RETURN OF THE SUPERIOR

[111024/NEWS] Korean Pop Machine, Running on Innocence and Hair Gel

SM Town Live Super Junior joined a cavalcade of South Korean groups at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

Think of the work required to make just one Justin Bieber. The production, the management, the vocal training, the choreography, the swagger coaching — all that effort to create one teen-pop star in a country that’s still starving for them. South Korea has no such drought, thanks to several companies that specialize in manufacturing a steady stream of teenage idols, in groups of various configurations. One of the longest-running of these companies is SM Entertainment, which on Sunday night hosted SM Town Live, a sold-out showcase at Madison Square Garden for several of its acts, any one of which any American reality-TV talent show or major-label A&R department worth its salt would be thrilled to have discovered.

American teen-pop at its peak has never been this productive. K-pop — short for Korean pop — is an environment of relentless newness, both in participants and in style; even its veteran acts are still relatively young, and they make young music. Still, there were subtle differences among the veterans, like BoA and TVXQ, and the newer-minted acts like Super Junior, Girls’ Generation and SHINee.

Members of the younger set are less concerned with boundaries, drawing from the spectrum of pop of the last decade in their music: post-Timbaland hip-hop rumbles, trance-influenced thump, dance music driven by arena-rock guitars, straightforward balladry.

But what K-pop has excelled at in recent years are large groups that seem to defy logic and order. Super Junior, which at its maximum has 13 members, was one of this show’s highlights, appearing several times throughout the night in different color outfits, shining on “Mr. Simple” and the intense industrial dance-pop of “Bonamana.” (K.R.Y., a sub-group of Super Junior, delivered what may have been the night’s best performance on “Sorry Sorry Answer,” a muscular R&B ballad.)

Male and female performers shared the stage here only a couple of times, rarely getting even in the ballpark of innuendo. In one set piece two lovers serenaded each other from across the stage, with microphones they found in a mailbox (he) and a purse (she). In between acts the screens showed virginal commercials about friendship and commitment to performance; during the sets they displayed fantastically colored graphics, sometimes childlike, sometimes Warholian, but never less than cheerful.

In the past few years K-pop has shown a creeping global influence. Many acts release albums in Korean and Japanese, a nod to the increasing fungibility of Asian pop. And inroads, however slight, are being made into the American marketplace. The acts here sang and lip synced in both Korean and English.

The crowd also screamed at an ad for Super Junior Shake, an iPhone game app, and for the SM Entertainment global auditions, which will take place early next year in several countries, and will keep the machine oiled for years to come.

-Irrelevant news omitted-

Credit: New York Times
posted by @BC_950922
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