One of the things I admire most about SM Entertainment is that they are constantly iterating and A/B testing the groups, songs, and concepts that they produce.
If you pay attention to how they operate as an entity, rather than focusing exclusively on one of their groups, you can see a real-time example of why they’re one of the biggest entertainment groups in k-pop.
They’ve created entire “entertainment properties” to showcase this A/B testing.
Before NCT debuted as its various subgroups, SM conducted rigorous testing through the online series SM Rookies. They tried out various different configurations of trainee groups. Sometimes this is really rough, as with the “SR15B dance practice” video, or music-video quality in the case of “Bassbot” and “Super Moon.”
“Super Moon” is interesting because of the three members–Taeyong, Johnny, and Hansol–featured in it, Hansol did not debut with any NCT units. In fact, he’s no longer under contract with SM Entertainment.
I suspect this is because Hansol has an almost identical “look” as Yuta, who did debut with NCT 127.
[Warning: unknown quantities of confirmation bias ahead.]
With male groups, SM tends to assemble a variety of different types. For example, if you compare a photo of EXO with a photo of BTS, you can see what I mean. EXO members each have their own charm, while–with the exception of Rap Monster–BTS members have a similar vibe. NCT is no exception to this, as you can label each member as “The ______ One” even if you know nothing about their personalities.
If you compare Hansol and Yuta in other footage from SM Rookies, Yuta is hungrier. Despite being Japanese, Yuta has been described as “more Korean than the Koreans.” You can literally watch Yuta work solidify his status as “the sexy one” as NCT 127 has practiced, promoted, and performed “Cherry Bomb” this year. (I have the YouTube receipts for this–let me know in the comments if you want me to post them.)
From my completely outsider perspective, it makes sense that if you have two trainees who look almost identical but have different work ethics, you’ll pick the one who is going to work harder.
One of SM’s staples on YouTube is SM Station, which features single songs that are collaborations, off-brand concepts for an existing group, or other “random” things. There are a lot of fun songs under this umbrella. (Don’t mind me plugging my boy Chen again.)
Right now, I suspect that they’re testing a subgroup or solo venture featuring Wendy from Red Velvet. In the past months, she’s been featured in two different SM Station releases.
One is a jazz version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which prominently features the fact that she’s an English speaker and a strong vocalist.
The other is a collaboration with singers Baek a Yeon and Jaehyun (from NCT). Another seasonal song, called “The Little Match Girl,” but it’s in Korean and puts Wendy’s voice in a different context than Red Velvet.
SM is also simultaneously running a test between Jaehyun and Doyoung as soloists from NCT 127. Jaehyun has gotten two SM Station songs so far versus Doyoung’s one (although Doyoung has been featured in some live stages), so we’ll have to wait and see what comes of this.
The one downside that I can see is that all of the tests attract at least some fans, so you still have a small contingent of NCT stans who wonder about Hansol. I could see this building up into ill will if SM made the wrong decision, but clearly NCT is succeeding reasonably well without Hansol so I doubt it will become a huge problem. I could see this negative feedback being another metric to check your decisions against.
I don’t really know what SM’s intentions are with SM Station, or what the outcome will be.If I can figure out a way to reverse-engineer YouTube views I’ll see if I can put together a predictive post.
In the meantime, I’m determined to learn from SM how to A/B test in real time while also producing quality product that people enjoy. The sheer volume of content that they produce is staggering, and I don’t doubt that it has a direct correlation with why they are so successful.