To stand out in Super Junior, sometimes a side job helps

by Kim Ji-Soo and Rachel Lee

Korea Times, Kf And Cj E&Amp;M

Young K-pop fans may just kill for the chance to walk backstage on the set of “M Countdown,” a popular cable television music program in South Korea.

A few short steps and the immaculately styled Lee Sung Min, a member of the band Super Junior, whizzes by. Then up ahead, in a room with a paper sign showing the group’s name on the door, there’s Shin Dong Hee having his violet-colored hair fussed over, as Choi Si Won steps into the room.

With its 10 members executing dance moves and addictive tunes in unison, Super Junior is one of the latest acts topping charts in Korea, Taiwan and China, and selling out seats at Tokyo Dome. But that hasn’t stopped the group and its talented members from evolving.

When they debuted seven years ago, the group was still very young, the youngest being Kim Ryeo Wook in his late teens.

But now, after the July release of their sixth album, the band members have grown up — as is evident with the album’s title, “Sexy, Free & Single.”

“Yes, we thought about slowing down on activities like appearing on entertainment programs, or acting or other things. But it’s our appearances that have propelled us, in a synergistic way with our music, to our current popularity,” says Park Jung Soo, also known as Lee Teuk, the leader of the group. “We want to be able to continue as Super Junior for a long time to come; we would like to be national idols so I don’t think we will be slowing down on nonmusic activities.”

Super Junior commands some very devoted fans not only in Korea but throughout much of Asia.

“Allow me to speak frankly. We have no rivals in Southeast Asia, and in particular in China,” says Ye Sung (real name: Kim Jong Woon) with a deadpan look that reveals a slight glint of humor in his eye.

“I think the fans like our approachability and our good looks,” says Lee Tuek.

“I’ve read a lot of what foreign fans write on the Internet. That’s what they said, that we’re good looking,” Eun Hyuk (Lee Hyuk Jae) chips in. It’s at this point that they begin to reveal they’re joking, realizing their hard work has been matched by some great stylists.

Since their debut in December 2005, Super Junior has worked doggedly not only in music but appearing in popular entertainment programs to increase the group’s exposure. They also perform in Southeast Asian markets, where other big-name groups such as TVXQ were cautiously knocking on doors.

“In the early 2000s, not many Southeast Asian nations were open to K-pop concerts. But after our performance, things changed. You can say that K-pop grew as we grew,” Lee Tuek says.

Where does this confidence come from? It could be fan reaction. When Super Junior visited Thailand in 2006, they sparked havoc at an airport when fans mobbed them. Or they could be riding on the current heightened interest in South Korean pop culture and being able to collaborate with leading musicians and choreographers.

“We also work with world-class talent on our music,” the leader adds expanding on how the group’s songs gain attention worldwide. The choreography for “Sorry Sorry” was created by Nick Bass and for “Sexy, Free & Single,” it was done by Devin Jamieson.

The fact that they have the most members — a total of 12, but currently only 10 are active as Kim Hee Chul is serving his military duty while Kim Ki Bum is focusing on acting — works to their advantage.

The members’ activities outside the band (acting, hosting TV shows, DJing, etc.) keep fans interested by showcasing individual qualities that could otherwise get buried in the group.

“I would like to be a next-generation MC,” Lee Tuek states boldly, only to laugh sheepishly when told his eyes were burning with ambition.

Members such as Si Won, Lee Dong Hae and Ye Sung are focusing or want to focus on acting. Sung Min is nurturing dreams of starring in more musicals.

“I would like to represent the face of Korea; so that people know there is a Choi Si Won in Korea,” Si Won says.

Don’t expect the group to part ways any time soon, though. They perform in Jakarta on Sept. 22 as part of the SM Town Live World Tour. Let’s hope the airport has beefed up security.

The Japan Times is pleased to present a series of articles about Korean pop music produced in collaboration with The Korea Times and enewsworld.com .