PLEDIS Entertainment’s Sung Soo Han Talks Rise of SEVENTEEN, K-pop

Sung Soo Han, founder of PLEDIS Entertainment, helped form one of the biggest K-pop acts in the world in SEVENTEEN. (Courtesy PLEDIS Entertainment)

SEVENTEEN’s rise to global stardom wasn’t a case of catching lightning in a bottle. It was actually a years-long process building up the 13 members of one of K-pop’s biggest groups, training them as artists, dancers, communicators and, above all, people for PLEDIS Entertainment, the boy band’s label and management company. Sung Soo Han, the master professional who founded the company and oversees all creatives, took the time to talk with Pollstar about forming a group and how SEVENTEEN is connecting with fans across the globe.

Pollstar: Korean music is as global as ever with artists such as SEVENTEEN connecting with audiences everywhere, from Mexico to Germany. To what do you attribute this explosion of Korean culture and the success of the band since its formation?

Sung Soo Han: K-pop is comprised of different artists with colors unique to each that it is hard to point out a single reason for their success. But, if we were to pick out the common factors, fans love K-pop as a whole for its musical versatility, mesmerizing performances, eye-catching visuals, along with global promotion that amplify the value of the artist and their work. Also adding value to the scene are the scale of production and the efforts of the producers, choreographers, designers, dancers and many more behind the scenes, who work tirelessly alongside the artist for the best possible music and content.

For SEVENTEEN specifically, SEVENTEEN is a K-pop group with a unique ability to deliver positive energy. They have consistently demonstrated outstanding musical capabilities on and off the stage, earning recognition from fans worldwide in recent days.

Musically speaking, SEVENTEEN have been sharing their authentic stories through the music they create since their debut, and they keep sharing even deeper messages as time goes by. Especially recently, the members have been sharing messages that the people of their generation can relate to through music. I think the group is an inspiration that provides a place of comfort and joy to the young generation in the post-pandemic era.

Their 10th mini album that was recently released could be considered an example. The message that SEVENTEEN wanted to convey through the mini album, FML, is about acknowledging and empathizing with the concerns of the Millenials and Gen Z and the difficulties they resolve with SEVENTEEN’s positive attitude. This resonated with the youth around the world.

Last year, with the resumption of in-person events after COVID-19, the group presented 34 live shows, including fan meets in Korea and Japan and a world tour in Korea, Japan, North America, and Asia. We believe that the energy and excitement of these events have contributed to the explosive growth of their fandom.

Most importantly though, I feel it’s also the power of the story the 13 members have built up to this point through their continued growth, leading up to the current level of success. The group reached No.13 on the Billboard 200 with their 9th mini album Attacca, followed by No.7 with their 4th full-length album Face the Sun, and No. 4 with SECTOR 17. Finally, with their latest release FML, they landed second place on the Billboard 200 as well as top spots on many charts around the world, including Japan’s Oricon charts. Based on this story they’ve written, I think more people are starting to recognize SEVENTEEN’s sincerity and passion in what they do, how they continue to grow endlessly by taking on new challenges even in the ninth year since their debut.

Tell me about the process and thought that goes into the formation of a music group and how to make the band unique and stand out. What are some of the challenges, and how did this group of young men help you overcome them?

First, the label signs trainees who have the potential to become artists the company pursues, and trains them to grow in that direction. Then, the label further refines the team’s plan and direction and creates a new identity as a group together with the trainees.

We believe it is the producer’s job to assist artists in excelling at what they are good at and what they pursue. As producers and artists are partners growing together, it is important to align the direction. This applies not only to the initial creation of the team but also to planning and creating subsequent albums and performances. As a producer, it is a producer’s job to make sure that the message the artists want to express and their strengths are showcased in the best possible way. To do that, getting to know the members by frequently communicating with them is a crucial, but challenging role.

In the case of SEVENTEEN, they have been sharing their thoughts through self-production since their debut, and have grown by honestly expressing their concerns and feelings through their music and performances. Their identity is in line with my production philosophy. They’re all very energetic and talented, and as a producer, it’s a blessing to work with artists like them.

SEVENTEEN has presented a wide range of widely popular shows over the years, including fan meets, tours and online concerts. As SEVENTEEN’s producer, what are some of the key factors you consider in working on their shows alongside the members of the group? Are there directives you always provide to the band?

The most important factor in preparing for SEVENTEEN’s performances is CARAT, their fans. They wait for a three-hour show for a long time, and they invest their precious time and resources to take part in the events. Our main focus is on producing the best show for the fans by always putting forth their satisfaction when making a decision.

For the members of SEVENTEEN, we talk a lot about authenticity, which is the identity of the team. As a team that grew up by expressing their thoughts and emotions honestly through their music and performances, I want them to approach everything with authenticity. If SEVENTEEN is not happy and enjoying the stage, fans may not be able to enjoy the stage to the fullest.