Driving Mr. K-pop
Along with fashions and dances, the next most noticeable thing in any K-pop music video would have to be the props, or to be more precise, the cars. While cars are nothing new in Korean pop culture, especially in drama, their use in music videos is interesting for a few reasons.
In dramas, due to product placement, it seems that almost every character in the show would each end up driving a different model from the same manufacturer. This does result in a few anomalies, such as company directors driving mid-range models, or jobless idlers rolling about in new flashy imports.
However, in music videos, without the constraints of sponsors, it seems that logic can be kept, and car choices become largely based on looks and image.
Another thing about cars in music videos is that while most of us attempt to imitate our idols’ dance moves, fashion choices or gadgets used, few of us ever really openly express a desire to own the same car used in a music video. Maybe it could be because it is a rather off-the-wall thing to do, but also because most of these cars come across as rather impractical or expensive in real life (a quick straw poll around Seoulbeats reveals most of the writers either get around on public transport or mass-market cars).
Still, as props that add to the music videos’ cool factor, as well as evoking a certain feel for the music video, the non moving cars work.
By far the most common car-related shot would have to be the of the idol sitting in the stationary expensive and striking a few poses. Apparently, in K-pop music video land, nothing says cool like holding the steering wheel of a gullwing-door supercar and pretending as if the car is actually moving.
Or if cheesy faux gangster posturing is what’s required of the music video, how about a large SUV?
And it’s not just the videos who aim to give off some swagger that use the car. Sexist as it sounds, and proving that music videos were largely made with the male gaze in mind, there has been a tendency for good looking females to be placed with a good looking car as a prop, a la KARA and SISTAR19. After all, nothing says trim and sexy like getting out of one of those size zero Lotuses.
On the other end, nothing else really screams money or class like having a Rolls-Royce rolling into the set, whether in the MV (just like SNSD-TTS) or implied in thoughts (like MissA).
And if one car does not tell the story or fill the space on the set, how about three? That was what SM Entertainment did with f(x) and SHINee, by placing cars in the background matched to colour schemes. So we got three modern silver two-seaters to complement the minimal silver-grey set in “Lucifer”, and a set of brightly painted, heavily modified Japanese sportsters to fit into the garish outdoor scenes of “Hot Summer”.
A touch of alternate universe or retro feels required? How about the backseat of 60s-80s Americana Luxury, complete with over-padded seats, or an old open-top convertible to fit into any set to evoke a retro theme?
However, there are times when the car in the music video is not just a prop, and does add to the feel of the video and the song. One particularly noticeable example would be the station wagon found in SISTAR’s “Loving You”, which took the girls on their adventure around Hawaii and added to the free and easy adventure mood of the video.
Mind you, this did help to compensate for that rather gratuitous and unnecessary scene near the end where they do a dance in what looks like a carpark/scrapyard.
Then there are those cars which seemingly become regular fixtures in music videos. One of them is the Jeep Wrangler that seems to feature in many a production. The brand has been very much synonymous with adventures and exploration, and the music videos certainly play up to that image, with the car helping start budding loves (Juniel‘s “Fool”):
Or just play host to a group of guys having fun (FT Island‘s “Like The Birds”):
Despite the Jeep being known for its various starring roles, the car had also played been involved in controversy before, when the owner of the silver Jeep alleged that the FT Island boys had played with the car and damaged something. Fortunately, nothing much was made of the incident, so it could be assumed that the problem was settled without much hassle.
Another particularly famous car would be the black Maserati Quattroporte seen in BEAST’s “I Knew It” and K.Will’s “Please Don’t”. The sedan from the charismatic yet historically troubled Italian manufacturer plays host to a myriad of sad scenarios in the car.
As the male leads in the video sob and show their frustrations, the video directors play up the charms of the car. A tap of the higher pitched horn here and a blat of the car’s engine there do add some cool to the depression in the video. Another added effect of the car is how it suddenly makes the heartbreak guys a fair bit more worthy of sympathy, if cause of what they “drive”. I mean, could you imagine having the same feels about Dongwoon or Seo In-Guk if they went with more generic German saloons?
With the added limelight on cars in K-pop, it seems sort of fitting to just write a song dedicated to cars, which is what SM Entertainment and Hyundai Motors have decided to do, with their latest creation “Maxstep”. However, for a song that supposedly is meant to highlight the trendier and youth-oriented Hyundai product lines, the car is nowhere to be found in
the music video. Instead, we are treated to heavy dubstep and shots of idols dancing, with only an obligatory shot of Taemin hanging his hand out of the Veloster’s window. Ah, the irony.
Maybe the whole point of the song was as background music for future Hyundai commercials, or just to make viewers curious about the brand without being too obvious about it.
Still, contrary to popular belief, cars in K-pop do have a notable part. Well not as big as the idols themselves, but at least as fashion accessories and objects of cool.