Does South Korean-backed Chinese boy band WayV have what it takes to succeed in China?

By Liu Zhongyin Source:Global Times Published: 2019/5/16 19:58:40

WayV performs in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province, on May 9. Photo: IC

WayV is a seven-member Chinese boy group formed as part of South Korean idol maker SM Entertainment's ambitious Korean Wave localization project NCT. Debuting in China in January, the group has the potential to become one of the country's best boy bands, but faces incredible challenges to get there. 

Riding the 'Korean wave' 

K-pop is currently sweeping across the world. In early May, US singer and songwriter Shawn Stockman, a member of Boyz II Men, shared a video of himself playing BTS member Jimin's "Serendipity" and singing in Korean. 

According to a report from Reuters, even Japanese youths are heading to South Korea to join the roughly 1 million hopefuls trying to achieve their K-pop stardom dreams. 

The members of WayV have the advantage of having this professional training while working with SM Rookies, a training team under SM Entertainment, the largest entertainment company in South Korea and the force behind iconic top-tier idol groups such as EXO, Super Junior and NCT. 

In fact, four members in WayV - WINWIN, Ten, Kun and Lucas - previously debuted with different NCT sub-units.

WayV is NCT's fourth sub-group in China, which could well explain why, following the release of the band's mini-album Take Off on May 9, its single of the same name has earned over 4.5 million views on YouTube so far and set a new record for the highest number of No.1 spots for a Chinese group across iTunes' various regional charts. 

Another advantage for WayV is that it has debuted during a time when political tensions between China and South Korea have relaxed.  

According to the Bank of Korea Economic Statistics System, as cited by South Korea's English-language Korea Herald, South Korea recorded a balance of payment surplus of $114.7 million for music, video and related services in the first quarter of 2019, nearly reaching the same level of performance in 2016. The bank attributed this recovery to improved China-South Korea relations.   

The Chinese government's Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations that kicked off in Beijing on Wednesday also signals China's sincere wish to have open cultural exchanges with different countries in Asia, including South Korea. This attitude should also boost the South Korea-backed WayV's chances of achieving success in the Chinese market. 

Challenges ahead

Despite these advantages, certain uncertainties mean WayV's success is not guaranteed. 

First, unlike South Korea, where idol production is almost a science, in China there is no set model for success so far. Many Chinese idol groups are looked down upon by industry insiders either due to a lack of musical or dancing ability or due to their lack of unity as a group.  

Even though WayV has been praised for their singing and dancing, SM Entertainment's past missteps in China have cast a looming shadow on the band. 

In 2012, SM Entertainment introduced EXO-M in China. The band counted distinguished Chinese pop stars Kris Wu, Huang Zitao, Lu Han and Zhang Yixing among its members. However, it wasn't long before the first three stars announced they were withdrawing from the team to pursue solo careers. And even when the band was together it lacked unity as fans of different members would often view the other members as threats to their beloved idol's success and therefore often argue with each other on social media. 

Interestingly, the band seems to be doing better internationally than in China. 

Looking at the band's social media followers, their official team account has 240,000 followers on Sina Weibo, but 431,000 followers on Twitter. The response toward their mini-album on Chinese music platforms has been lukewarm, making it unable to stay in the top 20 on new release lists. 

This is partially due to the lack of a mature system to promote their music in China. 

Wei Ping, an entertainment manager, told the Global Times that in his opinion, Chinese pop music platforms all too often work to give an advantage to their own entertainers, which damages fair competition.  

If WayV wants to succeed, it will have to avoid the mistakes of the past. 

In order to do so, however, it will also need the right kind of support. 

Fortunately, unlike EXO-M, which was managed by SM Entertainment all the way away in South Korea, WayV's activities fall under the direct charge of LabelV, SM Entertainments's China-exclusive label. 

Can having a specialized management team for China help WayV fight off the fierce competition from Chinese entertainment giants? 

So far, it seems LabelV is heading in the right direction. 

In March, WayV appeared in an episode of the extremely popular Chinese reality show Happy Camp. Additionally, the more popular members of the group have been making regular appearances on TV programs such as Keep Running and My Brilliant Masters

This is a sign that the band is getting the support it needs to build a name for itself in the Chinese market, in addition to elsewhere in Asia.   

Newspaper headline: Poised for success


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