Music video producers feel the pressure in the visually-evolving K-pop industry
Video editing content creator Josh Olufemii said in his video titled “KPOP Changed the Music Video Industry” that “the music industry is less of an audio visual industry but more of a visual audio industry, with visuals now taking the forefront and being more of a profitable asset.”
He highlighted that K-pop embodies this “visual audio” nature of today’s music scene. With budgets double or triple that for American pop songs, blockbuster-tier quality and emphasis on aesthetic perfection, Olufemii said K-pop music videos have been breaking down language barriers and mesmerizing fans worldwide.
Olufemii added there is no better medium than music videos to showcase the perfectly in-sync group choreography that K-pop is known for.
So how are these picture-perfect music videos made? And in the K-pop industry which has more than 250 music videos that have garnered over 100 million views, how is the production process evolving?
The JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, recently sat down with producers Kim Young-jo and Yoo Seung-woo of music video production company Naive Production. The two met in college where they were both majoring in video design, and debuted as producers in 2011 with the video for hip-hop group Together Brothers’ “Han River Downstream” (translated).
They went on to produce hit K-pop music videos including Sunmi’s “24 hours” (2013) and work with star idols and groups like Twice, IU, GOT7 and ITZY.
Naive Production is known among fans for its frequent collaborations with JYP Entertainment: Its music videos for 2PM’s “My House” (2015) and Twice’s “Cheer Up” (2016) and “TT” (2016) are referred as K-pop classics that demonstrate a balance between the song’s concept and group members’ visuals.
Kim and Yoo normally keep a low profile with no social media presence, but sat down for their first official interview in eight years. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
You must be busier than ever lately.
Kim: We do three projects at once, at the least. When we’re busy, we work on up to five videos simultaneously. Many artists make their comebacks around July and August, so that’s our busiest season. But we’re usually busy all year around.
As producers, what appeals to you about music videos?
Kim: When a new song comes out, our job is to listen to it and give it new meaning through the imagery that we come up with. It’s very fun, and that’s precisely what has kept us going for the past 12 years.
Yoo: When we started directing, we enjoyed finding inspiration from our favorite movies and incorporating them into our music videos. That’s still true today, but tastes and demands have become so varied that we can’t always do what we want. We must constantly compromise between current trends and our way of doing things.
What makes a good music video?
Kim: When I am able to envision a scene the moment I hear the song, it lays down the groundwork to make the production process easier, and the outcome turns out satisfactory.
Yoo: For GOT7’s “Just Right” (2015), the second we heard the song, we came up with the idea of the boy band members becoming little people. The music video suit the cute atmosphere of the song well, so we’re told that fans still talk about the music video as a classic. We also got inspiration for 2PM’s “My House” and Twice’s “Cheer Up” right away. We actually didn’t particularly struggle to get ideas.
What are the current trends in K-pop music videos?
Kim: It’s most important to make the group choreography look cool. Since people say that K-pop owes its success to its performance aspect, we naturally have to focus on how the music video will show off the members’ dance moves. The members’ good looks and fashion should also be highlighted. Back in the day, music videos explained what the song was about, but now it’s more focused on the visuals.
What do you particularly pay attention to when making idol groups’ music videos?
Yoo: We think about how we can show each individual member’s most attractive points. For Twice, we observed each member and discussed, ‘This member has this talent, so she can show it off in this scene.” That’s how we got each member’s different cosplay scenes in “TT.”
Kim: Twice has nine members, but the song is around just three minutes long. It means we only have a few seconds for each member to show off her individual charms. The group as a whole is important, of course, but having each member leave an impression on viewers is crucial as well.
What changes have you seen as the K-pop market grows?
Kim: The demands have become so varied. In the past, agencies usually asked us for a storyline-focused music video. Nowadays, each agency asks for different things. Some simply give us the song and say, “We’ll leave everything up to you,” while some just throw us keywords like “We want it to be ‘young.’” Some give us the specific storyline and ask us to exactly recreate it.
How well are producers’ opinions reflected?
Yoo: We often have clashing opinions with the agencies. Sometimes we think a stronger concept would suit a group better, but the agency might disagree due to what’s trending at the time, or what the fans demand. We try our best to persuade the agency if we’re confident about our idea.
Kim: Just five years ago, I’d say things were much more up to the producer. But since K-pop has grown so popular, agencies can no longer dismiss what fans want. For instance, a song may sound like a strong hip-hop number to us, but if the trend at the time is a cutesy image or if the fandom dislikes darker ambiences, we end up with a weirdly bright music video.
How important are music videos in the K-pop industry?
Kim: PSY became world-famous thanks to his “Gangnam Style” (2012) music video. Nowadays, when a K-pop group drops an album, its most-consumed content around the world is the music videos. BTS and Blackpink also rose to global stardom as their music videos gained popularity. Groups that you may have never heard about garner over 100 million views online. Music videos contribute immensely to promoting Korea around the world today. That also means we have to pay even greater attention to every single detail. We feel heavy responsibility.
How do you cater to the tastes of international fans?
Kim: The fans have really strong influence. If a music video seems to inappropriately refer to a certain religion or culture, or portrays overly revealing or violent imagery, the fans react before the agency does. We understand that K-pop agencies have no choice but to meet the demands of fans. So we try to avoid any potentially controversial elements to begin with.
How are music video producers perceived nowadays?
Kim: Fans today memorize the names of music video directors. We get praised when we do well, but when we come out with just one less-than-stellar work, public opinion turns drastically. It’s scary sometimes because we become the public enemy in those situations. Neither of us like to be in the spotlight, so we want to stay hidden and work quietly.
What are your future plans?
Yoo: I want to immerse myself in work and keep improving on what I lack. I want to listen to more people and see more in order to find what can entertain myself, the client and the public.
Kim: Like classic films that are praised for having both artistic value and public appeal, we want to make music videos in our own unique way that also satisfies others.
BY PARK KUN [email@example.com]