After releasing 23 teasers and a so-called “Prologue Single”, “What Is Love” (both Korean & Chinese versions), SM Entertainment (Korean) released another so-called “prologue single” of EXO (a new boy group that will debut some time this year): “History”.
Before I start a tremendously long article on SM Entertainment’s marketing skills, let’s take a look at the song “History” itself. Even though it was such a joy to see that EXO finally releases another song (or a prologue? I don’t know), I was extremely disappointed when I first heard the song.
The midi effects and beats (0:15 – 0:22) sound like that of Super Junior’s “Don’t Don”; the chorus (0:45 – 0:50) sounds like that of TVXQ’s “Keep Your Head Down”; the second verse at the line “No more shakin’ like that” (1:19 – 1:20) sounds like the chorus at SHINee’s “Amigo”; the bridge at 2:30 is almost identical with the bridge of TVXQ’s “Are You a Good Girl”; the third quarter of the bridge (2:30 – 2:53) sound almost exactly like the bridge for Super Junior’s “Don’t Don” from 2:56 to 3:27 with the rapping part and the melody part reversed. Except for the members’ great skills at dancing and singing, their great looks, and the absolutely new choreography with hands shivering in pants, “History” sounded like a mix of SM’s song history to me. Yes, TVXQ, Super Junior, SHInee, and EXO all come from SM Entertainment (SME), but this should not be the excuse of SM producers plagiarizing their music for other groups and not giving EXO a unique music style.
However, “History” does have some new elements that may define EXO’s music style later on. The midi effect in the intro is light, twisted, and funky – this feeling was in EXO’s first “prologue song” “What Is Love” as well. Even though I don’t feel too much love for it, it is definitely something the previous SM groups never had. Secondly,
the booming beats (0:11 – 0:15 ) are so catchy and exciting that it increases the power level of the song. With the cool “shivering-your-hands-in-your-baggy-pants’-pockets” dance movements, those booming parts of the song really bring highlights to the music. The music video doesn’t have any plots – it’s made with low cost and is made purely of dance scenes and close-up shots, but this is ok, since “History” is only a “prologue single” that serves mainly to introduce members, to attract fans, and to raise the level of anticipation toward EXO’s official debut. That’s a marketing skill. No matter how the song sounds like or looks like, fans, or anyone who’s interested in EXO’s debut, would be happy to watch this MV because they have been watching 23 thirty-second long teasers of sporadic members since December 2011, imagining about the whole group and its songs.
So what has made SME so successful over so many years? It used to be SME’s good music, but not anymore. In my opinion, it’s the amazing marketing skills that make SME an extremely profitable company today. Let’s take a look.
By promoting a huge group, EXO, and by spliting it into two sub-groups, EXO-K and EXO-M, SM Entertainment takes care of two great aspects:
- It allows more trainees to be debuted, which means more fans, more CDs and albums sold, and more profits. Also, because the group is divided into 2 sub-groups, nobody can really judge SM for releasing the same songs for EXO-K and EXO-M because they are really one big group. This allows SM Entertainment to be lazy as it wants – no need to put too much effort in coming up with songs, just let them sing the same song in different languages!
- It prevents the chaotic and crowded situation for stage performances and activities. By splitting a huge group of 12 members into 2 sub-groups of 6 members each, SM allows EXO to perform on stage without having a huge mass group, which keeps the stage performances cleaner (the dances would look more in sync and it won’t look like a huge flash mob – Super Junior anyone?). What’s more, it lets each member sing more than one line in each song (Super Junior again, anyone?) because there are fewer members in the sub-group, allowing more attention and focus on each individual, which in terms would increase fan number for each member, multiplying the number of CDs, albums, concert tickets, and other things sold.
The second new method SM has developed is the concept of “endless teasers” and “prologue singles”. By releasing sporadic teasers over a relatively long period, SM successfully pull people’s heart up:”Oh my, when are they debuting? … Ahhh I can’t wait! … Why are they still releasing teasers?! I want to see their debut! …” By creating an itch and curiosity in people’s heart, SM develops huge anticipation for its new group – EXO. But sometimes teasers can get tiring – people start to get sick of it, they start
whining. And that’s when the prologue songs come in. SM lets a bit music out, and all the craving and awaiting people would start freaking out and embrace in joy: “Oh my! They released a song! THEY RELEASED A SONG!!!” By releasing a prologue song, SM successfully refreshes the awaiting people’s energy and hence brings all the attention back to EXO’s debut. What’s another advantage of the prologue songs? SM can make the music video as cheesy and low-cost as they want, but it won’t matter because the release itself would become a joy for the awaiting people; SM and EXO members don’t need to worry about practicing crazily for performances on shows like Music Banks, Inkigayo yet because even though they released a song, it’s not their debut - so they can save up good work and energy for their official debut. The concept of prologue song is stupid to me, since a song is a song no matter what you call it, but this skill is definitely effective. In the future, I expect SME to have more and more “prologue songs” and maybe even more and more teasers for its new artists, since this method is proved successful by EXO’s promotion now.
See how SME earns money now? What’s scarier, SME is continuously developing its marketing skills. As an attempt of promoting many trainees without deliberating on grouping them into 3 different standard-numbered groups or more than 10 individual singers, SM first came up with Super Junior with 12 members, the biggest boy group at that time. And SM has tasted the sweetness of having huge groups (lots of fans, lots of sales). However, after some time SM starts to realize that with such a huge group, the performing stage can look very chaotic (the more members, the harder to keep everyone in sync), and fans start to complain about how each member only gets to sing about one line in every single song. So SM started thinking about new ways – and here EXO is.Realizing that there’s a huge market in China, SM also puts more and more Chinese members in every group they have – at first there was only Han Geng in Super Junior, then there was Henry and Zhou Mi, who joined Super Junior M (Chinese promotion branch of Super Junior) later on. Then we have f(x) with Victoria, and now SM has come up with EXO, in which half of the members are Chinese, and the rest all know Chinese language as well.
In terms of music, SM also developed – except it didn’t develop for better quality music, but more profitable music, that is, the “addictive and repetitive” music. Super Junior and Girls’ Generation both debuted with nice unique songs (“Twins” and “Into The New World”, respectively), yet after knowing that repetitive electronic songs like “Gee” and “Sorry Sorry” would really stick in people’s head and therefore haunt them until they buy the songs, SME stopped producing unique songs for title songs. Instead, Super Junior keeps coming back with all repetitive songs like “Bonamana”, “Superman”, “Mr. Simple”, and “A-Cha”. Girls’ Generation, similarly, promotes “Genie”, “Oh”, “Hoot”, and “Run Devil Run”. Though the music quality decreased, SME definitely has earned lots of money.
Of course, there are also victims of SME’s experiments for markets and better profit. After succeeding with TVXQ as they debuted with a grand Chinese name 東方神起 meaning “The Rise of the God (the sun in this meaning) of the East”, SME promoted a girl group also with a Chinese name, 天上智喜 (The Grace), hoping that this format would also be a success. However, things didn’t go so well – not that The Grace failed entirely, but somehow it didn’t become an icon as huge as TVXQ. And SM isn’t that kind of nice company that supports its entertainers’ dream and wills – so SM kept on changing The Grace, altering its style, procrastinating its comeback schedule, or even ignoring it for more than a year. The Grace unfortunately has become the victim of SME’s marketing skill experiments.
I personally feel sorry for SM Entertainment even though I am in LOVE with SME’s artists and entertainers. I feel bad that it has turned from a great music studio into a commercial company that nevertheless has lots of supporters – but it has lost what it first started for. The initial dream and goal are lost.
However, I am still looking forward to EXO’s debut, and maybe 20 more teasers before that. If you are interested as well, then please stay tuned :) .
* Pictures in the music video are the snapshots I took from SM’s official MV for “History”. All other pictures come from the Internet. All rights about these pictures and the music videos reserved to original authors and SM Entertainment.