SM Congress 2021: What's in store for the K-pop Pioneer

I received a sudden invitation from someone at SM Entertainment to join this event late last week and was curious to know what's in store. After all, the company has been very vocal about their plans of late, plus chatter of a stake acquisition by Naver or Kakao has gotten all eyes focused on SM Entertainment's next moves.

On June 29, SM Entertainment hosted "SM Congress 2021" to announce some of their latest growth plans for SM Culture Universe (here's a related article if you don't know what it is). The event started with a "Lee Soo Man Talk Show", hosted by Mr. Lee Soo Man himself with guests aespa and NCT members. The concept of CAWMAN (cartoon, animation, webtoon, motion graphics, avatar, novel) was shared here, indicating SM's intent in developing these areas. Coincidentally, Mr. Lee's nickname is also "Cowman". Watch the full video to find out why.

With his guests from NCT, SM Entertainment's latest collaboration with MGM was announced with Mr. Lee and Mark Burnett (Producer of "The Voice") unveiling the latest talent audition show, "Kpop Goes Hollywood", in search of the next all-American member for NCT Hollywood. In essence, 21 contestants will be selected, travel to Seoul and participate in the SM training bootcamp, after which successful members will debut as the new NCT boyband.

The next big announcement was the partnership between SM Culture and Contents, Key East Entertainment and Mystic Story to form the all-new SM Studios. The goal is to create a slate of SM Originals available across multiple platforms and channels, including Netflix, YouTube, TVing, JTBC, MBC, etc. SM Originals will range from variety to drama. Celebrand will also see some of SM's artists creating original content revolving their own product line.

Other exciting upcoming projects mentioned include the "Remastering Project" with YouTube, as a means to document Kpop's history as we throwback to music video in the early days. "Pink Blood" is a project looking to further fan engagement, especially with the popularity of challenges emerging in platforms like Tik Tok. Pink is SM's brand identity and the idea is to select fans who seem to have "pink blood running through their veins" as they ace challenges pertaining to SM's artists and/or songs.

Dedicated to the development of the world of VR and AR, SM Entertainment unveiled the SM Future Commerce Store with the promise of a full immersion of the SM Culture Experience. This entails watching never seen before AR-integrated artist content, using artists' voices as your personal alarm setting, transporting into the metaverse through a virtual exhibition and experiencing artists' personal product designs. Collaborations are also brought to the next level with Super M with Marvel, Shinee with Jinro, and NCT Dream with Pinkfong.

SM Entertainment's answer to HYBE Entertainment's social networking app, Weverse is the new service, Dear u Bubble, a direct fan to artist messaging app. Presented by Lee Teuk and Eunhyuk of Super Junior, Dear u Bubble will not only be endorsed by SM artists, JYP Entertainment's artists are also expected to be on board, along more than 150 artists building direct communication channels with their fans on this platform.

With SM Entertainment, no stone is left unturned as they continue their work on SM Classics. Not only will traditional classics and jazz pieces get popularized again, familiar vibrant and energetic K-pop tunes will take on a classic rendition as well. SM Classics will develop their own classics entertainment label, with the goal of creating future original soundtrack for movies and animation.

The final announcement of the SM Congress 2021 was the establishment of SM Institute, a collaboration between SM Entertainment, Jongro Academy, a renown private learning institute and ESteem, a company part of SM Entertainment, developing some of today's top models and influencers. The institute's curriculum is tailored for aspiring young Kpop artists and leaders in the Kpop business, while incorporating educational aspects from the US high school academic system. Talk about institutionalizing the Kpop trainee process!

SM Entertainment's lineup at the SM Congress 2021 was truly impressive. It certainly demonstrated deep thought and a 360 approach in developing the music and entertainment business in Korea. Now the questions remaining: Will there be a stake acquisition by Kakao or Naver? And when?

Images sources: Screenshots from SM Congress 2021 on YouTube.