Trigger warning: Violence, Gore, and Mention of Abuse.
Looking back onto my childhood, I remember other kids thinking it was odd that I liked horror. I mean, I was a girl who liked pastel dresses, pretty hair, dolls, and fairies. But then, around the time I stopped believing in fairies – a bit late, admittedly – I was enraptured by stories of vampires, demons, and the underworld. At the time, I much preferred reading it than I did writing it, but that wasn’t to say I didn’t experiment with the genre as best as a middle schooler could. When I was in high school, taking one of my first film classes, we did a unit on horror. My fascination with the genre expanded, as I was introduced to how creators designed fear.
So, you can imagine my delight when I found VIXX’s “Voodoo Doll” for the first time.
I’d seen a cosplayer – FadingForest on Deviantart – do a design based on the visual of VIXX, Hongbin, and his character in “Voodoo Doll”. I decided to go exploring on my own. So there I was, watching one of the craziest K-Pop videos ever, and absolutely in love with it. It mixed the gothic and the modern, body horror and psychological horror, hot guys and black eyeliner.
It was never the gore factor about horror that I enjoyed. In fact generally speaking, I dislike gore. Body horror has never been something I could really stomach. But when it came to horror, I enjoyed observing the extremes of the human condition. It was never about the literal story, it was all about the underlying intentions. A vampire story is about the loss of humanity when you reject the one thing that all humans have in common – death. A possession story centers around a person who shares a body with an entity completely opposite them. A story of the underworld, the afterlife, addresses what we don’t know about our own souls, and how much that makes us scared.
And voodoo stories encapsulate our fear of losing free will.
VIXX is one of my favorite bands for a reason. Their heart and soul goes into everything they do. They all have an insane talent for the stage that allows them to take on any persona for any song. When they dance, they don’t dance just to move, they dance to make you feel something. Everything right down to their facial expressions is done to make you feel something. They are among the select few that do that for every comeback. Some bands will put a lot of care into one comeback and not in another, others will kind of rock one persona throughout their career and never change it up, even others will try to intentionally avoid having a persona so that they seem authentic.
But I wouldn’t say VIXX has a persona, at least not in the way we would associate a K-Pop band with a concept. They are artists first and foremost, and that’s what they make their careers out of. Not being pretty, not being funny, not being sexy. They do it by shocking you. VIXX also stands out in part because it’s well known that they are actors, well known that they are dancing talents, and well known for being down to earth and not pretentious. Building off what I said in my article on Ravi, VIXX’s rapper, while they were inspired by older, more famous idols, VIXX has a unique voice in their understanding of K-Pop and their enigmatic take on it.
In 2012, the year before “Voodoo Doll” came out, (which is also the year that VIXX debuted) we were awarded with many K-Pop videos, but many of them were lacking in substance. Those that weren’t lacking, for example BIGBANG’s “Fantastic Baby”, were written off by American audiences as crazy videos with men and women with weird hair. While there was a niche market for K-Pop videos that had a creative edge to them, no one really cared at the time. And that’s not to say that creative K-Pop videos weren’t being made – they were. But American audiences were neither attuned to them nor intending to seek them out. It was ultimately tragic, as we see the ripple effects now in how most American media portrays K-Pop.
VIXX ultimately started like most other K-Pop bands – on a pink soundstage with terrible hair. As endearing as “Super Hero”, their debut song, was, it was nothing compared to what they would ultimately become. They went through a number of phases, mostly hovering around the cutesy concepts, before eventually finding a voice in “On and On” in early 2013. On and On featured a story about vampires in space, which…okay yeah the premise sucked. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it.
Afterwards, VIXX came out with Jekyll and Hyde, two albums that intentionally mirrored each other. One was light and happy, one was dark and…well, had eyeliner spilled all over it. Both were excellent. Hyde’s music video featured some fascinatingly eerie imagery, though it was really crazy and not subtle enough for my liking. It’s a good watch though.
“Voodoo Doll”, though, is what put VIXX on the map. Shockingly vivid imagery, violence, and magic that pushed beyond aesthetics or a simple story – all this was missing from K-Pop until 2013. While gore has not been revisited by VIXX, the shock value and the idea of high concept certainly has. VIXX’s video quality is incredibly consistent, and they’re constantly pushing their own limits.
“Voodoo Doll” itself is hard to unpack. It seems at first glance that the video is about a girl torturing boys with magic, and that they’re trying to escape. On repeated watches however, it’s a little more indirect. For one thing the song is about a sort of magical servant who is even willing to kill for their master. In a broader sense, it’s about a somewhat toxic relationship where the person is willing to take the pain of someone else onto them, regardless of the damage this does to their own personal well being.
Visually, this is exemplified by the way each member is imprisoned within a cell surrounding a hexagonal room. At first I thought that they were trying to escape while the girl was mocking them and torturing them with her powers. But then the more I watched, the more I realized – the members don’t have identities when she’s not around. If you look closely at the cells, Leo wanders aimlessly in his cell, with his back hunched or fully arched. Ken dangles from the ceiling. N lies limp like a doll. Hyuk stares outside of the cell, watching the girl. Ravi does…something, it’s hard to tell because all we see is his hand. They don’t animate until she gives them purpose.
She’s toying with their love for her.
It’s all about a toxic relationship between these boys and a “master”. Now toxic relationships are something that many artists talk about, but it’s usually from a place of posthumous anger or depression in the moment. Sometimes a singer will go even so far as to make it seem like everything’s okay, and have a cheerful edge to the song in spite of dark material. VIXX doesn’t do any of that. VIXX mixes passion and rage and uses voodoo dolls as a means of explaining power dynamics in such a relationship.
Let’s break down a few of the features of an abusive relationship, and how VIXX addresses them:
Intimidation: I think this one is obvious. There is a lot of physical violence in this music video. Hongbin has pieces of glass stuck to his arms and is inside a box, Hyuk, Leo, Ken, and N all have piercings all over their body that bind them to the ceiling, and Ravi is physically restrained with ropes. Throughout the music video the girl repeatedly stabs voodoo dolls that control all of them, and we see her cutting up and stitching members while they bleed. There’s a lot of physical intimidation.
Isolation: again, this one clearly shows itself. Each of the members is in a cell of sorts, and each of the members has been restrained. They aren’t able to go far enough forward to see the other members or reach them – in Hongbin’s case he can hardly move at all. Even when the members escape, they don’t see each other. There is never a moment where they are all physically together, beyond the dance sequences.
Coercion: Coercion is a little harder to pin down since there is no dialogue. But we can see the girl clearly go up to the members and seemingly tempt them. Not sexually, just by her presence alone. That’s enough to drive them crazy. Furthermore in the actual song, Ken sings:
“웃는 너의 얼굴 한번이면 족해/내가 대신 다 해 네가 바라는 것들” (“utneun neoui eolgul hanbeonimyeon jokhae/naega daesin da hae nega baraneun geotdeul”)
“If you smile just once I’m satisfied/I’ll do everything instead, everything you wish for”https://colorcodedlyrics.com/2013/11/vixx-voodoo-doll
The whole point of the song is that this girl is degrading the members and using them for entertainment. They want to help her, give her everything even if it makes their own lives hell.
Minimization: again, difficult to really get to the bottom of when the only words are in the song. But we can see how the different members are dehumanized by the girl. She objectifies them physically with promiscuous outfits and then she also treats them like toys. When she stabs her doll she laughs at them even as they’re in clear, visible pain. They’re less than puppets to her, they’re surrogates for whatever emotion she wants them to feel.
Visually this turmoil between partners is made clear through a number of visual cues. The colors are all vibrant and angry – reds, blacks, oranges, greens. It is brighter than the color scheme of most horror movies but I think it suits this video. It’s also overly sharpened – many K-Pop videos in 2012-2014 were sharpened to extreme lengths. I don’t normally like this, but I think in VIXX’s case it actually is advantageous to the gruesome nature of the video. It makes the gore feel grittier, like it’s less supernatural and more serial killer story. The costumes give each character a personality while still seeming relatively uniform.
N’s character is almost like a twisted version of his actual personality. He’s known for being a very sweet, soft person, and I would say loose turtleneck sweaters and couches are indications of someone very sweet. But the torn clothes, being tied to the ceiling, painted mannequins and the covered abandoned couch, all show a person with a kind heart that’s been twisted by this process.
Leo’s room looks almost like an underground chamber, like a subway covered in crinkled metal. His clothing is basically rags, as if he’s been cut on everything, but unlike the other members the only physical wounds he has are the piercings that tie him to the ceiling. But he’s a member that does some of the most expression with his body.
Ken is trapped in a box that is almost like an elevator. He’s covered in burns and tied to the ceiling. His outfit is probably most like a K-Pop idol, thin shirt and pants, but like everything else it’s all ripped. I’d say the outfit he wears is the sleekest, cleanest one, in spite of the whole video.
Ravi is in a kitchen of sorts, with food that appears rotted on the table. The window in front of him is covered with equations, chemistry diagrams, and all sorts of weird things. His own body is covered in tattoos, including one of his skin ripped open and his heart underneath. His eyes are Xs, which has become an icon of this story. The way he grits his teeth at the girl and stares her down, it’s all fairly on brand for Ravi – as I’ve said before, he’s so enigmatic in his embracing of the arts and sciences, as well as the typical hip-hop persona. This very much fits into that dichotomy.
Hyuk is in a room with a tree, with a shattered window in front of him. He’s wearing leather and thick eyeliner like a typical bad boy. He’s covered with stab wounds. The most interesting thing though is that there is bark coming off of his arms. If I had to guess as to why this is the case I imagine he’s undergone so much abuse that he’s become a part of this world that the girl has created – to escape would be to lose himself.
That leaves Hongbin – ultimately the focal point of the video. The normally cute visual is twitching, scratching, contorting inside a box. His arms and chest are covered with glass. He still has piercings in his shoulders, but they’re not attached to anything. His clothes are in actual tatters. He has the iconic Xs in his eyes. He acts like a terrifying, insane creation, less human than a corpse. It’s scary but it’s admirable how amazing he’s able to act.
Hongbin is the only character we see in the end after all is said and done. The girl comes back to her room to find all the boys have escaped, and are trying to find their way back to, presumably, our world. The girl angrily starts stabbing the doll, still bound to all of them. They all get hurt and eventually float, as they are forced into various positions. Eventually we see Hongbin fall, and get pulled back into the room.
The girl puts the glass back in his arms, restores him, and stitches him. He blinks, unfeeling, not even looking at her. She got her doll back.
A lot of people have assumed that this means the other members escaped. I don’t think this is true. If you watch closely, Ken falls too – it cuts off right before he does. This means to me that he didn’t escape either. And it seems unfair to think that just the two of them were taken back. I think that the girl is focusing individual attention on each of them, as part of her intentional control of them. She likes to play with these boys and make them completely codependent. And, judging from Hongbin’s reaction, this costs him everything that he is.
The song ends on a relatively somber note:
누가 됐든 잘 봐 그녈 울리지 마 (nuga dwaetdeun jal bwa geunyeol ulliji ma)
더 이상 잃을 무엇도 없는 나 (deo isang irheul mueotdo eomneun na)
그 누구도 모르는 내 가슴속의 슬픔은 (geu nugudo moreuneun nae gaseumsogui seulpeumeun)
째깍 째깍 다 사라지리라 (jjaekkak jjaekkak da sarajirira)
Whoever this becomes watch carefully, don’t make her cry
I don’t have anything else to give up
That person doesn’t know me, the pain in my heart
Tick tock tick tock everything will disappearhttps://colorcodedlyrics.com/2013/11/vixx-voodoo-doll
VIXX’s “Voodoo Doll” will ultimately go down in history as one of the greatest K-Pop Mvs of all time. It’s overdone as far as budget is concerned. It’s just incredibly tight in terms of all the things that count – plot, editing, and the music. The singers themselves are what make this music video so amazing. It set a course for a number of K-Pop bands to come, allowing bands like Dreamcatcher to go full on horror for almost every comeback and bands like Cross Gene to do incredibly graphic music videos like “Black or White”.
While I do believe that this video is about an abusive relationship, there is some ambiguity. But I believe that is intentional here. I don’t think a good K-Pop video is meant to tell you how to feel, or what you should think of it. I think it’s supposed to guide you in a direction and allow you to figure it out for yourself. There are a number of interpretations that can come from “Voodoo Doll”, some literal and some not. But one thing’s for sure, VIXX has something. And it’s not something that is easily recreated.