The Five Best Things About SM Entertainment’s 2022 New Year’s Eve Show
Both the concert and mini-movie aspects of this show embodied the past, present, and future of SM Entertainment.
Note: The “SMCU Origin Story” will be discussed much more in an upcoming episode of 17 Carat K-Pop, so be sure to subscribe to not miss it! You can catch up on aspects of the SMCU with the episodes listed below, and then prepare to hear the most comprehensive, updated overview to date of the ways these stories are all connected on my “KWANGYA 101” episode! These episodes are also available wherever you get your podcasts!
The SM Entertainment Universe (a clip show with some new comments on Red Velvet’s music video world)
BoA Fide Popstar (less about the SMCU storyline and more about how SM Entertainment became the juggernaut it is today)
#1: The Cinematic Origin Story
The show started off with SM Entertainment CEO Lee Soo-man delivering an announcement, in a video where he wore a train conductor’s uniform and stood ready to stamp passports. He explained the premise joining various SM Entertainment artists’ music video worlds together and how the “SMCU Express” allows the audience to travel to KWANGYA to see the point where all those worlds meet. KWANGYA was described as a place with no time or space restrictions, endless possibilities, and a place to take in both performances and cinematic stories. In other words, KWANGYA is the definition of music as escapism! Leaning heavily into the escapist aspect of K-pop concepts’ appeal is a smart move for SM Entertainment; as the “real world” is unpredictable and turbulent, the invitation to immerse oneself in a different world is more appealing than ever.
The show did not disappoint when it comes to providing new Easter eggs in its short videos. As is typically the case, the video clips both clarified some key questions fans have had about the SM Entertainment Cinematic Universe and raised even more questions, with undoubtedly ambiguous answers. The videos both satisfied a bit of fans’ curiosity and maintained the appetite to learn more about this magical place.
#2: Multiple K-Pop Generations Teaming Up
The sense that viewers were watching a changing of the guard was palpable throughout the night, as “Second Generation” K-pop stars shared the stage with newer acts. SHINee’s ONEW and aespa’s NINGNING sang a touching duet, and HYO remixed “Second” to include aespa’s GISELLE, just to name a few.
In a move that was smart both promotion-wise and entertainment-wise, NCT members (TAEYONG, HENDERY, YANGYANG, and JENO) teamed up with aespa’s GISELLE for the high-energy “ZOO.” This song is from SM Entertainment’s latest “SMTOWN” album, and to feature the catchiest song off of it on stage was a great way to persuade viewers to go check out the rest of the new album, and to anticipate further combinations of the company’s artists. “ZOO” proved there is always a fresh mix of members and sounds on the way from this company.
#3: The Solo Stages
The most impressive performance of the night was WENDY’s solo performance of “Like Water.” WENDY’s beautiful voice can sometimes get lost amid Red Velvet’s busy, visually stimulating music videos, so it was a nice opportunity to focus on WENDY’s vocals. This underrated solo star sang with a genuine joy and passion for getting to do so, and she conveyed the song’s message with the emotion it deserves. Adding to the memorableness was the live band who performed with her and the forest setting in which she stood. Dressed in a white, lace, floor-length dress, WENDY embodied a rural, vintage aesthetic that added a lovely new feel to this song.
Speaking of embodying a specific aesthetic, TAEYEON dazzled during “Weekend.” Rocking a little white dress, tall, white boots, and platinum hair, she spun around the room in sync with her backup dancers and adorably sang about the joys of free time. Fellow Girls’ Generation member HYO showed off her solo stage persona as well, rapping her way through “DESSERT” and cutely dancing along to “Second.”
#4: GOT (Girls On Top, aka GOT the beat)
The most-anticipated stage of the night did not disappoint. WENDY and SEULGI from Red Velvet, HYO and TAEYEON from Girls’ Generation, KARINA and WINTER from aespa, and BoA came together for the premiere of their star-studded group’s debut single, “Step Back.” Not only did viewers get a taste of the fierce outfits and performances to expect in 2022, but they also got to see each GOT member in a new light. BoA proved her ability to let others shine on stage alongside her, HYO got to show off more of her rapping skills, and SEULGI and WENDY presented a stark departure from their sugary-sweet attitudes in Red Velvet. The talent of GOT was to be expected, but the new energy and style that comes from these members of different girl groups teaming up was a thrilling surprise.
#5: The Overall Format
This show did not follow the typical K-pop concert format, in which artists spend a significant portion of the show talking to the audience. With the exception of a few minutes here and there, the “SMCU Express” kept going full-steam ahead, packing over forty songs into the show. Most of the songs were performed in full, rather than in a medley. As nice as it can be to hear sweet messages from favorite artists throughout a show, SM Entertainment effectively emphasized the escapism goal of their show by opting for few interruptions between acts. The audience did not have to constantly feel jolted out of the immersion, since one song transitioned quickly into the next one.
While one could assume it is a hindrance to a production when it has to take place without an audience, SM Entertainment actually seemed to benefit from the arrangement. As they wove tales of interconnected virtual and “real” worlds, they put the theme into practice with technology. KAI appeared to zap into and out of different spots on the stage throughout his performance of “Mmmh,” for example. Superpowers and other digitized aspects of performances were remarkably realistic and helped the pre-recorded performances stand out amidst a sea of similar livestreams.
Technology aside, the performances had unexpected twists in terms of location. MINHO started singing “Heartbreak” while driving around in the same car seen in the video segment that immediately preceded the performance. KEY and TAEYEON emphasized the story of “Hate that…” by singing it from different train compartments, only uniting at the very end, at the train station. And the artists who did not “travel” during their songs brought their music videos alive on stage instead. For example, NCT 127 performed “Favorite (Vampire)” on a stage full of sparks, red flower petals, and moving spotlights, bringing to mind the music video’s special effects.
Despite the show’s lengthy setlist and running time of over three hours, watching it went by in the blink of an eye. New life was injected into the performances, with new combinations of SM Entertainment artists contributing to one another’s stages, a whirlwind of costume and location changes, and impressive uses of technology.
Bonus Pick: “Hope from KWANGYA”
It might sound biased to be named Hope and say one of the best parts of the night was when all the artists sang a song with “Hope” in the title. It might.
Seeing them sing “Hope from KWANGYA” again this year truly was a delight, and since it was performed in a brand new music video this year, it is nice to think a new video for this perfectly-titled song will be released annually!
With older idols performing SM Entertainment classics and new groups teasing what they have in store, this concert brought heavy waves of both nostalgia and excitement for the future. It was an immensely entertaining way to ring in the new year, and it simultaneously introduced older songs to newer K-pop fans and reminded long-time K-pop fans what made them become fans in the first place. SM Entertainment showed both a detailed commitment to continuous storytelling and the ability to pull off excellent performances.
To hear about what I disliked about the show, how it compares to my review of last year’s show, and more of my thoughts on the night, stay tuned for an upcoming episode of 17 Carat K-Pop!