Having already looked at YG and SM, this week I take a gander at another company: Cube Entertainment. Which is apparently not a subsidiary of JYP Entertainment, but a company in its own right. I’m sure you probably already knew that, but it’s news to me.
I had never paid much attention to labels and companies until I heard about Cube’s name come up in a discussion about Beast, mainly about what a good job Cube had done with the group. I knew that K-pop groups were manufactured, but I’d never given proper thought to the actual manufacturers themselves. In South Korea, companies seem to have personalities and distinct styles; these “company exchanges” are about trying to get a clearer picture of what a particular company is; and to help me out with Cube Entertainment, we have Michelle, Patricia and Ree.
1. a) Cube seems to be really into the whole international promotion thing, with Cube Family concerts in the Americas, international album releases and now a studio from which to base their global operations. Is Cube really serious about “world domination,” or is this all to make Cube seem more impressive in the eyes of Korea?
Michelle: To be fair, what Korean entertainment agency doesn’t dream of “world domination?” The Korean music industry is much too small to sustain everybody and expansion is really the only way to rake in a considerable amount of profit. But as for whether or not Cube is serious about it: it seems that they’re just taking advantage of the current K-pop boom. Cube isn’t quite as well-equipped as the Big Three to take on a market outside of Korea and get good results. What Cube seems to be focused on currently is getting a better grip on their domestic market, if debuting all those groups the past year was any indication of that. Before 2011, Cube was the host of Beast, 4Minute and more recently, G.Na. It’s a miniscule roster in comparison to what the industry giants they’re forever chasing after have. We’ve touched on the idea of the ‘family’ recently, and I feel that’s what Cube is rushing to establish.
Patricia: I don’t think Cube is as serious about “world domination” as they’re just interested in pursuing profitable markets. While Cube has made a decent name for themselves in recent years, they’re not far forward enough in the general public spotlight to be considered “Hallyu ambassadors,” as the Big Three companies have often been touted. South America is a previously untapped market for the K-pop industry, but K-pop’s popularity in South America just doesn’t seem to garner as much “pride” from Korean audiences as K-pop’s popularity in Europe or North America. This is an issue that has to do with the higher value placed on whiteness and other related topics, but we’ll save that for another time.
Ree: I think “world domination” is giving Cube a bit too much credit. They’re just another company that wants to tap into wherever they see profit. Regarding South America, in the same line of what Patricia said, I feel like Cube is just looking at markets the bigger K-pop companies haven’t attempted to really forge into, and just making their move there. Cube’s roster is relatively small, and with only one actual cash cow under their belt, I can’t see Cube trying for “world domination” more than just going where the tide leads them.
Nonetheless, Cube was pretty ballsy to pursue international activities in South America, even if it wasn’t a shot at achieving world domination. Then again, it doesn’t really come as a surprise — I see Cube as being a pretty low profile company with lots to offer, but they’re never one to flaunt it.
1. b) And looking specifically at their Japanese promotions, what are their chances of success there?
Patricia: Their chances of success in Japan is probably just as good as the chances of any other current K-pop artist trying to achieve success in Japan. In this day and age, Japan has pretty much just become another market for K-pop; it’s no longer the highly-sought-after crown jewel, as in the days of DBSK and BoA. K-pop companies no longer have to exert special effort to gain popularity amongst Japanese audiences — not because Japanese audiences in general have become more receptive to K-pop, but because there’s a dedicated K-pop fanbase on Japanese shores and K-pop companies need only target that one demographic in order to achieve success. Cube’s Japanese material doesn’t really differ in quality than their Korean material, and the same could be said for most other K-pop artists trying to make it in Japan.
Ree: Cube in Japan doesn’t seem to be making any more of a dent than any other company in Japan. Most of their “success” comes from already pre-established fans in the Japanese market rather than making any new ones. It’s a shame, because the Japanese material 4Minute gets is superior to their Korean stuff, so it’s sad Cube is pretty much dangling it in front of an audience who couldn’t care less. I don’t see Cube doing anything particularly innovative about their Japanese ventures, personally.
Michelle: People should realise that asking me about Japan is like feeding me sugar. To be honest, I haven’t kept a very close tab on Cube acts’ Japanese ventures since 4Minute’s Japanese album Diamond. 4Minute has never sold very well in Japan even after producing some Japanese tracks; they were one of the first K-pop acts to fly over to Japan and try their hand on the Oricon charts but getting in first didn’t do them many favours. The reason for this would probably boil down to musical style more than anything else. Beast achieved better results with their Japanese releases, though this may simply the doing of an already-established fanbase. To be frank, A Pink may be able to achieve better results in Japan in the future. They have a style which seems more versatile and suitable for the Japanese market. Personally though, I would love to see G.Na try her hand in the Japanese market.
While any artist’s success in Japan is dependent on a range of influences, I feel that G.Na has the talent to find her place in any situation. Japan may do her some favours, given that their music industry is less idol-centric and allows her space to leave the ‘idol’ space that Cube has slotted her into. Japan also has a larger market for ballads which G.Na undoubtedly excels at (given that she receives good material) — which Korea lacks. This may also be why Cube has been pushing G.Na out of what I view as her comfort zone in her last two albums — both conceptually and musically. Putting it simply though, from my perspective, G.Na would be welcomed as her heartbroken-and-suit self.
On the topic of A Pink and why they would be more successful in Japan, I’m looking at this in relation to the current Japanese idol scene which Korean acts may choose to use as a basis for a Japanese debut. A Pink holds a rather feminine feel (if all that pink wasn’t enough to set that in stone) which is something that female idol groups in Japan seem to take as a default requirement. Of course, a Korean artist doesn’t necessarily have to adapt to the local culture in order to be successful, but A Pink has an edge in appearing familiar to the Japanese audience while still carrying that clean-cut Korean idol image.
2. A lot of people say that Beast is the only thing Cube has gotten right–do you agree?
Michelle: I’d say that Cube did something right with Beast, yes, but that’s not their only success. Cube certainly got something right with A Pink and 4Minute’s beginnings were also commendable — though they do need to step up their game. G.Na though, seems to have gotten the short end of the stick although her debut was impressive. So looking at it so far, I’d say that Cube has the capabilities of promoting their artists right, and for the majority of the time, that’s what they’ve done. Their shortcomings would probably lie in an inability to see through a “risky” promotional tactic and instead turning to recycled “guaranteed success” strategies. Strangely enough though, Cube was the first to launch “inter-family” sub-units that have the potential of being excellent money-makers. As a fan of the company, I do hope that Cube puts that kind of genius into work with their groups aside from Beast.
Cube appears to stick to the “safe” methods, where they choose rather tame comeback concepts. In the case of their boy groups, they hit gold with Beast and decided to stick to that style for BtoB. I can understand why Cube has chosen to produce BtoB in the way they have — because it’s a musical style and a concept that has worked previously and has been generally well-accepted. On the downside, their artists suffer from a lack of individuality or originality. 4Minute had a good start, but Cube tried spinning the usual girl group fierce/cute strategy for them. So in comparison to all these previous promotional strategies, which have been tried and tested — sometimes successful, other times not, Cube doesn’t carry on with anything on the “riskier” side of things, which they have proven to be perfectly capable of, given what is a brilliant idea in what I’ve dubbed “inter-family” sub-units. In fact, one reason for Cube trying out Troublemaker could have been that they didn’t have all that much to lose from creating and promoting it, meaning that it was a perfect opportunity to put something to the test without fearing negative consequences. However, trying something like a gun-toting G.Na may not have been equally well-accepted, as good as it could have been.
Patricia: In terms of sheer good fortune? Maybe. As manufactured as K-pop might be, the quality of a group never rests entirely on the shoulders of their management company. I think Beast’s success as a group has to do with the fact that they have six very well-rounded members, and that’s something that exists within the members themselves, with comparatively little input from the company.
In my opinion, Cube’s biggest strength lies in producing material that suits their artists well. Cube’s done a good job of this with Beast, obviously, but they’ve done an equally good job with 4minute, G.Na, and even A Pink. Beast just has the added benefit of having talented members who could probably exist just fine without the help of Cube’s creative staff, whereas a group of questionable talent like 4minute probably would’ve been a lot less respectable had Cube not loaded them up with good songs and fantastic visuals.
Ree: I agree, somewhat. Beast is definitely Cube’s pride and joy. The thing with Beast is from the very beginning, their conception was a stroke of genius: get a bunch of rejects from bigger companies and bring them together. And although the marketing may not have been the classier thing for Cube to do, it definitely grabbed everyone’s attention, especially considering how lacklustre their debut song was. Aside from that though, Beast itself as a group is impressive to begin with, they have a lot of talent and just a very good group dynamic in general. They had the potential for Cube to tap in and make amazing. A Pink too, hasn’t been a job too badly done, and they definitely have potential.
With 4Minute, honestly, if we’re looking aesthetic and (kinda music) wise, Cube doesn’t do a bad job with them. At least, not completely. For a group so astonishingly low on talent and star power, Cube does a good job at giving them material that shows otherwise. Let’s face it, if 4Minute attempted something which required complex vocal harmonies they’d fall flat on their face. The marketing aspect of 4Minute though, is something else altogether, but that could come back to the fact none of them apart from Hyuna really have starpower. I don’t want to say that it’s 4Minute’s fault that Cube screws them over in every way possible, but the fact of the matter is they aren’t a very impressive group to start with, and whatever musical potential they have, Cube has already reached into. Over the last few months, for whatever reason, I have forced myself to watch 4Minute’s variety shows and guestings and learn more about the girls, and although I’m not smitten, I have grown to like them a bit. Which is why I feel bad for saying this, but if you ask me, the biggest problem with 4Minute was that it was made in the first place.
G.Na however, no excuses. With Cube they seem to market the most glaringly obvious qualities of their roster (Beast and being ‘rejects’, 4Minute and ‘Hyuna’), in G.Na’s case unfortunately, it happened to be her “assets”, and they seem more concerned with giving her the most generic pop songs possible and making her into a standard pop princess. There’s nothing wrong with her doing pop — but G.Na is a talent. She’s one of the best vocalists within Cube, and even though they started her off with potential, it’s been a downhill spiral from there.
3. Speaking of Hyuna, Cube has tried a lot of things with her: what would you like to see them do?
Michelle: I want to see Cube realise that Hyuna can be so much more than the sexpot they are trying to sell her as. Hyuna comes off as completely different from her stage persona on variety shows, and to be frank, I look at her more as a dancer more than anything else. Personally, I’d like to see Cube promote Hyuna with an emphasis on her dancing. Her strong point is by no means her singing, so handing her songs which feature rapping would be a better option. Her dancing though, could easily be a major selling point if it was marketed right.
Patricia: Let her take a vacation. Indefinitely.
I kid. Hyuna is probably the perfect example of what I mentioned earlier about Cube’s ability to make even the least talented artists look and sound really, really good. But I think everyone can agree that Hyuna has had more than enough opportunities to be featured as a solo act, and it really wouldn’t hurt if she just spent some more time as a plain old 4minute member than as a wannabe Lee Hyori. Besides, it’s not as if the public is going to forget about her unless she’s constantly shoved up in our faces, right?
Ree: Nothing. I’d just like them to take her away for a bit, please. Yes, Hyuna has stage presence, but she has almost no talent to back it up, and it really isn’t enough for me especially when Cube plasters her everywhere. I like Hyuna as a person, but as a performer she’s incredibly grating. If they’re going to anything with her then I’d like them to at least give her proper choreography, and a song with really minimal singing. Contrary to Michelle, although I used to, I definitely don’t see Hyuna has a “dancer” now. If Cube could change that, I’d be grateful.
4. Sub-units seem to be flavour of the month in K-pop right now, and Cube is no stranger to these, with the success of Troublemaker and much anticipation for the proposed “Double Yoon” subunit. What Cube subunit would you like to see happen ,and why?
Michelle: Cube sub-units have the potential to fulfil every “BEASTMinute” shipper’s dreams, including mine. I think I would enjoy a Hyunseung/Ji-hyun collaboration, despite the fact that Hyunseung is already “taken.” The line distribution in 4Minute is criminal in terms of Ji-hyun and I believe that in a sub-unit, she would definitely get more opportunity to display her ability. Her dancing ability, too, could be showcased to a greater extent. Hyunseung is one of the lesser-known members of Beast and being in Troublemaker has indeed given him some much-needed spotlight. A Doojoon/G.Na collaboration is also something I would welcome with much zest. While Doojoon certainly won’t be able to match up to G.Na vocally, a sub-unit featuring them would still be well-balanced if Cube followed the rap-plus-singing formula. While not original, we can still expect quality material (and sometimes the key to brilliance is simplicity).
Patricia: As much as I dig on Hyuna, I can honestly say that the Troublemaker duo was a really fresh idea in K-pop, and I really enjoyed them. But because K-pop acts are debuting subgroups left and right, I’m particularly weary of Cube debuting another subgroup unless it’s something completely wild and completely out of the box. Otherwise, Cube will just become another player in the subgroup game when they’ve already proven that they’re capable of doing really ballsy stuff when it comes to mixing up their artists. I’m not too excited about the ‘Double Yoon’ subunit because it feels too much like a Davichi or SISTAR19 copycat by merit of its structure alone, and Cube can do more than that. I think that keeping with the male-female duo pattern would be good — maybe a duet ballad unit featuring Yoseob and Jiyoon?
Ree: I second that Doojoon-G.Na pair, but I’m satiated with Double Yoon. Since those two are the only two members of 4Minute I really care for and they carry the group performance wise, I do want to see Cube do a better job with them. Honestly speaking, Gayoon and Jiyoon aren’t what I’d call particularly “strong” singers, but they’re definitely a mile and a half above their bandmates and I’d really like it if they got some more attention.
I think what I really want Cube to do is to go with the Double Yoon sub-unit idea, and just ditch the idea of either Gayoon or Jiyoon singing ballads altogether. Honestly, both of them border on unpleasant when they try singing things out of their comfort zones. I mean this out of love, but Jiyoon doesn’t seem to know how to do anything apart from yell and I spend half of “Volume Up’s” live performances cringing, and whenever Gayoon sings and tries to push or do anything my ears tend to bleed and wither.
That being said, they both do have voices. I think the genre which suits both of them to a T and makes them both sound ridiculously fantastically amazing is the pop-rock genre they explored in their OST song for God of Study “Dreams Come True.” If they tried out that I think they’d be in another league from the likes of SISTAR19.
While sub-units have been around, Cube’s efforts with Troublemaker were very successful for all parties: Cube got a hit in the title song, Hyuna continued her reign as Cube’s golden child, Hyunseung’s popularity rose, and everyone had a grand time being scandalised by the choreography. My question though is how much the Hyuna effect influenced that success. The concept of Troublemaker basically boiled down to sex appeal — of course, this isn’t unique to the sub-unit, but the blatant display of it in the choreography and the MV, among others, was what made it stand out, and sex appeal is Hyuna’s signature, it’s her thing — trying the same concept with someone else is almost unthinkable for me. For that reason alone, I don’t think co-ed sub-units would work out, unless they go the cute-and-sweet route like with Yoseob and A Pink’s Eun-ji for “Love Day.” Unless there is a strong enough chemistry between a pair, it will not be able to reach the scintillating heights that Troublemaker touched. Hence, why I’m looking forward to Double Yoon (I honestly don’t know how long it will take me to adjust if Cube names them something else), and like Ree I do hope they go for pop-rock for their lead single; it would suit their voices and be more consistent with the 4Minute image than other genres.
And with regards to our globe-trotting Cube Family, I don’t believe that ‘World Domination’ was what Cube was going for either, though it may have made for a nice perk, and while tapping into new markets is a wise move, I feel that a lot of the global Cube Family activity was also about raising the company’s profile in Korea itself. There is almost certainly a wish to build the company’s domestic standing, and using the Hallyu wave is one of Cube’s tactics — even the opening of the new Cube Studio was framed in terms of the international growth of K-pop. As Patricia pointed out, Cube’s services to Hallyu are overshadowed by those of the Big Three, but there may have been an overall boost in South Korean awareness as a result of their activities, which is ideally what Cube is aiming for: overall brand awareness, though via focusing of niche aspects.
Personally, Cube could raise their profile even more successfully by abandoning this wild goose chase around the world and concentrating instead on their roster. Cube is already considered the next company after the Big Three of SM, YG and JYP due to its artists and releases — CEO Hong Seung-sung was listed as the second most successful producer in K-pop for 2011 based on monthly Melon chart rankings, and a great amount of that success is due to Huh Gak, who is signed to subsidiary A Cube (also home to one of 2011’s top rookie groups, A Pink). By picking the right talent and giving that talent quality material, I believe Cube has a good chance of making it to the top tier of agencies in K-pop. There are other, more political, factors that would also be involved, but based on business nous alone, Cube is in a very good position to build upon the brand name they already have.
What are your thoughts on Cube? Sound off below!