K-pop group Kingdom takes the stage during a festival of Korean pop music on Sept. 23 at USC. (Photo by Uprightkid)

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

Anyone who thinks that K-pop is merely a passing trend is wrong, according to a veteran K-pop music industry executive, who asserts, “The numbers don’t lie.”

Dom Rodriguez, a producer and songwriter who heads the U.S. branch of SM Entertainment, one of South Korea’s largest entertainment companies, was asked about the future of K-pop during a recent forum at the University of Southern California.

Korean actress and singer Kim Sejeong performs at the festival. (Photo by Michael Chow)

“As massive as (K-pop) is today, I think we’re at the starting point of what’s to come,” Rodriguez predicted. “The growth is going to be exponential as we move forward.”

Rodriguez, SM’s senior vice president, manages and has produced songs for NCT 127 and other artists. He appeared on campus as part of a day-long K-pop festa Sept. 23 that also featured a dance competition and concert.

When asked by USC Professor Hye Jin Lee about his company’s creative process, Rodriguez explained that everything comes into play, including the music video, the look, and all the elements “to make it the greatest possible version it can be.”

In addition, says Rodriguez, the song and performance “must be aligned with our vision as a company and what that’s going to mean from a 360 direction and not simply the music alone to the ears, but what does it say to the eyes, what does it say to the mind, what does it say to the group. Is it on-brand?

“Every song is a true journey,” he says. “There’s no real boundary. There’s not a scenario where you say you can’t do this, you can’t do that. If you have a great record, it’s a great record. If we think that it will reach and identify with our audience, and it matches our acts, then we pursue it, but there’s no boundaries.

Dance group Prism Kru wins U.S. Championship in K-pop cover dance competition. (Photo by Michael Chow)

“It’s not a copycat game. It’s … (just) bring us something that’s amazing.”

Rodriguez entered the K-pop industry in 2010. He admits that initially it was difficult to generate mainstream media interest in K-pop. “The growth…has been substantial. To now, where you can’t turn a corner without seeing it. K-pop has arrived, and everybody knows about it. 

“This year alone, I’m starting to see so many more companies and groups focusing on these markets, which is a beautiful thing. But it really speaks to the priority, which is K-pop, as it speaks to the global marketplace.”

USC Professor Hye Jin Lee and K-pop indusry executive Dom Rodriguez field questions during a campus forum about the global hit genre. (ELLEN ENDO/Rafu Shimpo)

A lively question-and-answer session following the discussion revealed robust student interest in entering the K-pop industry in areas ranging from dance to fashion design to marketing.

Rodriguez also manages Red Velvet, Super Junior and aespa in North America, and has produced music for Girls’ Generation, Super M, TVXQ, and EXO.

Lee is a clinical assistant professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism who specializes in teaching and writing about pop culture, media industry, and gender issues in the design and use of technology. 

Fans cheering at McCarthy Quad. (Photo by Glenn Osaki)

Actress-singer Kim Sejeong performed for the festa in concert along with the seven-member K-pop group Kingdom. She most recently appeared in the K-dramas “Business Proposal” and “The Uncanny Corner,” and was a member of the K-pop groups I.O.I. and Gugudan. Kingdom was formed in 2021 by GF Entertainment, and last April their song “Ascension” reached number one on five Amazon music charts.

To round out the festivities, the university hosted a dance competition spotlighting 12 finalist teams chosen from approximately 100 dance teams from across the U.S. The winning group will represent Team USA in the 2022 K-Pop Cover Dance World Final in Seoul later this month.

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