Listen to the fans
Source: 7llin’ in the Dream
On May 10 2021, NCT Dream came back with a full studio album for the first time in 4 years. And with this comeback, they came back from the brink of disbandment (or ‘graduation’ in their case), they added Mark back to the lineup, they surpassed 1.7 million sales in pre-orders and have become just the third artist, and the only one from the age group of fourth generation idols, to officially sell a million copies of their album in first week sales. They are only the third artists in kpop to achieve this, after world leaders BTS and the self-made maestros Seventeen in the list of a million first week sales.
NCT Dream is the youngest sub-unit of Neo Culture Technology, SM Entertainment’s youngest k-pop boy group. Although SM Ent. is one of the Big 4 companies in Korean music entertainment and also houses powerhouses such as SNSD, BoA, Super Junior, Shinee, EXO, Red Velvet, and most recently, aespa, none of the artists up till now have managed sales like NCT Dream. However, one must note that NCT Dream’s album has come in the golden age of k-pop. With increasing foreign interest to boost sales as well as the massive exposure k-pop is now getting, it is important to note that none of the other groups that enjoyed the immense popularity NCT Dream does had such an exposure to overseas fans and global audiences. The album marks a new beginning, indeed, a phoenix-like re-birth for the Dream members.
NCT Dream debuted on August 25, 2016 with the single “Chewing Gum.” The seven members – Mark, Haechan, Jaemin, Renjun, Jeno, Chenle and Jisung – had an average age of 15.6 years old at that time. Since Dream was a unit of NCT, it had a different ‘concept’ – that of graduation. Every member, as soon as they turned 20 (19 in international age) would ‘graduate’ or leave the group. This was because NCT Dream was promoted as the NCT unit that represented teenagers and their youth.
To understand this better, let us take a look at the members’ birth dates:
Mark: August 2, 1999
Renjun: March 23, 2000
Jeno: April 23, 2000
Haechan: June 6, 2000
Jaemin: August 13, 2000
Chenle: November 22, 2001
Jisung: February 5, 2002
This means that after Mark graduated in 2018, four of the remaining six members would graduate in 2020, leaving only Chenle and Jisung in Dream. This led many fans to speculate that this would mark the end of NCT Dream as there is no way that SM Ent. would allow the two to promote as a duo under the Dream banner. Thus, on their first and (then, supposedly final) concert on 17 November 2019 in Seoul, the members in their emotional ending speeches talked about how this would be the last time NCT Dream would be performing together. Maknae (youngest member) Jisung even spoke about how that could be his last concert ever.
However, after the concert’s fancams went viral, not only because of the emotional ments but also because members Jaemin and Jeno flashed their abs (you read that right) during the concert, fans took to Twitter and fanclub pages to express their wishes about Dream staying together and about abolishing the graduation system. One thing cannot be denied – the undeniable influence of the fans, the unity they showed, and how hard they fought for the graduation system to be abolished. And this has shown in the numbers.
Finally, in 2020, before the release of Reload, SM Entertainment announced that they would be abolishing the graduation system and Reload would mark the last time Dream would promote with 6 members as Mark would be making a return to the group after Reload promotions. ‘7Dream’ (the name used to refer to NCT Dream when they promote as 7 members) began trending globally on Twitter after the announcement.
NCT Dream has consistently proved to be strong performers, and not just on stage. Even before 7Dream came back with ‘Hot Sauce’ (their latest album), Dream was the first NCT unit to win first place on a Korean music show, were appointed official ambassadors for the FIFA U-20 World Cup which was to be held in South Korea in 2017. The latest comeback, ‘Hot Sauce’ has broken records not just in Korea but also globally. The title track “Hot Sauce” was the fastest song to reach 10,000 likes on the Korean site MelOn, surpassing the well-known and highly respected soloist IU for the title. They are the youngest artists to achieve a million first week sales. The album also topped iTunes charts in 37 countries around the world.
The numbers are impressive for a k-pop group between the ages of 19 and 22, but one should also take into consideration the fact that Dream started promoting at a very young age, and will complete five years of promotions this August. As compared to fourth generation groups, this marks a massive difference in experience. This experience is also one of their factors for success. Hopefully, companies don’t start promoting all their groups at such a young age, even though SM also shouldn’t have. The fans have watched the Dream members grow up, having been through the high school graduation ceremonies of all Korean members. This relatability has proven to be a huge factor in their success.
The most important lesson to pick up from this case study is the fact that listening to what the fans want, and not giving the fans what the company thinks they want, is the best recipe for success. Public opinion, although more united and more vocal in k-pop, is not always taken into consideration while taking decisions about these artists. The most recent case is IZ*ONE’s disbandment, where even though fans raised around 2.8 million USD to keep the 11 members together, the companies decided to go ahead and stop promotions for the group as a whole. The group has become one of the biggest girl groups in k-pop, breaking records with their album sales and promotional activities. No doubt that the girls could’ve easily broken more records if they’d been given more time to promote.
However, Dream has been luckier. Of course, while the fans wanted the group to stay together because of the close bond between the members, the company saw a massive potential profit opportunity and grabbed it with two hands. It just proves that it is what the fans want that pays, and that is the best strategy for any company to follow.
One should ideally argue that listening to the artists and bringing out their musical color is the most important. Hopefully, k-pop, especially SM, will be there in a few decades.