Over the last several years, K-pop (Korean pop) has essentially become a global phenomenon. With a growing listenership that seemingly exploded, one can certainly speak to knowing at least one pop group from South Korea—even if they don’t listen to or know that much about the genre itself. I personally know plenty of people that fall into this category, but also know individuals who can name each and every one of these groups or singers featured within I am: SMTOWN LIVE WORLD TOUR in Madison Square Garden, which definitely tells you something of the worldwide popularity of K-pop as whole.
Chronicling 32 musical artists from the Korean record label SM Entertainment, I am: SMTOWN LIVE WORLD TOUR in Madison Square Garden showcases footage from their early years in training, daily lives, and confessions from the artists coalescing around their concert in Madison Square Garden, New York. The film can be viewed in two different ways—that of being a concert and also a biographical documentary on the artists themselves. For the most part, the works out relatively well as a simple concert, showcasing each group or artist performing some of their biggest hits in all the glitz and glamour one would expect from the world of Korean pop. This is where the film shines and should easily appease all those fans out there looking to find all their favorite K-pop groups or artists in one concert.
Where the film somewhat stumbles though is when it begins to intersect biographical segments of the artists. For the roughly 32 artists showcased here, a running time of two-hours simply isn’t enough to accommodate the massive roster of SM Entertainment in all its creative, humorous, and dedicated glory. With the exception of perhaps BoA, none of the other artists get that much screen time, delegating much of it to their live performances. This means that a lot of artists are simply given several minutes to talk about themselves, encompassing all their feelings and thoughts about their success and dedication towards music in those short minutes. This approach doesn’t exactly work out too well unless you care very little for the artists as individuals, which may be the approach that director Choi Jin-Sung was going for—you know, the record labels do have to uphold an image of their artists.
Director Choi Jin-Sung—who was a screenwriter for the delirious comedy Dasepo Naughty Girls (2006)—does establish a unique formula around the docu-concert that hasn’t really been done with such a massive collective as SM Entertainment before. While one can see that the concert footage is the real reason one should watch the film, the added behind-the-scene footage and interviewing is a nice added touch, even if it is a rather superficial reflection of the artists themselves. But regardless of this issue, I am: SMTOWN LIVE WORLD TOUR in Madison Square Garden is a surprisingly fresh look into the one of the biggest record labels in South Korea, and perhaps more notably, shows the vast, ever-growing popularity of the K-pop genre throughout the world.