Twice began their successful journey with their show Sixteen, but the inciting incident, you could say, was “Like OOH-AHH”’s success. As stated in my article on “Like OOH-AHH”, Twice tapped into a new way of approaching bubblegum pop by adding a ton of spice to it and subverting the idol making machine. This is what I dubbed cinnamon bubblegum pop – definitely sweet, but with a powerful underlying kick. Now the question is – would this be a one time thing? Or would they continue this format?
All was answered by the time “Cheer Up” came along. “Cheer Up” is one of Twice’s most iconic music videos. It’s incredibly creative both in concept and in film technique. It’s a beautiful example of color correcting and editing – both of which are intrinsic to K-Pop – but it also shows what is most unique about Twice, which is their ability to subvert the expectations of what K-Pop idols are.
“Cheer Up” as a song is a very lighthearted song with a great hook. While it’s electronic predominantly, there is some instrumental elements and a beat that sounds almost like it belongs in a rock song not a pop song. It doesn’t have the best line distribution of K-Pop songs but generally speaking the verses give each member a moment to shine. The hook is balanced with English and Korean, though the English parts are accented and arguably mispronounced. However I think this adds to the charm so I have no complaints.
The concept of the video is introduced in the very first moment. We see a man with a camera instead of a head, with a colored magnifying/tinting lens in his hand, looking at all the girls as they eat in the kitchen. He finally sets his sights on Nayeon, puts magnifier in front of the camera lens.
Suddenly, the entire video changes. Nayeon is sitting on the floor, as she was previously, but she has a 90s-early 2000s era phone instead of a smartphone. The color grading is completely different, making it much darker, and we can see from the light from the windows that it’s supposed to be night. The room is much cleaner. She and her friends seem scared. It’s clear that the lens changed not just Nayeon, but the genre Nayeon appeared in.
In short, the video is about portraying each girl in a way that matches their personality by surrounding them with a genre of film or TV that clearly illustrates certain traits. However, there are a number of ways to interpret this idea. You could argue that each genre is supposed to represent each member in the real life – I don’t necessarily agree with this because certain members have either ultra-specific or ultra-broad genres applied to them, and it’s also hard to pick a genre that specifically encapsulates a person. There may be another interpretation though. The website kpopmap.com drew an explicit comparison between each member and a specific movie. Therefore it wouldn’t be so much about representing each member as it would be representing these particular films. While I love this idea, I don’t think that it’s as clear cut as that. But the beauty of art is that it can be interpreted any number of ways. I could very well be wrong, maybe they were meant to indicate specific movies, but I don’t necessarily have the same frame of reference so I was not able to read all of the potential indicators.
Before getting into my interpretation, let’s look at what we have:
Nayeon has a dark, saturated video that looks emblematic of most horror films, particularly the 2000s style with films like “Paranormal Activity”. She is holding a phone though, and this is where I agree with Kpopmap: I do think the phone is a specific reference to Scream. Scream – which came out in 1996, features an iconic scene where Drew Barrymore is being harassed on the phone by who we later find out is a serial killer. But in short, I think this is meant to show Nayeon in a general horrifying situation (obviously made Safe For Work), which in turn establishes her character as timid, fearful, or perhaps more accurately, cautious.
Mina is dressed in a schoolgirl uniform, a style emblematic of teen slice of life or romance in pop culture. Her shots are colored very softly, with light pinks and yellows and whites dominating the shots. She spends most of the video holding a card, waiting under cherry blossoms, while her friends encourage her to do something (presumably go and meet this boy, or maybe even the viewer, and confess love). This establishes Mina’s character as someone romantic and gentle.
Sana’s section is overly colorful, in all the craziest ways. Everything is saturated pink and yellow, the set pieces are patterned, and all of the girls wear colorful outfits and hold wands or other fun objects. Little animations are scattered throughout the video, mostly of objects that shouldn’t have faces with cute eyes on them – mainly musical notes. It’s very Banjo-Kazooie in that respect. As mentioned in my “Like OOH-AHH” article, Sana’s member profile establishes her as a very optimistic person – I think the magical girl style is meant to give us that personality trait.
Tzuyu, the beloved maknae, is in a sepia-toned section, with her dress being laced up by the other girls. She has an old fashioned bed with a canopy in the room, along with a vanity and paintings. Eventually she runs outside, carrying her skirt with her, and the outside is a beautiful mansion complete with a fountain. This is meant to establish Tzuyu’s character as sophisticated and formal.
Momo’s parts of the video show her in a subway, wearing all black with a green jacket and holding guns. She has Jihyo and Jeongyeon on either side of her, also holding guns, being her wingwomen. She’s in what appears to be a dilapidated New York subway (note the exit sign has the 1, 2, 3, 7, A, C, E, and S trains, all of which are metro stops – I have yet to find the station which allows you to transfer to all of them though.) I think this is meant to make Momo seem like a badass, sexy cop-type girl or secret agent. This would in turn establish a type of maturity.
Jeongyeon’s segments remind me of art films in general – you know, the kind that tend to get the Oscars. She has an apartment with tons of furniture, dangling curtains, plants, fans, art…all the things to establish a mysteriously enticing character in a film. She herself is wearing a silk shirt with pink accents and a dark patterned slip – she’s meant to be sexy in a more adult way, as opposed to Momo’s action type sexy. She also has a promise ring, which establishes her as someone’s significant other – probably yours. But it could also be she’s just wearing jewelry for the sake of wearing it. Either way, she has soft colors as well, but darker ones, making her seem like a deeper, more spiritual person.
Jihyo gets the chorus parts – she’s dancing the choreography in sporty uniforms with all of the others, and the brightness of the video makes it look like it belongs in some teen movie like High School Musical (though probably better.) There isn’t much to say here, but it does establish Jihyo as a dancer, and while her main function in the band is leader, this will come into play later.
Chaeyoung, one of the band’s two rappers, gets to be a cowgirl, but a slightly more modern one. She gets a car, she gets a gun, she gets a wanted poster, she gets a super-gold color scheme, hyper-saturated colors, and film noise put over her screen. She gets the quintessentially American setup, which is in complete contrast to the other rapper in this band.
Dahyun, the last rapper, gets the traditional Korean hanbok, fan, and palace. All of the camerawork in her scenes makes it look like she was shot for a drama. Her color scheme is mostly greens, reds, and whites, with some elements of gold, but everything is undersaturated so it doesn’t overpower anything. I think since she and Chaeyoung are the two rappers in the band, they are meant to mirror each other by being representative of two cultures.
My personal view of the video is that it is meant to use cultural iconography – some specific to a work of pop culture, some not – to show us specific personality types in their extremes as the basis of making a group. Idol groups are often constructed under the false pretenses of “you need X member to fit X personality type” in order to create something relatable. While I don’t want to be the kind of person who thinks every music video is somehow about the idol industry (just as I don’t think every movie is about capitalism) the argument can be made that art only exist because of the climate in which it’s created, and in many ways reflects that specific climate. I think that Twice’s “Cheer Up” reflects idol culture by dissecting what it means to have “the funny girl” in a group with “the sexy girl” or “the grown up girl” or “the childish girl”.
Twice is an interesting group in this respect for a number of reasons. They were made through television, so it doesn’t much matter which member fit which specific responsibility so long as they were all talented and had good chemistry. Continuing, they all come from different places: Momo is from Kyoto, Japan; Sana is from Osaka, Japan; Mina is from San Antonio, Texas and is of Japanese heritage; and Tzuyu is Taiwanese. There isn’t really much of an opening to tokenize any one member as “that foreign girl” in an industry where that happens far too often. And lastly, they all have different personalities and JYP Entertainment has always been able to bring out the best of individual personalities in its wide variety of idols without making it feel inorganic.
The video ends back in the original kitchen, except rather than having the members back to the way they were, they’re all wearing the outfits from the different genres. Tzuyu is standing as if waiting for someone asking her to dance, Mina is being shy and clutching her handbag, Nayeon is still on the floor panicking over the phone, Momo and Sana are in a gun versus magic shootout, Dahyun is fanning herself, Chaeyoung is spinning her gun and blowing it off like she’s shooting with it, and Jeongyeon is dancing around with a cup of what’s likely alcohol. But the most interesting subject for me is Jihyo, who we established earlier, functions as the dancer in this metaphor, is dancing still. In fact, she’s doing the exact same choreography, on a loop, seemingly not getting tired. This is one of the main reasons I think that the video comments on and subverts the idol industry.
The camera man scratches his head in confusion before putting one of the lenses back in front of him. He doesn’t quite know what to do with all these girls and their varied personalities. I think ultimately though, that’s okay. There’s a reason I had to stop picking biases of the groups I liked – every member has something unique about them to love. I think that the video for Cheer Up is emblematic of that – that it’s okay to be different, to not quite match up with everyone else, because when you’re in a group of your friends, it doesn’t much matter what sets you apart. All that matters is what brought you together initially.
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.
I was a young K-Pop fan when I first encountered Super Junior. I was still going through my angsty emo phase (i.e. a whole lotta euro-EDM and alternative rock) so K-Pop was still new to me and relatively unexplored territory. I was mostly a BIGBANG fan, with a healthy side of Brown Eyed Girls, and I didn’t really care about pushing myself to learning new groups. But eventually I managed to branch out into other boy groups and girl groups – SHINee, VIXX, f(x), and various soloists.
A friend of mine, who I consider a sister to this day, recommended Super Junior to me, and I ended up getting hooked on “Mr. Simple”. “Mr. Simple” was relatively new at the time. It was electronic, and incredibly catchy. The video wasn’t great but I wasn’t expecting it to be – it was typical music video fodder of the time. Plain sets, bright lights, mostly dancing. But I didn’t care. There was something fascinating about those idols…they had something that other bands didn’t. Presence. Now I don’t use that phrase lightly. Presence to me is the ability to command your attention by doing both something serious and something ridiculous. That comes both with personality and talent – commanding your audience without doing much at all.
But Super Junior has something else – authenticity. Many companies manufacture the personalities of their idols, and Super Junior’s main label, SM Entertainment, is no stranger to that. EXO, one of the biggest groups in K-Pop, comes under fire once in a blue moon for manufacturing a happy-go-lucky band when the members don’t really like each other, creating a sexy personality for Kai when according to family he was always quiet and shy. And this isn’t just SM – groups go through copious training processes to come up with a persona and train in dancing and singing. It becomes difficult to distinguish what is real and what is not. It’s one of the reasons many veteran fans find it hard to get into younger groups – there is an overabundance of them and at varying degrees of legitimacy. This begs the question: why should you believe Super Junior is real?
Understanding Super Junior
The Super Junior we know now almost didn’t exist. Super Junior was a project group made out of trainees that SM had that all had other talents that had nothing to do with being idols, and were generally not “good enough” to be in TVXQ. The intent was to rotate them out when they hit a certain age, like After School would ultimately do. The Super Junior we know was originally Super Junior ’05, because there was no intention of keeping the group together forever.
But these 12 boys would stay together. They had a chemistry that would put any science project K-Pop group to shame. People weren’t tuning in just because they were cute or talented. They laughed at each other, screamed at each other, fought together, cried together. They were hilarious. And they were real.
I obviously am not an expert in idol psychology. But I have been lucky enough to see idols live, and I can tell you – you can pretty much tell when an idol is faking it and when they’re not. The second time I went to KCON NY, I saw Stray Kids, Heize, Pentagon, Red Velvet, and Super Junior. But what struck me seeing all of these acts was how Super Junior dominated that night. Sure there were other groups who get more views on YouTube more consistently, but Super Junior got the best reaction from the audience. They were on fire, above the hundreds of fans, getting higher and louder screams than anything I’d ever heard in my life.
Again, you can tell, when a band is onstage, if they’re faking it and if they’re not. Super Junior was definitely poised and seasoned, but to say that they were fake would do a huge disservice to what the band has. They made jokes and didn’t overdo it. They didn’t try to be bad boys. They didn’t try to be anything but themselves.
The argument can be made that this in of itself is an act. But I don’t think it is, for a very simple reason – no one has been able to replicate this. Many groups have tried to throw together more than ten members just to see if something sticks, male and female. Even SNSD/Girls Generation was made as a counterpart to Super Junior. But Super Junior seems to be tied together by this red string of fate that wants them to keep going. Members have left, but they stay friends with the band. One member got married, but he still has a home with them (at least in the eyes of the band, many fans are still angry with Sungmin for no reason). One member, Kangin, developed alcohol abuse problems, but the band didn’t throw him under the bus – instead there was quiet anger, one I can only associate with brothers watching a brother screw himself over, and not being able to do anything about it. Through all of the playful and casually adversarial dynamics members may have, it’s clear to me that they love each other. I can think of very few groups that have this love. There are some who do, but it’s hard to spot them in a world where everyone’s just looking for the next big thing.
Most of this probably seems irrelevant. This is a film analysis blog and here I am talking about how much a group loves each other. But there’s a reason. Super Junior is the band I would consider to be the first modern K-Pop group. There had been other Korean bands and even Korean boy and girl bands before them. But Super Junior popularized the obscenely large group, had natural chemistry, weren’t overtly sexy, had catchy hits, and even came up with the term K-Pop to describe their own style. They were a perfect storm and that storm was a hurricane.
So the argument can be made that “Sorry Sorry” is therefore, the first real K-Pop song, and thus the first real K-Pop music video. Trying to isolate members in meaningful ways so that they can be differentiated, yet showing the unity of a complete group. They also had English hooks, easy dance moves, and distinctive parts in different ranges. Anyone can do at least part of “Sorry Sorry”, and everyone knows part of the chorus. And while TVXQ’s “Mirotic” and BIGBANG’s “Lies” came out before “Sorry Sorry” did, the songs were not nearly as accessible on a large scale – “Mirotic” is really angling to be sexy, which alienates fans who can’t see themselves that way (or that don’t find Yunho attractive) and “Lies” tries really hard to be American while also being too much of a ballad. “Sorry Sorry”, unlike either of those two, is a song for everyone.
What “Sorry Sorry” Does Right
Coming at it from that angle, “Sorry Sorry” is indicative of the shift in focus at the time from solely music to group dynamics. The dance routine by itself is moderately simple until we get to Eunhyuk’s popping and locking during the bridge. The focus is not on how well the members can dance – we know that some members of Super Junior don’t really have the best dancing ability, and Heechul in particular has a number of medical conditions that prevent him from dropping onto the floor in a breakdance. So having a moderate dance routine keeps everyone on even footing. Then having a dance break were the members that can dance well can show off…well that highlights the individual responsibilities of everyone in the group.
The video is also black and white, which is another equalizer. K-Pop is known as the genre where no one can keep a hair color for more than ten minutes. When you eliminate color, the focus is immediately on the members’ faces. To an extent also on their outfits, but you’re going to want to look where the movement is, and the movement is often constrained to the faces or dance moves. There are very few aesthetic shots in this MV. The set is not much to speak of. There are no flashing lights. So where are you going to look but their faces?
The opening shots are, in fact, aesthetic shots, but they’re also such non sequiturs that they don’t have much bearing on the music video itself. In terms of these shots right at the beginning though I think it’s important to note that Kibum is the only member whose face is visible, as he is an actor first and foremost. This opening does set the tone for something sexy but also classy, as all the objects depicted – stocking and garter, string of pearls, envelope with a wax seal – are indicative of wealth. Yet despite the connotations of the girl lifting her dress to reveal the stocking and garter, none of the members in the group are exposed. Romance is not meant to be the point of the video otherwise we’d probably get more overtly sexy shots – SM hasn’t shied away from this stuff before. We don’t get a face to this woman either, she is only the object of desire insofar as the subject of the song.
The woman is important though, because she operates as a viewer insert character. We do see her eye at one point, looking through a keyhole. This becomes a recurring motif, not because of the keyhole itself, but because of the fisheye look that many of the shots have. It’s meant to look like members are standing outside your room and looking in, trying to win you over. It’s actually pretty effective, because you feel closer to the members by being all up in their business, or them being all up in yours.
The final shot of the opening is the pearls falling, with the title of the video and all the members’ names. I think this does a good job of directing the focus of the viewer to the individuals – even if you can’t tell the difference between Donghae and Siwon (though you absolutely should) you at least know their names and that each member has an individual identity. This is further emphasized by the fact that there are both small differences in the members’ outfits when they’re intended to match somewhat – different shades of shirts, different ties, different jewelry, different styles of suit – and large differences when they’re not. Each member looks like they have their own personality. Yet I wouldn’t say that the personalities are shoved in your face, with the exception of the sunglasses on Eunhyuk and Han Geng which is just a try hard move when anyone does it. Sorry.
PSA: Don’t wear sunglasses indoors.
The biggest problem I have with the MV is probably Heechul being so underused. Heechul is a personal favorite idol of mine. He’s a great talent with a great personality. He’s irreverent and he’s smooth. However he was distinctly shafted in this video. It might be because of his health problems, or it might be because they were trying to put a focus on younger members, but in any event, he has two lines in the ENTIRE song, and one of them is just him laughing. This is remedied by the time “Mr. Simple” rolls around, but it does bother me as someone who values groups that keep even line distribution.
Back to Basics
In my scriptwriting course at school we were taught that ultimately, every movie or play is a pantomime, and that dialogue is just kind of a nice treat, an addition to that. Therefore, the silent movie would be an ultimate form of storytelling, and if you can nail that you’re golden. Obviously it’s more complicated than saying mastering the silent movie makes you be able to master all stories ever, but you see my point. “Sorry Sorry”, in this context, is a silent movie, stripped down to the absolute basics of what makes K-Pop…well, K-Pop.
This video serves as a road map for all K-Pop to come after. Most group MVs are variations of the format that Super Junior provided. Not to say that each group is intentionally trying to rip off SuJu. Rather, K-Pop as a medium and a mode for creativity is defined by what Super Junior successfully did. I think a comprehensive study of K-Pop should separate it into two distinct zones, before and after Super Junior. Before Super Junior the genre was kind of going through an adolescent period of taking American styles, mixing it with Korean styles, and not really knowing what was going to stick. “Sorry Sorry”, however, cuts everything out and makes something both catchy and accessible, while highlighting the members as parts of a whole and not reducing them to mere archetypes. The success of “Sorry Sorry” showed the industry what fans actually wanted. And I think that’s where Super Junior can teach us where the soul of K-Pop actually is.
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.
Warning: this song contains a fair amount of swearing. Swears are censored in the article, but I can’t say the same for the music.
This may be a K-Pop blog, which in other words means we’re talking about Korean, but today, let’s start with a different language. In Sanskrit, nirvana means “becoming extinguished.” In Buddhism, this means to “blow out” your desires and hatred in order to achieve a complete absence of suffering. It has been westernized to just mean heavenly, blissful, without care. Achieving Nirvana means that you’ve become enlightened. You’re blessed. You’re free.
Now let’s do another vocabulary lesson. Alcohol. A controlled substance, recreationally used in some cases, medically used in others. It is known for lowering inhibitions, relaxing the mind, inducing depression, and in many cases, causing fatal accidents. Ancient cultures worshipped it, and many people still do. It’s one of the oldest drugs on earth, and it’s definitely one of the most addictive. And yet, despite its destructiveness, no one can seem to pull away from it.
Kim Wonsik, known more colloquially by his stage name “Ravi”, released his mixtape NIRVANA in early 2018. Ravi has been doing mixtures for several years now in conjunction with his promotions alongside boyband VIXX. VIXX is known for two things primarily – their horror music video “Voodoo Doll”, which I’ve mentioned multiple times in my articles on Dreamcatcher, and for being invited to a private concert for the International Olympic Committee by the President of South Korea to perform their traditional Korean-style dance “Shangri-La”. Even so, each of the members has a career in their own right. Until recently, all six of them still lived together in a dorm by choice – I say until recently just because the leader decided to move into his own place right before military service – and yet, they continue doing music together as a whole. To me, that’s the mark of artists who enjoy working together.
But Ravi is an interesting case. He’s been writing for the band for years, mainly his own raps so he can keep his own tempo and intonation. You’ll see this a lot with artists, particularly in K-Pop. One of his favorite artists is G-Dragon, so we can consider him a spiritual successor thereof. But his style is unique, as his voice. Intelligent and fundamentally educational concepts are interspersed with “f***in” and other swear words. A bad*ss rap riff will be cut short by him jumping at the sight of a fly. He’ll wear rugged clothing in one shot and a full three piece suit in another. He’ll be surrounded by half-naked women in one music video and then in the next mixtape say that men who disrespect women should “eat their d***s like candy”. That is an actual lyric of his. One thing’s for sure, in an industry where there are tons of rappers, all of different walks of life and different perspectives, Ravi is enigmatic.
The music video for “NIRVANA”, however, isn’t solely for the one song. Towards the end, the entire video makes a sharp turn to something tonally different. It ends with his song “Alcohol”. The transition is so seamless, I didn’t realize they were two different songs. Nevertheless, the content of those songs is very different. “NIRVANA” is about someone who is content with himself. Alcohol is about someone who drinks to distract from his problems. It’s strange, but it’s revealing about the kind of person Ravi is. He’s someone who doesn’t see contentedness and depression as mutually exclusive subjects for an artist. It’s oddly refreshing.
The video, filmed by Brainshock Pictures, is oddly surrealist – doesn’t surprise me from the perspective of a fan of Ravi, but it’s still unlike other K-Pop videos. It does something most K-Pop videos don’t try to do. It doesn’t try to distract you. Instead it makes you calm. It makes you relaxed. You can sit back and actually enjoy his voice – and the video mimics his voice. Not the other way around. You’re not just experiencing a performance artist – you’re experiencing a musical artist.
Ravi’s voice is perfect for this kind of filmmaking because he’s very percussive in his speech and he has a good range. His songwriting is almost like painting a picture. Even I, someone who doesn’t understand Korean fluently, can feel his intention just from the way he raps. He paints pictures with his voice. Combine that with superb sound mixing on the part of Ravi, PUFF, and Park Jimin, the guest singer on the album and you have something masterful. Whether or not you like rap, you can tell it’s handled with care – therefore the video must be handled the same way.
“NIRVANA” as a song is an experience in of itself. It starts out with static that faintly sounds like the outdoors, then moves into chimes with a very soft melody behind them, and a woman speaking in what I believe is French. What’s interesting is what the video does in these opening notes: the first shot, during the static, is of Ravi standing in what appears to be a desert of some kind, flipped upside down. The next shots are of Ravi sitting on top of a rock, Ravi blindfolded standing with the phases of the moon, two Ravis mirrored across the sky, and Ravi standing with the blindfold, Ravi standing in the desert again, and a sunset.
What’s incredible is how these shots are colored and edited to match the music. The music has hardly begun, and yet we have something that works with it perfectly visually. The entire music video goes along these lines, making something with very little story and instead, aesthetics. It’s made to make you feel good, and that’s what it does.
Let’s talk about the editing for a hot minute. When editing music videos, you have to keep one eye on the sound waves and another on the viewport. You also have to be mindful of how the visuals themselves capture the sound – you don’t need to edit a clip if you have visual components already that indicate rhythm. The screen is going to be your friend and your enemy.
The movement that already exists on screen is mostly Ravi’s movements. He’s by himself for most of these shots, and when he’s with someone, he’s with himself. So how do you make more movement, more beats, out of his movements? Well you follow his hands. With almost every sweep, every gesture, some effect makes the video pulse, or glitch. If there isn’t, there will likely be a cut in the video, or a beat drop in the song to capture that movement.
The filmmakers aren’t content to just let him be by himself and let that be a continuous uninterrupted shot. There might be a prism glitch, or it might be colored such that it’s clearly edited. The thing is, it feels like he’s running through a parallel dimension more than it feels like there are effects layered on top. There are moments where it feels unreal – but it’s also not really meant to feel real. It’s meant more to capture the mood.
Some of the effects are a sort of scrubbing, as if you’re messing with a record player. Others are retiming, giving the same effect. Pictures will be played on reverse and then played again forward. Sometimes you see Ravi and you’ll see other versions of him superimposed over him. Sometimes the screen moves almost like a liquid, as if the visuals themselves are rolling off Ravi’s tongue. Even if you see the same effect twice, it never feels like the same effect.
The colors are very bold and deeply saturated, and yet it’s constantly changing. Ravi runs through pink fields, dances in purple ones, hovers under turquoise skies and runs alongside an orange ocean. It feels like they went to Home Depot and plucked the prettiest, boldest colors off a wall, regardless of what they were. And yet the colors are picked for specific reasons – blue is associated with peace, purple invokes romanticism, pink invokes playfulness, sunset orange catches the eye, and the spots of red create a sense of boldness. Combine that with he prevailing black in the clothing and shadows and you have this ambiguous calm. It’s a miniature Nirvana.
Symbolically I’m not 100% sure what the video is meant to convey other than an emotion, but I have a guess. I think part of it is meant to inherently be about wonderment. We see numerous times a moon that’s almost pulled to Earth. It’s like a lite Majora’s Mask.
However there also appears to be a theme of solitude, as well as mirroring. Mirroring in particular seems to be a theme as we see Ravi interact with himself. If we combine all the motifs (wonderment, solitude, and mirroring) we can assume that it’s meant to be about someone accepting themselves and seeing themselves in the same cosmic way we see the moon.
Let’s juxtapose this with “ALCOHOL” – the song “ALCOHOL” is about someone actively trying to avoid their problems. The video features a lot of typical hip-hop imagery (dancing and cars mostly) but it has a different feeling to it. The dancing seems less like happy dancing and more like people trying to bury their problems.
Ravi barely smiles in this video but his expression isn’t calm, it’s aggressive. It’s like he’s pushing you back with his face. He wants you to not feel bad for him.
Red is a prevailing theme in this one – red, the color of boldness and passion. But there is an inherent darkness to it. It’s the color of blood, and it’s the color of a siren. It is a color that can be both cold and harsh as well as warm and inviting. This entire part of the music video is a lit fire, of neon lights and underground dance clubs – a welcoming and yet toxic environment. Dance clubs thrive on physical human connection and yet omit verbal connection. And verbal connection is the entirety of Ravi’s medium.
We see Ravi in the video under lights, drinking and rapping, moving between people, looking around as if trying to look for people he could know. There’s an inherent nihilism to it. It’s like he’s not searching for a person, but for a purpose.
We sometimes see people look at the camera and make eye contact with it, as if they’re looking at him, or perhaps through him.
I’m going to go out on limb that Ravi isn’t literally an alcoholic but instead is trying to draw on the cultural understanding of alcohol in Korea. Drinking is not only a pastime in Korea – it’s a staple of how people interact. It’s prevalent in dramas regardless of the kind. Being drunk is not okay and yet you’re expected to keep drinking. Combine that with the high suicide rate in Korea and you have a recipe for a number of problems. Further mixing in the pressures of idol culture, and Ravi seems not to be talking about alcohol itself – he’s talking about pain.
Why did he choose to put “NIRVANA” and “ALCOHOL” together? I mean you could argue that it’s done for solely the music, but there’s something special about pairing up a song about loving yourself with a song about your sorrows. It sounds like someone who loves himself but is still trying to search for something in his life that he can’t really tell is missing. It could also be someone who only learns to move past their heartache by loving themselves. That would mean that from a story perspective, “Alcohol” is before “NIRVANA” but that said – I don’t think that there is meant to be a story here. If anything, the complete music video is a character study. We see someone navigating a world and learning to love himself while still finding himself trapped in this endless cycle of harm.
And yet, in spite of all this, the video is peaceful. It wants you to get pulled into a catharsis that the visuals create, and feel what it’s trying to get you to feel. You want to reach out, you want to know, and you want to understand. But you also want to be relaxed. You don’t want to want anything. In a way, there’s no video more perfect for a song called “NIRVANA”. It lulls you into a state of bliss and yet is aware of all of the agony it tries to communicate.
Ravi is an incredible artist. There is no question about it. He puts his thoughts there for you. More than that – he puts his heart in front of you. He wants you to feel something. And you feel it from he vibration of his voice to the stares off camera. “NIRVANA + ALCOHOL” is composed of both visual and auditory craftsmanship. And in a time where we’re oversaturated by boy groups under technicolor lights, it’s nice to see an artist who has a mind beyond the stage.
There’s something oddly fascinating about the concept of schoolgirls. There is an implied innocence to them that isn’t allotted to schoolboys, but at the same time they are consistently sexualized or represented by older women. They exist in the societal limbo between children and adults, taking on one form or the other whenever it’s convenient.
Dreamcatcher’s music video “Fly High” takes advantage of the concept of school girls to tell a dramatic, fantastical story. The song is on their “Prequel” album, so it’s safe to assume that this is part of the story that was established by their previous music videos, “Chase Me” and “Good Night”. The music video is distinctly less horror than the previous ones were, and yet, it is unsettling in a very atmospheric way. There is still fantasy at play and something bizarre and uncanny, that makes you emotionally invested.
The song has a lighter feel than their previous songs, but still fits the rock pop feel that they’ve consistently had going. It sports nice piano at the beginning with a sweet drum beat, with an intense electric guitar and the occasional violin in the background. The vocals are smoother than they were in “Good Night,” probably to fit a more pop feel. Overall the song has a better drive and beat, so let’s see how the video holds up in comparison.
The color scheme is a generally soft palette with bold colors, covering most of the rainbow. It’s like watching a period piece, only colored infinitely better. Every time there is a shot, there are clear focal points, while everything continues to be coherent and have a consistent feel. The colors that stick out most are dark red, dark blue, varying shades of gold and white. There isn’t as much darkness as in other videos – night scenes have much more creative uses of light, and the video as whole does not have as dark of an atmosphere. That said the video as a whole isn’t bright and happy – it goes into a strange direction.
Since the story is so difficult to unpack and scattered in a bunch of smaller pieces, I’m going to address each one separately. We’re going to start with individual members, then break into pairings of members, and end with the scenes that have all of the members.
She only gets one scene by herself, but appears in scenes with other members. The one scene we see of her, she’s walking backwards through the woods.
Criminally underused, but still has her brief moment. The only one where she’s alone is her sitting in a bathtub, staring off into space while water drips from her hands.
She spends most of her time walking backwards and forwards through the woods, carrying a bunny toy. Like the other girls, she operates almost as if she’s in a trance. At one point though, we see her carrying something else – a rolled canvas.
Dami reprises her role as someone interested in the occult. We see her pull a book off the shelf, then read something to herself while on the floor. She’s surrounded by books, candles, and picture frames. There’s also a floating book for some reason – still can’t figure out why. She’s by the door, claiming the space as her own, and what appears to be the same bookshelf she got the book from, judging from the wood. As the camera moves closer while she’s speaking, feathers also scattered on the floor blow around her. Whatever she’s doing is working.
Gahyeon has one particularly interesting moment. We see her lying on a bed, surrounded by beautiful flowers of varying colors. There is also a single deer antler on the bed with her, by her feet. The deer antler is likely a callback to the deer heads in “Good Night”, but it does emphasize that Gahyeon’s character has something to do with nature. Her hair is even green on the ends. A hand hits the light switch and shuts it off. Feathers start flying about what we later realize is the room Dami is doing the ritual in. Gahyeon opens her eyes, and the door closes.
She thrashes about in the bed, while interspersed are clips of a woman in a white veil, carrying a candlestick, walk through the halls and towards Gahyeon. We don’t get a confirmation as to who this woman is but we can assume at this point it’s another member. Anyway, Gahyeon thrashes, seemingly immobilized. A hand with strange fantasy paint reaches out and covers her eyes.
Yooheyon is one of the two members with the most screen time. However her most important scenes involve JiU, so I want to cover those separately. The scenes that Yoohyeon gets by herself are vague, but nonetheless something that pulls in her audience. The first moment of note is Yoohyeon singing in the attic, and in the living room/parlor. The lyrics for this particular shot sequence translate into “Like I’m trapped in forgotten time / I’m trapped / In this night / A dangerous rainbow is engraved.” She makes a clock motion with her hands at the part about time, in the attic, and also a gentle choking motion at the part about being trapped, in the living room.
In a later shot, we see Yoohyeon walking towards a mirror that’s precariously placed in the yard, near the street. She walks towards it and stands in front of it ominously. Cut to her sitting in front of the mirror and touching it, and black drips out from the area near her hand and down the mirror. In the behind the scenes, Yoohyeon described it as “evil” that was supposed to be dripping out.
We also get a shot of her running through the yard, but then she stops and turns around to face the camera. When she does it cuts to a new shot of her, in the woods, wearing dark blue. She walks forward, her face empty and ominous. We see her walking away from the building, down the same path, closer to night than before.
It’s presumed, based on context clues, that Yoohyeon is the veiled figure that messes with Gahyeon. Those context clues are mainly just Yoohyeon’s predisposition to the evil things in the MV as well as the fact that we see Yoohyeon in the attic, same as the veiled figure. This is mostly conjecture but it could make sense.
Ah yes, JiU. She has the most screen time out of every member. The first shot is of her, surrounded by butterflies. The shot is very blue – the ocean behind is blue, the sky is blue, the dress is light blue, and the butterflies are blue. Later in the MV the butterflies catch on fire and disappear – this is important.
JiU walks with the other members outside in the daytime, in her schoolgirl outfit, before veering to catch something with a jar – when we get back inside, we see that it’s a spider. She spends a lot of time looking at it before one of her friends – who we don’t see at this stage – pulls her away.
We also see a girl playing piano in a room filled with black balls/balloons, on a piano covered with smaller balls like marbles. JiU walks by the room wearing a black dress, and peers in. Inside is another JiU, wearing the same dress as in the butterfly shot. JiU is shocked as the camera briefly zooms in. It moves quickly so you might miss it, but it’s there and definitely a provoking moment.
JiU is then seen running through the halls, looking over her shoulder. She seems afraid of something, but it’s not stated what it is that she’s running from. She opens the doors of the mansion and runs towards the gate. She seems urgent, but when she finally gets to the gate and closes it, she’s calm, as if there was no sense of urgency to begin with.
Siyeon and SuA
Their pairing is seen walking together through the woods in all their shots together, usually backwards. Sometimes they’re holding hands and looking at each other, other times they’re just standing, separate, Shining style. At one point, they’re holding hands and walking backwards into mist, but emerge from the same mist wearing cloaks. SuA holds the ritual book from “Good Night.” The two of them look at each other and smile.
JiU and Yoohyeon
The meat of the story is in one single interaction between these two. When JiU puts her captured spider on the table, it’s Yoohyeon who pulls her away. Behind her back she is holding a magnifying glass. So when JiU is out of the way, Yoohyeon kills the spider, letting smoke come off of the glass. This is supposedly what the burning butterflies allude to later in the video.
SuA, Siyeon, and Gahyeon
There’s only one shot of the three of them all together, but it’s of them standing perfectly still, peering down on the camera from a higher staircase. The shot is ominous from the unnatural angle, and there are deeper skulls all along the walls. There’s also a thread coming from Gahyeon’s position on the balcony. It’s unclear what the thread is supposed to be holding but it is there.
(It’s also worth mentioning, for sake of being thorough, that there is a shot with Dami, Yoohyeon, and what appears to be SuA running down the stairs, but I’m not sure if it’s of any particular significance.)
There are a number of scenes with all of the Dreamcatcher members. The first one of note is obviously the girls running in schoolgirl uniforms along the grassy path, then playing in retro-style dresses in the yard. JiU, SuA, and Siyeon all look at a birdcage before running to the other members.
The members play a Marco Polo style game where JiU has her eyes covered. The girls also play a game where JiU is against a wall and they have to run and chase her, but when she turns around to look, they all freeze. It’s a red-light-green-light situation. They end up going back inside, which is where we see JiU and the spider. The yard also has a modern art sculpture and picnic tables. There’s another scene that appears to be part of this sequence later in the music video, where Handong flies a black paper airplane. It looks like all the girls are running to catch it, but costumes indicate that this is a different day.
There’s an eerie sequence in the second verse, broken up into two parts. The first part takes place in a dining room inside the house and the second part takes place in the kitchen. The first part, we see six of the members seated, with SuA approaching the head of the table. On the right, Gahyeon, Handong, and Yoohyeon are sitting, and, directly opposite them, respectively, are Siyeon, Dami, and JiU. All six of them are sitting perfectly straight with books in front of them, and all six of them have their eyes closed. SuA carries a bell over before taking her stance. The girls all write in notebooks, before snapping their glances to the camera.
The second part of this sequence starts here, where we see the girls in the kitchen at a similar table, passing knives down the line to each other. SuA rings a bell, and they all start cutting their food – except it’s not actually food, it’s a white flower. It’s too far away to see specifically what it the flower is. If I ever find out the flower name, I’ll edit this article accordingly.
The last few shots are carefully crafted. We see SuA, surrounded by the other girls, drive a knife into the picture from “Chase Me”, cutting the edges to take it off the frame. We then see an overhead shot of the girls dancing and spinning on the yard, before standing perfectly standing still and looking up at the camera in dance formation.
This video was confusing at best, but still so beautiful to watch. Every image feels like a painting. Scrubbing through the video frame by frame made me appreciate it that much more. The shots are much better than the previous music videos by Dreamcatcher, with better focus when appropriate and no artificial sharpening. There are a handful of artificial effects, but nothing out of place. Everything feels balanced.
There is a lot of use of slow motion, long shots and short ones, a variety of different camera techniques. There are a lot of wide shots this time around, showcasing the entire setting, be it a room or outdoors. A lot of the camera techniques we associate with horror are used in this MV, particularly the one point perspective used in Kubrick-style films. There’s also awkward angles, often looking upward to the focal point of a shot. This causes a feeling of smallness, of wonderment, but also tension.
There is also a great use of natural space, and nature in general, to make the horror feel real. One of the biggest problems that “Chase Me” and “Good Night” had was weird use of effects. Good use of them, but often times they were clearly not real. The use of nature in this mv makes everything feel real, so when an effect appears it doesn’t feel out of place. Most of the aesthetic is created through props, set pieces, etc.
There is also a use of retro costumes and set pieces – nothing that shouldn’t be there is there. Everything is of the time, whatever the time may be. But it also doesn’t feel excessively retro. You can still put yourself in the position of the character and relate to them on some level. I mean malevolent witch girls is not the most relatable thing in the world, but the playfulness and curiosity of the Dreamcatcher members is still relatable.
There are a lot of story elements that are out of order in this, but the main recurring theme seems to be nature. Not just physical nature, but natural versus unnatural behavior. That said the film isn’t about nature. But just because there is a recurring theme does not mean that the film has to be about that theme. A Marvel movie can be all about superheroes but have a recurring theme and still be separate from the themes.
Let’s focus on the themes of physical nature first. Gahyeon’s bed is surrounded by flowers, much of the music video takes place outside, JiU has a predisposition to like bugs, and even the visuals make use of the four elements in various ways – we have water dripping off Handong’s hands, we have fire coming off the candles, we have earth EVERYWHERE, and since wind is an invisible element, we have hair blowing and butterflies. One could argue that witchcraft is working in conjunction with nature, so even the use of ritual books could be a force of nature. But that point is open to interpretation and part of a bigger discussion on the nature of witchcraft and religion, and this is a K-Pop blog so we’ll keep the focus geared towards the video.
The theme of natural versus unnatural behavior is the part that has the most relevance to this video. We see the girls interacting playfully with each other, playing games, exploring the surroundings, doing typical things that girls do. On the opposite side we have these strange scenes where the girls are standing perfectly still, faces blank, doing things in complete unison. There is of course the veiled figure, probably Yoohyeon, behaving like a ghost, existing in the limbo between the natural and unnatural. Siyeon and SuA walk backwards, an act that is inherently uncomfortable or involves video editing or time manipulation. You could even say that the cutting of the white flower is something unnatural – the white flower being on the plate and presumably being eaten is definitely not supposed to be happening. And, of course, there’s the act of burning the spider – death is natural but murder isn’t.
If I’ve said “natural” enough times to make you hate trees forever, don’t worry – let’s just analyze the story for a minute. It seems that some figure, and is affecting JiU, Yoohyeon, Gahyeon, and the other members. I don’t necessarily believe that Dami is the one doing the summoning, but she has the ritual book – I’m more willing to believe that she has an interest in dark magic. What’s happening with Dami just feels like it’s more isolated, more to do with her own journey into the unknown than the other girls.
The other girls, however, definitely seem to be increasingly effected by the dark magic in their world. JiU seems to be trying to protect herself, and by extension, the other girls, from whatever the dark entity is. But, ultimately, she succumbs to the evil being – we can see from the calm expression on her face that the being wins to some extent.
Yoohyeon also is affected by this and is the possible cause of these problems in the video. She burns the spider, she is touched by the evil, she walks around almost like she’s possessed. It seems like something has taken hold of her, and it’s something that she can’t control. It’s also possible that she is some sort of dark being herself, but since transformation is a motif (butterflies are a typical indicator of this theme) and we see her transformation into the blue dress, I don’t think she’s necessarily supposed to represent that.
As for what all of the girls are doing, where they’re all at the tables or acting playful. Symmetry and stiff, unnatural behavior are typically associated with horror films. Their use is often to indicate ghosts, or otherworldliness. When there’s symmetry, there’s something wrong. But if the girls are doing ghostly things inside the house but also being playful, they must somehow exist within the spheres of evil and innocence.
Overall there’s a lot to unpack in the Dreamcatcher video “Fly High”. I think this video is a must-watch in modern K-Pop. It has all of the big things and the little things, great camerawork and a great location, enough story to keep you invested and enough vagueness to make you curious. My biggest complaint is the lack of balance between members in this video, but that’s something that’ll come with time – all K-Pop groups go through a period where one member seems to be pushed into the front, usually around the debut. So with that in mind, let’s see if we get any answers to the looming question in their next video “You and I”, and if later videos balance out all the girls.
Sequels are a tricky business in any sort of media. Sometimes they surpass the previous installment to the point where the previous installment loses its luster. Sometimes they fall short of expectations and ruin the original work. Sometimes they just remake their predecessor. Other times they go in a completely new direction.
Dreamcatcher’s “Good Night” is a direct sequel to “Chase Me”, the debut song after their reformation. It’s a continuation of the story-based music videos that have since become a staple of their group, sporting, once again, a timeless haunted feeling and a rock-pop track. In my article on “Chase Me” I stated the importance of a debut song being memorable, but I also said that the group could be forgiven for having some glaring problems with their first music video, on account of it being just that. So, where does “Good Night” fit in the realm of sequels? Is it a good video or a bad video? A worthy successor or a failed attempt?
The music itself is good, but more aggressive and less cutesy than “Chase Me” was, or than “Fly High” and “You and I” would be. It personally is a little too much rock for me, but still holds up. It doesn’t have a great vocal hook, but it still has a nice musical hook in the chorus. However the girls’ voices take on a raspier and more spoken quality. It isn’t my personal favorite of their songs, but it has some good moments – I particularly like the high notes best.
“Good Night” brings back the mid-20th-century style but brings in more elements that are 19th century or even medieval. The video has a different color scheme than “Chase Me” did, sporting more blue and varying degrees of pink and yellow, as opposed to the green, red, and gold. Both of these videos still make use of black, which makes sense as this is a horror style music video. Costuming for the girls is more along the lines of flowing dresses and skirts with varying skirt lengths, mostly long sleeves, and somewhat see through fabric at times. It seems though, from the long sleeves and often neck lengths of the dresses, this is a departure from the mixed sexy/cutesy concept from “Chase Me” – the plot of this video deals with malevolent spirits and it would not be appropriate to sexualize the girls in this context. (Of course, the skirts are extremely short and outfits more form-fitting in the dance segments, but asking girls to dance in full length dresses would probably cause injuries.) The girls appear to be more made-up, but not as pale as they did in “Chase Me” – instead, depending on the set and lighting, we get to see more gold undertones or cool undertones in their skin. All this aside, we can now break into the analysis.
The opening of “Good Night” is the closing scene of “Chase Me”, where Jo Donghyuk, an actor brought in for these music videos, breaks down the door of a hotel room to find a picture of the seven Dreamcatcher members, wearing all white, sitting like typical horror-movie dolls.
Donghyuk smiles ominously, we get a layered effect of film burn that looks almost like blood, before the song comes in with some ominous chimes. From here, the music video breaks into three segments, not including the dance pieces. These segments are the girls’ room, the forest, and Donghyuk’s room.
Donghyuk’s room is the starting point for the video, where he has a desk, two very tall bookshelves, two taxidermy deer heads, pictures all over the walls, and several candles. He also has an hourglass and a mirror, and a clock on the desk in a glass container. He pulls a book off his shelf, which has a leafy, natural texture on the cover, chains around it, and a skull for a lock. This book becomes a recurring motif not just in this video, but in other videos as well by Dreamcatcher. We’ll come back to this in a minute.
The girls’ room is where the most important story elements are, because what the girls JiU, Handong, and Dami do in this room in turn effect the events in other segments of the video. The room is an alternate version of Donghyuk’s room, with most of the same elements, just a few key differences. For one thing we see another cult ritual happening, this time with two skulls, one of which is on fire, an hourglass, several books, and more candles than a Yankee Candle store. Finally, the girls actually make use of the objects in their room as opposed to Donghyuk, who spends most of his time involved in his book.
The forest segments involve Siyeon, Yoohyeon, and SuA. Siyeon and Yoohyeon are pursued by two people in masks and hoods, and SuA is entrapped by wooden arms, almost skeletal. They seem to be coming from the tree, which begs the question why they’re doing that in the first place. Siyeon and Yoohyeon largely spend their time running away and hiding. At one point they make stick people from nearby sticks and hang them from the trees. It’s not clear if this is meant to be some sort of magic thing or just a distraction to let them get away but in any event it works.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t brought up Gahyeon, she’s largely not in this video for some reason, but she has a few moments. For one thing she gets to be in the girls’ room surrounded by bubbles, which is a cool image.
Then of course there’s the elephant in the room – her falling through space. Surrounded by books. And book pages. In a white dress. Yeah, it seems like even though we don’t get to see much of her, she has some crucial part in the story at play.
Anyway, the whole Gahyeon-falling-through-space thing is triggered by Donghyuk flipping to a particular page in the ritual book, as I’ll call it. He seems amused by it. Since this is a sequel, supposedly, to “Chase Me”, it seems like he wants to harness something that the girls have – maybe it’s their power or their souls. He still seems to be the protagonist of the story, but not one we should necessarily feel sympathy for.
JiU, Handong, and Dami, meanwhile, are not having it. They lurk in their world, by the mirror, watching Donghyuk read the book and occasionally messing with things in their world. At one point Donghyuk is flipping the book, when Handong appears on screen for an instant, peering through the mirror. Suddenly her eye is superimposed over everything and he’s forced to stop what he’s doing. He goes towards the mirror, only to see a glimpse of JiU in the mirror.
Not long after, we get to Dami reaching through the mirror to get the ritual book. The girls return to the circle and we see JiU burning the page that triggered the wooden hands on SuA, which then cuts to SuA surrounded by the burning arms, unscathed.
JiU, Handong, and Dami rip books off the shelves, which causes a whirlwind of papers inside Donghyuk’s room. Donghyuk walks towards the mirror, picking up a dreamcatcher, then looks back into the mirror, which is empty.
In between inserts, the video cuts to him, now entrapped in the mirror, with JiU, Handong, and Dami all looking at him, now wearing medieval cloaks. The final few shots of the music video are of the girls walking through the woods, all wearing cloaks and carrying torches. One of them (presumably Dami) drops the book, and we see the book on the floor of the woods as the music fades out.
“Good Night” is much harder to unpack than “Chase Me” because there is more going on, as well as a universe with rules that might be well-defined as far as the script is concerned, but are not well defined by extension to the viewers. When that happens it’s hard to differentiate aesthetics from actual story elements.
The color scheme is not nearly as bold as it was in “Chase Me” and not as memorable as it is in later videos, particularly “Fly High” and “You and I”. It does not differentiate particular segments of the video well, at least in terms of color. The biggest counter argument to this point is the fact that the inserts have a variety of color schemes, including pastel pinks that dominate the screen, and the two rooms are differentiated very slightly in hue. The girls’ room has always felt more blue to me, and Donghyuk’s room has always felt more purple. However, when I went back to watch the video so I could write this review, I realized that the rooms were mostly lit and colored the same, but the outfits of the characters were what I was focusing on – the black allowed the purple-ish hue to come through in Donghyuk’s room, and the light colors allowed the blue to be more visible in the girls’ room. They were also lit slightly differently, but more to keep light on the girls on the floor than to indicate an atmospheric change. So the two spaces have very few differences ultimately, which feels like a wasted opportunity – why not have more differences in the mirrored rooms?
The cuts are also extremely fast and the camerawork is more jittery. The sharp focus problem that “Chase Me” had comes back, only now we have weird blurring effects. So the video feels more artificial than Chase Me did, where it was still fairly consistent. We also have the wide aspect ratio, which makes these things stand out even more.
Of course, not everything about this video is negative. It has very compelling imagery and a clear feeling of a story. The dance routine is definitely powerful and the costumes, while I don’t like them as much as I like them in Dreamcatcher’s other videos, they do give the sense of who these characters are and make you feel intrigued. The sets are good, despite the poorly distinguished color grading. And the girls, of course, come across very well. Their inserts show a lot of personality and make you want to watch the video more. So while the film doesn’t do the best job it could have, it still does well insofar as making you want more.
“Good Night” hammers in the fact that something is going on with the members and that Donghyuk seems to be intrigued by it. He seems to know a lot about who these girls are but not anything about their abilities or how the magic works, and yet he definitely wants to harness their power. The ritual book is ultimately what makes this clear, at least to me. He seems amused and intrigued by the book, as if it holds answers. Furthermore, when he opens it and flips to pages, that’s when we see Gahyeon falling and SuA being attacked by a tree. He doesn’t appear to be causing these events but his ambivalence thereof seems to be a factor in why they’re still ongoing.
However, JiU, Handong, and Dami are consistently working at something, which ultimately appears to be bailing their friends out of their situation. I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re “higher up” or “more powerful” than their fellow members in this video but they seem to have more of an understanding of how their world works and how to manipulate it. That said, all seven of them seem to have some understanding of how to manipulate this world. SuA and Gahyeon seem victims of the world but that might just be because driving plot points of seven different characters is a tough thing to do. But the girls in the room clearly understand the magic at play, and Siyeon and Yoohyeon know how to get away from the people who are chasing them.
Why they’re being chased is ultimately unclear, and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the fact that their previous song was called “Chase Me”. My money is on the chasers being general demons of the mirrored world. They are definitely trapped in that world against their will, but it is not apparent as to whether or not they ever get out of it. It appears that they do, or at least begin some sort of journey out of that world. If we presume that they’re dead, then maybe the mirrored world is some sort of purgatory or hell, and they have to move on, be it to heaven or to a reincarnated life. We don’t have much to go on to that end but it is a possibility.
“Good Night” tries to be more original than “Chase Me” was but falls short of its predecessor. However, that might have been beneficial to Dreamcatcher. “Fly High” came out not long after “Good Night” and that video has a lot of original elements, traditional horror, and K-Pop staples, making it a beautiful video. “Good Night” put the pieces in place for Dreamcatcher to explore more original ideas into their later videos, while still giving them a lot of room to grow. It is a great sequel in that respect, because it makes the viewer want to see more, and that, ultimately, is what a music video is there to do.