What comes after K-pop?

What comes after K-pop?

Oct 26th 2013 |From the print edition

LONG BEFORE PSY made Korean music famous in the West, much of Asia had fallen under the sway of K-pop: tightly choreographed ditties performed by fresh-faced boy and girl bands, exquisitely manufactured from interchangeable parts. Even in North Korea the latest dance routines are eagerly imitated, according to Daily NK, a news hub led by defectors. Dance teachers can earn about 20 times the average worker’s salary, it reports.If they are doing their job properly, they will soon be teaching the “Straight-Five Engine Dance”, as performed by a five-member girl band, Crayon Pop, on their surprise summer hit, Bar Bar Bar. The dance was named by their fans, who thought the moves recalled the pistons of an engine. It has attracted spoofs and spin-offs by fans like the Gyungbuk women’s police department. A Spanish dancer recreated the entire song in instalments, performed in front of stopped traffic.

Crayon Pop are not a typical K-pop outfit. They look goofy rather than glamorous, like kid sisters not dream dates, and prefer plimsolls to stilettos. More importantly, they do not belong to one of the triumvirate of management companies (SM Entertainment, with a market capitalisation of over 780 billion won; YG, a hip-hop-orientated label worth over 515 billion won; and JYP, worth over 120 billion won) that dominate the K-pop empire. They are the first and, so far, only act managed by Chrome Entertainment, set up in 2011 with an initial investment of only 10m won by Hwang Hyun-chang.

Mr Hwang, aged 34, was a commercial photographer who financed his K-pop adventure by selling his camera gear, plundering his savings and running up debts. His colleagues thought he was crazy. His parents did not even know until they discovered his company’s website six months later. “If I had known how much it would cost”, he says, “I would never have done it.”

He thought the band would do better in Japan than South Korea, where it is difficult to be noticed amid the big three management companies. Instead their song, “Bar Bar Bar”, spread like a virus on YouTube. Whereas most songs peak early in the charts, then disappear, this one climbed to number one in some rankings months after its release.

Could a band like Crayon Pop have emerged from a big company? Never, says Mr Hwang. In its own way, K-pop has become quite traditional, he says. The basic formula has not changed in a decade: performers train for three years or more before making their debut, then stick to a plan mapped out by the executives.

Chrome Entertainment did not have the staff, money or time to do likewise. Instead it had to be scrappy and collaborative. There was little division of labour. The band had to muck in with the marketing, carrying picket signs with their names around subway stations. The performers contributed ideas for dance routines alongside their choreographer and manager. Unlike the big firms, Chrome could not afford to perfect its product before launching it. Crayon Pop’s early performances amounted to beta-tests of their ideas. But that may be part of their charm. As Mr Hwang says, “it could be fun to show the public that they are getting better.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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