EXID’s one of those girl groups that everyone knows and everyone likes no matter what. Even if you don’t love them, there’s always one or two songs you can’t stop listening to. While I am not quite a big enough fan to necessarily consider myself a part of the fandom, I always thought their dance routines were on point and they had a very natural chemistry. The songs were great, their voices were all distinct…there has always been a lot to like about them. Not only that, a number of people around me are big fans of theirs, so I have a pretty consistent exposure to them. Heck, my dad’s bias is Solji.
I definitely wanted to do an article on EXID at some point, it was really a matter of figuring out what to write about. Yes, “Up and Down” is iconic, but I wanted to start with something different. “Ah Yeah” was a great choice too, but I felt like that had been picked apart already by everybody. “I Love You” is on my list, but I didn’t want to go with something too recent. EXID’s had a lot of hits after all.
I finally figured out what video I wanted to write about when making the pre-show playlist for an event I’ve been preparing at university on K-Pop. I asked my girlfriend for help, as I didn’t want to have videos from groups I already was covering, I wanted to show the diversity of K-Pop as a genre. I knew I wanted to show an EXID video, and my girlfriend suggested I watch “L.I.E”. I watched it and fell in love with the video quickly, and added it to the lineup.
So there we had it. I had the perfect choice for a music video to write about.
In 2016, K-Pop was getting increasingly popular. Blackpink, Momoland, I.O.I, Pentagon, and KNK all debuted. VIXX had their Conception trilogy. BTS had “Young Forever” and “Blood Sweat and Tears”. SHINee sold out of their “1 of 1” cassette tape in twenty four hours, and not because everyone with a cassette player suddenly started listening to SHINee. 4minute broke up, but HyunA continued making music. Jessica Jung made her solo debut after leaving Girls Generation. It was not the biggest year K-Pop would ever have, but it was by no means their worst year, and the journey would be far from over.
2016 was also the year that we found out about Solji’s hiatus from the group to take care of her life-threatening hyperthyroidism. As a result, L.I.E would be the last song in two years we would see a five-member EXID. EXID was also at major popularity – not the peak that they got from “Up and Down”, but the consistent kind of popularity that comes from when a group is genuinely good at what they do. As for the music video, it’s a creative little video, with a high production value and gorgeous colors.
Everything sports a pink hue, with purples a a secondary color, and red as a tertiary color. We also get teals and blues that are positively gorgeous, and the occasional black accents – a dress, painted doors, and so on. Oh, and don’t forget the sparkly gold embroidery on the uniforms. And yet, there is something about it that feels distinctly not cheery. It hides something behind its own cuteness and suggestiveness. There seems to be a quiet anger – sometimes an overt one – and a distinct sadness to a number of elements. But still, it doesn’t stop cheering you up. If anything, the misplaced melancholy makes it almost more fun to watch, because it’s hard to understand why it’s there in the first place.
Which brings us to the Five Stages of Grief.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a 20th century psychiatrist from Zurich, Switzerland, wrote a book in 1969 called On Death and Dying. As near-death studies were her focus, she proposed a theory about how people deal with the end, or any tragedy. She broke it up into five parts – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. This was the birth of the Five Stages of Grief.
So, naturally, I’m going to connect a theory from the late 60s to a music video about sexy Korean girls in hotel uniforms.
Kübler-Ross proposed the stages as a way to understand the way people deal with death, but they can apply to any other kind of tragedy. For instance, let’s say a breakup. Where on earth would we get this notion? Perhaps, I don’t know, from the mysterious man at the beginning of the video, in a mask?
Keep in mind, there has been a fair amount of fan discussion to this end. Looking at the comments of “L.I.E”, people have noticed that it appears that each girl represents something. It’s just a question as to what that something is. Some people think that the story is very literal and that the girls are about to go murder the guy who checks into the hotel. Some even go as far to say that it’s a revenge kill on behalf of Jeonghwa, who we see lying in the elevator. Other people have a different theory entirely and say that the girls are representative of different ways of dealing with anger. I think that both of those theories have merit, but I personally disagree with both.
I think that to say that all K-Pop videos have a cut and dry story, especially when there’s craziness and weirdness going on, is kind of undercutting what the music videos try to do. As a filmmaker I can tell you that many K-Pop videos are trying to challenge the viewer, not just be aesthetic. In fact I would go as far to say that aesthetic is a secondary component to most videos – the difference between K-Pop and Western music is that the two concepts are not mutually exclusive in K-Pop. You can have a video that challenges you while still being visually pleasing. I’ll cover a number of videos I think that do a good job of that, but let’s keep the focus here, on EXID.
The reason I think that the girls represent the five stages of grief is because there’s five of them, for one thing, but they’re all in very different, isolated situations. They all behave differently and even though they generally speaking wear the same uniforms, they all have different color schemes attached to them and different ways of wearing those uniforms. Because of this we can more easily split them up and try to figure out what each member signifies. It’s kind of like tarot, each card has a different meaning. So let’s see what we can read here.
The song is a pop song, but I would say more of a classic pop song. Electronic music is mixed with some solid drum beats and some easy guitar parts. It has a clear build to the chorus and the bridge is still playfully climbing. There’s a rap break, and two electronic dance breaks – which I would say is more of a feature of K-Pop than it is of anything else. It’s a product of the fact that the members have to dance as part of training. Very few K-Pop groups can get away with not having this training (unless you’re in YG Entertainment).
All of the line distribution is fairly reasonable, so each girl has a chance to shine. I’ve mentioned this in other articles as something that bothers me heavily about K-Pop is when bands give certain members all of the lines and then ignore other members. This song by and large avoids that pitfall. I’d say there’s always an issue when you have a member who does mostly rap, because they will likely only do the bridge or one verse. But in spite of that the band generally keeps things even between members.
The set really leans into the hotel concept, with everything taking place on a sound stage that’s made to look like different parts of a hotel. We have the front lawn, the front desk, a hallway, an elevator, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen. However, as is a pitfall of having a video shot on a sound stage, it’s hard to make things look realistic.
EXID and the production company August Frogs lean into the lack of realism. The colors are bright and vibrant and there is no attempt at making you feel like you’re really there. If you get immersed you get immersed because of the beauty. Frankly, I don’t know of many hotels that are a single story but also have at least six floors represented by their room numbers, and two elevators, one red and one pink. I also don’t know of many hotels that have such vibrant reds and purples…except maybe The Grand Budapest Hotel.
I’ll cover these set designs more with each individual member and show pictures accordingly, so as not to be redundant.
Instead of uncovering each member in chronological order, like I did with “PIRI”, or doing it with a criteria of how much screen time each member gets, like I did for “Fly High”, I am going to instead do it in order of the five stages of grief, and what each member inherently represents. Again, the five stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Anxiety. Therefore, that is the order I shall do this in. For each member, I’m breaking this up into two parts, production design and story. This isn’t an act of laziness, to group up the costumes, colors, and sets in this way – I just think those three things, such as they appear, are inextricably linked in this video. The symbolism will ultimately arise from discussion of each member.
Before we do that though, I just want to take a moment and highlight the outfits that the band wears in the dance sequence. There is no particular significance to these, but they are sexy and powerful in heels and I love them for it. I also like the silver accents and how each member manages to stand out. Each member looks good in their own special way. The long socks really highlight Solji’s height. The high neck on Jeonghwa’s shirt and the silver accents on the waist draw your eyes to Jeonghwa’s long torso in a really pretty way. Hani’s got the short sporty sleeves and a nice V-neck which gives her figure a lot of dimension. Hyerin is tiny so the off-the-shoulder look is perfect for her. And LE…well LE just looks great. High ponies and long sleeves are a good look for her. Then again I’m biased.
Solji – Denial
Part 1: Production Design
Solji spends the majority of her time in the hallway, which is lit coolly with fluorescents and small ornate lamps. The deep turquoise is more unfeeling than it is for any of the other members, largely due to this lighting. This is further exacerbated by the black doors, but undercut by the red carpeting. Blue hues usually indicate sadness or calm but red indicates nearly the opposite – rage and passion. She also appears in the red elevator. The red elevator is gilded with gold and is smooth and pristine, with a lighter red carpet below.
Of course we can’t talk about color without talking about Solji herself. Solji is a paler person so she looks good in cool tones, and she can also pull off orange hair. Anyone who looks good in orange gets points in my book. Her hotel uniform is white and a cool, bright purple, with a red streak on the side, a small red bow tie, and black heels. The shirt is open in the back, and the skirt is long but tight – she’s tall, she can pull this off. Of course, don’t forget her hotel EXID hat and her “KILL X” name tag. Her makeup is also cooler, with pink lipstick and eyes that are smokey enough to grab you, but also not smokey enough to be distracting.
She also wears a black dress, when she’s in the red elevator. This stood out to me because it seemed so out of place against the red and gold. Black, gold, and red is a weird combination. But I think this has to do with what Solji is intended to represent in this story. Either way – not gonna lie, this dress is gorgeous. It’s something I’d definitely wear for myself.
Part 2: Story
As stated before, Solji spends most of her time in the hallway, the shots of her in the elevator appear to just be inserts (though that’s not to say they’re not important in understanding her character). We see her lying on a room service cart, holding a room key and looking at it. This happens to be the room key for the aformentioned masked man, which happens to be 690. I don’t know if this is inherently a “69” joke but judging from the inherent sex appeal of the MV, I wouldn’t put it past the filmmakers.
Solji also sits on or in front of the cart on her knees, singing to herself or looking at the camera. Then of course, there are the numerous shots of her carrying a tray of food, knocking on doors, etc. Typical room service actions. There is something weird about the way she acts though – as we’ll see in later segments, she is basically the only member who is completely calm. Everyone else is kind of losing their minds but she’s somehow managing to keep it entirely together.
It’s simple, she’s in denial.
It’s pretty clear that the guy at the beginning of the video is meant to represent a generic boyfriend, not necessarily anyone’s in particular. Solji is the one member who doesn’t seem angry with him even as she is probably fully aware that he has another girl with him. The doors are closed, so she can’t see it – maybe it doesn’t exist if she just ignores it.
I also think that this makes sense when we consider this weird framed shot of a peach over Solji’s rear – again, this is mostly a sex joke because EXID does that a lot. They’re one of those girl bands where sex and attractiveness are kind of linked to their humor. Usually they do this by subverting expectations, and this random peach is no exception. But it’s kind of fitting if you consider the themes of denial surrounding Solji. Solji turns around to look at it/the camera, as if to be like “What are you doing?” If we consider that Solji represents the Denial stage of grief, she probably is only just now coming to the realization of her own objectification and lack of importance in the relationship.
Or it could just be a peach that’s meant to represent a butt for the hell of it.
Hyerin – Anger
Part One: Production Design
Hyerin spends half her time in the hallway and the other half in a hotel room. The hotel room is turquoise with wooden floors and a blue comforter on the bed, with white and black accents all over. There is a distinct mix of cool and warm lights – cool coming from the window but warm coming from the lamps. It’s very theatrical. This is further exemplified by the way the hall looks in all of Hyerin’s scenes – more often than not, the doors are open and light is pouring in, likely because she’s supposed to be a maid. But this creates a disorienting mix of lights that leads to a chaotic feeling for Hyerin’s character.
This chaos is brought to light in the form of Hyerin’s clothing. Hyerin’s maid outfit is practically made of weird fancy textures. There’s a frilly apron, a frilly trim along the skirt, lace around her neck, and bows along her chest. And of course there’s the hat, the black heels, and the KILL X name tag. However, she disregards the hat and heels quickly. Her hair is also short, and quickly becomes a mess after the hat’s off. When she’s in the hotel room she’s dressed similarly – while it is a fancy black dress, the cut of the top and the choker are still reminiscent of her maid outfit, and her hair is curled more.
Part Two: Story
If the outfit and lights weren’t enough to convince you that Hyerin is representative of anger, how about the fact that half the video is spent depicting her throwing things. When we first see her, she’s staring at a Ken doll in her room, before ripping his head off and singing to it. She seems almost drunk, but I feel like she’s more disoriented than intoxicated. The rest of her scenes in that room are spent with her ripping flower petals off of some roses and throwing the petals around, before lying on the ground next to her Ken doll surrounded by the petals.
This then brings us to her scenes in the hallway, where she’s dressed as a maid. She pushes her cart down the hall, seemingly polished, before hitting the door of room 690 with her duster. The duration of the time spent in this hallway is spent with Hyerin throwing towels and pillows, playing with her duster, hitting everything with her duster, ruffling her own hair, and even singing into her shoe. You could argue that this is Acceptance and not Anger, but I feel like she’s being happy to intentionally spite someone. I mean hitting doors is not indicative of someone who’s particularly level headed.
Hani – Bargaining
Part 1: Production Design
Hani spends a lot of time at the front desk, and in the kitchen. The front desk room is red with blue in the foreground, light colored wood making up the desk and key wall. The entire room is cool toned, from the black trim to the pink bells on the desk, but Hani herself isn’t – in fact, in this room, she looks particularly vibrant and radiant. Yes her skin is pale but her uniform is not.
We then get to the kitchen, where the production design is fairly different to that of the front desk – or really, any other room in this video. It is a small, confined space – low ceilings and thin walls, and the camera always shoots downwards to make sure you see Hani and the room as small. Even the lamps dangle low around her head. The walls are an unmemorable pink and the furniture is a distinctly bland teal with brown accenting. There is a weird spread of food on the table, including lemons, meat, and three different pepper shakers. There are also oranges across the room and flowers all over the place. But again, it’s alright, because Hani seems to take all the color that the walls and furniture left behind. She looks like she’s not meant to be there.
She is also the only member lacking in a costume change. She has a coat on top that has ruffles, and a skirt on the bottom. There is red trim along everything and gold buttons along the front. She also keeps her hat on until the end. And let’s not forget the Kill X on her name tag.
Part 2: Story
We begin Hani’s story at the front desk, where a mildly upset Hani hands the key off the wall and gives it to our masked boyfriend. She doesn’t even touch him, just drops the key in his hand. When the boyfriend takes his new girlfriend’s hand, he doesn’t seem to notice how Hani is reacting – she’s watching their hands with a blank, yet seemingly angry facial expression. She turns to the camera and smirks when the two leave.
The immediate next time we see her, she’s in the kitchen, preparing to cook. She tenderizes the meet with mallets and also examines one of her several pepper shakers. She also spends a bit of time looking at one of the oranges, which has been cut but not fully lengthwise – which makes me wonder if this has to do with the peach scene and my theory about objectification. But oranges do symbolize fertility, luxury, and even good luck in some cultures. So I think the orange is more about what you read into it as opposed to having a concrete meaning. Plus, she is cooking. So maybe it just has to do with that.
Interspersed with this are inserts of Hani sitting on the front desk, or just abesntly pressing the buttons on the front desk. She seems bored but also expectant. Something is clearly supposed to happen, but it hasn’t yet. Eventually though, Hani has clearly had enough. Her lyrics in the bridge consist of her singing “go to hell”, and after this point, Hani throws the pepper shaker, rips her hat off, starts drinking champagne, even going so far as to pour some of it on her head. The room seems to start moving as the lamps begin rotating and the camera tilts.
There’s a lot to get into here. The main reason I think Hani is representative of Bargaining is because she seems to be forcing herself to ignore things. It doesn’t feel like willful ignorance the way Solji’s acting does. Instead it seems like she’s trying really really hard to not pay attention to things. She’s also the only memeber who doesn’t change uniform, as if she’s trying really hard to be a good hotel employee and good chef at the same time. Or, perhaps more accurately, trying to balance her own interests and the interests of this guy. That could also explain the boredom she feels at the desk – she’s probably thinking “If I do all of this right, he’ll come back to me.” Of course, this doesn’t happen. Hani eventually gives up and gives into some pettiness and starts overdoing the pepper, likely just to irritate and anger her (former) boyfriend.
Jeonghwa – Depression
Part 1: Production Design
Jeonghwa has three sets – the hallway, which is lit the same way it is in Solji’s scenes, and both elevators. The pink elevator and the red elevator, as far as I can tell, are actually the same elevator, but the shots are colored so wildly differently that I will refer to them separately. Nonetheless, the pink elevator has fluorescent lighting from the top, whereas the red elevator has a spotlight that’s a much warmer hue.
In both elevators, Jeonghwa is wearing her uniform, which has a grayish mauve piece underneath a shrug, and let’s not forget the red trim and gold buttons, and the KILL X name tag. But Jeonghwa also wears a police uniform and ankle boots, an outfit that seems to come out of nowhere. It’s a dark blue, as police uniforms often are, with a belt and a V neck so her chest is shown off – your typical sexy police uniform fare.
Part 2: Story
The biggest indicator I have for why Jeonghwa represents depression is the fact that she’s lying on the floor for most of the video. This is one of the reasons many people have actually speculated that she’s supposed to be dead, especially since she has her body in that typical murder outline shape. But the thing, is lying down and doing absolutely nothing is a typical symptom of depression. In a way the fact that she’s lying in a presumably moving elevator (while her shoe floats through the air no less) is likely indicative of the fact that the world is moving without her.
The biggest hitch in that analysis is why she’s dressed in a police uniform for part of the video. My best guess is that she is meant to be channeling a sort of “what else has he done” attitude, and trying to figure out the extent she should be upset at all. It’s a fairly defeatist attitude, but it’s the best I’ve got.
It also strikes me as odd that the man presumably comes into the elevator while she’s in there. There are two possibilities for this that would give somewhat of a justification to this. One, maybe the guy is coming to beat her down even further in her state. Two, maybe it’s not the same guy, and some sort of rescuer. I mean we only see his shadow, it’s not so far fetched that this could be the case.
LE – Acceptance
Part 1: Production design
LE’s sets are the front lawn and the bathroom, but two different parts of the bathroom. There’s a lot of hot pink in her sets, mostly in the lights. Her blue bathroom has pink lighting (and a cactus for reasons I can’t even begin to explain) while a cold spotlight shines down on her. When we have close ups of her in the bathroom, by the mirror, the light on top is pink, causing the light blue tiles to look pink, and the mirror is the color of bubblegum. While the lawn has almost no bright pink, there is still a soft pink that makes everything glow a bit against the blue bricks and white columns.
LE’s costumes are among the more provocative. Her uniform is short shorts and jacket with her stomach exposed. She mostly rocks a curly ponytail, sometimes high sometimes low, and her makeup is mostly neutral, which makes her bright red nails stand out. She also wears a silky bathrobe for a number of scenes, and is naked in the bathtub for the rest. Everything about her character is confident and relaxed. Oh and the KILL X name tag. Let’s not forget that.
Part 2: Story
LE has minimal story, but it strikes me as interesting that she’s the first member we see. She’s the valet of this hotel – the boyfriend drives his car up, gets out with his girlfriend, and LE apathetically takes the keys while the boyfriend is chummy with his girlfriend. The rest of her shots are all inserts – her in the bathtub, her looking in the mirror, her lounging in the car. It’s pretty black and white here.
The biggest reason that I believe LE represents acceptance comes down ultimately to the fact that she has no story. She mostly lies surrounded by floating rubber ducks. But I think that’s the point – she’s apathetic to the guy, and has moved on from whatever pain she felt. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy. She just doesn’t care. And that’s the important thing here.
There is, of course, one character I have omitted from this analysis: the boyfriend.
The X referred to on the KILL X name tag is probably the boyfriend. He looks like a dopey guy in suspenders and he’s also wearing floral print and a mask. Everything about him just seems ridiculous. It begs the question what they saw in him in the first place – but I think that’s the key here. People have 20/20 hindsight about relationships and we see here, the attraction that these girls feel is inherently misplaced. At the end of the video, he stumbles out of the hotel room, looks around, and explodes into yellow foam. I don’t think the yellow is of any particular symbolism, it’s just an opposite color to turquoise and a primary color alongside red. So it’s a visual technique. But why would he stumble out of the room? He probably got kicked out by his new girlfriend, and explodes when he realizes he can’t keep cheating but still doesn’t want to take responsibility. Or maybe he just explodes in the minds of the girls as they officially move on.
I love “L.I.E”. I really love it. It’s so gorgeous and playful but also has plenty to uncover. It’s a good song, and each member has a moment to be the star. It’s a fun romp with an uplifting message: screw boys who wrong you, they don’t matter.
At the end of the video we see the girls running through the halls together, laughing, having fun. Everything is on their terms now, and they don’t need some adulterer to validate them. With such a milked topic, it’s interesting to me that EXID and August Frogs could do something so unique. Any and all K-Pop fans should watch this video, to learn how to mix the crazy and the symbolic. The joy in this MV is trying to understand, after all.