Building on the success of “Parasite,” the Korean entertainment industry has had a huge 2021. K-pop remains a worldwide phenomenon, the Korean series “Squid Game” has found passionate audiences around the world and Korean actors are taking home awards gold.
South Korea’s entertainment powerhouse CJ ENM — one of the drivers of this flowering — has announced six honorees as its “Visionaries” of 2021. Launched in 2020, the studio’s annual list singles out individuals in the Korean entertainment industry who represent the zeitgeist and the latest trends, encouraging artists to keep pushing the envelope.
“These creators and artists are at the center of the biggest trends, and the groundwork for Korean artists to push global expansion that transcends borders,” says Miky Lee, vice chair of the CJ Group.
But as with so many things in show business, Korean entertainment’s seemingly sudden success is actually the fruit of years of cultivation. There have long been efforts to promote and showcase Korean entertainment to a wider audience, including CJ ENM’s annual KCON, which has granted aspiring K-pop acts a platform to build their fan base outside Korea since 2012, and the Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA), which launched in 2009 and are now televised globally.
CJ ENM’s 2021 Visionary honorees certainly made their mark in Korea and beyond. Youn Yuh-jung became the first Korean actor to take supporting actress gold at the Academy Awards earlier this year; K-pop group BTS has won over a dozen awards in 2021; and Hwang Dong-hyuk’s “Squid Game” became an international sensation, viewed in a record 142 million households.
To dig into these achievements, CJ ENM analyzed the Korean entertainment scene and selected three categories that encapsulate key values: “Empathy for Coexistence,” “Expanded Universe” and “Hyper-Entertainmentism.”
In “Empathy for Coexistence,” Youn was selected thanks to the themes in her moving Academy Award acceptance speech, while BTS was acknowledged for standing for diversity through their music and remarks at the United Nations General Assembly.
Representing the “Expanded Universe” category are K-pop group aespa and “Squid Game” director Hwang. One of the fastest-rising K-pop acts, aespa consists of four real-life members and their respective avatars. If aespa has blurred the distinction between the real world and imaginary settings, “Squid Game” has transcended the past, present and even the future. Hwang centered his innovative series on an old Korean children’s game, and the show’s global success suggests audiences can be passionate about things beyond their experience.
For “Hyper-Entertainmentism,” the honorees are top Korean comedian and TV personality Yu Jae-seok and Choi Jung-nam, director/producer of the survival series “Street Dance Woman Fighter.” With online platforms exploding, themes once considered unfitting for TV shows have become the foundation of new hits. Yu and Choi have made acclaimed shows involving non-celebrities and archival footage, going against the conventional formula for success.
These honorees represent the insightful thinking that has contributed to the Korean industry’s recent surge. At the same time, partly due to the pandemic, a new generation of entertainment consumers has emerged. When the two forces converged, Korean entertainment was finally “discovered.”
What might be next? CJ ENM is partnering with leading studios around the world for remakes of Korean content. It’s a new trend, but CJ ENM thinks long term and has been prepared for this momentum.
Recently, the company acquired the U.S.-based content studio Endeavor Content to solidify its presence in the global market and content distribution channels.
“CJ ENM strives to become an all-encompassing global entertainment company, and we will expand our presence in the global market through continued transformation and innovation,” said Kang Ho-sung, CEO of CJ ENM. Read a breakdown of the categories below.
Celebrating artists whose expansive work blurs the line between the real world and the virtual world.
The digital world — aka the metaverse — is creating a shift in our collective notion of what constitutes entertainment. The forward-thinking artists of Expanded Universe are using technology, such as streaming, virtual reality and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), to reimagine how stories are told, experienced and supported financially. With infinite possibilities and innovation at the forefront, audiences are being led on an exciting journey into the unknown.
Honoring creators who are throwing out old formulas and experimenting on new platforms, creating a contemporary standard.
In today’s age of “Hyper-Entertainmentism,” digital content and television programs originally aimed at specific groups are now reaching much wider audiences. As exemplified by the success of unprecedented formats, the conventional rules of content creation no longer apply. With ample resources and different platforms to use, creators and producers are forging a new path forward, boldly taking entertainment to the next level.
“Empathy for Coexistence”
Recognizing individuals actively pursuing “togetherness,” imparting the values of coexistence, diversity and empathy.
During the pandemic, calls for unity have grown louder, encouraging people around the world to stand together and cast aside differences such as age, gender and nationality. Entertainment and activism have become undeniably interconnected, as evidenced by artists’ willingness to use their platforms to raise awareness for important causes. Empathy for Coexistence honors artists who embody these values and put them into action.