K-pop and American pop: How similar are they?

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EXO-K’s music video, Mama, uses a combination of choreography and visual graphics to produce a quality music video that is entirely K-pop-esque.

The first thing I noticed about this music video was the use of computer animation in the introduction to create a virtual world that told the story of how the group came together. I also noticed that this part was in English, which obviously I liked because it helped me understand exactly what was going on in the music video. The introduction set up a futuristic feel for the song and the graphics reminded me of an Avatar-type world. The introduction, just over a minute long, had dramatic music playing in the background that gradually grew in intensity until the last words were spoken, “a new world shall open up”.

The music played in the introduction matched the intensity of the song and I felt that it set the viewer up for what they were about to watch. The whole song has an intense and dramatic feel to it. Visually, this is represented through the dance numbers as well as different kinds of sets that were used. Multiple times, smoke is used during dance numbers to visually create a sense of intensity and drama. Throughout the music video, the dance numbers got more and more intense until the ‘dance solo’ towards the end of the song. This was when the outfits, the set, as well as the tone of the music changed and suddenly became more angry and powerful. In general though, the sets all have a dark look to them to play on the idea of two worlds colliding together. I also noticed that the sets were very futuristic looking, as well as their outfits. Silver was incorporated into everyone’s outfit, whether it be on their pants, shoes, shirt, or jewelry, it created a sense of visual coherences between each of the band members, which was visually appealing.

Another aspect that was used throughout the entire music video was the use of special effects. I think this was important to do because it emphasized the futuristic feel of song. Some examples of these special effects are holding fire, disappearing band members into a cloud of black smoke, as well as the throwing of water in mid-air.

At first glance, this music video appears to play on aspects of American pop music from the 90’s and early 2000’s. Memories of dance numbers by hit boy bands such as Backstreet Boys and N’Sync suddenly come flooding back. From a Western perspective, I see a lot of similarities in the style of music videos. Just like in Mama, American boy bands typically had some kind of introduction leading up to a lengthier music video version of their hit song.

Although the similarities may seem quite strong at first glance, one has to dive deeper to fully understand that they are actually quite different. While it’s true that pop bands, like Backstreet Boys and N’Sync, did have elaborate music videos similar to Mama, it is also true that it is not solely an American thing to do. This style of music video is actually a common aspect of Korean popular music. Many other bands, both boy and girl, focus on the visuals, especially when it comes to dance moves and music videos. Because K-pop is now reaching fans on a global scale, visual competency is a must. K-pop fans in Brazil aren’t able to see their idols in person, so they rely on elaborate music videos composed of well-choreographed dance numbers, for example.

While it’s easy to want to associate aspects of K-pop with American pop music, it is important to realize that these traits are essential parts of Korean popular music that are not just simply copies of American pop.

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