Short Film Wednesday - K-pop - Dumb Dumb (Red Velvet)
K-pop is perhaps the most interesting and innovative pop music in the world right now, so I will be examining some of the most distinctive and artistically compelling K-pop music videos for April.
K-pop is a bit of a misnomer since not everything that constitutes “K-pop” is not strictly Korean. For instance, for this song, the composers and producers include LDN Noise, a British songwriting duo who have written songs for Nick Jonas and Chris Brown. The choreographer is Willdabeast Adams, who has danced with many American acts such as Usher and Demi Lovato. And while all members of Red Velvet are ethnically Korean, there are many groups and musicians who come from diverse countries such as Japan, China, Thailand, and many more. Even the main distinguishing factor - that they have to be in the Korean language - is not a hard and fast rule. (hyperlink)
In fact, the only thing that might be used to accurately characterize K-pop is how much it is a product of diverse influences, with an emphasis on product. For pop music in Korea, as opposed to popular music in Korea which can be very different music, it is not unusual to know which company certain artists belong to. There is a Big Three with (S.M. Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment) but even the smaller companies are often recognized by fans. The performers in groups like Red Velvet often go through years of training before debuting, often from when they aren’t even teenagers. They are groomed to sing, dance and even conduct interviews. Many artists, after they have retired from their groups, have often complained about how the image that they were forced to present did not match their real personality.
I talk about all this for this one video because I think, in many ways, this music video is a comment on this artifice. Often music videos are inextricably linked to the songs. Just listening to the song is really only getting half of the experience, and this music video makes damn sure of it. It is bright, colorful and packed to the brim with eye-popping visuals The song’s lyrics are about how a girl acts awkwardly around the boy that she has a crush on (“like a mannequin, like a doll, awkward to the max”), which explains why they are so many images of dolls and assembly lines with the girls being products. It’s a neat visual metaphor as well as a comment on the production of this song.
One might protest at the “artificiality” of such music, but the video seems to glory in it, gleefully looking for ways to commodify the experience of this song. My favorite shot would have to be the incredible illusion of Wendi (the blonde one) walking over a table with multiple copies of herself. Plus every aspect of this song is incredibly well-executed. Even if the performers do not have much agency, they at least perfectly execute their function. The producers of this song know exactly what they are doing and they fully embrace it instead of trying to give it some degree of “realness,” the notion of which is almost complete B.S. Chances are that if you have heard about an artist through some prominent music publication or seen them perform on some sort of media like TV, there has been more than likely quite a bit of corporate meddling already to get them to that point. At least K-pop is quite transparent about its nuts and bolts, and I believe that it can be evaluated as modern art whose notions of auteurship are constantly changing and never extremely clear.