Trigger warning: this episode talks about heavy themes, including suicide and abuse. If you are in need of immediate help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The fifth episode of my fan series Neverland is finally done. I wanted to get into some of the side plots at this stage, plots I’d hinted about for a while but hadn’t actually covered in detail. In this case, it was Jungkook and Suga’s story – it’s one of the few stories that we actually get detailed scenes of, and can form a narrative around.
It’s pretty straightforward what happens between the two of them as far as the videos are concerned; however, there are so many scenes that are scattered around that refer to the plot, it was hard to make decisions about them. I ended up having to cut a shot I desperately wanted to keep, one that was at the end of the Run MV. But that’s what editing is about, trying to decide what best suits your story.
The title of the episode, “Delirium”, comes from a dystopian book series of the same name. The series, written by Lauren Oliver, was about a world in the not too distant future where love is deemed dangerous and illegal. To prevent people from falling in love, or even experience parental or friendly love, a procedure is done to get rid of the capacity for those emotions. It’s all about the beauty and danger of love, and it’s an excellent read if you have a chance. Back to Neverland, love is the primary theme of the episode – specifically, the risk of pushing people away.
The episode starts with one of the hyper-saturated sequences (so presumably a dream or other version of reality) where Jungkook is on a train. He flashes back to a memory of himself sitting on the floor, seeing the other members partying around him, but when the camera pulls back, no one is there, and the colors are sapped from the world. You may notice, as per usual, Jin is glitching black-and-white, but someone else also seems to be suffering the same affliction…
We then get flashback glimpses of a scene between Jungkook and Suga (indicated by subtle changes in the color grading, as well as Jungkook’s hair because I am unfortunately limited in my editing prowess) where we see just what kind of a relationship they have.
It’s not 100% clear what kind of love Jungkook and Suga have, be it agape or philia or pragma or what have you. Nevertheless, it’s clear that there is love between the two in this story, so when editing I tried to capture that as much as possible. The scene in question is when Suga has been drinking and starts destroying everything in the little apartment they’re in. Jungkook physically tries to hold him back, but Suga pushes him away and into the ground.
Interspersed between these clips is Jungkook walking alone outside, when he accidentally runs into someone. The guy picks a fight wit him, pushing Jungkook around in a very similar fashion to Suga. I want to compliment Jungkook for his acting in the original music video because wow the pain in his face feels so genuine! I was genuinely impressed seeing this in the original “I Need U” music video and I’m impressed to this day.
Anyway, Jungkook eventually collapses on the ground. In the saturated dream sequences, we see him running through a darkened train, which opens out in front of a motel with the name Omelas. (Please see my article on Episode 1 for an explanation of the reference; the short version is that Omelas is a sort of paradise.) As soon as Jungkook runs towards it, we catch a glimpse at reality, where he finds himself looking straight into an oncoming car.
Suga’s story, meanwhile, is very solitary and lonely. He breaks into a music store and plays on a piano, but falters partway. Then he hears a whistle – the same whistle repeatedly associated with Jungkook. He goes to follow it, and sees a coming, so he jumps out of the way. Based on the context clues, this is the same car that Jungkook saw. He runs towards the crash, blood staining the ground, and the music store has been destroyed. He still hears the whistle, but it’s far away and hollow. The flames that engulf the piano turn black and white, while the rest of the world is still in color.
In the final scene, Suga is in bed, playing with his lighter. Eventually he pours gasoline around himself and lights the room on fire, bearing one last pained expression. Meanwhile, Jungkook, in his black-and-white world, puts together a letter and looks ahead, wings spreading in his shadows, and his world starts to turn color again.
In this story, Jungkook and Suga are meant to symbolize innocence and experience, or rather innocence and self-destruction. Jungkook tries to be there for Suga while he becomes violent and self-destructive, and stays that way until the end. He takes beatings, he barely fights back, because he wants to see good in Suga. Suga is on the opposite end – he symbolizes self destruction. Even with Jungkook around, he’s a tornado of conflict, causing havoc wherever he can. The moment Jungkook is gone, he spirals out of control, and can’t handle it. He makes active choices, but they end up causing pain for others and himself.
The relationship between these two characters, from the glimpses we get in the music videos, is like a Shakespearean tragedy. They love each other, but it ends up being painful. One constantly shows his love, but he never gets through to the other, who shows his love too late. The essence of Neverland is meant to be bittersweet, and in this episode, we get the bitter.
Sorry about the delay on this article. I’m bundling episodes 3 and 4 together because these in particular follow a continuous story, because they pull a lot from BTS’s “Prologue” video, which has a fairly consistent narrative arc. To avoid rehashing the story and to leave certain things open to interpretation, I won’t be covering the story itself, just particular choices I made while editing this.
Starting with “Death in the Afternoon,” the title doesn’t actually reference a death that occurs in the episode, because no such death occurs. I have been maintaining a convention of using literary references to address plot points. “Death in the Afternoon” is a reference to a book by Ernest Hemingway, where he talks about Spanish bullfighting. However, Death in the Afternoon is also a cocktail, made up of champagne and absinthe, and invented by Hemingway. Absinthe is a highly alcoholic spirit, often associated with hallucinations (though this is not substantiated by scientific research.)
We actually see Namjoon drinking absinthe in “Blood Sweat and Tears” – absinthe is often vibrant green, and served with a sugar cube. Typically, you pour water over the sugar cube to dilute the absinthe and mix the sugar in. However, Namjoon lights the sugar cube on fire to melt it and we never see the water. This likely means that Namjoon did not dilute it and is drinking it effectively raw. This is not the first or last reference to mind altering substances in these music videos.
The second episode is called “Crossing the Water,” which comes from a poem by Sylvia Plath. Sylvia Plath was a brilliant poet who committed suicide in 1963. There is a line from this poem: “This is the silence of astounded souls.” As you’ve probably noticed, much of Neverland is done without dialogue, but in some moments there is almost complete silence. These are moments to reflect on what the story might entail.
Building on the idea of hallucination and alteration of the mind, there’s a scene in the middle of the episode that acts like a montage, set to “Run”. There are moments that occur squarely in reality, signified with a camera filter (we see Jin running around with a camera several times.) But then there are foggy, vibrant sequences, where characters are partying. It’s not so much that the scenes are not reality, but they’re not the same – it’s a perception of reality.
I also focused heavily on Jungkook and Jimin. This is because, as you’ll see in other episodes, they are often victims of circumstances caused by others. I hinted at this through a number of things – the blindfold sequence with Jimin, and Jungkook on the swing and drinking absinthe from his finger (and eventually flying.) Namjoon and V also get some screen time in this sequence, as Namjoon’s character falls into escapism and V is shrouded and self-isolated.
Building on the theme of perception, Jin is constantly flickering in and out of black and white. I have mentioned in other articles I use color as a means to tell story and say something about a character. Jin exists on a plane of existence separate from the others, as signified by the grayscale environments he’s seen in. But when he’s around the others, he flickers in and out, like a broken TV. This shows maybe he doesn’t see himself as being on a different plane, even though he is.
There are numerous moments where the colors attributed to Jin change in order to indicate an alteration of perception. In the museum scene, the painting and world around Jin turns black and white. When Jin is “summoned” to see the other members again in the normal plane, Jin’s black-and-white world turns vibrant and he begins to glitch out. He stays entirely black and white at night, and generally stays colorful at the beach. And when V knocks down his house of cards, once he sees the vision of V underwater, the people around him change into black and white as well.
The main plot point throughout this arc, however, is V coping with the death of his father in the previous episode. We start with him crying on the phone to someone, then move to him meeting his friends. They have fun for a while, and in another dream sequence, V sees a puppy, signifying his hope. But a cage falls around him, and the puppy leaves – he becomes someone without hope.
At the end of the video, V is on top of a tower by the beach. He looks towards his friends, then just before he jumps off, he enters the same plane as Jin – he turns black and white as well. As the video fades out, the colors become vibrant again.
As I’ve mentioned before, I intend to leave much of Neverland to interpretation for my viewers and readers. Do I have clear ideas of where I want it to go? Yes. But the thing about film, particularly fan films made out of existing material, is there’s fun in ambiguity. The symbols I pick mean something to me that could resonate differently for others. If you have your own theories or ideas of what the story says, you are welcome to comment, be it on this article or the videos. I hope that you are able to find your own meaning in this story, particularly as it unfolds in the coming installments.
A new episode of Neverland is up! Without further ado, let’s dive into it!
This is the first time the opening sequence is showing in an episode – if you’d like to read my deep dive on the choices I made during the OP, please click here. We also get the title of this new episode: “City of Glass.”
This is a literary reference, though not to The Mortal Instruments book. Rather, it is a reference to City of Glass by Paul Auster, a mystery with heavy psychological undertones. Without getting into spoiler territory, the novel’s main themes are the perception of reality, child abuse, and language. I highly recommend reading the graphic novel version, which has been of huge influence to me as a visual artist and to how I have approached this remaster.
The connection with Neverland and City of Glass may seem superficial at first, but I wanted to communicate a similar disassociation from reality. The thing about music videos – particularly those in K-Pop – is the backstory is often told through bits and pieces, largely symbolic ones. The graphic novel version of City of Glass also uses highly symbolic elements to immerse you in a world inherently disassociated from reality. And, as you’ll see in this episode, a disassociation is beginning.
The first scene is from “Stigma”, the “Wings” teaser for V. V gets arrested (again) for vandalism, and is getting interviewed by cops. I didn’t do a whole lot of editing here because I genuinely really like the sequence as it stands; however, I did incorporate elements from later in the teaser, because I plan on using the rest of the teaser at a later point. The scene depicts V’s (presumed) father abusing him and his sister, using V getting beaten by an unseen figure to communicate this.
The video then cuts into “I Need U” (the original version). V is sitting around, takes a walk, takes out his anger on a water bottle, then goes back to his house. Upon seeing his (presumed) father beat the sister, V goes and kills him. I made sure that the music ramped up intensity, and the diegetic sound design fades away as the stabbing continues. It cuts back to “Stigma” right at the end of the sequence, and V asks the cop if he can make one last call. Full disclosure, whether or not the sequence with the cop is in reality or not is entirely up to you. While I have my own intent with the scene, I structured the scene such that it can be interpreted either way.
We then cut away to Namjoon in the “Reflection” teaser. Namjoon tattoos a bird on himself (gotta admire those fine motor skills) then burns the drawing he was basing it off of and drinks the ashes.
He then passes out and the colors get more intense. I played with the sound design a bit here because I wanted to communicate a feeling of suffocation and, as said earlier, disassociation. Interspersed are clips from “Blood Sweat and Tears” that depict V jumping off a balcony.
When Namjoon finally comes to, he hears a phone ring and tries to get into a phone booth. Try as he may, he can’t get in. If the call is coming from V, this means he can’t reach one of the people he cares about so deeply.
The final sequence is back to Jin in the black and white room. Weird things start to happen, like the distortion of the world around him. He goes to open the window, and instead there is a mirror – and his reflection is in color. When he turns away from the reflection, he turns to color as well, and walks to the door. Once again, I want the absence of color to communicate something.
Jin eventually walks down the hall and sees the same painting that Namjoon was tattooing. We see a number of flash forwards to events that will occur later in the series. He walks towards them, presumably to find something or someone, then we see on the floor of the black and white room – which is now in color – he has six photos, each representing another member of the group.
V is trapped in memories of something he did. Namjoon is removing himself from reality to the point where he can’t reach those he loves. And Jin can’t seem to fit into the black and white room. All three of them are trying to disassociate from their own actions, at some grave consequence. This is something I intend to play with further, but I think this is a good way to wrap up this analysis. The next episode will be up February 1st, 2020, and we will get more with all the members as opposed to vignettes.
But for now, I think we can leave this here. I welcome any constructive criticism, and I hope that you all enjoy the new episodes in the coming weeks!
To bring in the new year (and new decade!) I have brought to you the first episode of the Neverland Project. With it, I am giving a breakdown of the seven minute episode, so that without giving too many spoilers for my intent for the rest of the fan project, I can show you my own creative choices and what they might mean for future episodes.
BTS’s story as portrayed in these music videos centers around several themes – mental illness, abuse, youth, and death. While the first two are prevalent in the rest of Neverland, it’s the last two – youth and death – that are central to this episode. The title Neverland – which I pulled from a tag embedded in some of their promotional posts for “Most Beautiful Moment in Life Part 2” – is evocative of both. Neverland, as it originates from Peter Pan, is an island in the sky where children don’t grow up if they choose not to. Keep this in mind.
We start with lines from the end of The Ones that Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin. This short story is once again about a paradise hiding something extremely dark, without spoiling anything. It’s something that is repeatedly referenced by BTS in Spring Day, and fits thematically with the rest of the work. But the lines are also about moving on from something tragic – in a way, accepting your grief.
I didn’t edit much of the first bit with the clips from Prologue. I honestly love this scene for how it establishes character relationships with little to no dialogue, as well as introducing the motif of the photograph. The gas station setting will also be relevant in later episodes.
The montage is taken directly from the original movie I made back in 2014, comprised of clips from “I Need U” and “Prologue”. It shows every character and the motifs of trains, water, and drugs. There is a film grain filter over it to establish this as a flashback. I also introduce color as a technique – note that Jin stays in grayscale, even when the rest of the world begins to turn to color when he finally looks at the photograph.
Next is V and Namjoon running from cops. I had to mix the audio myself, since this came directly from the “Run” video. I used “Dope” as the soundtrack, because V’s lines immediately flow into Jin’s, but then the scene cuts off. Plus, that’s a song about working hard and not caring what people think – very indicative of where this story begins, and not where it ends.
I always felt that “Begin” as a teaser was very ambiguous, and I wished to use many of the images from it. But in the original Neverland, I simply dropped the trailer in with minimal editing. But I hold myself to a higher standard than that now! I am a twenty-one year old film student, I want to show off!
So, I edited the clip – rearranging the clips so that it was an actual dream. The colors are also more vibrant and intense than in the original. I don’t know if this is what was intended by the band or the producers, but alas, I am acting as an editor to tell a story I think works. This is not a knock on the original. I simply wanted to give my own take.
The last sequence was most difficult. Everything starts grayscale, with the apple in red. When Jin focuses his camera, the flower alone enters color, and then as the candle blows out, the color returns, mostly. It’s still muted in areas.
There’s also a dream sequence, using clips from Spring Day, where everything seems to be happy but again, nothing really is.
Note that when Jin enters the room, in the last seconds of the video, he steps out of the color and into a grayscale room.
This may not be as long of a breakdown as the ones for later episodes, but I hope it shows you how proud I am of this project. The next episode will be up on January 15th, 2020 – with that, there will be more details about my process. But for now, I hope you like this episode, and that it’s able to interest you.
Here is the opening sequence and breakdown for The Neverland Project, my fan project based on BTS’s music videos from “I Need U” through “Spring Day”. As someone who is seeking to educate through my blog, I think I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t give a rundown of techniques used on a project of my own. I will avoid spoilers as much I can for the actual project, but I may leave some hints scattered in – so keep an eye out!
Before I start, I want to say I’m not trying to “solve” the mysteries of these videos, or speculate as to what the originals are about. As far as I’m concerned, BTS made the videos with their ideas, and have even made comics in their universe and such. That is all unrelated to what I’m doing. I am telling my own narrative through this method. I’m using the members and their acting, and the various images, putting my own spin on them. Thus, I’m not really taking anything as “canon” or “not canon”, but creating a work that you, as viewers, can analyze and derive meaning from on your own.
I wanted to create an anime-style opening for Neverland, for a number of reasons. One was probably ego, since I wanted to flaunt my editing skills. But can you blame me? The other was a desire to use a lot of clips that I didn’t think fit in the actual narrative storyline. I particularly wanted to use BTS’s Wings Tour teaser, because I loved the experimental shots and general symbolism. I also have wanted to – even long after I stopped listening to BTS regularly – make a video using “Boy Meets Evil”, because I think it’s a song that climbs so beautifully. It ramps up tension extremely well. So, I figured, why not make an opening sequence? I’m doing an episodic structure anyway.
The theme went through a number of iterations, because I couldn’t settle on the order of images and the colors. I also had way too much going on in way of commissions, schoolwork, and another project I’ve been working on that’s completely unrelated to K-Pop. So I figured that a teaser video could expand upon my concept while I work on finishing the rest of it. The work itself is half done, with the first episode needing a bit of fine tuning before its release.
So now that we have a bit of context for the production of this piece, let’s get into it!
The opening shot is from BTS’s “Spring Day” – it is a train entering a tunnel. Tonally speaking, I think this is the perfect shot for Neverland. I feel like the themes I play off of from BTS’s work include anxiety taking away the figurative light from the lives of young people. So, since both come up frequently in the work, and both are in this image, this is the perfect opener.
Then, I have V climbing up the tower. (Prologue) This will be a scene in a later episode. Notice that this is all in black and white – color is a motif I use frequently in all of my work. It communicates emotion and personality well. But the absence thereof also says something.
We see V look at the camera. (Wings) Things become color for a split second, before we move into Namjoon walking through the train. (Spring Day) When he opens the train back door, it’s the Omelas motel.
Interspersed with this is Jin staring up the stairwell. (Spring Day) He’s in full color, the rest is in black and white. As he pulls his hands up to frame the screen, the world becomes color, and when he puts them down, he himself becomes black and white. Once again, this is my way of playing with color to indicate certain plot points or themes.
This next sequence revolves entirely around V. It cuts between two shots – the first is V growing wings. (Wings) The second is him standing on top of the tower from earlier. (Prologue) Below the wing shots, I’ve added color images from “Stigma”, which show a confrontation with cops. This will come into play early in the story, so log these images. Also log the absinthe imagery (Blood Sweat and Tears) and Namjoon standing in the train. (Spring Day)
The incidental sequences with J-Hope, Jungkook, and Jimin are all crucially important to the story. I won’t say how, but note that J-Hope is in full psychedelic color, while Jimin and Jungkook are in gray with elements of color around them.
Another grayscale scene – just Jin watching his friends through the camera. (Prologue) It cuts to a full-color shot of fireworks. (Reflection) Things become very montage-heavy after this. I heavily edited and layered many of these images, but note that the elements of color start to get bolder and more experimental – and we amp up to full color as the music progresses. I did this to increase tension, since viewers will acclimate to one way the motif is being used, and this acts as a change of pace.
Note the rest of the images used throughout the opening. J-Hope is pulling at the walls in a padded room. (Mama) V falls on the ground, beaten by an unseen force. (Stigma) All of the boys have a pillow fight. (Run) Distorted retro images of Jin and other experimental elements flicker across the screen. (Epilogue) Jimin submerges his head in water. (I Need U) Jungkook runs towards the motel. (Spring Day) Suga is surrounded by fire. (Epilogue) Jin’s face cracks open as if he’s made of glass. (Wings)
All of these images will become important scenes later on. I don’t mean that each one will be game changing, pivotal etc. But, these images will have much more clarity in the future.
In the final moments of the opening, I have BTS walking through a field. (Spring Day) Yes this image has appeared already, and I probably will use this image at some point in the Neverland episodes. But I also added V smiling at the camera, with his wings wide, and Jin’s face cracking again. (Wings)
I should note that V is not a malevolent figure in this story, but as you will come to see, his actions do affect the story significantly. So, who is the protagonist? Is it him? Jin? Or one of the other members?
This concludes the breakdown of my edits for the Neverland opening. I welcome any constructive criticism – anything can help me to improve my work. I started this project because it posed a challenge – creating a story from a bunch of connected films that take on wildly different filmmaking styles is no small task. It’s even more difficult to communicate a feeling through these constantly shifting pieces. So this has been an adventure for me. There will be more episodes coming soon, starting January 1st and generally releasing every few weeks.
This week I’m doing something a little different, and updating you all on a project I’ve been working on for a while. Before we do, however, I feel compelled to tell you all a story.
Like many artists, I have anxiety and ADHD. I choose to treat them like assets. ADHD allows me to be a perfectionist and tackle multiple projects from different angles. Anxiety acts like a motivator. However, while I am better adjusted now, throughout middle and high school I had difficulties with them. I usually expressed my anxieties through art, as it was what allowed me to connect with others – it didn’t matter whether or not someone had the same experiences I did exactly, but so long as the feelings could get across to my audience, I felt a sense of victory. Unsurprisingly, I became attached to K-Pop because of its unique way of expressing emotion.
My film teacher in high school gave me a great environment to work in, one in which I could escape from everything else that stressed me out. My freshman year I started editing with K-Pop music videos, particularly BIGBANG, for assignments. One of my videos took a month of work, a video art piece comprised of a number of pop culture references talking explicitly about my anxiety. Looking back on it, it was by far not my best work, but it was an important piece for me in my artistic development.
For the rest of high school I had a safe and secure outlet for everything happening in my life. I spent a lot of time editing K-Pop videos, molding them to match messages I wanted to communicate. My sophomore year, I made a two-part video art piece about the two sides of the K-Pop industry. One was emblematic of the poppy, bright, and happy side we were all accustomed to, the other was a darker piece that was explicitly about artists who either evolved in different ways or struggled to get to where they are (particularly BIGBANG and Super Junior, but with a lot of VIXX mixed in for their Error and Voodoo Doll concepts.) I ended up posting it under the pseudonym Romana Pond, one that I’ve had since I was fourteen to conceal my identity to avoid people finding my location online (there aren’t exactly a lot of people with the last name O’Hop in the United States.)
My anxiety hit its worst point when I was seventeen, for reasons best reserved for another day. However, my friends at the time were very protective me, and I entered therapy. At the same time, BTS was in their Most Beautiful Moment in Life phase. “Run” had just came out, and I sat with a friend at school and started running through all of the connections between that, “I Need U”, and “Prologue”. I watched a couple of theory videos online about what the plot may be, but I wasn’t quite satisfied with the stories that were being told. Not that there was anything wrong with them, I just didn’t connect with the fan interpretations in the same way I connected with the music videos.
Thus, Neverland was born.
Neverland was one of my first experiments in narrative filmmaking. I wanted to build a cohesive, concise narrative and tell the story I wanted to tell. Obviously, that’s hard with nonlinear music videos, all of which have different aesthetics. Not only did I have to base my story off of the existing motifs, I had to create my own. One of them turned out to be subtitling – I synced some subtitles with the music in the background or dragged them out longer for maximum impact.
The second motif, however, was much harder. I wanted color to be an important storytelling element, as a way of justifying and connecting the different aesthetics. This required me to go frame by frame and cut certain people out, making them grayscale to explain certain plot elements – particularly, deaths. I had tried a similar effect in my video art pieces before, but it’s a different situation when you have a 40 minute short film as opposed to a 6 and a half minute art piece. However, in spite of the difficulties, I enjoyed working on it. I ended up using this effect in another experimental piece in college, using clips from the K-Drama Blood to depict the relationship between the two main characters. I recommend watching it, but there are spoilers for the show, so if you do want to watch a vampire doctor crime show with an adorable romance…maybe save this video for later.
The editing process ended around the time BTS’s Wings came out. I spent a month trying to get support for the video at my high school, so I could have a screening. Finally, I got permission from the school to show it at a small lunchtime screening in early December. It got fairly good reception from my peers at my small high school. To get a wider audience, I posted it on my pseudonym account. Anyone who met me would know that I was the person behind it, but I was careful not to release that information elsewhere. Besides, I didn’t really care about glory or anything, the satisfaction of other people’s enjoyment was enough. The full movie is below.
Fast forward almost three years later. I’m about to start my third year at NYU Tisch School of the Arts as a Film and Television major. I’m not much of a BTS fan anymore – I just don’t particularly like their new music, and after seeing BIGBANG fall apart from one night to the next, I’m always skeptical when a band becomes that famous. This isn’t out of dislike for the members themselves, I have a lot of respect for them. It’s more about personal taste.
That said, I rewatched Neverland recently. I was still proud of everything I had accomplished, but I realized there was so much I had learned in two years of NYU Film that I felt I could do much better. The story still means a lot to me, and BTS’s music from 2 Cool 4 Skool through You Never Walk Alone will always be among my favorite K-Pop songs. I am still enough of a fan at heart to appreciate what they created.
I still have other projects: a documentary that will be officially announced shortly, and a number of scripts and commissions, not to mention updating Reel K-Pop. But there is a feeling of satisfaction that comes from K-Pop editing that I have honestly missed, since schoolwork tends to pull me away from the personal projects I want to work on. Now that I have time over the summer, even with summer internships, I wanted to get back to what I love: writing and editing.
Which brings us to The Neverland Project. The Neverland Project is a remaster of Neverland, this time in 1080p with (hopefully) better editing. I plan on doing it in episodes as opposed to one full movie, and updating this website on my progress. I’ll also give mini analyses on what my thought process was in how I edited the final product. I plan on uploading a teaser in the very near future, but again, since I have other projects going on and articles to write, that might not be for a while.
My aim with this work is not to take anything away from BTS – instead, I want to show where the heart of BTS’s work was, and where my heart is. I want to show people what K-Pop is, and also what it can be. I want to be an educational resource for film students and enthusiasts. And with any luck, my experience in creating this work will be useful to others who want to find their own voices.
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.