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K-pop evangelist

How SM Ent became a groundbreaking label

By Dec 10, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

SM Entertainment's latest group, Aespa, features a twin avatar for each member
SM Entertainment's latest group, Aespa, features a twin avatar for each member


South Korean culture has been spreading around the world thanks to the surging popularity of Korean pop and entertainment. At the forefront of the Korean wave stands SM Entertainment Co., the label behind global talent such as Red Velvet, NCT, EXO and SuperJunior.

The company is noted for offering innovative concepts when it debuts new groups, and its latest girl group Aespa has been in the spotlight by introducing artificial intelligence avatars as part of the group.

The group’s name Aespa takes the first letter of both avatar and experience and fuses them with with the word aspect to convey an experience of meeting another self. The group features four members who each have a unique avatar twin, making it equivalent to an eight-member group.

For example, the group's AI avatars can communicate with fans if the actual members are unavailable.

Video clip featuring Aespa's Karina and her AI avatar (Courtesy of Youtube)

This fresh concept is not surprising considering that SM Entertainment is known to push boundaries in terms of integrating novel technologies in culture and entertainment.

At the center of this movement is the company's Founder and Chairman Lee Soo-man who is credited for developing the concept of Culture Technology, a convergence of systemized culture and technology, now used as the company's fundamental operating system.


SM Entertainment Chairman Lee Soo-man accepts the Dasan Business Award from The Korea Economic Daily. The Dasan Award is given to individuals showing outstanding achievement in their professional fields.
SM Entertainment Chairman Lee Soo-man accepts the Dasan Business Award from The Korea Economic Daily. The Dasan Award is given to individuals showing outstanding achievement in their professional fields.


On Dec. 9, Chairman Lee received the 29th Dasan Business Award from The Korea Economic Daily in recognition of his business achievements. The Dasan Award recognizes individuals' outstanding achievements in their fields, ranging across finance, business and more.

Chairman Lee's eye for talent and innovative concepts have driven SM Entertainment to become one of the leading labels in Korea with over 1 trillion won ($921 million) in assets since its inception in 1995.

He is determined to further expand the scope of collaboration with rising industries and cutting-edge technologies such as nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence to lay the cultural groundwork for the future.

“From the beginning, I always stressed 'culture first, economy next' to convey the importance and impact of culture,” said Lee in an interview with The Korea Economic Daily.

According to Chairman Lee, the rising global presence of Korean culture is likely to usher in increased economic benefits. For example, the growing popularity of Korean music and talent will attract tourists and boost purchases of the country's goods, Lee explained.

"Now in 2020, everyone around the world knows that culture has both tangible and intangible benefits,” said Lee. adding that "culture will be a driving force behind the country's competitiveness."

Moving forward, Chairman Lee plans to cultivate culture technology to produce content and artists that have a competitive edge in the global market.

“We’re going through a difficult period, but it’s when we’re at the bottom is when we can seize the opportunity to leap forward. In the past, we were a fast follower where we’d follow in the footsteps of others, but now we’re taking steps to become a fast mover,” Lee added.

Write to Jae-hyuck Yoo at yoojh@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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