Why Do KPOP Music Videos Look so Good compared to American Music Videos?

The basic answer is that their videos are more complex. They have more setups and budget, sure, but in these videos, Josh Olufemii goes through the details to show what they do with regards to color, contrast, lighting, depth, and composition. 

I don't shoot music videos, but the way they create the sense of depth in a frame, and doing this by using lights was a great refresher. Building contrast by using two "opposing" colors is something I will try in my next projects. Match cuts, the transition where the one piece of footage matches the previous one so the viewer sees a change without the jarring effect of a regular cut. It can be used in any video project. It doesn't have to be done with people in the shot. It can be of shapes, lines, or colors. Going out to find these types of shots is a fun process, and can even open you up to looking at things in a different way.  

Here is another video by Olufemii where he discusses how KPOP is changing music videos and I do think he's on to something. I am not considering using digital retouching of skin and faces to artificially enhance the people in the video, as I think the real person is what I consider as being beautiful and more than significant enough. Thinking in this way is due to my culture influencing me. I've always thought of video as being the real thing, a true representation. This hasn't been true for a long time now, and it's me resisting change. These two videos might change that for me. 

Will you be influenced by KPOP, or are you satisfied with what you and your cultural references have given you as toolkit? 

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19 Comments

Stefan Olsson's picture

Its the same in the movies. Korean movies are way better in every aspect than your typical Hollywood product. I work in Hollywood as a prop maker. Hollywood hasnt been original in a few decades at least. Remakes of remakes...

Marcus Joyce's picture

Bad remakes of ultra classics like ghost busters. At least back to the future hasn't been touched yet (that I know of)

Marcus Nolte's picture

Please, don't ask for it 🤐

Deleted Account's picture

Interesting... I haven't really watched many k-pop videos since the 90's so it's cool to see how the industry over there as evolved over time. I do think it's valuable to see the various different ways we can create depth or interest-particularly because so many photographers tend to limit their thought to things like DoF or subject placement within a given frame. Thinking of the overall set, colors, lighting contrast, etc. gives people more tools in their kit to work with when solving problems behind the lens.

I do think that the reason these differences exist has a bit to do with the culture and industry differences. Whereas here in the states, our artists tend to be "found" or work their way into the spotlight, the k-pop industry operates more like Disney where the artists and groups are created from the ground up. Auditions are held, trainees go through bootcamp, groups of people who don't know each other are put together as a "band", etc. So from the start, k-pop is not so much about music as it is about entertainment as a whole, which leads to the visual experience across the board being much more curated or refined.

On a different note, once you get out of the realm of k-pop, you'll find music videos that look a lot more the stuff we make here: https://youtu.be/nKSsQOM-zNo

Michael Comeau's picture

It seems like it all comes down to budget. Maybe k-pop is just a more lucrative business.

I once spoke to a top American music photographer (tons of album covers for major label artists, plenty of big magazine covers). He told me he stopped making music videos because the budgets came down so much, he couldn't even cover a camera rental and DP.

Paul Gerhard's picture

Eh, that is basically the Michael Bay approach to making a music video; they end up being indistinguishable from each other. The point is even brought up that the videos are so varied and dense you struggle to remember the first setups by the end of the video. Off the top of my head, You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon, That Don't Impress Me Much by Shania Twain, Here It Goes Again by Ok Go, Single Ladies by Beyonce, BOP by DaBaby are all pretty simple videos and outside of Here It Goes Again or Single Ladies probably wouldn't even be considered the best music video to come out in their respective years of release. Yet, despite each originating in a different time period and genre, I believe that they are all much more memorable videos than these visually complex Korean videos. The key to making an iconic music video has always been and will always be to deliver something original that the audience has never seen before. KPop videos somewhat ironically are almost as disposable as the actual music groups that make them.

Pete Whittaker's picture

Are those videos memorable because of the production or because of the song and artist(s)? If you take Paul Simon out of the You Can Call Me Al video and replace him with a less well known artist, with Chevy Chase lip syncing a weaker song, is that still a memorable video?

Alex Herbert's picture

Aphex Twin - Windowlicker. The Pharcyde - Drop. The Avalanches - Since I Met You.

Spy Black's picture

Although K-Pop video production may put a dent in US music video production, the big difference is that Korea promotes doing all the production within Korea, whereas in the US as much stuff as can be outsourced overseas will be done so. A lot of post work is done in places like India now, and even production work as well.

So in the US a lot of people will get the short end of the production and post production stick. Only the people at the top will make out.

Great analysis and exposition. Some things have to be explained before we become aware of them. Good job.

Stuart Carver's picture

Hmmm, and here is me who didn’t even know what Kpop was until this morning. And I’ll happily forget about it by this afternoon

Marcus Joyce's picture

Hang out at a mansion for a day and a parking lot.

Stuart Carver's picture

Hahaha, thanks... definitely better than the music i usually listen to lol.

Marcus Joyce's picture

You should do a YouTube compassion you know $5 burger Vs $400 burger.

$250 music video Vs $100,000 music video

doongie know's picture

in western media, music was popularized by the radio. in korean media, it was popularized by television and performances, so visual aesthetic plays a heavy role in kpop. it's taken even to a point where there is a "visual" position (the member deemed most beautiful by korean beauty standarda) which most foreign fans don't quite udnerstand

The video makes its sounds like western countries don't produce a quality music video. Bigger artist can still get enough budget to produce amazing video's. Even here in europe their are video's that outshine most kpop video's in my opinion. I think that western artists have a harder job getting the right budget, but when they do they make video's more visual appealing then most kpop artist do, sure its a matter of opinion but lets get one thing right: with the same amount of money they create equel quality videos.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Does that guy know there are other American videos other than rap or rap style.

KPOP definitely has some nice visuals. Many of them would make for some great stills. But, the group dancing choreography, after watching a handful, they feel like wash, rinse, repeat.

Could be there is only so much you can do with group dancing. What might we expect?

I heard a musician once jokingly say that all the good melodies have been written.