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aespa with virtual avatars, EXO’s superpowers: How SM is creating a Marvel-like ‘worldview’

SM Entertainment’s storytelling ability is giving its artists a united stage to perform, as well as new materials for fans to theorize.

■ How the worldview was born

SM Entertainment artists will connect to each other through a worldview called SMCU (SM Culture Universe) and showcase their music and content on the stage of dreams and the real world, virtual reality and space.” (July 1st, 2021)

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This was what SM executive producer Lee Soo Man announced at the 2nd World Culture Industry Forum keynote speech held on Jul 1st last year. It was a declaration to launch the SMCU, where all SM artists are connected within one “worldview.” Not only SM, but most K-pop groups are also in a “worldview war” with their unique own lore. This is a similar concept to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), in which different heroes such as Iron Man, Captain America, and Hulk share the same big worldview. Let’s meet Mo Na Ri, head of the SMCU Development Unit which is developing the Kwangya worldview, to hear about how they are doing it.

◇ aespa, the first girl group that always prioritizes their “Alternate Universe” concept

SMCU development unit was established a year ago as a 3-member unit collaborating with outsource writers. However, SMCU has already been planned for even longer. Mo said, “I joined the company 8 years ago, and I know that the SMCU project has already existed since then. It’s not a project that started all of a sudden.”

aespa

As she said, it has been more than a decade since SM attempted a worldview that connected all of its artists’ lores. In 2012, SM held a concert featuring all of its singers and declared it an “SM Town Nation.” It handed out the “SM national passports” to fans and marched under the flags of a virtual music country. However, the public’s response at the time was cold. However, 10 years later, it is a well-received idea. Mo said, “In the past, I think the idea was too ahead and the audiences felt burdened. But these days, people give welcoming reactions such as ‘Kwangya? That sounds fun?’.”

aespa

“Metaverse” girl group aespa, which consists of four human members and four virtual avatars of each member, is the start of SMCU in earnest. aespa debuted in November last year with the “virtual world” as their main concept. They have a worldview, created 1 whole year ahead of their debut, of fighting against the villain, Black Mamba, with their avatars in Kwangya. aespa’s debut album, “Black Mamba,” is the definition of how a worldview is created before adding in a storyline, then matching the album design, music video story, and members’ outfits with that main idea.

◇”Kwangya” was born under the collaboration of Lee Sung Soo and Lee Soo Man

“Kwangya,” which appears in the lyrics of aespa’s “Next Level,” drew attention as a meme thanks to aespa’s success. How did the virtual space “Kwangya,” where not only aespa but also all artists from SM Entertainment gather, was born?

“CEO Lee Sung Soo came up with the initial idea, and producer Lee Soo Man helped set the background,” said Mo. “We spent quite some time setting up Kwangya as we had to solve abstraction, not any limited or specific space. The concept of Kwangya is set to change according to SMCU’s amorphous and unregulated world rather than just using aespa’s. For aespa and their Avatars, Kwangya is a ‘virtual world,’ and for EXO with their superpower concept, their “alien planet” is Kwangya. Kwangya has the meaning of a barren field, which also means that we can pioneer Kwangya and bring a better world.”

sm ent kwangya

SM immediately registered its trademark right after confirming “Kwangya” as the term to call SMCU’s worldview on December 17th last year. “We registered the trademark first because we wanted to make good use of Kwangya as an intellectual property (IP). The name of our flagship store is “Kwangya.” awspa is a case that benefited a lot from Kwangya. In the past, the concept might have been burdensome, but now I think it’s been accepted without prejudice as it’s fun to consume like a meme.”

aespa is the official start of SMCU, but as there are many artists from SM before them, existing singers who did not prioritize their worldview are also being summoned to Kwangya. Girls’ Generation became the “Goddess of Sound” and Super Junior became the “Space Traveler.” SM said, “We have all the possibilities of other SM artists becoming aespa’s companions or other villains. Please also look forward to the roles of existing artists such as BoA.”

◇A worldview is the core of idol fangirl’s culture: “It’s just the beginning”

For fans, a worldview is the core of “fangirl,” which gives them the pleasure of interpretation theories. People get great pleasure from noticing and interpreting details that others don’t know. However, on the other hand, complex worldviews can be a hindrance to potential new fans, as it is not easy to understand the exact concept of Kwangya.

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“Our first goal is to make what fans of a specific artist want to see. Our second is to get the response ‘I saw this content and it was fun. When I searched for artists related to this content, it was aespa and Red Velvet,’ from new fans. Of course, the most important thing is still music. A good worldview won’t increase the chances of them listening to the artist’s song. However, it is an addition. If the worldview is interesting, fans can participate more and cheer for their favorite artists.”

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When asked how far the SMCU worldview would expand and what kind of story will develop, Mo Na Ri laughed, saying, “We haven’t done anything yet. aespa has released two episodes of their worldview, and now we’re going to do it in earnest. We’re developing a story that other artists can enjoy reading as well. It’s just the beginning.”

Source: Munhwa Ilbo

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