2012 feels like it’s gonna be a Cube kinda year
…That is, if 2011 wasn’t Cube’s year already.
Music Bank, December 23rd, 2011 – Hyuna, G.NA, Beast Dance Battle:
Anyone else strangely attracted to Hyunseung and his teenage-boy-at-a-high-school-dance outfit? Hello bias, nice to meet you.
I’m currently in the process of putting together my 2011 wrap-up posts, and it’s proving to be a much more arduous task than I had originally thought. It’s no secret that I’m a huge SM fan, but I made the mistake of spending all of this year following SM’s activities while effectively ignoring everything else that was going on in K-pop. Unfortunately for me, almost everything that SM’s produced this year has been disturbingly unimpressive. On top of that, nearly all of SM’s artists decided to take a field trip to Japan this year — and even then, the results weren’t much to look at.
Looking back on it now, 2011 was actually a really great year for K-pop — particularly for the K-pop underdogs, of which Cube was the leader of the pack. Having only been founded in 2008, Cube still has a ways to go before the Big Three turns into the Big Four. Nevertheless, Cube has undergone a sharp growth curve this year in terms of general public recognition and popularity. What I like most about Cube is not only their dedication to showcasing their idols in the best light possible, but also their constant willingness to try out new concepts and take risks. Cube’s music videos tend to be heavily “idol-centric” — where the main focus is placed on the idols’ themselves rather than an external story or concept — but at the same time, their videos are never formulaic and are all unique in their own right. (You listenin’, SM?)
Cube’s artists aren’t really as in-your-face about their talent as some of the artists at SM, JYP, or YG, but I think that has more to do with the company’s overall comparative low profile than with the artists themselves. The benefit of debuting under one of the Big Three is that people will be lauding your talents the moment you step out of the company womb, regardless of how much you have already proven or will prove. Artists under smaller labels just don’t have that kind of benefit of the doubt. Cube is stuck in a funny place between these two extremes, and it doesn’t help that Cube is host to Hyuna, whom K-pop fans have deigned K-pop’s Resident Queen of Talentlessness; and Beast, whose debut subtitle might as well have been “The Boys Who Barely Made It.” Of course, both titles are grossly misrepresentative of Hyuna and Beast’s true potential and ability, but it certainly doesn’t help Cube in shedding their image as the perpetual little brother of the K-pop industry with artists who just can’t seem to keep up with the big boys and girls signed under the Big Three.
But the performance above pretty much speaks for itself. Maybe it’s because I’m not a dancer so I oftentimes find myself being easily impressed by dance performances, but it seems to me that their performance last week wasn’t necessarily intended to impress the audience as much as it was meant to entertain the audience. It didn’t seem like the Cube artists spent a ton of time preparing for this performance, but it was still polished, clean, and devoid of that feeling of overpreparedness and try-hardism that oftentimes permeates the performances of rookie artists. (See: Dalshabet/A Pink/Boyfriend/B1A4’s performance from the same show.) This is the kind of professionalism and expertise that I would expect from a bigger, more disciplined company like SM or JYP — and I don’t mean to make SM or JYP sound like the K-pop gold standard, but the expertise of these larger companies is notable compared to the greenness and relative disorganization of other smaller companies. Point is, the tight, professional quality and style of this United Cube performance is comparable to that of an SMTown dance stage or a JYP Nation dance stage — and for a company that’s only existed for three years, that’s no easy feat.
With four successful acts under their wing, Cube has marked 2011 as the year they started playing with the big boys. Conversely, the Big Three seem to be absorbed in other matters apart from producing quality material, which has then led to a noticeable decline in the overall artistic presentation of their artists. SM has arguably shown the biggest decline in overall quality within this last year, and considering the fact that both SM and Cube place a heavy emphasis on producing and promoting idols with a stereotypical “idol image,” I wouldn’t be surprised if Cube manages to overtake SM’s spot within the Big Three within this next year — not in terms of economic revenue, obviously, but in terms of overall respect as an artistic and creative business. In addition, Cube is planning on launching a world tour beginning next year, and for a three-year-old company who hasn’t even secured a place in the KOSDAQ yet, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Obviously, it’s not to say that Cube will necessarily be playing David to SM’s Goliath in terms of financial and business standing, but as a fan, I don’t know enough about and could honestly care less when it comes to SM and Cube’s financial situations. What I do care about, however, is product quality, and Cube seems to be producing higher quality products while SM is producing poorer quality products.
I’m unwilling to make too many guesses about SM’s plans for next year, but let’s see:
- f(x) is going to Japan
- Super Junior will be on tour before they go on hiatus
- DBSK’s probably going to be flying back and forth between Japan and Korea doing….whatever
- SNSD will be making SM money solely by existing
- BoA’s probably going to be preparing her retirement fund
- SHINee…I don’t even want to guess
And on top of all that, SM’s debuting that spankin’ new EXO group that’s probably going to be sucking up all their time and resources…so all in all, I don’t predict a great year for SM simply because they’ve already spread themselves way too thin, and 2012 hasn’t even begun yet. But that’s the pains of being a big, influential corporation, I suppose. Cube hasn’t made it to the point where they’re burdening themselves with “pioneering the way for Hallyu” and promoting “cultural technology.” They’re at the point where the company’s primary focus is on pumping out quality products that appeal to a wide and diverse audience, just like any good idol management company should be doing. Current Cube is like SM circa 2006-7, except with shinier visuals and better hair.
Get’em while they’re still young and uncorrupted, I guess. Here’s to 2012, Cube. 잘 해라.