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Way Back Wednesday: SM vs. DSP - The original company rivalry

By GhostWriter   Wednesday, August 3, 2016   90,304   8,692   88



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This is Way Back Wednesday where we feature a blast from the past.

Before the "Big Three," there were the "Big Two." On today's Way Back Wednesday, we'll look back at how the rivalry between the two companies began and how it continued for nearly two decades.

The great idol wars first popped up back in the 90's when the first generation of idol stars were part of fan-fueled rivalries pitting groups against each other. At the center of the frenzy stood the two most important companies of that era: SM Entertainment and DSP Media. These two companies have had an interesting relationship over the years as SM has always been viewed almost as a big brother to DSP's little brother in the way they have developed and debuted groups. However, there is no doubt that each has helped shaped the landscape of K-pop. 

H.O.T. (SM) vs. Sechskies (DSP) - Rise of the Boy Bands

H.O.T and Sechskies defined the SM/DSP rivalry of the late 1990's. Lee Soo Man of SM Entertainment changed K-pop forever with how he created and marketed the first boy group in H.O.T. The strategy of DSP Media (Daesung Enterprise at the time) CEO Lee Ho Young was to respond by creating what was initially viewed as a copycat group but Sechskies had their own distinct style and personality. Rival fans have always been a part of Korean music but it was the rise of the boy bands that led to a new generation of fandom with specific colored balloons (white vs. yellow) and synchronized chants (I had a friend who used have them ALL memorized). Much of this activity is still part of the fan experience today. I think the rivalry existed more in the minds of fans than between the actual groups but the popularity of the two groups probably opened the eyes for the entire music industry about how powerful the (then) a new generation of music fan could be. From H.O.T and Sechskies came the basic outline of how to market an idol group: showcasing individual personalities but always as part of the larger group. It's still exactly how most companies operate today.

S.E.S (SM) vs. Fin.K.L (DSP) - Rise of the Girl Groups

Even with all of the very talented young women in K-pop today, SES and Fin.K.L are still my two favorite girl groups of all time. SES debuted in 1997 with the single "I'm Your Girl" and it was an instant hit making them stars overnight. Their cute, wholesome image worked with fans as they became the first idol girl group in K-pop. Fin.K.L debuted just a few months later but didn't have the initial success they had hoped for but that all changed with their second single "To My Boyfriend" which propelled them to become one of the most popular groups in K-pop history. Like the boys, the rivalry between the group mostly existed among fans but those fans were fiercely loyal. Both SES and Fin.K.L grew beyond their role of just idol musicians into almost iconic figures with fans copying their fashion, hairstyles, and more. They became major product endorsers and were sought after guests on TV shows. The girls were basically marketed as all-around talents rather than just singers and encouraged to show multiple sides of their personalities to forge that personal bond that fans latch onto. Sound familiar? SM and DSP still do that today.

TVXQ (SM) vs. SS501 (DSP) - Going Global

SM and DSP took everything they had learned from H.O.T and Sechskies and took it to the next level by going global with the next iteration of boy groups, TVXQ and SS501. Both groups had success in Korea (TVXQ more so than SS501) but the rivalry really kicked off when the companies made the jump into the Japanese market. Traditionally, the Japanese market was not easy for Korean artists to crack but through constant effort from previous artists such as BoA and Korean cultural exports (think 'Winter Sonata'), the doors slowly began to open. By the time the two groups came along, they were able to kick the door down and paved the road to the Japanese market that many of the current idol groups enjoy today. I think it's fair to point out that while SS501 had great success, TVXQ just did it bigger and better. During their heyday, the group boasted the largest fan club in the world, were the most photographed celebrities in the world and had much broader success over a longer amount of time in both Japan and Korea. It's unfortunate how their story ended but there's no denying their impact on the world of K-pop. 

Girl's Generation (SM) vs. Rainbow (DSP) - The Mega Girl Group

When Girls' Generation first debuted back in 2007, the majority of the talk surrounded the fact that there were nine members and that SM was on some weird big-huge-group kick as Super Junior and their thirteen members debuted just two years before. There were questions about if that same concept could work with a girl group and if fans would be able to identify with each member which is so important in K-pop. The answer was a resounding YES. Girls' Generation was the benefactor of the full marketing prowess of SM but it wasn't until their 2009 monster hit "Gee" that they became international stars. That same year, DSP introduced their seven member Rainbow which followed the trend of huge girl groups performing intricate choreography taking advantage of their sheer numbers. While individual members of the group have become popular, the group itself hasn't reached the same level of success as their rivals. This was more of a clear example of DSP following in the footsteps of SM, but it's not just DSP. Other companies like Core Contents Media and Pledis Entertainment followed suit with groups like T-ara and After School growing to eight members each. All of that was from the success stemming from SM as they showed it was possible for these large line-ups to become popular.

KARA (DSP) - Here comes a new Challenger

Although Rainbow didn't achieve the success that Girls' Generation did, DSP had another girl group that proved to be popular, KARA. The girls weren't a mega group with numerous members but their fun music caught on quickly with people. They achieved superstardom when they expanded into Japan. For the early 2010's, TVXQ was the only foreign group that could rival their sales numbers in Japan. The girls broke numerous records for a foreign girl group in Japan and won numerous awards. Unfortunately, things started going downwards when they started to have members leaving the group.

EXO (SM) vs. A-JAX (DSP) - The Next Evolution, FINAL VICTORY FOR SM

In 2012, K-Pop was all about new boy bands and their powerful concepts. EXO's highly anticipated debut was the blueprint for many, incorporating apocalyptic themes in their music and big powerhouse vocals. As far as concept is concerned, A-JAX followed this formula the closest. A-JAX moved on to doing their own thing with their singles "2MYX" and "Hot Game" but they didn't receive much attention at all. On the other hand, EXO has quickly risen and is now one of the most influential groups in all of K-pop. They did run into issues with members leaving but their popularity hasn't waned. With a resounding victory for EXO, the rivalry has pretty much ended now. After a rivalry of nearly 20 years, it appears SM Entertainment is riding high while DSP hasn't had the same amount of success.

This article might seem like I'm painting all SM groups as revolutionary and all DSP groups as meager followers. Not so. It is true that SM Entertainment has been on the cutting edge of the K-pop idol industry and could be called innovators. It's also true that DSP Media has been in a following position debuting groups after a similar group comes out from SM but so has the rest of the industry. What DSP was able to do though was create groups that were able to stand up to the SM groups and that challenge forced each company to produce cooler music, choreograph more creative dances, envision forward fashion, and overall, made each company, each group, and even maybe each member better. And that's why rivalries are a good thing. Competition makes everything better.

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mitsukikamishiro Saturday, August 13, 2016

kara <3

FPinkDayShidae Saturday, August 6, 2016

What?it's GG and KARA(2007), Rainbow debuted in 2009.

Haru_ki Thursday, August 4, 2016

This article brought me memories XD but seriously, i loved that era with TVXQ, SS501 and Kara, those where the firsts groups i loved and still do :3 .. I feel like DSP didn't know how to manage their artists, for example Rainbow and A-Jax. And i wouldn't say DSP only made groups to stand up to SM e_e

ValkryiaSkyfall Thursday, August 4, 2016

And then we have this year: The year of JYP!

SkaiPSH ValkryiaSkyfall Thursday, August 4, 2016

Need to waiy for BlackPink first.

anotherSONE ValkryiaSkyfall Thursday, August 4, 2016

2007 was also been said as "The Year of JYP" (Wonder Girls) and later their fans blame everything on JYP for trying to promote WG in US...

joycb Thursday, August 4, 2016

This is a really nice article (except for the SNSD vs Rainbow part). I am a big fan of SS501 and KARA.

lanterngirl Thursday, August 4, 2016

I didn't even know A-JAX existed, honestly. I just know AJAX as a powder cleaner from the United States.

airboy lanterngirl Thursday, August 4, 2016

And in Europe it's a football team ;)

chubbyabbyyy Thursday, August 4, 2016

Whoever wrote this article obviously do not the kpop world... -___- How could she or he not know that Kara and SNSD (including Wonder Girls) are like the big 3 back then....and rainbow is still rookies. they are not popular enough to go against SNSD...

airboy chubbyabbyyy Thursday, August 4, 2016

The article was about SM vs. DSP groups, so Wonder Girls did not have anything to do about it. Rainbow "failed" to compete so they made KARA also, that have much better success. So what is wrong with the article? nothing.

chubbyabbyyy airboy Thursday, August 4, 2016

I know...but back then kara, snsd, and wonder girls are like competing against each other, I am saying wonder girls is part of the two company. I am just saying those three groups are the most popular.

airboy chubbyabbyyy Friday, August 5, 2016

Yes, the was part of the competion, but was not from any of the two companies in the article. But I can see what you mean.

vnvndl89 airboy Sunday, January 8, 2017

KARA had debuted on 2007 before Rainbow debuted on 2009.

jeniferl Thursday, August 4, 2016

Companies come and go, SM stays.

heyitsmejoshyb Thursday, August 4, 2016

You can tell how DSP nowadays is not the same as the DSP before when they changed their CEO. DSP could have still been in the top 3 or it will become top 4 if it weren't for their crap. And now, all of their groups are gone especially their last legendary group, KARA.

Ballerz_30 Thursday, August 4, 2016

DSP is a shitty company.

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