This is more distressing than finals

SM THE BALLAD: “Hot Times”:

To be perfectly honest, I’m probably far too deep within my SMTown fandom to still be bothered by SM’s formulaic approach in creating music videos, but when they do such a crummy job with a song that’s as awesome as “Hot Times,” it’s hard not to squirm a little.

SM’s music videos are known for focusing the attention on the artist itself. And for good reason – SM artists are pretty popular with the fawning fanboy/fangirl sect, so if there’s not at least six or seven close-up shots of each member, fans are gonna whine and you’ll have three hundred more posts on Kpopsecrets about how so-and-so is “underrated.”

The SM MV formula – that is, one full group choreography shot, one storyline shot/secondary choreography shot, and one solo shot for each member – works pretty well for SM’s typical lead-single material. On top of that, frequent scene cuts compliment SM’s usual uptempo music. In the end, you get music videos like “Lucifer” or “It’s You” or “Tell Me Your Wish” that are rather formulaic, but nonetheless aesthetically pleasing on a superficial level – and considering how SM’s target audience is basically willing to eat up anything with their favorite idols’ face on it, that’s all they’ll need.

The problem comes up when SM has to choreograph a video for a ballad. I don’t think that SM has ever used a ballad as a lead single for any group before, nor have they filmed many MVs for ballads. The obvious exceptions are DBSK’s “Picture of You” MV, and probably a few TRAX songs that I’m too lazy to look up. The “Picture of You” MV was hella cheesy, but one can’t really go wrong with DBSK member chummyness and a Saipan beach sunset in the background. But take all that away, and you’re still left with an awkwardly cut video that doesn’t mesh with the music.

The “Hot Times” video was, in a word, too plain. Usually, it’s better to go simpler in the world of pop music videos, but “Hot Times” seemed almost naked to me. That is – it’s clear that SM can’t do ballad MVs right, and there was nothing in the MV that could hide this fact. End result? A music video that just looks awkward in so many ways.

Firstly, the cuts. They weren’t obnoxiously frequent, but they kept cutting to very similar shots. The cut timing also seemed a little off – as if they set a timer that would automatically switch from shot to shot every five seconds. There was a lot of potential for some great cross dissolve usage here, as seen in the first few seconds of the video (when the camera switches from a full-body shot of Kyuhyun to a close-up on his face). The straight cuts between shots were very rigid and didn’t mesh with the smooth feel of the music itself.

Secondly, the performers. Filming an MV fo an R&B ballad is hard enough – almost all of the emotion of the song is shown through the singing itself, and it’s hard to lipsynch your way through that. You see this effect all over the place, even in more uptempo songs – you know, that awkward, out-of-sync soulful handwaving thing that Jonghyun or Changmin does when they’re trying to hide the fact that they’re lipsynching an adlib.

You just can’t lipsynch epic adlibs like the ones in “Hot Times” and expect them to look convincing. Sitting in a leather chair and attempting to lipsynch a godly riff just doesn’t work. The best solution to this problem is to just cover it up with another shot of another member staring into the camera intensely.

But, being as naked as it was, the “Hot Times” MV didn’t do that, and instead just focused on the members’ faces during their adlibs. Awkward. And then there’s that one part at the last minute and a half where all the members go on an adlib field day and the camera just cuts from one awkward lipsynch shot to another lipsynch shot and…ugh.

The best part of the MV was probably the end, when the camera just panned up on their faces when they weren’t singing. They used this approach in the “Sorry Sorry” remix video – if only to compensate for the fact that only three out of thirteen members were actually singing – and it worked! Why? Because this effect captures the members’ prettiness, unscathed by unnatural-looking lipsynching. C’mon, we already know that the four of them can sing like no one’s business; you don’t have to show us shots of them badly faking the real thing to convince us.

Other than that, though, I have no real complaints about SM The Ballad’s promos, aside from their long, unoriginal name and the stylists’ insistence on dressing them in leopard print. I’m taking a weird liking to “Don’t Lie,” contrary to what I said in previous entries. I really wish there was more R&B goodness on the mini, though. This group is too talented to slip into generic K-drama ballad material.

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