[Herald Interview] Top Music Producer Hopes to Work with BTS ‘V to Create Global Success

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting social distancing measures, music producer Eom Hong-hyeon may well have been depressed. The CEO of EMK Musical Company, although previously optimistic and outgoing, remembers spending much of his days in despair.

It was not without reason. Right before the pandemic hit, Eom had planned to launch an office in the United States, after being frustrated and disappointed after meeting with renowned music producers in the United States and the United Kingdom. Eom recalled their unanimously pessimistic responses, which left him with the feeling that as someone from an Asian country with less than 30 years of history in the industry, it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for him to become a senior producer on Broadway. or the West End.

Rather than being discouraged by these returns, Eom returned to Korea, galvanized in his determination to establish himself in the West with his own production company in the United States. Due to the pandemic, he had unfortunately been forced to put these plans on hold.

As soon as the pandemic ends, Eom plans to revert to this plan, ironically with more confidence due to COVID-19.

Eom believes the past two years have given theaters across the country a chance to continue to grow and close the gap with Western theater stages.

Unlike many Western theaters, which have been closed for months, South Korea’s musical theaters have only closed for six weeks in the past two years, thanks to strict social distancing rules for audiences, which mandated the wearing of masks at all times and prohibited eating and drinking inside theaters.

Thinking of the hardest-hit theater communities across the globe, Eom said, “Many actors and theater crews have been forced off the stage and these long pandemic shutdowns have been long enough to hurt them in several ways.”

“The past two years, I think, have been very fortunate and valuable for the Korean actors and music crew, despite the theaters functioning less than usual,” Eom told the Korea Herald in an interview. December 13.

Beyond this, the global expansion of the Korean musical theater industry will also benefit from the growing popularity of K-culture, as evidenced by the success of “Parasite”, “Squid Game” and BTS.

Eom said the Korean music industry could benefit from increased interest from non-Korean audiences.

“Even before the pandemic, many fans from many Asian countries traveled to Korea specifically to see musicals. I can’t wait to see this trend spread to global K-pop fans once the borders open again, ”noted Eom.

Although Eom is now one of Korea’s most successful producers, he’s no stranger to being an outsider. Growing up in a small community with little live theater, Eom had only worked on musicals before the age of 30. It was only after Eom fell in love with this multidisciplinary art later in his life that he became a music producer.

Even after the spectacular failure of his first musical, “Dracula,” in 2006, which left his then-newly founded company, EMK, some 1.8 billion won ($ 1.5 million) in debt, Eom was was able to stage a remarkable comeback with the 2009 hit musical “Mozart!” which featured former TVXQ member Kim Jun-su. This role not only launched Kim’s career as a musical actor, as he went on to star in over 10 musicals, but also introduced a trend for K-pop idols to turn into musicals.

“Mozart! Remains one of EMK’s most successful productions, having been reproduced several times. EMK has many other titles on its roster, including a number of successful European musicals, such as “Rebecca” and “Elisabeth”, which Eom brought to Korea in an attempt to distinguish its company from the competition. He also ventured into the development of original content including “The Man Who Laughs”, “Xcalibur” and “Mata Hari”. Significantly, these also share storylines drawn from non-Korean sources that are familiar to global audiences.

In his role as a producer, he called on global talent, including world-renowned composer Frank Wildhorn and music director Robert Johanson to create the original EMK productions. His decision to collaborate with renowned overseas creators has drawn criticism from Korean audiences, who believe that such involvement of foreign talent prevents his original productions from being genuinely Korean.

These creative relationships with Western industry leaders did not come about by accident, but rather Eom’s strategy to create world-class production.

“Culture no longer exists in a national vacuum. The productions don’t have to be 100% Korean to get the “Korean” label. If you create the best production in the world, you can work with the best songwriters in the world, the best actors in the world, the best in the world, regardless of nationality, ”said Eom.

Eom is eager to expand beyond the confines of the Asian market, in part due to the size of the Korean music industry. Although musicals account for over 70% of the country’s theater revenue as of 2020, this industry will not be able to sustain its growth by relying solely on Korea’s population of 60 million. South, according to Eom.

“Although I don’t think the South Korean market is saturated yet, it would take an audience of around 150 million people to achieve this kind of stable growth,” he said.

Eom hopes that his next production, another original piece called “Beethoven”, will solve these problems.

He works again with the beloved musical duo, Hungarian composer Sylvester Levay and German lyricist Michael Kunze, who are the originators of “Mozart! “Elisabeth”, “Marie-Antoinette” and “Rebecca. With this winning combination of talents, Eom hopes that “Beethoven” will be the one to launch Korean musicals onto the world stage.

“Before the pandemic, I only dreamed of casting established Western actors in any Korean musical that could make it to Broadway or the West End. But now I’m hoping to launch V from BTS, which I’ve heard has a keen interest in musicals. If we manage to make it a reality, it would attract a global audience to Korean musicals, ”he said.

Through it all, Eom has his eyes on the future. “Whatever I do as a producer, I am very keen to pave the way for future generations of producers.”

By Park Ga-young ([email protected])

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