S.M. Entertainment is without a doubt one of the most prominent entertainment powerhouses in Seoul Korea, housing various artistes that include BoA, Kangta, TVXQ, Super Junior, Girls’ Generation, SHINee, f(x), EXO and Red Velvet – K-pop stars who have achieved huge success both domestically and internationally. These artistes tour together regularly in an unprecedented omnibus concert series named ‘SMTOWN Live World Tour’, and ‘SMTOWN: The Stage’ takes a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at the making of the show.
Super Junior’s leader Leeteuk utters the first line of the film – ‘I missed the crowd’s roar the most.’ Having just returned from mandatory military service before the start of the 4th SMTOWN Live World Tour, his obvious longing and passion for the stage sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The film comes across as a documentary, with insights from staff and the artistes themselves interspersed with live footage from the concerts. Each group or soloist receives a segment showcasing their concept and performances together with a discussion of their thoughts and feelings.
Boy group EXO are the first to be featured with a performance of their song ‘Wolf’. The Korean-Chinese group has a special localization strategy to appeal to both the Korean and Chinese audience. Member Kai‘s extensive dance background and hit title track ‘Growl’ is highlighted to introduce S.M. Entertainment’s emphasis on choreography and performance-oriented concerts. This then segues into a discussion of the new ‘SM Rookies’ system where the company gives the public a rare glimpse into the training process. Besides singing and dancing, the trainees also receive lessons on songwriting, runway walking and modeling. Red Velvet is the latest girl group to have debuted under S.M. after ‘graduating’ from the SM Rookies program, and their senior artistes look on fondly as they perform ‘Happiness’ for the first time at an SMTOWN show.
TVXQ’s Yunho stands out amongst all the other stars as he speaks with the most raw emotion about his love for the stage. He gives valuable advice to junior group EXO: to think of themselves as kings, that they are invincible and to attach their own meanings to the show. Fellow member Changmin talks of wanting to slack off at rehearsals, but seeing Yunho give 100% every time motivates him to do the same. TVXQ is on a whole different level on stage – through footage of them performing ‘Catch Me’ and ‘We Are’, the way both singers move and contort their bodies while dancing is incredibly awe-inspiring.
SHINee is well-known for having a very unique sound, and the members talk about how the company has always given them songs with distinctive melodies and unusual chord progressions. Over time, the group learnt how to make every track their own. The boys work extremely hard as a unit, and that was clearly shown in their performances of ‘Everybody’ and ‘Lucifer’. S.M. obtains the services of foreign songwriters and choreographers to give their artistes songs and dances with an edge that would appeal to international fans worldwide. Super Junior’s Heechul hilariously quips that international fans hardly care about the content in the lyrics – what truly interests them is the visual performance.
The artistes can add a personal touch to the shows by coming up with ideas for collaborative and special performances. These include a dance battle between EXO’s Lay, Sehun, Kai and Girls’ Generation’s Hyoyeon, as well a breathtaking performance of solo song ‘Danger‘ by SHINee’s Taemin. Super Junior got the spotlight next as the members talked about how they were the ‘mutants’ of the company – instead of having the cool, mystic fairy-like looks of their colleagues and a slick performance concept, they are a group of very different individuals who complement each other well and have a very cheerful and uplifting vibe to their songs. f(x) unfortunately gets the least screen time, but foreign members Victoria and Amber make an impact as they talk about how S.M. constantly tries to push boundaries, and f(x) themselves as a group always thinks about doing better and ‘renewing themselves’.
Throughout the show, the younger groups constantly speak with admiration about how their seniors have worked tirelessly to pave the way for them to promote worldwide. Arguably spearheading this is ‘Queen of K-pop’ BoA – she is a role model for many of the female idols and practices endlessly whenever she can. Her amazing performance of ‘Girls on Top’ certainly showed that despite being a veteran of sorts, she still shines as brightly on stage as she did in her earlier days. Girls’ Generation is the last in their stable of stars to be shown, with a stunning, emotional ballad rendition of their debut song ‘Into The New World’, depicting the artistes’ firm determination to always return to their roots.
Besides operating as a music agency, S.M. Entertainment has also expanded into a myriad of industries. An example is the recently opened state-of-the-art SMTOWN Coex Artium which is filled with S.M. merchandise, theaters, and various activities for fans to take part in. Some of the S.M. artistes also filmed a special ‘hologram musical’ ‘School OZ’, demonstrating S.M. Entertainment’s goal of being trailblazers in the entertainment industry by coming up with new and innovative strategies to spread their special brand of cultural technology.
All in all, the documentary was certainly a huge visual spectacle. Throughout ‘SMTOWN: The Stage’, the artistes show a great amount of gratitude to these fans who give them the energy to go all out onstage. Due credit is also given to the hardworking technical staff who make sure the performances look good with the right lighting and special effects. Despite their fame, the S.M. artistes have no airs and graces, gushing about how exciting and special it was for them to perform alongside esteemed colleagues and on huge stages in every part of the world. Even though the whole process and how the company works may seem a little artificial and too much like a well-oiled machine at times, the stars at least come across as extremely sincere – no surprises as to why SMTOWN has such a gigantic following of passionate fans.
Running time: 107 minutes