Okay so I’ve technically already submitted this blog for assessment, however at 1AM this morning something wonderful happened – the Gods smiled on my poor, burned-out-from-a-million-assignments-at-once self and brought together three of my great loves: KPop, House and advertising!
Secret is a collaboration with SM Entertainment, one of largest and most famous KPop labels, and Pantene Korea. Produced by LDN Noise and featuring two members of Girls’ Generation, the track features in Pantene’s ads in the country. The official, full-length track has finally been released through SM Station, a new Youtube channel where SM artists release singles outside of their usual promotions. It allows artists more freedom, creativity and experimentation than the traditional KPop model, and has seen some of the best work in KPop for years in a short space of time.
On my 50th replay since waking up this morning, I realised that the whole song is, in effect, one big advertisement for Pantene. The track sounds like it belongs in a high-end fashion show. Lyrically, the song talks about the girls showing you their ‘secret’ – the reason people are drawn to them, the reason why they stand out in the crowd, and the reason for their confidence. This secret makes them ‘shine’. The film clip features the girls dressed in clean-looking, fashionable outfits, set against cool, fresh-looking backdrops. The dance moves and camera angles all centre around their hair, which is styled to look long and luxurious.
Somewhere in between attempting to teach myself the dance moves in preparation for my birthday weekend, I had this lightbulb moment when I realised that, oh my God, they’re talking about their hair products. You never see a Pantene bottle anywhere in the clip, the girls never talk specifically about their hair or anything like that. It’s only once you put all the subtle little pieces together that you realise what they’re actually doing. It’s very clever! I’m not sure this would work so effectively in the West, where our songwriting style is much more direct.
In countries like Korea and Japan, this kind of thing is actually reasonably common. My favourite artist ever, Utada Hikaru, ties each one of her song releases to a brand or TV show, either before release or after the fact. Occasionally, she slips little references to the product into her lyrics (watch for the ‘Nissin Cup Noodle’ shoutout in this track!), but generally it’s more about the ‘feeling’ in the song which attracts a brand. Eastern song lyrics often use poetry or allusion to give an idea of the true subject matter of a song, which allows brands to jump in and suggest that subject matter themselves.
Secret is a rare example of a brand working with an artist from the inception of the track all the way through to the final execution. I’d be very open to giving something like this a go in my career, though I’m not sure it will ever be this good!