Episode 5. From A Small Agency, B1A4’s Successful Ways [ARTICLE TRANS]
“Each stone has its own color and personality, in order to find it and create valuable gems, this place exists.”
That is a phrase written inside of the WM Entertainment building. Refining stones into sparkling and shining gems and discovering people who have talent and making them into stars. But you’ve heard of places such as SM Entertainment and YG Entertainment, is WM Entertainment something new?
‘Idols, are they products? Are they people?’ In the first episode, through fandom interviews, we unveiled dissatisfaction from the majority of fandoms from small and medium sized companies. Fans of large agencies already know about the systems from broadcasts and through media. On the other hand, we raised the possibility of bigger problems with small/medium sized agencies with their rough speculations and relatively small scale systems.
WM Entertainment is a typical small/medium agency in Korea. WM is the home to the 5 membered boy group B1A4. B1A4 debuted in 2011 and during their third year since debut, in 2013, they achieved first place on a music program showing steady growth as a group. B1A4’s first win with ‘What’s Going On’ was the start. Each song they released then, ‘Lonely’ and ‘Solo Day’ achieved first place demonstrating the group’s popularity.
In one year, WM has grown B1A4 to be one of the most popular groups in Asia amongst the dozens of idols that have made their debut in the fierce market. A large agency would get that result with no real awareness to it. What is the secret of success? It’s that rather than seeing them as idols, starting to see them as people.
WM Director Kim Jinmi said “The role of an agency is to be a fence” and she also told us the agency’s philosophy, “We support the members as people, not as celebrities, and we want to be the part of a fence.” From Lee Seunghwan’s agency Dream Factory and after being a founding member of FNC Entertainment, Kim Jinmi became a director at WM, through which she observed their system.
Q. Firstly, what is the secret that a small agency could create B1A4?
Director Kim Jinmi: B1A4 is a team that was made with all of the employees’ affection. Because of the brand that the Big 3 have, there is a notice that emerges from those agencies. Even though we, as WM, didn’t have a brand yet, for some reason in the beginning, we had confidence. We believed in each other. Even the members were positive. A contract would not have been easy for the members of a small company. We had talked to each other a lot and because we believed in each other based on those conversations, I think that’s where the confidence came from. If you look an agency, I think that it’s just one fence. Although the life of a celebrity may be short, you come this way to make it a life career without knowing if you might do it for a lifetime. Therefore, there is a responsibility to everyone.
Q. There must have been a strategy unique to B1A4 in order to survive in the idol market
Director Kim Jinmi: We looked at the overload of idols, throughout that time we wanted to know the appeal of the idols that had come out and the different appearances of those idols. Back then there were a lot of idols that had group choreography. Celebrities do work that would be fun for themselves and things that would also appeal to the public. So the members went in the direction of using their own characters and musicality to appeal to others from the start. The B1A4 members are bright and they also have good values, we wanted to show that good energy. Their debut song ‘O.K.’ is a song with a refreshing feeling that shows the members’ characters.
Q. They got their first win after 3 years, it’s already been 5 years since their debut (t/n: meaning that they’re in the 5th year since their debut). It seems like there would be constant worries for steady work.
Director Kim Jinmi: Frequently there is a 5 year lifespan for idols. We’re a company that continues to suggest advantages to the members one by one or perhaps ways that they should go. Right now each of the members are currently going in the direction that they and the company thought of. Although we wish that they would appear on entertainment shows a lot, it may not fit the image that they have of themselves. We are not in a hurry, we try to find things that are most suited to the members. There is a lot to talk about regarding the future.
In the case of member Sandeul, he’s a strong friend with a passion for singing, but as we look at the celebrity lifestyle, the path that you want to take may change. That’s acting and musicals. In the case of CNU or Gongchan, even though from the view of the fans it may be “Why aren’t these guys doing anything,” the members aren’t in a hurry. Because they take a hold of the direction where they themselves want to go in the future, they are comfortable to experience things. We aren’t the type to rush. Within the group there are one or two people who may do things earlier. From there we will give our support and applause and not be envious of them.
Q. You said that you don’t rush, even from the beginning of B1A4’s debut, they weren’t a big success. From the position of being a small company, I think there would’ve been some rush.
Director Kim Jinmi: Since these guys definitely had to do well, there was some impatience and desperation. So the staff and members worked hard. Because the purpose wasn’t only singing and debuting, the staff sweated, showed affection to the members, and put their belief in the company. Based on experience, right now is like back then, the transitioning period to refine the system. Our basic motto is faith.
Q. In the process of building a better system, what is something that will be better than before?
Director Kim Jinmi: Before that, the staff always had to do multiple things. Whether it was something trivial, small, or missing something. Now in each part there is support and we are able to reduce mistakes.
Q. The harsh training system of K-pop is often criticized. What do you think about it?
Director Kim Jinmi: I don’t agree. We do have a schedule like school and when I saw the trainees, they have dreams and goals, but they may be difficult and may not be seen. However, I thought “Wouldn’t these guys want to meet their friends sometimes,” or “Don’t they want to ditch class?” Celebrities must have a dream. First they must give up everything. When looking at the ones that are successful, they are the ones that voluntarily came. Even now trainees come and go. There are some that have a chance, we don’t unconditionally hold onto the ones that are pretty. It’s no good if we hold onto them. There is a clear difference between the ones that want to do it for themselves and the ones that don’t. (Wait, are they saying they just let go of trainees who aren't super into it?)
Q. It being voluntary seems to be the most important thing. But in the cases of teenagers, there is school life and there are experiences that they can get at that age, so are they spending too much time with practicing?
Director Kim Jinmi: Because there are experiences that you can get during school life, you must definitely go to class. Instead of going to academies like other students do when school is done, our trainees come to the company and receive lessons. And they create what kind of dream they want. As a trainee, they are aware of their own specific dreams and goals, as a celebrity, a method of how to have a sense of responsibility in their surroundings. There are a lot of things.
Q. If there is a specific method?
Director Kim Jinmi: There is a trainee mission statement. Being a human before a celebrity. As a celebrity, as a daughter, as an older sister, they look back on themselves in each of those positions and look at the role that they should play in the future, their position is clear. Then these ideas definitely blend with responsibility. Even B1A4 who are in their fifth year of debut gave their faith to create such a mission statement. Although I don’t know how life will go, not as celebrities, but rather as people, we support the members’ way and want to be a fence for them.
Q. The K-pop system has also received a lot of criticism about the lack of character education. Do you have character education?
Director Kim Jinmi: It’s good to become a trainee at a young age for singing and dancing, on the other hand, it’s good for the social life. I think that an adult that’s beside them should help with the values of a social life. During B1A4’s trainee days, even if they were only five minutes late, they wrote a letter of apology. We have three things that must be kept, “Be on time,” “Greet well with all your heart,” and “Don’t lie.” But, it seems like it’s really tormenting to just sing and dance in one place. You repeat the same thing every day. So instead of practicing, I told them to go to the bookstore to read and write about some things they felt or go to a musical and write their impression of it. There are a number of different cultural activities. I think that these various things are character education.
Q. It seems that having self-responsibility and being aware of your goals is the most important thing.
Director Kim Jinmi: Yes, even B1A4’s second full-length album ‘Who Am I’ that was released in 2014 is not something that just came out. The members themselves mentioned the interviews and the magazine format. At that time it had been four years since their debut and there would be worries. I mean worries as an idol, an artist, and as people. So we had many stories about the members and it’s an album that developed from their own thoughts.
Q. In B1A4’s case, leader Jinyoung shows growth as he creates his own music and produces. I heard that Jinyoung started producing on his own.
Director Kim Jinmi: Yes, when B1A4 are preparing, it’s the same way they are. The members always converse a lot and are open. With an open mind it’s “Let’s try what you want to do.” With the composing program, Jinyoung will ask the vocal teacher how to do something and then one day let them listen to a song. They enjoy themselves and the company cheers and supports them. In addition, they may take responsibility for themselves and appear with an enjoyable and good result.
Q. But why do problems occur between a company and its artist?
Director Kim Jinmi: I think that the problem is communication between the company and artist. We gather the parents and often communicate on things about the company. You should communicate so there aren’t any misunderstandings. Although I don’t know the situations of other agencies, we always converse. It seems like the members are the ones who start talking about all of the problems. I think that it’s really communication. There could be complaints about one another. “Why doesn’t our company give us things like other companies?” or “Why can’t you follow up until here?” But I’m talking about all of the little things.
In our company, B1A4 may be the only team that has not had a problem so far. There will be a girl group debuting shortly, but if they do it like B1A4, then I think there’ll be no problem. Now our company, WM’s homework is to tell of our brand. Every company has a color, but because a girl group is coming after B1A4, we’re constantly worrying about what kind of image we should show when being viewed from the outside [t/n: I think she’s referring to like people who are unfamiliar with the company altogether]
Q. I think those are too good of answers. What do you think is ideal for the K-pop system?
Director Kim Jinmi: If we all coexist together? There are big and small companies but they may be competition, there may be restraints. It would be nice if companies could network and communicate with one another. I think that could further improve things. Education and responsibility. Because raising idols and people in itself is good, I think that the adults should create the education systems.
Once some teams have debuted, you lose a sense of purpose. That is the adult’s responsibility. Humans should have a conscious goal. I like to give the company suggestions one by one for the future for that goal. That way when they fulfill their dreams, another dream can enter its place. Although a celebrity’s success is skill, they have to have a lot of luck.
Q. What would you want to tell the people who dream about becoming celebrities?
Director Kim Jinmi: Really think about whether you want to do it or not. So you don’t get hurt by what you want to do it’s good to try, but you need time to thoroughly view yourself. It’s not just being good at dancing and singing, it wouldn’t work if it were like that. If you don’t want to do it with your heart, then the work will be difficult. Don’t just look at the glorious side, you should think about all of the things that you have to give up. If there’s no realization or self-effort, then it won’t work.
WM highly emphasizes on responsibility and conscious goals. Celebrities do work that would be fun for themselves and things that would also appeal to the public, that way they can take responsibility for themselves but may also have a good time.
WM trainees voluntarily practice and in order to create a sense of responsibility and conscious goals utilize a mission statement and a journal about practice. That journal contains information about the day’s practice and is a reflection on it as well as writing the plans for the next day, it is a record. Additionally, the trainer in charge will say a word of encouragement. The mission statement is a unique act by WM. The mission statement isn’t only for trainees, as someone’s child, as someone’s sibling, as someone’s colleague, for each to know their position and role, they will write down their mission. Besides this dream list, they actively take advantage of material such as their own famous sayings that can enhance their awareness of their goals.
Before their debut in April, we visited the trainee practice site. The trainees greeted us with 90 degree bows and a bright face. Rather than saying that they had difficult expressions, it would match to say that their expressions were one of excitement.
Each of the mission statements and journals about practice they are able to see their own responsibilities and goals. The agency seniors, B1A4’s success and current pace is a big inspiration for the trainees. After Sandeul appeared in the musical ‘All Shook Up,’ several impressions of the musical have been written.
The seven floored WM building is full of facilities for B1A4 and the trainees to use. Starting with underground practice rooms and an acting room, B1A4 members personal studio, and offices that have systematic maintenance. In January the new office building was prepared and it looked similar to a model house with its organized appearance.
There are numerous small agencies in the entertainment industry nowadays, but among them, WM has raised B1A4 out of nothing and have them claiming top spots no different than anyone else. Their debut was during the rainy season and they were in a harsh environment to the extent that their practice room had become flooded that office was a first floor basement. They have now changed to a seven floor office building.
WM’s approach is not only for the purpose of debuting, but to constantly instill a sense of responsibility and goals. These guys have points that you should look back at for any small agency and idol who dreams.
Translated by thesuitelife547 for banasubbers