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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

K-pop girl group marketing becomes premium and pricey

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IVE is shown wearing Miu Miu during an appearance on MBC's weekly music ranking program "Show! Music Core" last April for its song "Love Dive." [SCREEN CAPTURE]
IVE is shown wearing Miu Miu during an appearance on MBC’s weekly music ranking program “Show! Music Core” last April for its song “Love Dive.” [SCREEN CAPTURE]

On Nov. 28, 1997, three young girls climbed on stage during the SBS variety show “Recharge 100% Show” (1996-98, translated). Wearing matching white oversized pants and singing “I’m Your Girl” (1997), S.E.S. sprung up as both SM Entertainment and the K-pop industry’s first-ever girl group.

On Aug. 7 this year, girl group NewJeans performed its new song “Cookie” on SBS’s weekly music ranking show “Inkigayo” (2000-). Although all five members are wearing a school uniform-inspired look, most of the garments are from luxury fashion brands. Minji’s Balenciaga jacket costs 3.3 million won ($2,600) while Hanni’s Prada t-shirt is 1.6 million won. Haerin sported a pair of 530,000-won Rombaut sneakers on stage.

K-pop’s prominence during the past 25 years has skyrocketed, and the meaning and portrayal of girl groups have changed significantly. The dynamic of girl groups only targeting the domestic market has changed since the mid-2010s, which is when third-generation acts like BTS, Exo, and Blackpink debuted.

 

S.E.S. wore matching white oversized pants for its performance of “I’m Your Girl” (1997). [SCREEN CAPTURE]
S.E.S. wore matching white oversized pants for its performance of “I’m Your Girl” (1997). [SCREEN CAPTURE]

After Twice became the first K-pop girl group to sell over a million copies of an album and Blackpink became the most-subscribed artist on YouTube, with the channel having 83.6 million subscribers as of Dec. 28, the industry has shifted to calculating the profits and losses when managing and promoting girl groups specifically.

The industry says that the cost to debut a rookie group has jumped two to threefold compared with 2015, which was around 1 billion won at the time. STAYC’s producer Rado said last year in a YouTube video that “if you really put in some effort, you need at least 2 billion won.”

[AHN DA-YOUNG]
[AHN DA-YOUNG]

Fantagio, the agency that manages boy band Astro and girl group Weki Meki, announced last year that it would invest 3.18 billion won to produce another new girl group.

Industry workers estimate that at least 5 billion won was needed to create SM Entertainment’s latest girl group aespa, which debuted in 2020, considering all the investments they would have made for the digital avatars and music videos with movie-like quality.

During the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards in August, Blackpink members each wore outfits of the luxury brand they represent. From left; Lisa in Celine, Jisoo in Dior, Jennie in Chanel and Rosé in Saint Laurent. [MTV]
During the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards in August, Blackpink members each wore outfits of the luxury brand they represent. From left; Lisa in Celine, Jisoo in Dior, Jennie in Chanel and Rosé in Saint Laurent. [MTV]

Even the production scale has expanded to the global stage. Among 15 girl groups that debuted this year, eight have at least one foreign member. Global auditions that were deemed a bit much in the past have now become all but mandatory. When an agency holds auditions internationally, applications flood in — which also helps garner the attention of potential fans.

The “premium” strategy has proved to be crucial in girl group marketing. This is why IVE, barely a year old, wore Italian designer label Miu Miu in their music videos, and NewJeans, also a rookie, donned Vivienne Westwood golf wear during live performances.

It’s nothing new that the four members of Blackpink each already represent high-end fashion brands Chanel, Dior, Celine and Saint Laurent, but this phenomenon is now becoming the new norm.

[AHN DA-YOUNG]
[AHN DA-YOUNG]

Agencies go the distance to produce fan merchandise that appeals more to the female audience, who are known to open their wallets more in consuming K-pop content.

Girl groups have shifted away from the past lovestruck concepts and started to diversify, particularly starting with the third-generation groups. Their common factor lies in “duality” — a term frequently used among fans referring to when a K-pop star is easily able to pull off contrasting concepts. The singers may seem like idols on the stage, but behind the scenes, they become the girl next door.

NewJeans wore a school uniform-inspired look for its live performance of ″Cookie,″ but most of the garments are from luxury fashion brands. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
NewJeans wore a school uniform-inspired look for its live performance of ″Cookie,″ but most of the garments are from luxury fashion brands. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

“Breaking away from the extremely masculine concept, girl groups have more variety, and as they achieve the million-seller status, it’s aiding them in branching out in the industry,” said music critic Kim Do-heon.

People’s favorite K-pop idols are therefore no longer mysterious beings. Drinking, which used to be taboo, is now emerging in entertainment content. On a variety show, ITZY’s Chaeryeong got drunk and talked frankly about her frustration with how her stocks plummeted.

“Although their live performances may be striking and bold, the industry has changed to a new narrative in having them show their friendlier, more down-to-earth image elsewhere,” said Lee Gyu-tag, a professor of cultural studies at George Mason University Korea.

 

BY JEON YOUNG-SUN, BAE JUNG-WON [kjdculture@joongang.co.kr]