Talk of the Town: SM Entertainment’s Growing Influence in K-Pop


One of the most trending topics in K-Pop last week was SM Entertainment’s (SME) growth in stock price value. It was reported that Lee Soo Man, founder and chairman of SME, saw his total share value for SME surpass 110 billion won ($100 million USD) for the first time on July 13th. He currently owns 24.43% of SME’s total stocks, which saw its closing price end at 27,500 won ($26 USD) per share on KOSDAQ that day. It was the highest value SME has ever seen since entering KOSDAQ in 2001, and also the most value Lee Soo Man has had so far.

Lee Soo Man is widely called as the pioneer in K-Pop. He was one of the earliest ones to come up with the “idol group” concept. First debuting H.O.T., who immediately became a pop sensation in the mid-90s to early 2000s, Lee Soo Man also created S.E.S., one of the first female teen groups, in the late 90s, likewise making them a smashing hit in the entire Asian region. Over the years, SME continued to produce extremely talented artists such as BoA, DBSK, Super Junior, and SNSD, among many others. And their success all point back to the leadership of Lee Soo Man, who essentially is credited for building the backbone to K-Pop’s current popularity around the world.

Moreover, last month, SME held their first-ever concert in Paris, which was a monumental event in itself since no Korean management agency had ever pulled off a concert of such magnitude in European soil. Many industry officials view the event as a sign of K-Pop’s burgeoning impact across the world, as more than 14,000 European fans came to see the two concerts featuring SME’s top artists such as SNSD, DBSK, Super Junior, SHINee, and f(x).

However, there are also some concerns over SME’s growing control over the entire industry. One of them is the on-going lawsuit with JYJ, or the three former members of DBSK. Since the fallout from DBSK last year over contract disputes with SME, JYJ has not been able to land much TV spots nor freely promote their album in Korea—and many fans suspect SME might be putting “backdoor pressure” on local broadcasters as well as industry officials in order to hamper the trio’s promotions as a group. There’s no proof to it, but the recent controversy over KBS and JYJ may also be an indication to the “backdoor pressure,” since JYJ was replaced by SNSD and f(x), two SM artists, on a special KBS TV show. It was reported that KBS abruptly canceled JYJ’s scheduled appearance on its special show for Jeju Island’s Seven Wonders Concert, four days prior to the live broadcast, and JYJ is currently planning to file a compliant as well as a lawsuit over this issue.

Another problem they face is the rising sentiment across the K-Pop fandom over SME’s so-called “slave contract.” Although BoA and some members of Super Junior dispute the notion of a “slave contract,” there is no question in the rough and brutal work schedules these artists have to follow. Also, the long training period and complexities in the revenue sharing process is a topic that might need to be addressed to win back some of these upset fans.

Nonetheless, there is no question in SME’s position as a frontrunner and powerhouse in the K-Pop industry. Their influence and contribution to the industry are unmatchable and the talent levels of their artists are some of the best in K-Pop history. So what do you think? Is SME overstepping its boundaries with its control over some issues? Or should SME be allowed to do what they do since they’re one of the bests in the industry? Do we need at least some system of checks and balances?