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Voices that travel
Publication Date : 31-12-2012
Loud chattering and screams fill a live music venue in Beijing on a cold winter afternoon. The wild cheers reach practically hysterical tones as TimeZ emerges.
The made-in-China and trained-in-Korea group consists of six young and good-looking men.
When the two South Korean members greet the crowds with, "Ni hao [hello in Mandarin]!", the hysteria reaches a crescendo.
The name TimeZ, which is a combination of the words Time and Zoom, is made up of four Chinese members, namely Mao Ruoyi, Liu Guanxi, Tian Yichen and Kong Shuhang, and two Koreans - Lee Hyeong-joo and Kim Seong-hwan.
They are the result of the combined forces of Chinese agency Super Jet Entertainment and CJ Entertainment & Media, the largest entertainment company in South Korea.
Their debut performance on M! Countdown, a weekly South Korean music TV show, was viewed by more than 100,000 viewers on TV.
Their first EP, including a Chinese single Hooray for Idols, became an instant hit with listeners in both countries when it was released in South Korea and China on October 18, 2012.
"The idea of TimeZ is to further mix the efforts of the two countries, which share similar culture and market," says Si Jie, who is the founder and CEO of Super Jet Entertainment.
"People can share, distribute and consume foreign pop culture much more easily these days."
TimeZ is the latest brainchild of Si, who is considered "the godfather of idol groups" in China.
The 36-year-old had worked for South Korea's DR Music and SM Entertainment since 1997. He has also brought K-pop singers and groups including H.O.T., Baby Vox and BoA to China, and produced Chinese songs for them.
"When H.O.T. came to China a decade ago, it was a novelty. Fans in China had never seen a group with synthesised bubble-gum pop sound, flashy outfits and video art," Si says.
"What fans need now is a group with a variety of cultures."
He produced the first album for Beautiful Girls, China's first idol group founded in 1996 and established the four-man idol group Top Combine in 2007.
"I brought South Korean singers and groups to China. So why not do it the other way - to promote Chinese culture in South Korea," says Si, who mapped out a plan for TimeZ to start its career in South Korea and then move to China.
"What the audiences want today is more than lyrics they can understand."
The idea of having both Chinese and South Korean guys form a group emerged last year when Si left EE Media, a subsidiary company under Hunan Satellite Television, which successfully created the Super Girl and Happy Boy singing competitions.
Nearly 10,000 people turned up to audition for the cross-cultural boy band, before the talented six were chosen to form TimeZ.
The group underwent a two-year training in singing, dancing and language skills, before they gave their first stage performance.
"I like K-pop and language is never a barrier," says 17-year-old Mao Ruoyi, the youngest in the group. He has been learning ballet since young and is in charge of singing rap in the group.
Judging from their sold-out shows in China and South Korea as well as being awarded the New Asian Artist at 2012 Mnet Asian Music Awards held in Hong Kong on November 30, the future of the boy group looks bright.
"The vision is to go international. It is not just about releasing albums anymore. It's about live shows, making videos, and social media," Si says.
"The internet gives us freedom to express and share our art. We can interact with the fans and release new singles before a full studio CD."
Jin Qizhong, the artistic director of China Music, a mainland music label which created Lotte Girls, a Chinese-Korean quintet, says recruiting international artists is a selling point and helps broaden their fan bases.
"For China, the fans badly need an idol group to latch on to," says Jin, who made the first Chinese album, It's the Time, for former H.O.T. member Lee Jae-won last year.
He also points out that K-pop has transformed in the past few years. He says K-pop's exports have been growing at an average annual rate of nearly 80 per cent since 2007 and China is a major importer.
"K-pop has never disappeared because it keeps evolving," he says. "After H.O.T. disbanded, comes Big Bang and Girls' Generation. Now Psy's Gangnam Style conquers the whole world."
It's one thing to create an idol group, but keeping it alive and constantly developing is another issue.
One of the most successful Sino-Korean groups is Super Junior formed in 2005, which had Chinese singer Han Geng leaving in 2009 to pursue his solo career.
Another is EXO-M, a Sino-Korean boy band with 12 members - half of them sing in Korean, the other half in Mandarin.
Si is not worried about the future of young idol groups. He says an idol group is destined to be separated sooner or later.
"Each member can have their own career and new faces always show up, but it doesn't mean the group is gone," he says.
TimeZ's leader Kong Shuhang, who's from Shangdong province, says he's aware that their popularity could fade as fast as it came.
"We believe in working hard. Our manager always tells us not to get too comfortable because it can all go away really fast," he says.