This looks like a rant about SHINee’s new video, but it’s really not

SHINee – “Replay -君は僕のeverything”:

(Disclaimer: The following post is going to be super serial, but this video is super lolzy…so if you’re looking for something a bit more snarky and a bit less technical-sounding, I recommend that you go to this Seoulbeats article I wrote earlier.)

What is this, Japanese music video remake week? I mean, I probably should’ve noticed this earlier, but it seems like K-pop groups carry out their Japanese activities exclusively in the summertime. I’m not really sure why and I’m certainly not going to kill myself over the question, but something tells me that turning summer vacation in Japan into “K-pop season” and bombarding the J-pop scene with Korean idols for three months straight really isn’t the best idea. But what do I know.

The thing that sucks about analyzing the music industry without actually being a part of the music industry is that you never really know what’s actually going on. For one, it can sometimes make you feel like a complete poser. It can sometimes make you feel incredibly unsure as to what you’re actually talking about. And then sometimes, stuff comes up. Stuff that makes you willing to do anything to get your hands on the production notes for the project.  Stuff like the Japanese “Replay” video.

Admittedly, SHINee’s new Japanese music video isn’t all that interesting, but it does hold a whole ton of implications about their future in the Japanese pop music industry. Moreso than any other release, a debut music video can reveal a lot about how the artist in question plans on carrying out his career. SM’s sending their two financial powerhouse groups to Japan through Japanese management companies that aren’t Avex, and I’m curious as to how SM will be structuring these new endeavors in Japan. I’m especially curious about the amount of creative influence SM will have in these new projects.

In yesterday’s post about Beast’s new PV, I made a slight comparison between DBSK Japanese and Korean “Rising Sun” videos. In retrospect, I don’t think that this really wasn’t a fair comparison to begin with since the Japanese video was produced by Japanese staff and the Korean video was produced by Korean staff. In comparison, all of Beast’s videos are produced by Korean staff, as is the norm for many K-pop groups debuting in Japan nowadays. This modus operandi contributes to the whole idea that there’s a marked divide between K-pop artists who just sing in Japanese and actual J-pop artists. The only K-pop artists who have crossed that divide as of now are DBSK and BoA, and they were able to do so only by starting from the pits of the J-pop industry and working their way up as actual J-pop artists. It took them boatloads of hard work, but DBSK and BoA are now the only Korean artists who can truly say that they’ve “made it” in Japan.

But apparently today’s K-pop artists and their production staffs are just too cool for hard work because the current wave of Japanese “debuts” are comparatively half-assed, sloppy, and, to a certain extent, culturally appropriative. More and more, it seems as if directly transplanting K-pop material onto Japanese shores instantly gives you a “career in Japan” and another reason to thank Hallyu for your success. But it’s funny how DBSK and BoA are the artists most cited as the leaders of Hallyu…and yet their overseas material is always native to the country in which it’s promoted. I totally breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that HoMin was planning on releasing new, original Japanese singles through Avex. At least there’s one group carrying out legitimate Japanese activities over there. But I digress.

It’s pretty clear that SM’s trying to make up for the profit lost from DBSK by sending SHINee and SNSD to Japan in an attempt to re-tap into Japan’s powerful economy. The strange thing, though, is that SHINee and SNSD are managed by different companies in Japan – SHINee by EMI, and SNSD by Universal. It makes me wonder if SM has different agendas for these two groups. As far as I know, SNSD’s career in Japan has largely been controlled by Universal. The videos for “Mr. Taxi” and the Japanese version of “Run Devil Run” were directed by a Japanese production team, and judging by the shooting style, I’m pretty sure “Genie” was, as well.

The video for “Gee,” however, is debatable – it seems to me that the Japanese “Gee” video is basically meant to be a grown-up version of the original “Gee” video. It’s shot in an almost-identical manner to the original, and even the color schemes between the two videos are incredibly similar. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure SM directed the Japanese “Gee” video and not Universal or any other Japanese staff from another company. And, I mean, fine, whatever – it’s one video to a song that basically defines SNSD, so it kinda had to be made even if it probably wasn’t going to fly in Japan. That’s why I suspect that, rather than bother the people at Universal to produce a video that isn’t expected to be a huge headliner, SM decided to direct the “Gee” video themselves.

The thing that bothers me, though, is how painfully obvious it was that the Japanese “Replay” video was directed by SM. Firstly, they casted Yoona – which is a pretty wise decision seeing as SNSD’s simultaneously promoting in Japan right now, and since as SNSD pimped out Minho in their “Gee” video, it was probably nice of SHINee to return the favor. But Yoona’s technically signed under Universal. I don’t know a lot about the business relationship between SM, Universal, and EMI, but I’ll guess that it would’ve been a lot easier for Yoona to appear in a project directed by SM than by EMI even if EMI ultimately distributes the video. Secondly, the video is shot and colored in the same manner as the original Korean “Replay” video. The similarities aren’t as obvious as the similarities between the two “Gee” videos, but they’re definitely there. I’d say that the biggest difference between the two “Replay” videos is that the members act more maturely – and that’s not a matter of creative directing but a matter of…aging, I guess.

And thirdly, there was this:

And there was this.

Two flo-mo shots. Two. If that doesn’t scream ‘SM’ right away, then I don’t know what will.

Point is, the Japanese “Replay” vid is an SM project through and through, despite its efforts to disguise itself as something a bit more legit for the Japanese market. This upsets me not only because SM generally sucks at making music videos, but it gives me the impression that SHINee’s planning on plopping their old Korean material in Japan and calling it a Japan debut, just like almost any other K-pop artist in the Japanese market has done. But who knows? Maybe that’ll change when SHINee whips out a completely original Japanese song for their new single with a video directed by a Japanese production team. Or maybe SHINee will flop faster than we can say “Ready ready ready for the take off.” I have no idea. But as a careful observer of these things, I must say that the impression I got from the “Replay” vid doesn’t really put me in a comfortable place.

Of course, it’s certainly not to say that K-pop music can’t succeed in Japan unless the artist decides to become a J-pop artist from the bottom up. DBSK’s “Purple Line” is an excellent example of a song that hit the number 1 spot on the Oricon charts despite the fact that it was completely produced by Korean staff. But there’s just something that doesn’t sit right with me when I see a K-pop artist march straight into Japan with grand fanfare and put out crap that doesn’t even try to respect the preestablished J-pop scene. To be honest, J-pop doesn’t need Korean idols to enter their already-oversaturated market, and Japanese audiences don’t need to see more Korean idols when their domestic pop scene is as strong as it is. Korea’s the one making the biggest profit here, because let’s face it: countries where the Korean wave is in full force like Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam – they have a huge audience for K-pop on their shores, but these countries just don’t have economies that can compare to that of Japan’s. Japan’s where the money’s at, but one shouldn’t assume that the power of Hallyu guarantees one a free pass to instant success on Japan’s music scene.

But hey, at least SM’s done a teeny bit of market research for SHINee’s Japan debut, seeing as they suddenly decided to make Taemin the shiniest of all the SHINee members and focus most of the attention on him. Apparently Taemin is the most popular SHINee member in Japan, which therefore means that he steals half of Jonghyun’s lines and the other half of Onew’s lines, and gets to stand in the middle. Seriously, what the shiz. I didn’t think much of it until I started seeing all these talk show clips pop up where Jonghyun’s trying to rehog his place as the center of attention with his bad Japanese and Onew’s sitting to the side picking at his nails, and all the while Taemin’s just sitting there in the middle doing nothing and being awkward. I just hate it to an irrational degree. It makes sense for Taemin to sing more lines because otherwise he’d literally have nothing in the entire song, but seriously? Trying to sell your group on the preestablished popularity of one member? How cheap can you get?

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  • Andrea

    I think SHINee’s an ok group; they started great, but I feel they’ve been slipping lately. From the teaser, I wasn’t expecting much. The MV started out all right, but I had a total WTF moment at the flo-mo shots that you so graciously .gif’d above. I’m glad that Taemin’s singing more (as he’s got a pretty good voice now), but the way he handled one of Onew’s lines was just… not very good. After that, I pretty much laughed the whole way through because it got very corny near the end. For me, anyway.

    Plus, the fashion made my eyes burn. I’m no expert, but what I saw was a hot mess that made me think the designers attempted to blend “Replay” with “Juliette.” Judging by Key’s hair color, I have a strong feeling that they’re going to make an MV of “Juliette” soon, and they shouldn’t. Really. D:

  • Anna

    Thanks for making a brilliant writeup of what I felt while watching the video. Everything was fine until that first flo-mo shot. I was cringing and laughing at the same time. And I really doubt Taemin could carry out all his lines during live perfs. I didn’t like how Jjong’s and Onew’s lines were given to Taemin while Key and Minho’s were retained. And their rap was awful. It would have been better if Key rapped in Japanese at the end since he seemed to have a better grasp of the language than Minho but they just have to make him rap that English line. I’ve really enjoyed all their music videos before this… thing. Well it’s not like I enjoyed even half of DBSK PVs but the thing is DBSK debuted with Jap material and not a rehash of their Hug. Shinee debuting with Replay (of all their songs!) just looked like their riding the Hallyu wave.

  • i cant agree more with andrea and anna. i actually think a lot of international fans are really disappointed.
    after ring ding dong and lucifer, they did kind of slip. lets hope they get a much better comeback in korea. and enough with the cutesy boy image- they’re all over 20 in korea (except taemin and even hes not a boy anymore)

  • agreed. minho’s lines were not really retained- its more like they got almost cut off entirely. you can barely notice him, the audio at the end just got flat out messy and their acting… well lets say it was just awful (ridiculous considering minho is a film major if im correct). especially the big halleluya in the random room