The recent news of EXO’s Kai and f(x)’s Krystal breaking up after having been together publicly for a little over a year marks the end of the second official SM Entertainment couple, after EXO’s Baekhyun and Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon.
With Kai and Krystal both being extremely popular members of their respective groups, it is understandable that news of them together could potentially, and did, garner a lot of buzz and even criticism from fans. So how did SM market and manage their relationship in a way to minimise hate?
First, their relationship was quickly confirmed by their entertainment agency. It is quite well-known that SM encourages dating within the company: In 2011, S.E.S’s Shoo revealed on Radio Star that the company actually supports dating between its artists. Super Junior’s Heechul confirmed this: “Lee Soo Man said: ‘If you’re going to date, I’d rather you date within the company. It’s easy for us, and we can take care of all the scandals.’”
It’s easy to understand the logic behind this: if the higher ups do not want a couple going public, they can easily write it off as them having a close hoobae-sunbae relationship. If the media releases photos of a couple hailing from different agencies, there may be inconsistencies between the companies’ statements that can fan the flames of a dating scandal. Therefore, by supporting inter-company dating, this allows management to be able to keep track of their artists, and make statements concerning potential couples immediately, as in the case of Kai and Krystal, and of Baekhyun and Taeyeon. For the couples, it actually may be more convenient to date a label-mate as they may be able to see each other more and meet up at their workplaces away from the the prying eyes of the paparazzi.
On April Fools’ Day of last year, Dispatch released photos of Kai and Krystal out on a date — admittedly, the timing of the release was a little unfortunate as it created a lot of confusion as to whether it was a joke — but because SM immediately made a statement to confirm the couple, this eliminated a lot of speculation and suspicion from fans over things such as the authenticity of the photos and the timing of the release. The statement, “Kai and Krystal have been good friends, and they have recently started liking each other romantically”, was direct and left no room for ambiguity to avoid creating an even bigger scandal.
Even in the case of their breakup, SM employed the same brief, direct, and immediate approach: “It’s true that they’ve decided to part ways”, perhaps in attempt to draw less attention to the ending of the relationship.
Second, it may be that SM tested the waters of their relationship even before the Dispatch photos were released. In July 2015, Kai and Krystal, along with label-mate Taemin of Shinee, did a photoshoot for W. At the time, many actually thought that Krystal was the good old third-wheel of the trio, but lo and behold, it was actually Taemin. Either way, the photoshoot generated a lot of positive publicity for the group, with many “Kaistal” fans coming forward to support the duo. Obviously, we do not know whether Kai and Krystal were in a relationship at this point in time, but we do know that there were supporters of the couple, which may have softened the hit of the relationship confirmation.
Third and finally, SM used media publicity surrounding the relationship to reveal a plausible backstory for the couple. Kai and Krystal and similar in age, and have long been revealed to be good friends ever since they were trainees, so to an outsider, it would have been easy for the duo to transition from friendship to romance. Whether this was actually the case remains unknown, of course, but this fairytale friends-to-lovers story romanticised their relationship to put it in a positive light.
Of course, there was still criticism of the couple from fans and from the public alike, but there was also quite lot of support, especially from the local Korean public, which may most likely be attributed to the marketing techniques that SM used to handle their relationship. Having quietly dated and broken up with very few controversies during the relationship, I would say that SM has been quite successfully in handling this idol relationship business!