How Culture Influences Music Videos

Written by Julie Thai

Edited by Emily Meyer, Sean McCarthy, and Dr. Anh Thai


This is a picture of the artist of “Gangnam Style” Park Jae-sang (PSY) performing in Australia.

Korean music has started to become more popular around the world recently. One day my family visited my brother’s family, we went to the mall and heard a new song. I have never heard of the song called “Gangnam Style” until that day. My niece explained to me how it is so popular this in her high school. I was surprised that a Korean song could be so popular among people in that high school, since I used to go there before I had transferred. It came to me as a huge shock. This is the first time that I had noticed how popular K-pop (Korean pop) had grown to be! There is even a term, Hallyu, to describe the spread of Korean pop songs in the Asian countries (Seabrook, 2012). People in the West and the East make interesting music videos that are very different. Though there are some parts that are similar as well. Now with Internet and airplanes people from the western and eastern hemisphere can communicate and interact. Culture differences can impact the relationship between individuals if people do not understand it.

There are cultural differences between certain places such as America and Korea. Typically, America is an individualistic culture whereas Korea is a collectivist culture. In an individualistic culture, personal achievement is more important while in a collectivist culture, group achievement is more important (Rothwell, 2010). This would explain how many of the singers in Korean music video are shown in groups while the singers in American music video are usually shown to be alone. Despite these cultural differences Korean songs are popular in America and American songs are popular in Korea. However, despite the difference of culture both American and Korean music videos advertise the same type of things. In this paper, I will show how the culture would make a difference in music videos from different parts of the world. Music is one thing that can allow people to understand other cultures and it can go from one area of the world to another faster.

K-pop is the term usually used for Korean pop music. In k-pop music videos the singers are either beautiful girls or handsome guys who are in really good shape despite their ages. Korean groups also start training at a young age usually during high school and by signing a contract they have sacrificed many things to become an idol (Bethany, 2012). Each group would focus on different things, such as singing or dancing or both. One k-pop group, SHINee, formed a long time ago was able to be very successful [1:14-1:50].

The new viral Korean pop song in America is called “Gangnam Style[0:11-0:34] recently released on July 15, 2012. The singer is not portrayed as cool or strong like many of the other Korean singers but as funny, though funny also can be seen as cool, depending on the person who is watching. One American song also became popular almost in the same way is Rebecca Black’s song called “Friday” [0:35-1:13], which was released on March 14, 2011. This song became extremely famous on YouTube because it was really bad. Many people disliked this song because of different reasons.

PSY’s “Gangnam Style” and Rebecca Black’s “Friday” both became really popular in YouTube. Both singers in these music videos are portrayed as funny instead of awesome and cool like many other k-pop and a-pop songs. These two music videos are also very different compared to others of their kind. These two music videos cannot be definitely categorized into individualist or collectivist culture. Unlike other Korean music video Park Jae-sang is shown by himself, however, he does have other people joining him at part of the videos. Rebecca Black is mostly shown to be singing into the camera surrounded by friends, which is different from the usually seen storyline in other American music videos. Both videos have some parts that are individualist and collectivist.

In the attached video, Korean and American pop songs are similar in different ways. There are also other things, such as advertisement that are the same in both the music videos of American’s and Korean’s style. In the videos the different cultures are shown the ways of the singers and dancers move, dance, and perform.

SHINee [1:14-1:50] is one of the most popular k-pop groups in South Korea formed in 2008. One famous song by them is called “Lucifer” released on July 19, 2010, it became a very popular due to the hard moves. The song was rumored to even have the members of Shinee have trouble. Maroon 5 [1:51-2:56] is an American pop-rock band that was formed in 1994 but known as Kara’s Flowers but renamed in 2000 as what we know now Maroon 5. “Payphone” was a popular song released on April 17, 2012.

It is very obvious that Shinee, a popular pop group in Korea, is influenced by collectivist culture. There are a few moments in which one member would stand out of the dance to sing but every member has that chance to do so. No one is excluded, and there are many parts where all members are doing the same dance to show cooperation. Despite of being a group, in the music video Payphone by Maroon 5 I could only see one person in the whole video. The singer was the only one shown in the music video, which was a storyline setting. Instead of dance moves it shows how cool the singer is for risking his life to protect the person he loves from the bank robbers.

After watching some of the music videos above, it is apparent how each culture is represented through the music video and the different techniques that are used. If one watches the video without knowing what the artist is singing about, he or she would be interesting due to the beat and music video. The next music videos will show how females are shown in both Korea and America and see how they are different and similar.

Unlike most of the other girl K-pop group 2ne1 [0:10-1:14] are not usually portrayed as cute, sexy or emotional girls. Instead, they are usually portrayed as tomboys and strong. 2ne is formed in 2009 and is still active. The song “I am the Best” was released on June 24, 2011. Even though the style of 2ne is very similar to Lady Gaga because they both stand out due to their weird clothes style. The attitudes of their song are more similar to Katy Perry [1:15-1:42]. The song “Hot and Cold” sung by Katy Perry was released on September 9, 2008.

This picture shows how weird Lady Gaga’s outfit is

This shows the outfit that 2ne1 wears.

In both videos the girls appear strong and confident. It is very obvious in “I am the Best” but not so much in “Hot and Cold”. Katy Perry is portrayed as strong when she is chasing after the guy with her friends. In both of these music videos the females are shown to be stronger than the males. Also in both videos, the females are carrying weapons. The differences in these music videos are similar to the differences between the previous one, “Payphone” and “Lucifer”. In the k-pop music video the singers are shown in a group of four members, they seem strong due to their dance moves, and close up shots give off an impression. However, in the ‘Hot and Cold’ music video, Katy Perry is shown by herself as a strong woman; we see her after the guy and how annoyed she is with him for changing his mind so often.

The song “Oh!” by Girls Generation [1:43-1:57], also known as SNSD is released in January 25, 2010. This group was formed 2007 though they are still active and appear youthful. In this song all nine members are dressed up in bright/cute colored clothes and sing about how they love their “oppa” – the name given to a respected older boy. This song is similar to “You Belong with Me” by Taylor Swift [1:58-2:34], which was released on April 21, 2009. She is known as a country pop artist. The content is about how the singer is in love with her neighbor who is a football player though he is going out with a popular cheerleader girl driving a red sports car.

Again, one can recognize in the collectivist culture the singers are shown in a group. Girl’s Generation also use synchronized dancing and similar clothes to show how they are all alike. However, unlike other k-pop music videos this one has a storyline though it is just about these cheerleading girls who are in love with the older male football players. It is only a setting because their “oppa’s” faces are not shown in the music video. Taylor Swift is shown in a storyline setting, similar to most of the American music videos, where there are actual characters such as protagonist and antagonist.

Before the outbreak of “Gangnam Style” not many people knew about Korean pop songs or the groups. There are many other popular Korean pop groups that are successful following the new system to train young people how to become a ‘perfect’ pop star (Bevan, 2012). John Seabrook (2012) from the New Yorker exclaimed, “The dancing was wonderfully precise, the choreography had a schematic quality” when describing Girls Generation’s performance. This provided some proof even though the culture is different between America and Korea, which is clearly shown in their music videos. However, American people still like Korean music, and Lady Gaga is also popular when she performed in Asian countries, despite how much she is an individualist.

Korean pop groups are really popular, and the reason why could be the mixture of eastern and western hemisphere styles. The singers express themselves through dance moves, and there are interesting to watch. However, for an American song a storyline is created that would somewhat match the song. This would allow people from other countries to understand the meaning of the song more even if they do not understand the language.

Most Korean songs have English words in them or are titled using English words. This shows that the Koreans are trying to spread to the western parts of the world and by mixing language, a part of culture, they can acquire people’s attention from around the world.


Work Cited

Bethany. (2012, February 13). The Road to k-pop Stardom: Training. Seoul Beats.

Bevan, David. (2012, March). Seoul Trained. Spin. 84-88.

Friday, Rebecca Black. YouTube, (2011).

Gangnam Style, PSY. YouTube, (2012).

Hot & Cold, Katy Perry. YouTube, (2008).

I Am The Best, 2ne1. YouTube, (2011).

Lucifer, SHINee. YouTube, (2010).

Oh!, Girls Generation (SNSD). YouTube, (2010).

Payphone, Maroon 5. YouTube, (2012).

Rothwell, Dan.J. (2010). In the Company of Others an introduction to communication. New York: Oxford University Press.

Seabrook, John. (2012, October 8). Factory Girls. The New Yorker.

You Belong With Me, Taylor Swift. YouTube, (2009).