This is the first in a series of articles covering JYP’s newest girl group ITZY.
I tend to jump all over the place with the K-Pop bands I listen to, whether they’re male or female, pop or rap, OG or 4th generation. As of late though, it’s been hard to keep up with all the new groups. There are so many, from many companies, all of varying degrees of quality, as well as an over-saturation of the long-standing top bands, such as BTS.
As a result, I didn’t get around to listening to ITZY until a few weeks ago, but I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how high quality they were. I’ve heard them referred to as JYP Entertainment’s version of Blackpink, but I honestly don’t think that’s doing them justice. I think that they’re a response to Blackpink, or at least the type of band Blackpink is. At the same time, I think they’re a response to Twice, JYP’s biggest group. It combines elements of both, and yet it’s neither.
There are three camps of girl groups right now. There are the extremely girly bands, like Saturday, Momoland, and Twice. Then there are bands that take a more “mature” approach, like Blackpink or EXID. There are benefits to either approach, often revolving around what age group the fan base consists of. Then there are bands that try to be antithetical to both of these. Dreamcatcher would be the best example of that: it’s a band meant to be totally unique in a genre where it’s very easy to fall into a trap.
ITZY is, in my opinion, in the third camp because of how it incorporates elements of the first two, but the band has other unique qualities that make it stand out. First off, their title tracks have been hooky and electronic, but also relatively upbeat without crossing into the territory of being too procedural.
Secondly, they have sharp dance moves that require full body like GFRIEND, as opposed to a band like AOA where their choreography is mostly small movements. But it’s the sharpness that makes them stand out – it’s something guy groups tend to embody more than girl groups.
Thirdly, their songs have a message of loving yourself, but not watered down like BTS’s new catchphrase “Love Yourself” is. It’s much more about people viewing you negatively for the way you are and not caring, as opposed to the simple act of loving yourself because you’re special – in short, it’s not a superficial self-love, it’s anger and vehemence at a system that tries to pigeonhole you. (Ironically, this message was most prevalent in BTS’s early content, particularly “N.O” and Rap Monster’s single “Do You”.)
Lastly, they have an intriguing use of fashion and branding in their videos. It’s very much meant to enhance the members as opposed to rope them into a concept.
If we look at these qualities, it becomes clear: ITZY is a girl group handled exactly the same way a boy group is. They’re a band with good songs, sharp dance moves, and clothing that enhances their personality as opposed to distracts, who’s also allowed to be angry. These are all qualities you’d see in a big name guy group like BIGBANG or SHINee. I mentioned in my article on Twice’s “Like OOH-AHH” that Twice is given guy group-style songs that have more punch, and called them a cinnamon bubblegum band. If Twice is cinnamon, then ITZY is a ghost pepper. They don’t hit – they bite.
I think that this makes them antithetical to many other girl groups because it’s in direct opposition to the way most girl groups are conceived. JYP has always been good about finding an opening in the market and making a band that exactly embodies this. I think that Itzy is the closest thing we have to a representation of what a modern late teenage, early twenties aged girl is like. They have more depth than that, as well as charm. They’re not a stereotype in any particular way, they just kind of exist. None of them are typecast into particular roles.
This movement away from typecasting probably started around 2010, as people generally speaking prefer chemistry between idols. I talked about this a bit in my Super Junior article, but the status quo of creating a group still held until at least 2010, perhaps even later. That status quo: you need a cute member, a mature member, a funny member, a cool member, and a stereotypical maknae. I would not say that ITZY has that – ITZY does have a member that’s more extraverted than the others but I would not say that a personality type is necessarily a role. From watching ITZY on weekly idol I would venture to say that they seem more like a friend group and less like an idol group. Perhaps that is a carefully constructed image, but it is an effective one. I do believe that ITZY more clearly represents young girls than most idol groups do.
ITZY has an innate connectivity to its audience of young girls that I think is really important. They don’t seem over the top happy all the time, and their songs are sassy and angry. They carry themselves with confidence and yet seem relatively calm and humble. There is less visible pressure on them to act like a stereotype, and that is something that audiences can clue into. I am not saying that their lives are devoid of pressure – they are idols, that unfortunately comes with the industry. But it’s clear that the pressure we normally see – bright smiles and constantly playing is not there. Perhaps the pressure is to seem more calm and reserved, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. In any event we’ll likely never know – it is, however, an image that can reach a wider audience.
I think ITZY is a group we need to think about more. They have a lot of positive qualities that I think other girl groups should have. I think the takeaway should be that idol companies should not be trying to create what is currently popular, but find the gaps in the market where people need more. K-Pop should ultimately be about giving people what they want, not telling people what they should want.
Blending styles. Splitting personalities. Looking into a mirror. Welcome to the magnificent world of Dreamcatcher’s music video, “PIRI”.
Since I’ve spent the last five weeks talking about Dreamcatcher, I want to touch on their newest release, “PIRI”, before moving onto other bands. “PIRI” blew me away the first time I saw it for a number of reasons. Everything about it kept me on the edge of my seat. The Korean word piri (Hangul: 비리) means “pipe”, thus the chorus means “play the pipe”. This invokes a pied piper image – the story of a pied piper being that of a super that led children into a cave with his music, never to be seen again. Thus “play the pipe” is probably a lyric indicating a summoning of some kind, as in “summon me to you, even if it means I lose myself in you.”
Why is “PIRI” important? Well the song and video are blends. Everything is a blend of styles, aesthetics, and it doesn’t hover over a particular aesthetic for you to get bored of it or find it overly predictable. Even within the genre of horror/thriller that the video has, it has a variety of aesthetic elements and subgenres represented. Even within the costuming, a number of different styles are at play. Even still, there are these divergences of aesthetics – pink juxtaposed with deep red, white juxtaposed with black, harshness juxtaposed with softness. Even on top of all of this, there is this consistent motif of mirroring, of doubling. Even within the chorus, “피리를 불어라,” or “pirireul bureora” (the aforementioned “play the pipe”) there is this beautiful repetition to the letters and sounds. So we have this blending, breaking, and reflecting. It’s like looking at a prism that refracts light into beautiful colors.
Let’s start with blending. K-Pop is a genre known for blending aesthetics together. Whether it’s in the music, or it’s in the music videos, it’s constantly mixing ideas. Even the languages are constantly being mixed – English hooks, Korean verses, Chinese and Japanese versions, sometimes even pieces of other languages like French or Spanish. Some would argue that this muddles the work, others would argue that taking pieces from other genres or cultures is stealing, but as someone who was born into a mix of cultures – my mother is Chilean and my father is Polish-American – I find this to be an admirable quality of the genre. It indicates that it’s constantly changing and bettering itself. It’s something I want to cover in greater detail in more articles, particularly with Super Junior’s push for more Spanish-language songs and the genre’s push as a whole to Tropical House and Latin beats in its music.
In my earlier articles, I grouped everything I analyzed into different components – music, color and costuming, story, and actual technical aspects of the film. For this article, though, we need to get a little more detailed. I will analyze the music and general technical aspects of the music video first, the color schemes, then move into each member’s individual costumes and inserts.
The song consists of three styles: pop, rock, and trap. “PIRI” starts with an electronic siren-like sound and has some loops of claps, clicks, and beats that are used in a lot of pop songs as of recently. However, there are also these electric guitar and drum pieces, particularly in the lead up to the chorus and the chorus. Thus it still fits squarely in the rock aesthetic that Dreamcatcher has. As for the trap part of the genre, the rap breaks in the song with Gahyeon and Dami are trap. It’s highly punctuated and aspirated – Korean is a language that lends itself well to rap in general because it is very percussive but also has no auditory spaces in running speech. But Gahyeon and Dami also have the right vocal quality for it – Dami has a lower register and a very fast voice, whereas Gahyeon also has the power and punch necessary to make this work while still having a moderately high voice.
Vocally speaking, most of the vocals are pop style. Unlike many K-Pop songs, there isn’t an attempt at making the singers sound more mature with vocal fry. For those of you who don’t know, vocal fry is the popping sound you’ll often hear at the end of sentences. In some dialects of English it’s considered standard, and in some languages it’s considered a tonal change that’s meant to differentiate words and vowel sounds. But if you speak American English or Korean, this is not a standard vocalic feature – older generations associate it with an attempt to be cool and thus failing, younger generations associate it with maturity or sultriness. Even though both sexes use this at equal levels of frequency, it’s most often associated with (and owned by) women. In K-Pop, I’ve noticed that this is frequently used to sound sexy (Hani from EXID, I’m looking at you; you used this A LOT in “I Love You”.) Dreamcatcher, on the other hand, doesn’t add this quality to their voices, which means to me that they’re working hard on keeping their pitch together as opposed to going for a specific aesthetic in their voices.
Following up on “What”, this music video is shot on a sound stage, most of the rooms made to look like stone tunnels and rooms. There is an exception, of course – the heavenly white room with the large windows that’s meant to look like the inside of a large atrium or ballroom. The white room is two stories tall, approximately, while the stone rooms are one story with an occasional space that’s taller for aesthetic purposes. There is also one stone room with a red curtain in the background to give some color and maintain continuity.
Camerawork in this is done well, but it’s not extravagant. It usually maintains motion, with some shots that are static so that the motion of members or other objects isn’t distracted from. The biggest place you notice this in “PIRI” is the dance parts, particularly at the beginning. When the members all move away from JiU in the first moments of the film, the camera is stationary to get a sense of motion. Then when the camera is pulled out to see the elaborate opening dance moves, it barely moves until the members do this move here.
This is done to underscore the motion of the dance as opposed to taking away from it. Then as the beat ramps up, so does the camera in most cases. It’s also important to note that most K-Pop MVs have a distinct lack of close-ups, but this MV has plenty.
In story scenes, stationary camera is more common, but there’s a reason for that. Stationary cam and one point perspective are considered horror staples. Dreamcatcher’s only non-horror MV so far has been “What”, so it makes sense that “PIRI” would follow horror since that has been what’s given Dreamcatcher the most success. Even in areas where you’d expect a lack of motion, however, the shots do maintain consistent zooms or slight shakiness.
Transitions and effects appear at multiple times in this video, but in subtle instances. It’s not usually done to distract but instead to enhance what’s happening on film. I did notice a lot of slow motion and doubling to give a sense of otherworldliness. Sometimes clips are even sped up for rhythm. The most off-putting effects for me were the TV effects and the “luma keying”. Keying is the process by which you remove a color from a film – effectively, the technical term for green screen effects. Luma keying is an effect used to cut out either black or white in a film – luma is the color correction term for shades of black and white. Think of luma as referring to luminescence. Anyway, those two effects were the worst for me (I’m a notorious user of the luma keyer myself but I use it either consistently or sparingly, it’s not really something you can “kind of” do without going all in.)
I actually found the most evident use of effects, the mirroring, to be the least intrusive. The best effects are the ones where you don’t notice they’re being used.
Lighting in general consists of pseudo-natural lighting, spot lighting, and strobes. I say pseudo because lighting is never natural on a sound stage, but it’s possible to make it appear natural. In the heavenly room, this is done likely with diffused pancake lights behind the window, then some more diffused lights inside the room to make sure the shadows are not overtly dramatic. At this point in my school career I have worked with those lights on a sound stage, and that’s the best way I can approximate that look. I would imagine the exposure on the camera is also brought up so as to make the room seem brighter. The darker bolder colors would be, as you say in the industry, “fixed in post.”
In the other dance sequences, the lighting is fairly dramatic and from the front, with consistent strobing and no backlights. The rest of the film is done with cinematic lighting, often golds and blues, and often simultaneously. It is meant to look like it’s underground, at least partially. Beams of light are shot from above, angled to imitate sunset.
As stated before, the white room is colored white with very few pops of color, but bold ones. When we see Yoohyeon in it, the entire room has a warm sheen, and her hair and skin are pink and gold hued, respectively. However, in the dance sequences, the room has a much cooler look to it. This is likely done to differentiate the two scenes and also bring out the red and black. Some of the members maintain a gold hues in their skin while others have cooler hues – I would imagine that this is representative of their actual skin tone. Even when there are attempts at whitewashing idols (N from VIXX and Yuri from SNSD/Girls’ Generation being among the victims of it) you can still see hues of their actual skin tone below all the “corrections”.
The second dance scene, the underground one, has very cool tones. The biggest pop of color is the mauve/pink of their dresses. The background is a greenish blue, and the strobe lights are a blue light. The floor seems to be brown, either wood or a wood-like flooring, but since it’s a stage floor it’s whitened by use and dust. This isn’t a bad thing, actually – it makes the film seem more theatrical and, when done right, that can be beneficial. It reminds me personally of my days doing theater videos. (Completely unrelated: if you’re ever in the Washington, DC area, check Georgetown Day School’s high school theater program and see if they have any shows – you will not be disappointed. My first real music videos were for that program and there will always be a soft spot in my heart for that time they did the Odyssey when I was a kid and had a stage that was an actual swimming pool covered in plexiglass.)
The cinematic shots are either very warm toned or cool toned. However, those are not mutually exclusive. Shots like Siyeon’s are mostly dark blue and with blue undertones. Gahyeon’s, on the other hand, is very warm. It’s still eerie and gives the underground feel, but it is definitely differentiating. Then you have parts like Handong’s, where it’s mostly cold but the foreground has some warm reds and yellows, or JiU’s, where there’s a warm room but the fill lighting is cool. In juxtaposition to JiU’s main scene, the TV sequence where she sees herself on the television mirrored is done in very cool tones with some off-white – this is the only time in the entire video where the color grading just did not work for me.
From here, we will move into individual shots, and what the costumes and plot says about each member. The members are evenly spaced: I would argue that Siyeon and Yoohyeon are the only ones with slightly more content than the others visually. Unlike my article on “Fly High”, where I uncovered every member in order of who has more, I will cover each member in order of appearance in the MV.
Yoohyeon’s inserts have her in two similar outfits, but both giving off very different vibes due to the colors. She mainly sports a short double-breasted coat with long translucent fabric around the waist and the buttons and opening in the front. Her shoes are combat boots. She has dangling earrings and short nails alternating in white and black. When her outfit is colored red and black in the white room, the body of the coat is black, the fabric around the waist is red, the combat boots are black, and her hair is in a ponytail. In the darker dance scene, the body of the coat is pink, boots are white, her hair again down, and she also sports a black tie. In the cinematic sequences, she wears a white gown, and her hair is in a half-pony.
The costumes, as well as context from earlier mvs, can give us insight into the kind of character that Yoohyeon is getting us to see. Pink is a softer color generally associated with innocence, but the tie indicates to me masculinity or maturity. So her pink outfit gives the impression of someone of a softer disposition. The half pony reminds me of the hairstyle she had in “Fly High”. However, she looks like a queen practically in the red and black outfit. It’s a commanding appearance. I might be reading too much into the subtler details, but the alternating nails might indicate duality.
Yoohyeon starts us off in the MV walking into the white room, where there is a single brown chair. She seems confused as to her surroundings, and finds what appears to be a horn on top of the chair. She examines it before seeing something that shocks her, then runs towards it. When the horn falls on the ground it starts leaking black fluid – black liquid is considered a typical horror image, usually leaking out of the eyes or something else that shouldn’t be.
Yoohyeon’s final shot is of her looking up towards the ceiling to see a mirror image of herself looking down.
Siyeon’s costuming is very mature, and I don’t mean in the sexy way (although yes, also in the sexy way). She mostly wears a suit for her inserts, one that shows her midriff. Her eyeliner is smokey and her lips are very light pink, and her hair is often pulled back in a ponytail. She does have a black scarf tucked into her side as well. With the pink she looks more effeminate while still being mature-looking, but the red and black makes her look much more adult and fierce.
Her inserts mainly take place in the underground rooms, where she’s wearing a nightgown similar to Yoohyeon’s, if not identical. It does fit her differently though; she looks less like a young girl and more like a woman in a retro time period. Her hair is in a side braid, which furthers a timeless look.
During her inserts, she keeps running through doorways, only coming back through a different doorway into the same room. She does this multiple times, before leaning against a wall and clutching her head.
This scene reminds me of Reimi’s alleyway in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable. In Jojo, the alleyway is haunted by a ghost, and you could get caught running through it and looping around no matter how many times you try to get out. Only Reimi, the ghost of a murdered 15 year old who haunts the alley, knows the way out, but she warns you that if you turn around to look over your shoulder, your soul will get ripped from your body and you’ll be dragged into hell. I don’t necessarily think this is a reference, especially since Jojo is Japanese and Dreamcatcher is Korean. But since Dreamcatcher’s motifs surround ghosts and magic, I wanted to note this comparison.
Siyeon is leaning against the wall when suddenly a hand reaches out from a doorway across from her. She stares in horror, covering her mouth and seemingly about to cry. She runs out of the room before it cuts away to Handong.
Siyeon gets one more series of inserts towards the end, where she is in the white room and sees a series of white ladders. She climbs them and sits on the top few rungs, waiting for something, before clasping her hands together. We’ll come back to this.
Handong wears a thinner dress with a tulle-style skirt. The front is ruffled, almost like it was clasped together, and she has a scarf tied around one of her arms. The red gives a more artistic vibe when she is seen in it, something a bit more edgy and contemporary, but the pink gives off a whimsical vibe even with the combat boots.
Yes, I spend a lot of time on the colors each girl is wearing, but there’s good reason for that – the way each is used emphasizes something different about their personality. Her nails are also clear or white, it’s hard to tell, but it gives the impression of someone who isn’t pretentious. It does bother me that visually speaking she gets less attention than any of the other members, but as we’ve seen from “Fly High” and “What”, this is fairly normal for Dreamcatcher’s company.
She enters a room with a bunch of clocks on the wall, and two sets of candles in the foreground. Like the other girls, she’s wearing a nightgown. The clocks are all from different time periods, and all set to different times. She seems confused but not to the extent that Yoohyeon was.
Suddenly all the clocks start ringing, causing her to clutch her head like it’s pounding. She rips one off the wall and throws it, before running off.
We get one last insert of her at the end. In this, she sees a series of broken mirror pieces refracting light, before looking at the camera.
Gahyeon is the maknae but they manage to nail something more mature for her while still making her accessible for the younger audience. She has a coat on, along with a sash over her chest and a cap in the heavenly area. In the underground area her hair is tied back. Her makeup is noticeably sparkly, with sparkly eyeliner under the eyes and lips that are mostly pink, but red on the interior.
Unlike the other girls, her outfit in the heavenly area is predominantly black, with a red sash – probably done to differentiate her from the other girls, but it shows that she’s moving in a more mature direction after earlier videos pigeonholed her into schoolgirl outfits. Her nails are also long and sparkly red. Her nightgown outfit has her hair down, which, combined with the nails and makeup, is a more eye-catching look than Handong had.
Gahyeon has a room similar to Handong’s, where there are a number of phones on the wall. One of them rings – we can know this from a similar effect used to indicate noise for Handong’s clocks – and Gahyeon picks up, clearly afraid of what’s going to be on the line. Her eyes go wide and someone covers her mouth, stifling what I assume is a scream, before she drops the phone. I actually thought this was her own hand at first, until I realized that the hand had no manicure and Gahyeon’s nails are bright red.
Her final shot is her in one of the dark underground rooms, with a light coming from outside, as if she found her way out.
JiU has my favorite outfit out of anyone in the music video. She has a dress with a tulle skirt and a train behind it, and a corset around the center. It works really well in both the pink and the red, but I’d like to note that the red dress almost looks like her stomach is exposed through the corset (it’s actually white but since she’s relatively pale skin and no one else is wearing white, it creates a sort of optical illusion), which is meant to draw attention to her physical appeal without being overtly sexualizing in any way.
The full picture does make her look like a leader, though I must say I don’t find that the pink hair really matches the boldness of her outfit. I didn’t get a good look at her nails, but from what I could tell they looked clear. Her makeup is very similar to Gahyeon’s. It’s meant to draw attention to her but still make her look sweet. I don’t think I have to reiterate the thing about the nightgowns at this point but yes, she does have one too.
JiU walks through a darkened hallway, filled with lamps and furniture. She finds a TV playing a video of herself sitting next to a woman in a veil. She takes off the veil in the video, and it’s herself duplicated. Both of them look at the camera, and JiU runs away in shock and horror. We notice later that both versions of the girl look at each other when they think the other isn’t looking. It’s surprisingly less than most MVs give JiU, but considering how other members have been shafted in her favor in the past, I’ll take it.
SuA has an outfit similar to Yoohyeon’s, but only with a train on one side. Her hair is down in both zones. I don’t have a whole lot to say about her costuming, but her hair is up in her nightgown scenes. I actually do like the dark red for her, I don’t think it’s overdone. If I have to differentiate the pink and red outfits in any particular way, I would say that the pink seems almost more wintery on her, whereas the red and black outfit makes her seem more artsy and modern.
SuA runs through the underground rooms before stopping by a cabinet and a few chairs covered with scary horror dolls. She examines one of them, which is wearing a red dress and some lace on the hair, before the other dolls slowly turn to look at her. As someone who was afraid of her Madame Alexander dolls as a kid, I got chills when I first saw this. SuA jumps and drops the doll, caught off guard completely.
Her final shots are of her standing in front of a mirror – when she reaches out to it, it ripples out from her hand like she’s in the Matrix.
Dami has a full suit as well, but unlike Siyeon, it doesn’t intentionally accentuate any particular features of her body. It seems like they just wanted to go for a bad*ss look for her. This translates very well in both colors, particularly because the top is completed with a cape and her hair looks like Ga-In’s circa Sixth Sense or Paradise Lost. Her nails are short and patterned. It’s cutting edge, it’s aggressive, I love it.
Dami’s inserts consist one again of her running through the hallway similar to the one that we see Siyeon running through, only this time it’s lit very differently. It seems less like Dami is running through the same hallway several times but instead like she’s trapped in a labyrinth. She sees a door on the end of the hallway with a lamp in front of it. She walks up to it and goes to open the door, only to get yanked inside.
Her final shots we see her walking through hallways in what looks like the heavenly room, though lit almost like it’s at dusk. She runs her hands over the walls before clasping them together and looking at the camera, like she’s in the midst of praying.
At this point this has been my longest article yet, but with good reason. There’s so much happening and so many small details. It took me two train rides to and from Washington, DC to write this. As a result, I’ll keep my final analysis brief. I discussed at the beginning how mixing aesthetics, sounds, etc. is a feature of K-Pop, but let’s branch out into actual themes of the work itself.
The album that “PIRI” is on is called “End of Nightmare”, which would initially leave you to believe that “PIRI” seems to be the amalgamation of the individual nightmares of each of the girls. But nothing is so simple with Dreamcatcher. Nothing ever is. The recurring themes of fear and running permeate throughout, but so do themes of duality and changing. If we are to take the song’s title, “PIRI”, for what it literally means, the girls are probably answering some sort of call. I don’t necessarily think this is a literal call like playing a pipe would lead you to believe, but luring them somehow. The thing is the pied piper, which I assume is where the song derives its meaning, is both written as a malevolent figure and a benevolent figure. Some say he leads children to their death, others say to their protection. So right away, we have a duality in understanding whether the call is good or bad.
I’m fairly certain most, if not all Dreamcatcher MVs take place in a connected universe of some kind, and if we are to believe that, it seems that there is some sort of mirror world, alternate dimension. I’ve compared this idea to Niel Gaiman’s Coraline in the past – a mirror world where the physics are different and it’s meant to lure you in and keep you there forever. I definitely think there’s something to that analysis, but not completely – I mean, if you saw the entire MV with women with button eyes, it would be ten times more horrifying. I actually think this is meant to be something closer to something like the original Silent Hill franchise, where it doesn’t really matter why something is happening but what it means. In which case, we don’t need an explanation for how they’re trapped in the mirror world. They just are.
I think that the mirror world is meant to be some sort of purgatory state and the girls are all trying to break out of it. They were trapped against their will with their fears and/or sins. However, if SuA’s final insert is any indication, they learn to manipulate it to their will. I have a theory for why they can manipulate it, but that’s an article for another time.
The thing that struck me as most odd was Siyeon climbing the ladder. She’s definitely in the heavenly room for some reason, but she sits on the ladder and waits. The hand clasping is also odd too – and Dami does it as well. So what does it mean? My assumption is that Siyeon found a way to get to heaven, but didn’t want to leave her friends behind. So instead, she waits for them at the ladder.
The video overall is immensely powerful. Everything down to the tiniest detail is constructed. Yes, I do have my criticism. But the video was so beautiful that even those criticisms are dwarfed in comparison to the magnitude of the wonder that one gets from watching this. I kept noticing new things as I watched. And yet, my work with this is not done. I still have much to uncover. I want to move onto other bands, but there’s more I have to say.
In the final scenes of the MV, we see all seven girls and their faces overlayed, before seeing Yoohyeon standing in front of a table with a number of candles on it. This invokes a sort of last-supper imagery, but I don’t think Yoohyeon is Jesus. That would be weird. Anyway, other girls all appear, and clasp hands together. The camera pulls out and the room goes dark, with a film filter over them.
I think this means all the girls choose to stay in this dimension – they’ve come to terms with their situation, could very well leave at any point, but have new power…and unfinished business.
In my article on Dreamcatcher’s “You and I”, I talked about the importance of balancing plot and visually pleasing images in a music video. I used “You and I” as an example of a music video that does a good job of balancing those things. In this article, I’m going to continue that discussion, but this time try to show it from a different perspective – where the balance between the two principles is thrown off, and the video feels disjointed. This is of course my critical opinion, but it is not the only opinion, and I welcome constructive arguments against my analysis.
Dreamcatcher’s “What” is one of their best songs yet, but its video feels not nearly as story driven – or at least, not well. There are elements of a story here, and the video is beautiful to look at, but there isn’t enough coherent substance to make it particularly gripping. However, it is a very captivating video visually, I just want to explore how the story takes a backseat to other elements of the video.
“What” is overall a great pop-rock song. It has amazing vocals, and the verses and chorus are clearly defined by electric guitar riffs and solid drums beats that get your heart pumping in the meter. It has good mixes of English and Korean words but doesn’t fall into the trap of using a ton of English words in the chorus and making it some weird half-translated mess. The bridge has some nice rapping by Dami but also JiU’s powerful vocals, keeping the styles balanced. Overall the song is a home run.
The video sports a more pop color scheme than past videos – deep fuchsia and indigo with hints of bright orange and other colors. Costumes take on a variety of styles, mostly modern hip fashion styles. Suits come back, this time in red, for JiU, and we see Gahyeon wearing more adult clothing than past videos where she was confined to the schoolgirl aesthetic, probably because she’s the maknae. There’s also a lot more sparkle – everywhere. Not exclusively on set, not exclusively in the costumes – there are sparkles all over the place. It’s a very flashy video and if you like that style then you’re going to love this video.
The camerawork is fantastic, and I do love the set. It feels far more modern than Dreamcatcher’s other videos, but it works for the song and fits the aesthetic that is put forth. I want to be clear – I don’t hate this music video at all. I actually love it. I just think that technically speaking, it could have been done better, and in the spirit of giving this music video a fair assessment, I think I should be hard on it.
As said before, story is implied in this video, but not in a way that is particularly cohesive, so I’ll do my best to try to unpack what I can. There are only a few actual storylines, the primary one being JiU’s and Yoohyeon’s. I usually try to unpack the details first, since I’m a more detail oriented person, but since the video is fairly lacking in story, I want to try to get to the bottom of theirs first, then get into the details.
JiU wakes up, fully clothed and in heels, in the street, and judging from her expression, it seems to be an unfamiliar one to her. She looks around in fear and confusion. Simultaneously, we see Yoohyeon in her bedroom, trying to sleep. There’s a snowglobe next to her with crystals inside, and that becomes a recurring image. At one point, Yoohyeon falls back onto her bed, eyes closed, and we see the sky flying past her, as if she’s rocketing through it in her sleep.
Eventually, JiU looks up above her at the rooftop of a building labelled “CACHETTE” (French for “hideout”). Yoohyeon is standing on the rooftop, with the skyline behind her. Yoohyeon suddenly wakes up in a room with paint dripping down the windows, and playing cards floating around her – all of them labelled Joker. We also see JiU wake up in the same location as before.
We’re led to believe there’s something important about the building, or at least a specific reason that the girls all end up there. We see Gahyeon and Siyeon outside it as well, and JiU – as well as a figure we can’t fully make out that goes inside it.
SuA is inside the building, and it appears like there was some sort of party or event happening, because there are balloons and confetti everywhere, not to mention pink caution tape. Gahyeon walks through it and surveys the damage, eventually running into SuA, who appears to be doing the same thing. We also see Gahyeon running out, only to be reversed on the footage and pulled back in.
As far as a coherent story goes, that’s about it. But we can get some stuff from subtext – Handong is hidden away in a closet somewhere, illuminated by red light from outside. Dami is sporting a more masculine and mature appearance – manspreading while surrounded by many chairs. Not sure why there are so many chairs, but I accept. We also see SuA teleporting while she’s singing between doorways, behind pink caution tape.
The rest of the inserts are generally disjointed – hands spray painting things, various shots of Yoohyeon’s room, JiU and Siyeon surrounded by umbrellas, a small clown toy spinning, the book from “Good Night” sitting on a pile of sand with a flower growing out of it…you get the idea.
“What” is good…but not great. Call me spoiled, but I vastly preferred “Fly High” and “You and I” in both technical aspects and story aspects. It was much clearer about what we should be looking for, without expecting the viewer to figure it out. It is by no means a bad music video, in fact I would argue that this video rivals some music videos put forth by more established groups. It’s effectively saved by it’s song, it’s choreography, and the talent of the members.
“What” does, however, push forward more visual things as opposed to substantive things. This isn’t always a bad thing though. The colors and costumes, for one, are much more eye catching. I love the use of pink and the way lighting sets a mood. But it uses special effects in a way that feels inorganic – the nice thing about “Fly High” is that effects were used sparingly, and even in “You and I” where effects were used frequently, they were done more realistically, to build the world instead of just showing off. And yes, the effects are definitely striking in this video – but also not very polished. It’s very clear that Yoohyeon is in front of a green screen when she’s standing in front of the skyline, and when Yoohyeon is rocketing through time and space on her bed, it does not look real.
The disjointedness of the story is probably what bothers me the most. Not because a music video with a disjointed story is bad, but it seems disjointed in the wrong way. Having a bunch of connected pieces out of order – that’s okay. I think that that can be done well and have a very positive effect. However, when doing that, you have to go off of somewhat familiar imagery, even if you incorporate something new.
I mention VIXX a lot in my articles, but that’s because they are a case study in good music videos. I want to take us back to their Conception trilogy, featuring the albums “Zelos”, “Hades”, and “Kratos”. The trilogy came out in 2016 and spanned several months, with the music videos “Dynamite,” “Fantasy,” and “The Closer”. Each of the videos was connected, telling a story rooted in Greek Mythology but not necessarily driven by it. Each video and song was wildly different from the last, but what made this trilogy work is the consistent imagery. N had the green eye tattoo on his hand, Ravi is associated with wine, and characters would often represent specific gods from mythology. I bring this up because the trilogy balances its plot with its visuals, constantly changing the visuals to match the music while keeping the story and its motifs solid.
“What” is clearly trying to establish a new direction for the band – maybe we’ll get less of the retro schoolgirl aesthetic and more modern concepts. However, even in doing so, it is important to maintain the story that has already been established, if you are trying to allude to or rely on it. And the video makes allusions to other Dreamcatcher music videos – the book from Good Night especially, along with the timing changes that were particularly frequent in “Fly High” and “You and I”. There’s also the notable absence of the infamous photograph of all the girls in white, motif that has been used frequently. I have a theory for how “What” could connect to the other videos, assuming it does, but that is still a big assumption on my part.
I think that “What” is a good music video, but it doesn’t feel like a good Dreamcatcher video. It doesn’t play with what it has, instead it tries to make something new but still rely on the old, and does so with not a lot of continuity. There’s still a lot to enjoy here, it just didn’t sit right with me personally. As we see later though, with “PIRI”, we get the best of “What” and also the best of the earlier videos as well…but that’s for next week.
When taking on a music video, substance and style are two different modes of filmmaking. Substantive films can have subtleties and steer away from overt, crazy imagery, often using the singers as characters in some drama or even getting rid of the singers altogether and focusing solely on a story. Stylish films often negate story, or have the story implicitly shown through subtle cues.
Within style for K-Pop, the biggest component is movement – constantly moving cameras, fast edits, dance shots, everything is very dramatic. You have to keep the viewer engaged not in the stories, but in the visuals. If the visuals have a story that’s even better, but the story is not necessarily what is primarily at play. Balancing style with substance is what makes a good music video.
Dreamcatcher’s “You and I” has a stylish music video, with enough substance so that the visuals still have meaning. But it focuses more on visuals and special effects than story. There is still story present, but it’s meant more to look appealing than communicate a coherent plot. Is this a bad thing? No. But it’s a different approach than Dreamcatcher’s usually story-heavy videos. A primary focus on effects and dance makes for a video that would work as a pleasant surprise for most fans.
Similar to “Fly High”, “You and I” has a more pop sound than rock, but still falls in the genre of rock-pop pretty well. Its chorus is catchy both in Korean and English, with lines in both languages to make it a more easily accessible song to both demographics. The chorus is primarily in Korean, but the hook is in English – “Baby you and I”. It has soft verses with dramatic drum beats, slowly building with time, with a magical quality to it that makes the song feel light and heavy at the same time.
The colors in this video are mostly shades of blue, with some scenes taking on primarily reds and blacks. Other colors are either neutral tones, or harsh blacks and whites. Costumes are more modern, but a few retro pieces that appear. There are also these short corset outfits with long sleeves in white, and leather straps in black – not something I would expect anyone to be wearing in the early 1900s. This starts the direction that this video takes towards style as opposed to substance – but as we can see here the two are not mutually exclusive.
There is not a lot of story in the video as a whole, but there are a number of moments with story that connect so that the video doesn’t feel like you’re watching incoherent nonsense. The film mainly revolves around Yoohyeon, who we see at the beginning of the video running towards some sort of portal. There are also a number of shots of JiU pushed to the forefront, but Yoohyeon is the star of this one. There are a few inserts, so I want to cover the inserts first to give all of the members some attention.
Most of the members don’t get anything related to the plot. Gahyeon has one insert, where she is in a mirror, being held by JiU. The mirror shot is also mirrored, so it’s more duality. Handong has a scene where she’s surrounded by strings, spiderwebs, and candles, next to a set of stairs and some canvases. Dami doesn’t even have a story shot, she just appears in another dimensional space, in a glass snowlgobe-like cage, before breaking it with her staff. This may get called back to in Dreamcatcher’s later music video, “What”, but at the time this didn’t appear consistent thematically. SuA has an insert next to a camera, but we’ll get back to the camera in a minute.
I will say this though about SuA’s scene. If you look closely behind her, at all of the photos, we’ve either seen a lot of them before, or can recognize them for thematic reasons. The picture from “Chase Me” is up there, as are some images that appeared on the wall of the final shots of that music video. We also see a darkened photo of a girl that appears in an earlier scene of this music video (but for sake of keeping this organized, we’ll touch on this later). There is also a picture of two women, seemingly twins, holding hands – and if you’ve seen Dreamcatcher’s “PIRI” music video, which came out this February, this might strike a chord.
There are two distinct zones, one that seems more realistic with rooms of a house and hallways, and one is some sort of alternate dimension, with floating objects, gray space, sand, and spiderwebs. The background of the second dimension is filled with stars and clouds. The biggest floating object that gets the most attention is the portal, a stone circle with space opening in front and light shining through it. Well call this the netherworld, since it appears to be something along those lines.
The one character who gets a lot of inserts is Siyeon, all of them surrounded around the same motif – photographs. She has a lot of old photographs that she studies with a light board and develops in a room with a lot of red lights. Hanging in the back of a room is the infamous photo from “Chase Me”. We also see the picture of the girl in shadow, which is on the wall in SuA’s insert.
One of the photos she develops – with the accompanying Gayeon and Handong – has supernatural qualities and catches on fire spontaneously. I assume that this is a callback to Good Night when the girls burn the photograph, ultimately saving SuA from the clutches of a tree monster. We can’t really see what’s on it, but it appears to be a picture of a girl surrounded by spiderwebs.
JiU’s scenes are reminiscent of the ones in “Fly High”, where she’s running through hallways – in a suit, this time, instead of her school uniform. The suit has creative stitching and patterning all over it, immediately reminding me of the suits in VIXX’s “Voodoo Doll”. This time though, we see what’s chasing her, in the reflection of the mirror – some sort of gray smoke monster hand. As she runs we see her stumbling and stopping right before a top, spinning on the ground. We also see her standing with her head slightly askew and her eyes blank while the lights from outside flicker past.
This brings us to Yoohyeon, who is the focus of the majority of the video. She has a number of shots where she’s sitting in a chair and JiU is standing behind her. The other girls are standing, scattered throughout the room, staring straight ahead and being perfectly still. JiU drops sand and starts whispering some incantation, and we see the gray smoke apparition, taking the form of a person, flying out of Yoohyeon’s body. I would assume that this is Yoohyeon’s soul, but it’s not very clear.
Later in the video, we see Yoohyeon walking an older woman to a couch, then posing behind the camera, the same camera that SuA is seen with earlier. The woman poses for a picture, sitting still – she seems older but more along the lines of middle aged, with brown hair. When Yoohyeon is about to flash the camera, she pauses and looks up in horror. The woman looks at her maliciously, then we see a shot of Yoohyeon with a shot of a spider appearing on the wall. Yoohyeon faints upon seeing it.
As far as I can tell, the woman is not real, but a representation of the spider that Yoohyeon murders in Fly High, which she kills with a magnifying lens. Since a camera with a a flash is another contraption that uses lenses to manipulate light, it’s an appropriate comparison. Later we see Yoohyeon sit on the couch where the woman was sitting, with some determination.
In the last part of Yoohyeon’s story, we see her running towards the portal, trying to presumably get back to the real world. However, she doesn’t make it, and collapses to her knees. However, this is shown in conjunction with the girls standing around her sleeping body in the netherworld, and her waking up. There’s also a shot that appears to be of some significance, where she’s reaching towards the sky and the gray fog surrounds her hand.
These shots are likely not in order – I would presume that a lot of these shots are meant to be at the beginning and we’re uncovering things as Yoohyeon comes to terms with them. So the order of events would be that she wakes up in the netherworld first, the gray mist surrounds her hand, she ends up plagued by nightmares or images in this netherworld, then tries to escape but fails. In conjunction with this, all of the shots of JiU seem to be in the real world, but if we take the hand in the mirror at face value, it seems like the netherworld is some sort of mirror world, akin to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.
I find that the camerawork in this is on par with videos like “Fly High”, where here is a much clearer idea in the cinematographer’s mind of what to get and how to work with the editor to get the right effects. A lot of the video is either slowed down or sped up, but not to an extent that seems unnatural, and in keeping with the frame rate so that nothing feels off subliminally. There are also a lot of gorgeous wide shots and close-ups, but the camera is almost never stationary. It moves with the music.
It also works beautifully with the dance – something that Dreamcatcher’s earlier videos were lacking. They had beautiful dance routines but rarely could you get to see everything. The dance is more central to this video as opposed to the story, so we really get to see it in all its glory. I think that’s important – the use of scarves works well to help you follow and capture the movements of their dance. It’s similar to VIXX’s “Shangri-La” stage where use fans as an inherent part of the choreography. I also like Dami’s use of canes, though I think that this is definitely underused.
Back to my original point – the difference between style and substance. The entire video is trying to balance story and visually pleasing motifs, and does so very well. In terms of substance, there are always pitfalls at trying to tell a nonlinear story. It’s a lot harder to follow than most story-based music videos. Does “You and I” do a good job of trying to get the story across? Or does it fall victim to what nonlinear stories try to do?
The video is inherently stylish – it’s entirely possible for people to watch the music video and just watch for the dance, and not pay attention to the story at all. The images are entrancing almost to the detriment of the video – you can get caught up in how pretty everything looks and not think about what the story is at all. And it’s clear how much money and production value they put in to make this video stand out, so in that case I would say it doesn’t do a good job of getting its story out there.
However, if you’re a fan like me, you won’t be content to just watch and not try to tie in some story. I do think it’s a valid approach to make music videos that have story only if you’re trying hard enough to look for it (BTS’s “Run” I would say is particularly good at this, as is f(x)’s “4 walls”). There are plenty of people who watch music videos and try to connect story pieces together, and plenty of fans who are invested in the girls’ characters, as well as the girls in real life. So having a story that is implicit, in the background, while making the song more to the forefront and having a few key story moments pushed to the front – that is a good approach to making a music video. It keeps the fans who like mystery-solving happy but also makes it accessible to casual fans.
In the end though, the approach that this video takes is not as much about story, but more about making the girls front and center. And that makes it a much more enjoyable experience – you’re watching a video that makes you not only invested in the world the characters live in, but appreciative of the girls’ individual talents and how they play off each other. Good costume and makeup design help with this, but also making the dance more central – that’s the biggest piece. Everything else takes a backseat and lets you appreciate the artists more, and that is a good move on the part of the directors.
Overall, “You and I” is a compelling must-watch for K-Pop fans. It has enough for the casual viewer and more than plenty for the invested viewer. It keeps you on your toes but also is entrancing and enjoyable in a less involved way. I personally think this is one of Dreamcatcher’s best videos yet. They still have a long way to go as a band that’s really only existed for 2 years – but they have potential, and this video uses their potential to its fullest.
In K-Pop, when a band debuts, it’s one of the defining moments of that band’s career. Whether it establishes a style or is the jumping off point for a variety of concepts that follow, a strong debut will be a factor in that band’s success later on. Of course that is not true for every band – Girls’ Generation’s debut was marked with a black ocean, where all of the audience members at a music show turned off their lightsticks. But it certainly was a defining moment for their careers nonetheless, especially when you consider the success that followed for them.
In 2017, the band Dreamcatcher went for an ambitious goal – a horror music video re-debut. Horror music videos, while not common in K-Pop, are certainly not unfamiliar. The most prominent ones that stick out to me are VIXX’s “Voodoo Doll” and Cross Gene’s “Black or White,” but there have certainly been others since then (though I would argue that the first truly successful and impactful horror MV was “Voodoo Doll”). But Dreamcatcher’s ambition comes from them being a female group, and them doing this as a debut music video. I consider this a debut because, even though Dreamcatcher did exist before this song, they existed under another group name, MINX. Their reformation signifies – at least for purposes of this analysis – a totally new group. Anyway, most K-Pop girl groups will usually go for a sugary sweet cutesy concept. On occasion, one will go for something sexy. There is nothing wrong with a particular approach, but doing something different on the first try could backfire tremendously on you.
That said, Dreamcatcher did not completely abandon the cutesy young girl group aesthetic or the mature sexy aesthetic. Their first video, “Chase Me”, was a curious blend of styles. The song itself was curious – a rock/pop song more akin to an anime theme than anything you would normally see in K-Pop. The vocals were strong, backed by heavy, fast guitar music, but with a playful, melodic edge that still worked with the girls beautifully. It was definitely the right song, for the right band. It certainly wouldn’t be for everybody – I can certainly see where K-Pop fans could get turned off since most music of the genre is more pop than pop rock. But there certainly is an audience for this style and Dreamcatcher makes it sound great.
The video sports an early 20th century vibe with some mid-to-late 20th century contextual items to make it seemingly timeless. The sets are beautifully ornate, in mostly dark colors, both cold and warm. The most common colors are darker shades of teal, green, blue, and gold, with the costumes in mainly black, white, or a maroon-red. The makeup is mostly pale on the girls, with red/dark pink lipstick mostly and black eyeliner, but nothing extravagant. This definitely coincides with most K-Pop makeup styles, but they do a better job in later videos of not whitewashing the girls. With all this in mind, the analysis can begin.S
Storywise, it’s a little hard to follow, but generally still easy enough that you’re not completely lost. The video opens with Jo Donghyuk, an actor brought on for this project, walking through a hallway. This could be an apartment but judging from the suitcase and the predisposition of the horror genre to associate hotels with hauntings, I’m going to just say it’s a hotel room. Donghyuk has a suitcase in one hand and a camera in the other, and films the room number, 808, before he enters. Right as he’s about to open the door, however, he sees JiU standing on the other end of the hall, holding a doll and wearing a white and gold dress.
Judging from the headwear, we can infer that she’s a nurse of some kind, or at least dressed as one. But that does call into question why she’s holding the doll if she’s dressed like an adult. I’m willing to buy that she’s dressed as a nurse for sheer aesthetic purposes – anyone who’s heard of Silent Hill will know that nurses are a staple of that franchise. However, I’d like to give this video a little more credit and say that there is a purpose for the costume choice.
In any event, Donghyuk films JiU, only for her not to appear on the camera, and then decides to ignore her and go inside his room. It’s a pretty standard hotel or apartment room, but it has ornate furniture. It actually, oddly enough, reminds me of Rubin Hall, a retrofitted dorm for New York University that used to be a hotel in the early 1900s. While a college dorm wouldn’t have such ornate furniture, the hardwood floors and decently high ceilings definitely allows the imagination to run wild, easily letting you picture what was there before.
Donghyuk takes out some papers and new clippings that he’s evidently collected over the years and tries to annotate them, but his pencil breaks. I mean, to be fair, he is sharpening his pencil with a knife. I wonder what elementary school he went to that taught children to use knives as pencil sharpeners.
Looking at the papers he’s reviewing, there’s some text, apparently in French and Italian, that reads:
“O.L. DE [covered]
88, Rue Osseghem,
BRUXELLES – 8
Stmo. Signor DE RYNCK!”
Bruxelles is French for Brussels, Belgique is French for Belgium, and Signor is Italian for Mr., akin to the Spanish “Señor.” None of this appears to be a reference to anything in particular so I imagine this was written for the story that Dreamcatcher is trying to tell. The author of the letter is apparently writing from a hotel, judging from the stationary. It appears to be typewritten. Due to the weathered quality we can infer that this is probably not a recent letter, but something archival, or an heirloom of sorts. Behind the paper, we seen an envelope from the same hotel, but further behind that, we see something that reads PATIENT twice, and then some unintelligible letters, parts of words that are cut off. So the nurse’s outfit that JiU is wearing starts to make a bit more sense.
Of course, I’m neglecting the elephant in the room, the picture of the 7 dreamcatcher members sitting like they’re the Shining twins in white dresses. This is also weathered, and warrants the significance of being placed on top of this letter. I wouldn’t be surprised if the photograph came from the letter but there isn’t enough to go off of. This, does, however, note what everyone probably inferred at this point – we’re dealing with seven ghosts of young girls. If we want to stretch this a bit we could also make a guess as to where we are – either the Palme Lugano hotel that the letter game from, or Brussels, Belgium. But that’s still stretching it a bit.
Donghyuk proceeds to deal with a number of strange occurrences, precipitated by the ghosts of the girls he’s apparently seeking. SuA swings a pendant back and forth, in typical hypnotic fashion, while Donghyuk sleeps, but when he wakes up, he can’t see her. Siyeon holds the door closed and keeps him from leaving. Gahyeon throws some books off a shelf to startle him. Yoohyeon changes the numbers on all the doors so that they all say 808. JiU floats in the hallway, sensually posed and ominously staring at Donghyuk.
The only two who are seemingly absent from this are Handong and Dami. Handong gets a few inserts where she’s sitting on a table and there’s a lamp swinging around her. She’s also in the reflection of a window that Donghyuk is looking through. Dami is the subject of – and later participant – of a cult ritual involving the other girls, also an insert. The cult imagery is recurring in many of Dreamcatcher’s later videos.
The ritual image appears later in the video, towards the end, inside one of the hotel rooms and in a video format. However when it comes up, it’s not the ominous ritual with the girls in veils as it is in the insert during the rap break with Dami. Instead it’s bright, and cheerful. It seems as though the girls, though their pranks have been seemingly harmless in their afterlife, they were all involved in something a bit less harmless than that, but were still somewhat innocent.
The girls’ pranks end up backfiring on Donghyuk as he finds himself locked out of his hotel room, hallucinating himself without eyes, and being tormented by JiU. He rewatches the film of himself getting scared and crawling away from JiU who, as previously stated, is imperceptible by his camera. It’s not clear if this event is taking place before or after he gets locked out of his hotel room.
In any event, he is later forced to break into what appears to be his hotel room with an axe. However, when he breaks in, it doesn’t appear to be his room – the walls are light colored and the photograph of the girls is in a giant frame. We see some more flashbacks of the girls in that room specifically, having a pillow fight, then we see Donghyuk smile ominously. The screen then cuts to the band’s name, as well as the song’s name. Furthermore, the song playing at the end are the opening notes from their next song + music video, “Good Night”, which I’ll cover next week. Even if you didn’t know that, it seems that there is something more there, a lack of a resolution. I mean…there’s also a To Be Continued there, but the ominous smile makes it more interesting to me.
There are many elements here that make this video memorable. First and foremost the aesthetic of the whole video keeps you on your toes. I always applaud K-Pop videos for having the perfect color scheme and aesthetics. I find that many other music genres, while they may look pretty, don’t have the right colors to associate moods with. Sure, bright colors might indicate happiness, but just because you have the bright colors of a Xerox machine in your video doesn’t mean you actually use them well. Dreamcatcher’s color scheme is mostly on point. I say mostly because it suffers from Harry Potter syndrome – if you’ve seen The Deathly Hallows Part 2 you know that having too much oversaturated green isn’t the right thing to do to give a sense of tension. Dreamcatcher’s video has this issue, though to an infinitely lesser extent. It’s also fixed in “Good Night” so I’m willing to write this off as just first-video problems.
Let’s focus on the positives for a minute. The timeless nature makes it more mysterious. The practical lighting makes it feel more real. The ghosts have a playful aura about them and the protagonist is both bland enough and compelling enough to show be a good viewer-insert character. There’s plenty here to leave you wanting more.
However, no video is without sin and this video certainly has them. For one thing, the dance routine, while beautiful, is not shot well at all. Things move too quickly and there is some awkward slow motion segments that leave you ultimately confused. It makes the entire routine hard to focus on – which is a tragedy, because the dance is gorgeous. There is also the problem of too many flashing/flickering lights, which is something that many K-Pop videos suffer from. It feels like a lazy way of trying to ramp up the tension. That doesn’t mean it can’t be well done. VIXX’s “Voodoo Doll” is an example of it being done well – however, that video is more about horror than it is about playfulness, and the flashes are in different colors, so it’s not just blinking white lights. There is also a lack of soft focus. Everything feels almost too sharp and while that can come across as cinematic, the aspect ratio is wide so the sharpness comes across as artificial.
The video is still strong though, in spite of these problems. Each of the girls seems unique, though there isn’t a whole lot of overt personality showing. The inserts of the girls are cute, sexy, ominous, in whichever way best suits them. I think that JiU and SuA are most compelling here because their inserts are the best constructed and their costumes stick out the most. Furthermore, JiU is clearly relevant to the larger story these videos tell, so I kept my eye on her the whole time.
As stated earlier, “Chase Me” plays with notions of innocence, maturity, and sexuality well. It tries to balance the different themes, presumably for marketing, but also within the context of the story. Women’s sexuality is often characterized in the context of temptation and with JiU that seems particularly evident. It seems that if she is not tempting the male character, she’s mocking him for some reason. However, there is a juxtaposition here with the childish nature of the pillow fight scenes or the pranks that the girls pull. So regardless of the tempting nature of JiU in context, she still seems like a deep and nuanced character, because she has the capacity to be childish.
In terms of maturity there are multiple themes at play here. For one thing, horror always forces an adult growth in a character, or freezes a character in childishness. “Chase Me” does both. Even the playfulness of the characters seems mocking. Then there’s the fact that they manage to successfully do some sort of cult ritual. The cult ritual is shown with Dami as the main victim but also with dolls as victims. Eyes are ripped off of the teddy bear, and that in turn effects Donghyuk. So there is a subversion, or even rejection, of childhood.
Not only that, but there are plenty of references to horror films in this. I’ve mentioned numerous references to The Shining, but there are even more. There’s the rug being hexagonal, and while this isn’t the same pattern as The Shining (or by extension Toy Story since the pattern is used in that as well) it definitely is a callback to that. There is of course the use of cameras, a la The Ring or Paranormal Activity. But what got me most was Donghyuk losing his eyes in the mirror. It appears to be a reference to Poltergeist, where a character hunting a ghost watches himself decay in a mirror and literally tears his flesh off. When I first saw that scene, I was fifteen, and scared out of my mind. The effect had looked cheesy at the time but body horror has always stopped my heart. The films that are supposedly alluded to, or at least came to mind for me, all have something to do with maturity or children, particularly The Shining and Poltergeist. The eye thing could also be a reference to SHINee’s “Married to the Music” where everyone loses a body part – Kibum loses his body, Minho loses his head, Jonghyun loses his mouth, Onew loses his nose, and Taemin loses his eyes. I find this unlikely, but hey, it is K-Pop, so maybe this was something that they thought of.
There’s something else – disguising tension as fear. There’s a video by YouTuber Dan Root that elaborates on this concept further in the context of video games. The case study that’s used is Metroid, specifically Metroid Fusion. Dan Root states that using techniques to increase tension but masking them behind story elements related to fear in turn causes you to feel fear. A similar principle holds to “Chase Me”. I would not say that “Chase Me” is particularly scary, but it is definitely unsettling, and you get the sense that the protagonist is scared. It can’t be too scary because it’s trying to work with a number of other themes, but it manages to make you feel unsettled on the first viewing.
Overall, the video is well done, despite the flaws that stick out. Again, it’s easy to be forgiving when it’s a debut. Super Junior’s “Twins” has some of the worst hair styles ever and immensely cheesy effects but, since they’ve gone above and beyond that since, no one cares that there were glaring issues with those videos. (It was also 2005 and I would argue that while K-Pop was fully formed musically, the genre was still undergoing its music video puberty.)
It makes it truly admirable, that Dreamcatcher was able to pull off something so memorable on the first round. They kept this up with later videos, making sure to elaborate on the story, and add more cinematic qualities. But “Chase Me” has charm to it, charm that could only come from a new group. It makes their growth that much more meaningful, but at the same time is hard to surpass. Their next song, “Good Night”, would have a video that gave even more insight into the world these characters live in, but still take another direction. And as we’ll see next week, it pays off.