The fundamentals of a P-pop music video

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CNN Philippines Life talks to the creative minds behind some of the most viewed music videos of recent P-pop.

This article is part of CNN Philippines Life’s ongoing series on P-Pop and its origins.

Music videos are a visual language. By allowing a spectrum of elements to come into play and create a version of a song that is watchable, music videos expand what we can imagine.

The 1990s produced an era of OPM that was, in part, shaped by music videos. Artists like Parokya ni Edgar and Eraserheads, to name a few, had songs made even more iconic by music videos and helped them dominate the local charts. On an international scale, the global recognition of Eraserheads’ music video for “Ang Huling El Bimbo” — with over 25 million views today — as the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards winner revealed the exciting potential of Philippine music videos.

A visual interpretation of sound, lyrics, and melodies, music videos are considered part of any artist’s work. J. Pacena II, director behind the music videos of Barbie Almalbis and Gloc9, described them as “another way to reach your audience” in a previous CNN Philippines Life roundtable.

The role of music videos remains the same. But what has changed are the artists behind them. The visualization of music has evolved into OPM’s newest movement: P-pop.

RELATED: Tracing the origins of P-pop

When you search “P-pop” on YouTube today, the top results display striking imagery inspired by the global phenomenon of K-pop. For Filipino Pop music, the colors and energy of songs translated on-screen goes beyond the choreographed dance moves and fashion choices — trickling down to a connection between artist and listener.

But what palpable elements influence the quality of a good pop music video and the connection it is able to build? CNN Philippines Life talks to the creative minds of the production companies behind some of the most viewed music videos of recent P-pop.

From audio to visual

“It took us four months and a half from ideation to execution,” said Dominic Bekaert of Zoopraxi Studio, the production company behind Nadine Lustre’s visual album “Wildest Dreams.”

“The music is always our starting point, as it sets the mood and, through the lyrics, tells us more about the artist we’re working with,” said Bekaert. The idea of producing a visual album occurred to him when he first listened to Nadine's demos. While their services were first enlisted for only two music videos, Zoopraxi Studio came up with a longer narrative for the entire album. “[Our team] got struck with how visual all the tracks were and [with] the journey that was emerging from the lyrics,” he said.

With displays of the albularyo, the Maria Makiling tale, and the kampilan sword, the tracks of “Wildest Dreams” display elements of Filipino folklore and indigenous Filipino instruments. “While discussing with Nadine during the first meetings, she shared with us her fascination [with] the lotus and its symbolism, which became one of the central themes of the visual album,” Bekaert said.

Zoopraxi Studio’s decision to involve animation in each music video is a way to visualize Nadine’s interior transformation. “[With] Nadine being a multi-talented artist, we also wanted to showcase her acting and dancing skills, which allowed us to fully explore the various tracks’ rhythms and moods.”

For Bekaert, music videos are referential. Drawing inspiration from other mediums such as photography, painting, mythology, and even children’s stories has allowed him and his team to turn the sonic evolutions of a song into an optic experience.

Behind every great song is a great story

The team behind Chapters PH (responsible for SB19’s “What?” and “Bazinga?”) believes that collaboration is where the best work happens — the alchemy between artist and production team creates a story that is more than the sum of its parts.

“In general, we listen to the song a few times to understand [its] meaning, then ask what it means to the artist,” explained PR and Creative producer Jonina Ramos. “We were having meetings every weekend with SB19 — even at our producers’ homes, which became a bonding experience for the entire team.”

While ideation starts with the artist’s initial concepts in mind, Chapters PH builds and cultivates that idea by identifying the key visuals and characters that could best tell the story that unravels in the song. “The elements have to be able to tell the story well, whether it's a camera-to-performer interaction, or set design, or some hidden messages in elements or set pieces or animation that we include in the video,” said Ramos. “It's not just there for aesthetics but it's part of the whole visual storytelling.”

Ramos cites the scene of Justin’s galactic world in “What?” as an example — a creative decision made by SB19’s ‘bunso’ who is credited as the music video’s Creative Director. She also explained that the boys were intentional with their choices. “In the intro [of "What?"], you see them in different places and each setting that they were in corresponds to each member.”

SB19’s “What?” is a declaration. From the lyrics to the closing scene shot in Pampanga, the song proclaims and defines SB19 as Filipino artists. “If you want to get to know the boys and their personalities in one music video, [What?] is the one to watch,” said Ramos.

The creative team of Chapters PH pinpointed pre-production as the most crucial stage in what can make or break a good music video. “When conceptualizing, it’s all about ‘how do we do justice to this song the best way possible?’ given all your resources and even limitations,” said Ramos, adding: “Then once the concept is approved, it doesn’t stop there because now you need to find the right people and locations to help execute the concept you’ve created, and [that] carries over to production until post-production. ”

When pre-production is shaped by a shared understanding of the purpose and meaning behind the song, creating a music video becomes an easier and more enjoyable process. Having had worked with Zild Benitez since his time in rock band IV of Spades, Trina Razon-Dacones of Two Fold explained that the trust built throughout the years granted her and her team creative freedom. “Zild is the kind of artist who respects our form of artistry and gives us a lot of room to explore how his music makes us feel and what comes to us visually,” said Razon-Dacones. “The beauty of music videos is working hand in hand with other creatives — in this case, singers and songwriters — who respect our form of art.”

The familiarity between Zild and Two Fold also allowed work to feel secondary to fun. “Since we already have a friendship with Zild himself and our [respective crews] knew each other very well, [shooting out of town] was really almost like friends hanging out and shooting in between.” 

For Razon-Dacones, pieces of everyday life trigger ideas for auditory imagery. “How a song feels to us is the unifying process of each music video,” she said. “For Zild’s ‘Bungantulog,’ we looked to old western [movies] but heavily took aesthetic influence from Japanese animation and how some animes present nature in [an] almost dream-like [and] pastoral way.”

Two Fold illustrated the music video in a way that remained to its song title. When the chorus of “Bungantulog” hits, a dream-like scene of Zild dancing slowly in the middle of a vast field comes into view. “Zild’s previous MVs featured animation style close to Studio Ghibli so we made that a jump off point for how we shot the MV,” she explained.

YouMeUs MNL, the production studio behind BGYO’s “The Baddest," BINI’s “Born to Win," and Maymay Entrata’s “Amakabogera," shared that the story of a song begins with its character. Studying the personalities of the artists they work with is the first step to any music video they produce. Creative Producer Dale Reciña cites BGYO as an example. “We got to know them online first,” he said. “We watched their performances and went through their social media accounts.”

A preliminary understanding of who they’re working with allows YouMeUs MNL to be more discerning in their creative choices. “That way, when we make their parts for the music video, we make sure their true personalities come out,” said Reciña. In their interpretation of BGYO’s “The Baddest,” YouMeUS MNL reveals a powerful story led by the five-member group with a subtle hint of Philippine mythology that concludes the music video.

And in their work for BINI’s Born To Win, Reciña and his team take another approach of world-building. The concept of BINI Domination translated into a realm made of the “Zero World,” the members’ lives pre-debut and “Hero World,” BINI’s new kingdom. “We created a world out of their outfits from Francis Libiran,” he shared. “We made a BINI world for their origin music video — a BINIverse.”

The cost of a full music video production

“The budget for a music video really goes into the location, whether [it’s] an on-location type of set, or set design, and cinematography,” said Ramos of Chapters PH.

Bekaert of Zoopraxi Studio highlighted styling as an important expenditure, sharing that their budget was shared between set design, styling, and equipment. “On some projects — including ‘Wildest Dreams’ — it becomes a key element to convey the story,” he shared. “[So] the budget is really shared between the set designs, the styling and the equipment.”

Reciña of YouMeUs MNL said that their primary obstacle in creating music videos is making it appear high-quality and expensive with limited resources. And for him, the answer is the perfect location and team synchronization.

“Once we have the perfect location, we don’t need much for [production design],” he said. And with everyone involved in the project operating on the same page, the shared goal remains clear. “Since we’re always on a budget, we would normally do the [production design] ourselves so we are everyone’s assistant in every shoot.”

It takes a village to conceptualize, create, and produce a music video. And for these leading production companies, it is both a privilege and an art form.

“We all really love what we do, and we know how lucky we are to get to do it,” said Bekaert. “The most crucial element from all these MVs are the personalities of the artists. It’s the core element we want to bring out in every [music video] we’ve done,” said YouMeUs MNL’s Dale Reciña. “Once we’ve done this, the limits are endless more than anything.”