[Interview] CNN – SHINee World V in USA
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Q&A with SHINee: The Princes of K-pop
By Marian Liu, CNN
“(CNN) A rarity in pop, South Korean boy band SHINee has been together for nearly a decade.
The chart-topping five-piece are wrapping up their world tour in Hong Kong on May 20 and Taiwan on June 11. SHINee has “been a top 3 popular boy group for nearly 10 years now,” says Paul Han, co-founder of allkpop, a site for K-pop gossip and news, which has 10 million monthly readers worldwide. “They are a proven entity so no need to question their staying power.” Together since 2008, these “Princes of K-pop” are now nearing their early to late 20s. They’ve constantly evolved, kicking off specific pop-cultural trends with their unique mix of fashion and R&B fusion. They are also known for their dance skills, winning multiple awards for their performances.
Members include: Lee Jin-ki (Onew, 27), Kim Jong-hyun (Jonghyun, 27), Kim Ki-bum (Key, 25), Choi Min-ho (Minho, 25) and Lee Tae-min (Taemin, 23). CNN interviewed the pop band after their US concerts in March at Dallas and Los Angeles. Their Los-Angeles-based production company, SubKulture Entertainment, translated their answers.
What is your secret to staying together and getting along?
Key: I think we’ve been able to stay together this long because we’ve each learned the importance of understanding the virtues of a good artist.
Onew: We’re able to respect each other and be considerate of each other’s thoughts and opinions.
Minho: There really isn’t any secret. As time goes on, we get to know each other better, and as we get to know each other better, we seem to grow wiser together. Since we all know so well that we enjoy performing on stage as a group of five, I think that also helps us maintain a good relationship with one another. However, more than just maintaining the relationship, we want to progress as a group and continue to improve.
Taemin: We’ve definitely had our share of ups and downs as a group, and there were times we’ve faced some pretty big challenges, but we were able to get through these times, which allowed our bond to grow stronger. I think it has a lot to do with us caring for one another.
Jonghyun: Hmm. I’m not exactly sure, but I think it’s because all five members know how to be thoughtful and selfless when it comes to working as a group.
How do you evolve to stay fresh and relevant?
Key: We’re always trying to look for creative content to stay in the loop.
Onew: We put in a lot of effort to try and produce good quality work, and there are also amazing people around us who help.
Minho: We spend a lot of time thinking and meeting about what we can do. We all contribute different ideas and suggestions and look for good concepts to work around.
Taemin: We are constantly studying and researching, but we try to gain inspiration from music and many other areas as well. From time to time, there are moments when I feel that even the smallest experiences from the past can be applied to something greater in the future.
Jonghyun: I think it’s because we are able to create art that is centered around what we enjoy and like.
Thoughts of your first solo US tour?
Key: I’ve always wanted to come for a tour, so it’s really exciting. Since many US fans are either seeing us for the first time or haven’t seen us in a long time, I think they try to enjoy and embrace every single second of our show.
Onew: It was hard to adjust to the time difference at first, but it’s still really fun.
Minho: It’s our first solo tour in the US and I’m really surprised. The fact that so many fans have waited for us is very surprising and touching. It would be really nice if we can meet often in the future.
Taemin: I wish we were able to better prepare for the tour on certain aspects, but the thought of going to see our fans that have been supporting us from so far away made my heart flutter a bit. When we actually met our US fans, it was slightly awkward and new at first, but it made me think that we should really visit more often in order to grow closer and more comfortable with our fans here.
Jonghyun: We’ve come to the US for fan meets before, but concerts make me a bit more nervous and excited. I hope our fans will be able to make great memories with us through the music and performances we show on stage.
What’s in store for the future for you all?
Key: Work my hardest on all my projects.
Onew: With the US tour and Japan tour right after, I’ll make sure to do my best.
Minho: After the US tour, we have the Japan tour and preparations for another album.
Taemin: We should release another album.
Jonghyun: We will continue to be busy and finish projects that have been set aside.”
Locked out of China, South Korea’s K-pop stars are heading to the US
Updated 3:34 AM ET, Mon May 22, 2017
(CNN) China’s loss is America’s gain.
At least that’s according to the legions of Korean pop music fans in the US, who are proving to be unlikely beneficiaries in a long-running diplomatic spat between China and South Korea. “China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner and many Chinese are big fans of Korean pop culture,” said Ellen Kong, CEO of Elf Asia, a Hong Kong promotion company specializing in K-pop. “But the impact of THAAD has been substantial,” she added, referencing China’s staunch opposition to the US backed missile shield now housed in South Korea. “It’s meant China is no longer a viable market for K-pop touring acts.” The result according to industry insiders, has been a marked upswing in K-pop acts touring in the US.
“Around 8 years ago or so, it was very rare for K-pop artists to tour in the US, but now it has become quite common,” said Paul Han, co-founder of allkpop, a site for K-pop gossip and news, which has 10 million monthly readers worldwide. “Back then, K-pop fans in the US used to say, ‘I wish I could go to Korea to attend their concert,’ but now since a lot of K-pop artists are now having concerts in New York and LA, it’s more like ‘I wish I lived closer to those cities’ or ‘I wish they would come to my city, instead of the same cities all the time'” added Han.
In 2013, there were seven concert tours in the US, 14 in 2014 and 2015, then 20 in 2016. So far, there have been 14 in 2017 alone, including the recent tour announced by K-pop icon G-Dragon, from the extremely popular boy band Big Bang. And, for the first time a K-pop band has won a Billboard Music Award. BTS won the Top Social Artist Award on May 21. The seven-member band toured three cities in the U.S. in March and April and finish off their sold-out world tour in Japan this July. “With groups unable to tour in China due to the fallout relating to the THAAD crisis, I believe we’re going to see another record year for groups touring across the US this year,” said CEO of Koreaboo, Flowsion Shekar, a popular content platform specializing in K-pop with a reach of over 50 million.
Despite China’s foreign ministry repeatedly denying that the country has placed restrictions on South Korea, the topic was outlined as an agenda item in diplomatic talks between the two countries during a visit to Beijing on Friday and Saturday by Lee Hae-chan, South Korea’s special envoy. “The relationship between South Korea and China is quite strained,” said Lee on Thursday before his departure. “I believe the discussion will be focused to resolve economic, Korean wave, tourism interactions.” Korean wave is a phrase commonly used to describe popular Korean culture and music.
Not that North American K-pop fans are complaining. North Carolina teenager Kylie Grant is just one of thousands of fans for whom the arrival of mainstream K-pop acts couldn’t have come sooner. “It was a once in a life-time opportunity I knew I would regret if I didn’t take,” said Grant, 19, who recently purchased tickets to K-pop boy band SHINee in Dallas. “My friends and family thought it was crazy at first, but after some convincing they all said it was kind of amazing that I would fly across the country just to see a concert.” The tour was SHINee’s first in North America, taking in Dallas, Los Angeles and Canada. At the weekend, the K-pop powerhouse performed in Hong Kong, and on June 11 in Taipei. “‘The thought of going to see our fans that have been supporting us from so far away made my heart flutter a bit,” said band member Lee Tae-min, 23, known as “Taemin.”
Finding and appreciating K-pop fans
In Dallas and Los Angeles, Lee and the rest of SHINee band members spoke English between the songs, sharing how much they appreciated fans learning Korean and their own love for American food, like In-N-Out burgers. Unlike the now typical mercurial K-pop bands, SHINee has been around for almost a decade, constantly evolving their look and sound. Fans, known as “Shawols,” are drawn to SHINee for their dance choreography, along with their unique mix of R&B, electronica, rap and rock.
In the last year, several K-pop bands disbanded for various reasons, including scandal. But, one of the reasons for SHINee’s longevity, said Shekar, is the group’s “zero controversy … Every member has held a pristine reputation and have earned themselves an incredible reputation with Korean and international fans.” Los Angeles-based production company SubKulture Entertainment was able to almost sell out SHINee’s US concerts by targeting fans online, like Grant who discovered SHINee through YouTube. “Our customer base, like most millennials are very Internet savvy and acquire most of their information about K-pop via social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), which is where we like to focus the majority of our marketing efforts,” said Subkulture Entertainment CEO Derek Lee.
But now in their 20s, SHINee members are growing out of their “boy band” and “Princes of K-pop” monikers. They are also near the age of military enlistment for South Korean males, a destiny that threatens to tear other bands like Big Bang apart. And while SHINee declined to talk about the military, they do plan to perform in the US again sometime soon.
“We hope that through our tour, K-pop and K-pop concerts will continue to leave a mark on a market as big as the US,” said Taemin.