BH Discuss: SNSD’s Mr.Mr mess makes us wonder – How important are music videos?
Few things in K-pop can top the media circus that takes place every time Girls’ Generation make a Korean comeback. Usually the well-oiled SM publicity machine kicks in at full capacity with just the right amount of hype, anticipation and spectacle to push the new release up to the top of the charts and make it the most talked about thing in K-pop for weeks.
Except this time the normally perfectly executed routine went a little wrong.
First YG tried to escalate a bit of competition into an all-out girl group war with a simultaneous 2NE1 comeback and then SM pushed back the release because footage for part of the video had been corrupted. Then, just when everyone thought they had it all under control and were simply delaying in order to face 2NE1 head-to-head, the full EP was accidentally released on iTunes ahead of the (delayed) schedule.
As soon as they became aware of the error SM went into damage control mode, pulling the album from sale and then rereleasing it a day later on the originally scheduled date… without a music video or prior live performance.
Particularly in the last couple of years, it has become almost unheard of for an idol group to release a single before they release the video and on the rare occasions that they do they’re usually accompanied by some kind of performance video before releasing the full video.
Articles in the western media tend to focus on how important videos are in K-pop, often describing it as visual music… usually going on to talk about how Korea is a magical place from the future where everyone can download the latest Super Junior video straight to their eyeballs (a slight exaggeration but you get the point). But they’re not wrong – the visual components in K-pop are definitely more important than in other pop industries.
There are practical reasons for this. YouTube advertising revenue is becoming a larger and larger revenue stream for idol companies and a strong presence on the video platform is vital for idol groups who want to build global fandoms. A demonstration of this LOEN’s recent (highly questionable) rebranding of its online presence as ‘1theK’ in order to reflect its status as ‘a global K-POP hub’. Music videos also showcase many of the idol machine’s strengths – memorable dance routines, colourful costumes, highly attractive people and so on.
Music videos matter, a lot.
Visual mediums are also usually the most important part of the build up to the release. EXO’s 20+ video teasers are what allowed the group to build up a big fandom before their debut. The reality is K-pop is often not really as much about the music itself as everything else that comes with it.
Given all this, what happens when the video is not released? So far SNSD have been okay. The song hit number one almost instantly on all the Korean charts and also charted on several different country’s iTunes charts including “2nd in Thailand, 3rd in Vietnam, 4th in Singapore, 5th in Malaysia, 6th in Indonesia and Kazakhstan, 14th in Hong Kong, 21st in Taiwan, 55th in the Philippines, 97th in Sweden, and 99th in Macau..”
But this is Korea’s top girl group we are talking about. No one else in the idol industry, with the possible exception of Big Bang, has the pulling power of SNSD and even then we’ve yet to see how the full promotion will compare in scale and success to previous releases.
The early release of the song could increase anticipation for the music video but it also could lose SM a lot of money in all the streaming revenue currently going to the fan uploaded versions of the songs. (Although there is an easy partial solution to that, SM: upload an official audio video!)
Perhaps if more groups released the audio first, the overall quality might improve – something that seems to be being complained about a lot recently – but with an already oversaturated idol market, would it make it harder for groups to stand out from the crowd?
It might help fans to decide if they genuinely like the music or are just stunned by the captivating visuals but do they actually want that?
Are videos the most important part of the K-pop experience?
The visual component of a K-pop release can definitely make a song more memorable but does that come at a price?
Finally what do you think of SNSD’s album? (Personally, so far I only like Soul – although I prefer the Mandarin version.) Are you looking forward to the new 2NE1 release?
Let us know your thoughts.