Why is a debut important
In K-Pop, the debut is one of the most defining moments of that band’s career. Whether it establishes a style or is the jump-off point for the following concepts, a strong debut will factor into that band’s success. Of course that is not true for every band. Girls’ Generation’s debut was marked with a black ocean, where all of the audience members turned off their lightsticks. But it certainly was a defining moment for their careers nonetheless, especially when you consider the success that followed for them.
An introduction to Dreamcatcher
In 2017, the band Dreamcatcher went for an ambitious goal – a horror music video re-debut. Horror music videos, while not common in K-Pop, are certainly not unfamiliar. The most prominent ones that stick out to me are VIXX’s “Voodoo Doll” and Cross Gene’s “Black or White,” but there have certainly been others since then (though I would argue that the first truly successful and impactful horror MV was “Voodoo Doll”). But Dreamcatcher’s ambition comes from them being a female group, and them doing this as a debut music video.
Dreamcatcher’s first video, “Chase Me”, was a curious blend of styles. The song itself was curious – a rock/pop song more akin to an anime theme than anything else. The vocals were strong, backed by heavy guitar music, but with a melodic edge that still worked with the girls’ voices beautifully. It was definitely the right song, for the right band. It certainly wouldn’t be for everybody – but there certainly is an audience for this style and Dreamcatcher makes it sound great.
The video sports an early 20th century vibe with some mid-to-late 20th century contextual items to make it seemingly timeless. The sets are beautifully ornate, in mostly dark colors, both cold and warm. The most common colors are darker shades of teal, green, blue, and gold. The costumes in mainly black, white, or a maroon-red. The makeup is mostly pale on the girls, with red/dark pink lipstick mostly and black eyeliner, but nothing extravagant. (They do a better job in later videos of not whitewashing the girls.)
With all this in mind, the analysis can begin.
Storywise, it’s a little hard to follow. However, you’re not completely lost.
The video opens with Jo Donghyuk, an actor brought on for this project, walking through a hallway. This could be an apartment but judging from the suitcase, I’m going to just say it’s a hotel room. Donghyuk has a suitcase in one hand and a camera in the other. He films the room number, 808, before he enters. Right as he’s about to open the door, however, he sees JiU standing on the other end of the hall, holding a doll and wearing a white and gold dress.
Judging from the headwear, we can infer that she’s a nurse of some kind, or at least dressed as one. But that does call into question why she’s holding the doll if she’s dressed like an adult. I’m willing to buy that she’s dressed as a nurse for aesthetic purposes. I mean, anyone who’s heard of Silent Hill will know that nurses are a horror staple. However, I’d like to give this video a little more credit and say that there is a purpose for the costume choice.
In any event, Donghyuk films JiU, only for her not to appear on the camera. He then decides to ignore her and go inside his room.
Inside the apartment
The room Donghyuk enters is a pretty standard hotel or apartment room. However, with ornate furniture, it appears.
Donghyuk takes out some papers and new clippings that he’s evidently collected over the years. He tries to annotate them, but his pencil breaks. (I mean, to be fair, he is sharpening his pencil with a knife. I wonder what elementary school he went to that taught children to use knives as pencil sharpeners.)
Looking at the papers he’s reviewing, there’s some text, apparently in French and Italian, that reads:
“O.L. DE [covered]
88, Rue Osseghem,
BRUXELLES – 8
Stmo. Signor DE RYNCK!”
Bruxelles is French for Brussels, Belgique is French for Belgium, and Signor is Italian for Mr., akin to the Spanish “Señor.” The author of the letter is apparently writing from a hotel, judging from the stationary. Due to the weathered quality we can infer that this is probably not a recent letter, but something archival. Behind the paper, we seen an envelope from the same hotel. Further behind that, there’s something that reads PATIENT twice, so the nurse’s outfit that JiU is wearing starts to make a bit more sense.
Of course, I’m neglecting the elephant in the room. That would be the picture of the 7 Dreamcatcher members sitting like they’re the Shining twins in white dresses. The photo is also weathered, to the extent that I wouldn’t be surprised if the photograph came from the letter. This, does, however, note what everyone probably inferred at this point – we’re dealing with seven ghosts of young girls. If we want to stretch this a bit we could also make a guess as to where we are – either the Palme Lugano hotel that the letter game from, or Brussels, Belgium. But that’s still stretching it a bit.
Donghyuk proceeds to deal with a number of strange occurrences, precipitated by the ghosts of the girls he’s apparently seeking. SuA swings a pendant back and forth, in typical hypnotic fashion, while Donghyuk sleeps. When he wakes up, though, he can’t see her. Siyeon holds the door closed and keeps him from leaving. Gahyeon throws some books off a shelf to startle him. Yoohyeon changes the numbers on all the doors so that they all say 808. JiU floats in the hallway, sensually posed and ominously staring at Donghyuk.
The only two who are seemingly absent from this are Handong and Dami. Handong gets a few inserts where she’s sitting on a table and there’s a lamp swinging around her. She’s also in the reflection of a window that Donghyuk is looking through. Dami is the subject of – and later participant – of a cult ritual involving the other girls, also an insert. The cult imagery is recurring in many of Dreamcatcher’s later videos.
The ritual image appears later in the video, towards the end. In this context, it is inside one of the hotel rooms and in a video format. However, it’s not the ominous ritual with the girls in veils as it is in the insert during the rap break with Dami. Instead it’s bright, and cheerful. It seems as though the girls, though their pranks have been seemingly harmless in their afterlife, were all involved in something a bit less harmless than that, but were still somewhat innocent.
The girls’ pranks end up backfiring on Donghyuk. He finds himself locked out of his hotel room, hallucinating himself without eyes, and being tormented by JiU. He rewatches the film of himself getting scared and crawling away from JiU who, as previously stated, is imperceptible by his camera.
In any event, he is later forced to break into what appears to be his hotel room with an axe. He breaks in, but the room has changed. The walls are light. The photograph of the girls is framed prominently. We see some more flashbacks of the girls in that room specifically, having a pillow fight, then we see Donghyuk smile ominously. The screen then cuts to the band’s name, as well as the song’s name. Furthermore, the song playing at the end are the opening notes from their next song + music video, “Good Night”. Even if you didn’t know that, it seems that there is something more there, a lack of a resolution.
I mean…there’s also a To Be Continued there. But the ominous smile makes it more interesting.
limited use of color
There are many elements here that make this video memorable. First and foremost the aesthetic of the whole video keeps you on your toes. I always applaud K-Pop videos for having the perfect color scheme and aesthetics. I find that many other music genres, while they may look pretty, don’t have the right colors to associate moods with. Sure, bright colors might indicate happiness, but just because you have the bright colors of a Xerox machine in your video doesn’t mean you actually use them well.
Dreamcatcher’s color scheme is mostly on point. I say mostly because it suffers from Harry Potter syndrome – if you’ve seen The Deathly Hallows Part 2 you know that having too much oversaturated green isn’t the right thing to do to give a sense of tension. Dreamcatcher’s video has this issue, though to an infinitely lesser extent. It’s also fixed in “Good Night” so I’m willing to write this off as just first-video problems.
Pros and cons
Let’s focus on the positives for a minute. The timeless nature makes it more mysterious. The practical lighting makes it feel more real. The ghosts have a playful aura about them and the protagonist is both bland enough and compelling enough to show be a good viewer-insert character. There’s plenty here to leave you wanting more.
However, no video is without sin, and this video certainly has them. The dance routine, while beautiful, is not shot well. Things move too quickly and there is some awkward slow motion segments that leave you ultimately confused. It makes the entire routine hard to focus on – which is a tragedy, because the dance is gorgeous.
There is also the problem of too many flashing/flickering lights, which is something that many K-Pop videos suffer from. It feels like a lazy way of trying to ramp up the tension. That doesn’t mean it can’t be well done. VIXX’s “Voodoo Doll” is an example thereof- however, that video is more about horror than playfulness. There is also a lack of soft focus. Everything feels almost too sharp and while that can come across as cinematic, the aspect ratio is wide so the sharpness comes across as artificial.
The video is still strong in spite of these problems. Each of the girls is highlighted as unique, though there isn’t a whole lot of overt personality showing. The inserts of the girls are cute, sexy, ominous, in whichever way best suits them. I think that JiU and SuA are most compelling here because their inserts are the best constructed and their costumes stick out the most. Furthermore, JiU is clearly relevant to the larger story these videos tell, so I kept my eye on her the whole time.
The themes of “Chase me”
As stated earlier, “Chase Me” plays with notions of innocence, maturity, and sexuality. It tries to balance the different themes, presumably for marketing, but also within the context of the story. Women’s sexuality is often characterized as temptation. With JiU in this video, that seems particularly evident. It seems that if she is not tempting the male character, she’s mocking him for some reason. However, there is a juxtaposition here with the childish nature of the pillow fight scenes or the pranks that the girls pull. So regardless of the tempting nature of JiU in context, she still seems like a deep and nuanced character, because she has the capacity to be childish.
In terms of maturity there are multiple themes at play here. For one thing, horror always forces an adult growth in a character, or freezes a character in childishness. “Chase Me” does both. Even the playfulness of the characters seems mocking. The cult ritual features Dami as the main victim, with dolls occasionally in her place. Eyes are ripped off of the teddy bear, and that in turn effects Donghyuk. So there is a subversion, or even rejection, of childhood.
References to horror media
There are plenty of references to horror films in this. I’ve mentioned numerous references to The Shining, but there are even more. There’s the rug being hexagonal, and while this isn’t the same pattern as The Shining it definitely is a callback to that. There is of course the use of cameras, a la The Ring or Paranormal Activity. But what got me most was Donghyuk losing his eyes in the mirror. It appears to be a reference to Poltergeist, where a character hunting a ghost watches himself decay in a mirror and literally tears his flesh off.
When I first saw that scene, I was fifteen, and it scared me out of my mind. The effect had looked cheesy at the time but body horror has always stopped my heart. The films that are supposedly alluded to, or at least came to mind for me, all have something to do with maturity or children, particularly The Shining and Poltergeist. The eye thing could also be a reference to SHINee’s “Married to the Music” where everyone loses a body part – Kibum loses his body, Minho loses his head, Jonghyun loses his mouth, Onew loses his nose, and Taemin loses his eyes. I find this unlikely, but hey, it is K-Pop, so maybe this was something that they thought of.
There’s something else – disguising tension as fear. There’s a video by YouTuber Dan Root that elaborates on this concept further in the context of video games. The given example is Metroid, specifically Metroid Fusion. Dan Root states that using techniques to increase tension but masking them behind story elements related to fear in turn causes you to feel fear.
A similar principle holds to “Chase Me”. I would not say that “Chase Me” is particularly scary, but it is definitely unsettling. Further, you get the sense that the protagonist is scared. It can’t be too scary because it’s trying to work with a number of other themes, but it manages to make you feel unsettled on the first viewing.
Overall, the video is well done, despite the flaws that stick out. Again, it’s easy to be forgiving when it’s a debut. Super Junior’s “Twins” has some of the worst hair styles ever and immensely cheesy effects but, since they’ve gone above and beyond that since, no one cares that there were glaring issues with those videos. (It was also 2005.)
It is truly admirable, that Dreamcatcher was able to pull off something so memorable on the first round. They kept this up with later videos, making sure to elaborate on the story, and add more cinematic qualities. But “Chase Me” has charm to it, charm that could only come from a new group. It makes their growth that much more meaningful, but at the same time is hard to surpass. Their next video, “Good Night”, gives even more insight into the world these characters live in, but still take another direction. And as we’ll see next week, it pays off.