The Blurred Line Between Music and Advertising in K-pop

YesthatisTOPwithaphoneinhismouthby Raizel Liebler

One of the most interesting aspects of looking at Asian popular culture from a Western perspective is how the lines between art and advertising — otherwise known as “don’t be a sellout” — aren’t issues for Japanese and Korean stars. The type of ads promoting coffee, ice cream, and other products that Hollywood stars will do voiceovers for, but never appear in, are not only no problem, but fully expected for Asian stars.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in K-pop. K-pop stars promote products all the time — and in most groups, such as 2ne1, 4Minute, and Girls’ Generation, there is a member whose job it is to do most commercial promos.

There will always be songs that are used as part of ads, but what is unique about these songs is that they are specifically crafted to advertise products. Or to look at it another way, these songs would not exist but for the need to promote a commercial product. In this post, I’ve tried to focus on songs that are available in the U.S./Canada iTunes market.

Here are some of the most popular or best recent Korean pop adversongs:

Dara (from 2ne1) — Kiss (ad for Cass beer)

Dara is the advertising queen of 2ne1, and this song demonstrates what she can do. The guy is Lee Min Ho,

The Lollipop saga — 2ne1/BigBang; f(x) (& Shinee); Big Bang (advertising LG phones)

The Lollipop saga just seems ridiculous — take a sample from an American song, then use it in two different adversongs, songs that sound almost the same. These are the two original versions — with 2ne1 and Big Bang, and f(x) featuring Shinee. The 2ne1 version is their first popular song, and while it is not officially a single, Blackjacks (2ne1 fans) always count it as their first hit. Note how the visuals for the versions of Lollipop — as well as the sound — are so similar.

Afterwards, Big Bang released a sequel song, Lollipop 2, which, as TLF has written previously about how it is an overtly sexual song.

Yes, all of three of these songs were used to advertise … a phone.

Chocolate Love — Girls’ Generation; f(x)

These two versions of Chocolate Love, like Lollipop, a song about a phone, manages to exempify the virgin/whore dichotomy (or if you are being less feminist-y, ying/yang). The Girls’ Generation version is sedate and proper; the f(x) version has much phone caressing, and male gaze oriented girl pairings. Interestingly, Girls’ Generation is the “older” sister of the groups, leaving several members of f(x) to be shockingly young to be expressing their “chocolate love”. This song is an example of TLF’s bad taste and the inclusion of Amber in f(x) will be discussed here soon!

Cabi Song — Girls’ Generation/ Shinee (ad for Caribbean Bay)

If you like adversongs with truly pointless plots, with some members from two of the most popular k-pop groups, then this one is for you!

Tik Tok — 2PM

No, this song has nothing to do with Ke$ha, but falls into many of the time references throughout 2PM’s oeuvre.

Cass Beer sure loves the long song adversong, so there is a twelve minute in total version containing the entire plot. Unlike Kiss, the other Cass beer ad, which is understandable without subtitles, I’ve included versions with subtitles. Of all of the songs listed here, this is the one that is the most like a traditional short film (or a short K-drama), with the advertising the most subtle, through the inclusion of not only extensive dialogue, but other songs. It even has a trick ending!

Bodyguard — Shinee

Yet another phone song ad. Not my favorite, but plotted to advertise the phone’s features and to appeal to Shinee’s tween and teen girl audience.

My Color — Hyuna

Hyuna’s ad song for Toyota is the first Kpop ad-song to hit the U.S. market. There is so much that can be said about how Hyuna herself is marketed, but this is a catchy song, in the vein of both her solo work and 4Minute. But I don’t think that the listener is expected to think that “let’s go places” is intended to be solely with the car.




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Comments (3)

There is a recent example of this happening in the US market – Chris Brown’s “Forever” which used the Doublemint gum jingle. It was #2 on the Hot 100 and ended up being pretty popular with that viral wedding entrance video. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more.

[…] with gender norms stick out more than in the video for Chocolate Love, a video that TLF has previously written about, considering it has the young members of f(x) practically drape themselves in … a phone to […]

[…] Hyuna’s label throughout this period is focused more on her looks than any other aspect of what she brings. The two most infamous examples of focusing solely on her looks, rather than her talent are her commercial performances. The first, and not nearly as obvious, is her song/video for Toyota Corolla 2013, previously written about here. […]

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