WARNING: THIS ARTICLE WILL DISCUSS TOPICS THAT MAY BE CONSIDERED INAPPROPRIATE, INCLUDING SEXUAL THEMES. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Originally this article was going to be about Sunmi’s “Gashina”, if I’m being totally honest. But in the process of organizing a K-Pop presentation for my university, I ended up hung up on “24 Hours”. You know how you get little voice nagging at you to do something? It kinda eats away at you and pokes at your mind, trying to get you to pay attention, to listen. Well, here I stood, caught between two beautiful music videos. While I definitely want to talk about “Gashina” soon, I think my efforts are best served talking about “24 Hours” while these thoughts are fresh in my mind.
Sunmi is part of a new wave of positive female role models in K-Pop. What started with bands like 2NE1 and SNSD/Girls’ Generation has now come full force. Bands like Brown Eyed Girls and Mamamoo show strong women; younger girl groups like PRISTIN, gugudan, and Red Velvet show girls as being forces in their own right; soloists like Ga-In, Yezi, CL, and Kahi show what it means to be a woman in K-Pop. Girl groups like TWICE and BLACKPINK dominate the charts. MOMOLAND skyrocketed to fame in the course of a month. K-Pop is no longer a man’s playground.
Sunmi’s transformation from a member of Wonder Girls to a powerful artist all on her own is indicative of this change. She has an incredible presence onstage and translating that into a music video leads something innately addicting. Her style is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying that she’s very talented.
Which brings us back to “24 Hours”. The song was part of Sunmi’s reintroduction into K-Pop after leaving Wonder Girls in 2010 to pursue her academics. Sunmi would go on to resume promotions with Wonder Girls in 2015 before their quiet disbandment several years later. Sunmi is now at MakeUs Entertainment, becoming incredibly successful as a solo artist. She’s been composing much of her music on her own now, which is why it sounds so different from her early solo works (largely composed by JYP himself). Yet the seeds are planted in “24 Hours” for what Sunmi would ultimately become. Just as 2NE1 would not have been what they became without “Fire”, I feel as though Sunmi needed to do “Full Moon” and “24 Hours” to experiment as an artist before turning into the megalith she is now.
I must say, this is one of those music videos I should probably avoid watching on a loop on the quiet car of the train going home, but who cares when it’s just that drop dead gorgeous? And it’s probably better than watching something like AOA – not that AOA is bad. On the contrary, AOA is very good. But that’s not what we’re arguing here, is it? The point is, it’s a very intimate video, the kind that hath earned a 15+ rating back in the simpler times of 2013.
The song itself is fantastic, but its subject matter is something that has been tried many times before. The verses and chorus are all about how time is finite and “24 hours is not enough”, wrapped in a healthy dose of sexual implications. The beat is pop but very percussive, and yet the vocals remind me almost of a tango. The bridge is even reminiscent of that. There’s also the prevailing use of clocks ticking, especially at the very beginning – it feels like you’re listening to a time bomb.
Color-wise, this is a testament to the incredible use of color that K-Pop has. Everything is very soft, but implies sensuality. Sunmi’s hair is mauve, and it’s the only thing that’s pink in the entire music video that isn’t a lens flare. Whites and blacks are paired with faded golds, reds, and indigos. Even purple makes an appearance. There’s also a great use of metallics, off-whites, browns, and grays, particularly in the background. Sunmi’s skin is also gold-hued, which is very different from the pale skin she had in “Full Moon”. Her boyfriend for the MV is also gold-skinned. As my mother calls it, it looks like they were dipped in honey.
The story seems fairly simple at first glance. Girl meets guy, girl has sexual relationship with guy, guy stops reciprocating. But what’s interesting is that at the end of the video, after all is said and done, the entire video starts rewinding. This is probably tied to the lyric about how 24 hours are not enough time, and Sunmi is rewinding time to spend more time with her new squeeze. However, it’s possible to see this in a more melancholy way – perhaps Sunmi and her boyfriend broke up when her boyfriend stopped reciprocating, and she’s rewinding time to undo her past transgressions, or try to win him back.
The video likes to play mind games. With the time changing and the motion blurs, combined with clever cutting, the entire music video becomes a sort of dreamlike experience. I mentioned in my article on Ravi’s “NIRVANA + Alcohol” that movement is important in making a K-Pop video. That is evident here. Much of the edits revolve around how Sunmi herself moves. Keep this in mind with the dance sequences, as the cuts help you follow how she moves.
Let’s keep that in mind when analyzing the dance. The camera starts at her eye level and generally speaking stays on the ground, going up. This is commonplace in a lot of K-Pop videos, done in part to highlight the complex dance movements, also in part to emphasize the sexiness of idols (which we’ll get to in a minute). I noticed though that Sunmi is not always in the center of the shots. This actually ended up being beneficial in some cases, because we get shots of Sunmi from the side that look spectacular. There’s only so many center shots you can get from an MV.
I remember watching this video again for who knows how many times and freaking out over an incredible scene. At the very beginning we see her get lifted by her boyfriend, gently put against a wall, then rolled into a bed in a seamless transition. It looks like she’s outside at night for one minute, then suddenly in the apartment, then on the bed.
It looks like one shot, but how did they make this work? They can’t have made her do the exact same poses, that’s physically not possible (unless you’re Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black and can do LITERALLY ANYTHING). After watching the video too many times while writing this article, I can tell you how they did it, and it’s actually pretty interesting.
There is only one transition in this clip, going from the initial dance sequence to the apartment scene. The dance sequence, which involves the initial part of choreography in the rain, is done in a studio, and I would assume that the apartment scene is done in a studio as well. When the light flickers on beat with the music as it turns into the very first verse, you may notice the rain machine stops. As the camera pans to the right, keeping the focus on Sunmi’s face, we see that one of the walls has neon lights on the back as well as other assorted lights. The other assorted lights are in fact fairy lights against a curtain. The orange light from the first dance sequence fades out so it looks like they’re really outside. When Sunmi is lifted up, a deep gold light turns on and the camera moves behind a curtain of fairy lights. Since the camera isn’t focusing on them, it looks like outdoor bokeh. The couple spins and there’s a crossfade to a pitch black screen.
Not a moment too soon, we’re introduced to the apartment. If you notice however, we only ever see two walls in this scene, forming a corner. The light keeps on Sunmi and is meant to loo like moonlight, but it’s really a spotlight. Sunmi’s boyfriend rolls her to the side, in front of the camera, and onto the bed. How does this work? Well, for those of you who are familiar with BBC’s Sherlock, you may be familiar with this scene from A Scandal in Belgravia.
In this scene, the bed is pushed up with springs, and Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t move. He’s holding a bedsheets in his hands, and pulls it up to his chin. There’s a similar thing happening here. The bed is vertical. The pillows are pinned to it, as are the sheets. It’s meant to look like a horizontal bed but that’s just a trick of a change in camera angle – you can see it if you slow down the frames and watch in slow motion. The camera shifts 90 degrees to the right, but does it in a subtle way. You can also tell because Sunmi’s hair is somehow floating above her head, which wouldn’t make sense unless you saw the entire screen from a different angle.
This moment is one of brilliance. It’s cut nearly seamlessly. If you’re not paying attention, you might not have realized anything was changing at all. It’s meant to fool you. I think the fact that this whole sequence has evaded me for so long is a testament to how well it fools you. (Except the bed thing, that took me maybe three or four watches to get because I’ve seen Sherlock).
One of the things I always look for in a music video where women are the artists is how many men there are at the center of the story, and whether or not their faces are shown. When women are objectified the focus is always on their bodies, so my curiosity is always drawn to whether or not the same treatment is applied to men. A good example of this is “Kill Bill” by Brown Eyed Girls. The entire music video revolves around the original Tarantino films, but to keep the women at the center, men are either facing away from the camera, or they have a cowboy hat pulled low over their faces.
Sunmi’s video, while not going to that level of reverse objectification, does a good job of putting the focus on Sunmi herself. The camera is always facing her face in story sequences. When it isn’t, the man in the music video has his face bowed down or looking away from the camera. Sometimes his back will be to you, while Sunmi runs hands over his muscles. But more often than not, she’s looking at you.
We also get no uncomfortable shots of her body. The only ones that come close to me are her feet at the beginning of the video, when she’s sitting on the bed, and the one scene where she takes off the shirt she’s wearing, and you don’t even see her do that in full. You could make an argument that the thumb over her lip is inherently sultry but I wouldn’t necessarily qualify that as complete objectification.
There is of course the nature of wearing a men’s shirt and her shorts, something that’s considered inherently sexualized. My personal take on this is that just because something is sexy does not make it objectification. Sunmi dresses similarly in later videos, and even has undressing sequences. Furthermore, we were recently introduced to girl group Laysha, which literally revolves around being sexy, even going so far as to have a flashing scene in one of their MVs (facing away from the camera, of course), so clearly the bar for what counts as exploitation or objectification has risen significantly. I do want to talk about that more in this context but for now I’m just going to leave this screenshot of Laysha’s music video “Party Tonight” to make my point.
Before we go on, let me just say I have no problem with sexy girls in videos as a general rule – I listen to AOA and Laysha and any other sexy girl band. But I do think it’s important to understand what the limits of what society at large deems appropriate. As far as I’m concerned, Sunmi’s video “24 Hours” falls within the realm of what I consider okay, if pushing it somewhat. That said, I fully acknowledge that many people would consider this kind of content inappropriate, and that is for you to determine and grapple with on your own. I am here to provide an analysis but I cannot dictate what your morals should be, only state what my morals are.
With all this in mind, it’s interesting how the video depicts intimacy. Some of it is overt, for example Sunmi lying in the bed with her supposed boyfriend, or her crawling on top of the table. But it also depicts intimacy in subtler ways. A hand going over Sunmi’s face, her sitting on the bed with her knees up, the transition into an a modern tango. Furthermore, the video uses shots that are mostly out of focus, so Sunmi and her boyfriend are the ones your eyes go to. It also uses a number of very clever transitions so that you barely notice anything but the two of them and their dances and sexual escapades.
Overall, this video does a great job of depicting Sunmi as a strong idol in her own right, but it lacks the power and punch that later videos of hers have. In those videos she’s powerful, but in this one, she’s eye catching. I think that without “24 Hours” we wouldn’t have the Sunmi we have today, just as without those early Madonna songs we wouldn’t have the Madonna we have now. While Sunmi is very different from the Sunmi of “Gashina”, “Heroine”, or “Siren”, we can appreciate who she was in “24 Hours”, and appreciate this beautiful art.