K-pop label's big plans for NCT, Aespa, other acts in 2021

Tamar Herman, South China Morning Post

Posted at Jun 29 2021 08:12 PM

K-pop label's big plans for NCT, Aespa, other acts in 2021 1
K-pop girl group Aespa. Photo: Instagram/@aespa_official

NCT, the 23-strong K-pop mega group with shifting line-ups, have a big six months ahead, their label SM Entertainment has revealed.

A day after the launch of an album by one of its subgroups, NCT Dream, SM said on June 29 that two others, NCT 127 and WayV, will also release LPs; the whole group will produce material together as NCT 2021; and the NCT concept will spread to the US with a survival television series, the winners of which will form a group called NCT Hollywood. Current NCT members will serve as mentors for those competing in the US show.

There are also plans for new combinations of NCT U, the rotational project arm of NCT that brings together different members in temporary units for one-off songs. In the past, different NCT U teams have released popular NCT songs including 2016’s The 7th Sense, 2018’s Boss and l2020’s Make a Wish (Birthday Song). 

The label also used June 29’s “SM Congress” to announce further details of its plans for an SM “creative universe” or SMCU – inspired by the Marvel Cinematic Universe of films that brought together characters from different comic-book series.

The SM version has a science fiction storyline and will involve all its K-pop acts, including Aespa, Shinee, Exo, Red Velvet, BoA and Super Junior, and media including cartoons, animation, webtoons, motion graphics, avatars and novels (promoted using the acronym Cawman). SM also revealed potential plans for SMCU films. Apps and games would allow for fan interaction, said SM CEO Lee Sung-soo (also known as Chris Lee).

SM founder Lee Soo-man hosted the event. During it, he talked with girl group Aespa about their new single Next Level and its accompanying music video as the latest episode in the SMCU storyline, and revealed that they would continue to explore the story through further releases. 

The company announced it would be releasing remastered versions of earlier music videos, including a remake of H.O.T’s 1997 classic Free to Fly to commemorate that band’s 25th anniversary in September. It will feature H.O.T’s Kangta, Aespa’s Winter, and NCT’s Sungchan, and incorporate some of the SMCU’s sci-fi elements. 

SM also shared news of upcoming content from SM Studios, which it launched in May 2021, including drama series and variety shows, several of which will feature K-pop stars. 

June 29’s live-streamed SM Congress came amid continuing talk that the publicly listed label, which has struggled to please investors, will be acquired by a major South Korean tech company, most likely Kakao or Naver.

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