Before we start, I just want to apologize for the lack of uploads these past months. School took a lot out of me and since I’m on vacation, I have a number of personal projects that I’ve been working on, one of which will be announced soon. Also, because of the event in April, K-Pop for Filmmakers, I had the most historical case of burnout, and it took a long time to get my creative juices flowing again. So here we are, two months later, finally with an article. In order to prevent this kind of burnout from happening again, I’m going to stop with the regimented schedule, but also add more personal updates. I will also write smaller articles so that they can come more often.
I talk about VIXX way too much in this blog but here we are again, with another solo – instead of Ravi, though, we have Leo. Leo, or Jung Taekwoon, is the second eldest member of VIXX, as well as one of the band’s primary vocalists. He’s a fan favorite for a number of reasons – early in his career he was quiet and reserved. Members would play games like “make Leo laugh” to try to get him to break under pressure, usually by blowing balloons in his face or doing aegyo and whatnot.
As VIXX evolved so did Leo. He became much more outgoing and lively on screen, and his quietness turned into something more artistic. Silent cuteness turned into an ethereal beauty. This is a transformation that all of the VIXX members went through. I remember seeing VIXX live when I was a teenager, and my dad commented that in their dance routines, they moved like paintings. Every move was a work of art.
Leo in particular tends to embody this artistic sensibility. While the other members of VIXX definitely do (I spoke a lot about this in my article on Ravi’s “NIRVANA + Alcohol”) they also tend to delve into comedy a lot and while Leo does do that, he has a different angle for it. Rather than making jokes he usually comes at comedy from a more serious angle. This is likely because he’s an actor as well as a singer (most members of VIXX are) but he prefers to adopt characters rather than make gags. As a result, most of what you get with him is subtle and flowing as opposed to handed to you outright.
All this in mind, Leo’s song “Romanticism” is in turn about someone he views as a work of art (to quote, “a pervading and perfect masterpiece”.) The song is all about sensuality. It’s very provocative while still classy. It’s very smooth, mostly electronic sounds, kind of like listening to music through dream. It’s not very “hooky” but it’s still a nice song to listen to on a warm day or on a date night. It’s not meant to be powerful, it’s meant to be sweet and romantic.
The video is almost purely visual, and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. A lack of story is not a detriment to a music video. What pieces we have of a story are a woman running away, lights flashing, both Leo and the woman falling through the air with Leo reaching, and some scenes of them whispering and caressing each other.
The video ends with them sitting across a dining room table, staring blankly at each other, transitioning to Leo sitting at the end of the table alone. If we take what we see at face value (which we kind of have to considering the lack of story overall) is just a sensual relationship, but if the last scene is any indicator, there is probably not a lot of conversation between the two parties. This is a fallback of an overly physical relationship.
“Romanticism”, as an MV, is incredibly simple, which creates some brilliant uses of space to drive a mood forward. There are only five sets throughout the MV – a hallway, a bedroom, a dining room, a beach, and a studio. However, these locations turn out to be incredibly versatile. Bedrooms lend themselves well to close-ups and more creative angles, whereas hallways and long dining rooms generally require more consistent perspectives, usually focusing only on one or two points. Outdoor scenes give a sense of openness that’s hard to get – in fact nearly impossible – to get from a room of any kind, except maybe a cathedral. Studios are the most versatile sets, with lighting from all sorts of angles and the ability to change the lighting setup when necessary.
The color scheme of the video is mostly warm colors – golds, pinks, blues, and browns. Of course there’s white and black to offset both. However, the beach scene is very cool-toned, which we’ll come back to later. In fact, despite the warm colors, there are also plenty of times where the same colors are cool toned as opposed to warm toned. Cool tones give a sense of calm while warm tones give the feeling of passion. I feel like this is a pretty accurate description of Leo himself – a quietly crackling fire of musical and artistic spirit.
Let’s focus on what this fire is wearing. Stylists for K-Pop are always able to isolate the idol visually so that you are immediately able to identify them. Often, this is done by hair color, but the entire outfit needs to be able to highlight personality traits about the singer, and then the outfits of the dancers need to highlight the singer while underscoring those same traits. Leo’s style is generally large, thin shirts and tight pants. Big jackets are always a thing, and rarely are those jackets zipped up. It’s a very polished look but it’s also very free looking. He wears black and white, with occasional blue and gold accents.
While dancers wear these colors too in this video, often they will wear white while Leo wears black, or a different style of clothes so that it’s obvious who’s the centerpiece. The girlfriend character wears pink, light and dark, and is the only person in the video who does this, so she is immediately recognizable. She also wears dresses, skirts, etc. which gives her a unique silhouette. As stated before, hair is also a big factor. Leo’s hair is blonde, unlike anyone else, and he has some nice angular side bangs going on. Likewise, his girlfriend in the video is the only girl with short hair.
Ultimately though – this is all well and good, but the video stands out in one powerful way. Lighting. The video is lit in very clever ways, since most of it was filmed indoors, on sound stages. For example, the studio I mentioned earlier was lit in different ways – with a diffuse light behind that changes color, face and fill lighting in the front, and LED lighting on top of the awning. This allows for a number of different lighting options and since it’s easy to change the colors of those lights with gels (or even via computer) you can construct a wide variety of moods.
In other shots, there is a significant use of “practical” lighting. Practical lighting is when a lighting fixture in the scene is visible to the audience. When you see a lamp in a movie, that’s practical lighting. In this case, there are candles, ceiling lamps, and table lamps. At certain points throughout the video the lamps in the hallway flicker.
But what makes this lighting interesting is that it lends itself to surrealism. The combination of the practical lights, something we are all very familiar with, and diffused background lights make the space feel like it’s glowing. The combination of the two is somewhat otherworldly.
The most interesting use of lighting though is in the beach scenes. They’re filmed after the “golden hour”, which is when the sun is about to set and the light is intense. These shots, instead, are much softer. Clouds streak across the horizon but there is still plenty of sky to see. It’s a nice soft blue, with gold from the little bit of sun we can see. But what makes it fascinating is they still brought face lights for Leo. The face lights are pink, putting him in a stark contrast to the background. While everything else is cold and somewhat gentle, he is a bright highlight, like a posh firework.
What makes “Romanticism” special is its simple understanding of the principles of filmmaking. It doesn’t require fancy hair or masks or high heels to make an experience worthwhile. I think the lesson Leo gives us is not to let extravagance get in the way of the soul of the art – and this music video is a clear example of that.