Kpop music videos have changed over the years: production-wise, the topics covered and the whole look of them. Although the formula can be similar, it still has evolved and music video directors have thought outside the box (literally, there are not as many ‘dancing in a box’ music videos anymore). It may seem obvious at first, but there are small nuances that surpass technology.
The best way to see this change is by looking at artists who have been around for a while, and comparing their first and their most recent music videos.
Firstly, Girls’ Generation!
SNSD – Into the New World
SNSD – Holiday
Side by side… we’ve come a long way in 10 years haven’t we? I’m not talking about the hairstyles and the lack of Jessica. Back then, music videos weren’t made for YouTube, so the aspect ratio is in 4:3 (with the black bars on the side) as it was for older televisions. Although it’s 10 years apart, the formula of close ups, dance shots and solo shots of them keeping themselves busy hasn’t changed. The main aspect is focus! In music videos now EVERYTHING (with some exceptions) is in focus, as we want to see everything, maybe a slight focus pull here and there. But for ‘Into the New World’, the focus is changing for a lot and it can give a nice vignette around the shot which suits the music video. Rather than a simple cut or a fade transition which ‘Into the New World’ uses, ‘Holiday’ uses a variety such as whip pans, match cuts and those glamorous curtains to open to another shot.
A stronger difference in music videos I’d say, is something like ‘The Boys’, which has that great dramatic opening with the slow motion petals, doves, etc, which I could watch all day.
SNSD – The Boys
Next, Big Bang, who are now known for their visual masterpieces…used to make stuff like this.
Big Bang – We Belong Together
Big Bang – Fxxk It
The outfits. The outfits! And the classic slow-mo shot to end it off. I love looking at old Big Bang videos. Here the amount of influence the videos have stand as the main evolution. In ‘We Belong Together’, you can see the western inspiration of 90’s pop bands, and the hip hop inspiration at the end, in the way the story is told and the outfits! But now kpop has come into it’s own with it becoming it’s own genre and having it’s own multicultural mismatch look to it – which we definitely see in ‘Fxxk It’ and more famously, ‘Fantastic Baby’. Due to the high position they’re in, Big Bang definitely don’t take themselves nearly as seriously as they used to. One thing to point out here is the colour grading, or how the colour is edited. So many colours from a natural look to pinks, yellows and greens used in ‘Fxxk It’, which contrasts with ‘We Belong Together’ where we see this slight sepia look but also everything is lit to look as natural as possible, showing the evolution of experimentation that a lot of groups try now (and what more rookie groups should try to stand out more!).
So now we’ve seen the videos, what are the actual changes?
Of course cameras get better but after the influx of kpop music videos online, they had to diversify themselves and this is why a lot of newer groups fall flat for me when the debut music video is just, meh. For example, Exo’s Growl music video prided itself on being shot all in one-take which on paper doesn’t seem all that amazing, as more cuts/sets/shots/members and just MORE seems more impressive in kpop. However technically I found this amazing in how they had to direct the dance around the camera movement and the public appreciated this too.
EXO – Growl
Another great example is from my favourite group VIXX, who filmed their music video in reverse! This gave the great effect of their actions happening in reverse but they also learnt their lines backwards so that the lip-syncing would still fit. Great concept.
VIXX – G.R.8.U
Value of a Music Video
Now that kpop is becoming such an international phenomenon, and with companies knowing this, they focus on their MVs a lot more than you’d think! The formula has mostly stayed the same (by formula I mean: close up shots of each member, big group dance shots and maybe some cheesy story shots) but with the internet having so much competition, directors have started branching out into new angles (BTS is a great example, with their music videos looking so good). With crazy budgets too! Unfortunately we don’t get to see this type of information released but once you break the music videos down you can just see the money stack up, so companies tend to get sponsors in to cover some of these crazy 6 figure costs.
BTS – Blood Sweat and Tears
What can be talked about in the public eye has changed as society’s acceptance and sensitivity has increased and decreased in different angles. A lot of music videos are seen as metaphors, leading fans to break them down in crazy ways – one of the reasons why I think BTS got so popular. One music video which I love as a little time capsule is K.Will’s Please Don’t (spoilers next paragraph – watch the music video first!).
K.Will – Please Don’t
What an ending right? The twist isn’t what you were accepting, but it was also released in a time where this was, an acceptable ending? I think if it was released a long time ago,I think it would be TOO BIG of a shock especially for more traditional Korean audiences, where homophobia is stronger than it is in the West. However in the opposite way, if this video was released now in 2017 – I think it would receive a lot of backlash for even being a twist, where being gay shouldn’t be a concept for a music video? I’m not sure, but as a time capsule of that time it’s fascinating and a well directed music video.
I think these 3 aspects have changed music videos a lot but also a lot of newer artists (or entertainment companies) don’t embrace the change and make the most basic music video possible (just dancing in a box-style) even though these cost so much money. Many newer artists such as K.A.R.D are thriving off their international fans more than their Korean fans and I appreciate the approach they are taking.
Lastly I wanted to mention Gangnam Style, which changed kpop however. But why has nobody tried to use this formula again? It was a product of it’s time. Before this, most kpop artists were taking themselves so seriously and in the West you see artists being crazy with their music videos but it got to the point where it was expected. This came out of the blue and somehow got to the nearly 3 billion view count it is at today. Japan has tried before, but I think with Korea’s open mindedness to Western audiences (most Japanese music videos are locked to Japanese YouTube), the production (it was shot on a RED Epic – http://www.red.com/news/gangnam-style-shot-on-red-epic-camera) and the utter stupidity, it changed everyone’s response to me saying ‘I like K-pop’ from ‘What’s that?’ to ‘Oh, like Gangnam Style?’.
Gangnam Style – Psy
Thanks for reading! And thank you to UnitedKpop for having me on for a guest article! It was a lot of fun. Find a bit more about me over at https://www.youtube.com/kpopsteve – where I recently documented my first trip to South Korea!
KpopSteve has been making videos about Korean culture on on his YouTube channel since 2012, as well as doing freelance video work. On his channel, he recently went to South Korea for the first time!
Go find all his vlogs on his Youtube channel.
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