re from the United States, chances are you aren't familiar with many entertainment companies. However, in Korea, the entertainment company that a K-pop group signs with makes all the difference! Each record label is vastly different and requires its members to project a certain style of music, dance, and personality. In K-pop, there are three big entertainment companies: S.M. Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment.
I’ll explore one of them in detail with you today!
Considered by many the best of the best, S.M. Entertainment has been ruling the K-pop scene for over 20 years with artists like Girl's Generation, Super Junior, BoA, SHINee, f(x), Red Velvet, NCT, and EXO taking over. But, S.M. Entertainment used to project a less cheery style of music that it's known for today! Founded by Lee So-Ham in 1989 as SM Studio, the label originally started as a heavily hip-hop influenced with rapper Hyun Jin Young being the first signed artist as seen below. Hyun Jin Young is most famous for being THE Korean artist that introduced hip-hop and rap to Korea!
In 1995, the company was renamed to S.M. Entertainment and continued to create heavily hip-hop influenced groups like h.o.t. and S.E.S. But, starting in the early 2000's, S.M. Entertainment began to change its sound to include more pop elements that has now become its trademark. The agency has grown massively and features multiple, multibillion dollar worth groups that are marketed under the name 'S.M. Family.'
I mean, with countless iconic songs from legendary artists, like ‘Sorry, Sorry’ by Super Junior, ‘Only One’ by BoA, ‘Gee, Gee’ by Girl’s Generation, and ‘Ring Ding Dong’ by SHINee, and many more, it's no surprise that S.M. is considered the wealthiest record label in Korea.
One of S.M. Entertainment's oldest groups, TVXQ, debuted in 2003 and completely changed the K-pop scene by popularizing many styles of music, choreography, and fashion that are still used today. By implementing difficult choreography, erotic lyrics, and revealing fashion, TVXQ stood out amongst the crowd of usually conservative artists. Without TVXQ, K-pop would have looked very different and some groups might have ceased to exist. Considered TVXQ's most famous song released in 2008, 'Mirotic' stands out as one of S.M. Entertainment's most scandalous songs and music videos, but none of us are complaining! The song is iconic, considered one of Korean's most downloaded songs, and serves as an everlasting reminder that S.M. Entertainment ruled 2000's K-pop.
In 2007, S.M. Entertainment seemed to stray away from explicit content and popularized the now famous 'cutesy' concepts, or 'aegyo' in Korean, with the creation of Girl's Generation. Also known as SNSD, Girl's Generation is another iconic girl group that took the K-pop world by storm and still does nearly ten years later! Even their debut song, 'Into the New World,' is still SO popular today that it is regularly used in youth protests and celebrations! Each member has their own successful career and as a group they dominate the music charts. Breaking record after record, Girl's Generation is THE girl group that every debuting girl group aspires to be, and who can blame them? By shying away from the usual, Girl's Generation has highlighted their own style that was created and perfect by S.M. Entertainment. I mean, just check out one of their most famous songs, 'I Got a Boy,' a song that changes drastically about THREE TIMES!
But S.M. doesn’t shy away from the unusual, and no pre-2011 group exemplifies that more than SHINee. Debuting in 2008, SHINee exemplify what K-pop is all about, with intricate lyrics, music composition, dance moves, and style being their staple. SHINee is also incredibly famous in Japan, with countless albums sold and performances in one of the biggest venues in the world, Tokyo Dome. Known as S.M. Entertainment's experimental group, SHINee has done some daring music to enable them to stand out. Whether it was songs about the zombie apocalypse, older women, being a dog, and others, SHINee was and still is S.M. Entertainments most consistently daring group. Perhaps one of their most unusual concepts was when they portrayed military bad boys with a party twist in the famous song, 'Everybody.'
In S.M. Entertainment, more is always…more, and who can blame a company that has millions of dollars to spend on promotions for debut groups, like EXO in 2011? Who can forget the endless promotional pictures, teasers, the crazy fashion, and even ‘superpowers’ given to each EXO member? It was something so big and so extra that it has become a staple for any debuting group now. But thankfully, EXO didn’t disappoint by creating hit after hit and are now considered one of the biggest third generation groups (groups that debuted after 2010) out there today. If you need a good giggle, I recommend watching EXO's debut song music video, 'Mama', below.
Riding off the curtails of EXO's success, S.M. Entertainment went in a more modern direction while sticking to its distinctive pop sound. Red Velvet debuted in 2014 and showcased this change by using unusual cinematography that was never before seen, but now popularized by S.M. The music video for 'Russian Roulette' showcases this modern approach by using filters (whether subdued or bright), short scene cuts, modern dance moves and colorful fashion. Red Velvet has since continued with this modern 'cute' theme and it can be seen in their other music videos, including 'Rookie.'
In 2016, S.M. Entertainment debuted NCT, a large boy group that is broken up into three parts: NCT U, NCT Dream, and NCT 127. Particularly with NCT 127, the group showcased S.M. Entertainment’s new direction with the debut song ‘Fire Truck.’ I don’t think anyone would have expected S.M. Entertainment to focus on hip-hop and rap again like in its beginning years. NCT 127 reminds me of Red Velvet in that they throw away the usual, melodic, catchy style of K-pop music and add a very 'in your face' twist. They are equal parts terrifying as they are epic.
I’m a big fan of S.M. Entertainment and the legendary past groups and current groups that they have created and enabled to flourish. If I had to pick my favorite S.M. Entertainment groups it would be SHINee (actually my favorite K-pop group ever) and the under-appreciated girl group, f(x). Let’s end this blog highlighting the accomplishments of S.M. Entertainment with one of its best songs, ‘Four Walls’ by f(x)! Thanks for reading ya'll!
What do you think of S.M. Entertainment’s music? Let me know in the comments below!
Stay Kurrent. Stay K-pop.
Note: No images or videos are owned by me.