Taemin’s one of those idols that’s just mesmerizing. His voice is very smooth, his dancing is very elegant. He constantly is pushing the envelope, trying new things and making his mark on the K-Pop industry forever. He is objectively an excellent performer in pretty much every way.
I love Taemin’s videos because they always go all out. The visuals are always very precise, very meticulous. Whoever directs his videos puts a lot of thought in to them, and it shows. However, there is a consistent overuse fo VFX in the videos, as opposed to practical effects. And while in many cases the videos are excellent with the extra animations, I find them overwhelming on occasion. There’s nothing wrong with a video using special effects to that degree, but it can distract from the performance. Today, I want to talk about one of Taemin’s music videos which has comparatively few special effects – most of the editing being in color grading, filters, and cuts.
I am talking about “Move”, one of Taemin’s releases way back in 2017. The video has no real story, it’s pure aesthetics. The lyrics don’t help shed light on any story either, they’re mostly about a girl who dances seductively. But that’s okay – it’s meant to showcase who Taemin is as a performer. The result is what’s mostly a performance video filmed in Hong Kong, with symbolic elements and a gentle dance beat.
There are three primary sets throughout the video – a street, a bridge at night, and a studio, which has three setups but none so elaborate that I could call them “sets”. The personality of the video comes primarily from the gritty street scenes, where there is trash, posters, and neon lights. The coloration of the street scenes is largely blue tinted, with Taemin’s lips tinted red and his skin tinted gold. Your eyes automatically gravitate towards him in any shot because of this. The bridge scene is largely tinted gold, while the studio scenes use lights to tint the environment the three primary colors to distinguish them from everything else.
This grittiness comes in direct contrast to the clothing Taemin and his backup dancers are wearing. It’s clearly designer clothes, too expensive to be “street”, but it’s trying to emulate a particular casual style. It actually reminds me of G-Dragon’s “Crooked” video, where G-Dragon sports similar sleeveless tops. However, I’d argue that Taemin’s style is more refined – not in terms of quality of clothing, but in how it’s put together.
Nevertheless, Taemin’s clothes separate him from the background. If the environment is dominated by light colors, he’s wearing black, and vice versa. His backup dancers usually wear solid black, with occasional designs. However, if they are wearing designs on their clothes, he is not. They also are all wearing jewelry, and lots of it, while Taemin usually only has a bracelet on. There is of course the scene where they’re in the studio and Taemin has a glittery mask on…I still don’t really know why he has it but I think it’s meant to just showcase his coolness.
In terms of practical effects – which I would argue are the best kind of effects – there is only one major effect. That would be rain. Rain is used throughout the video, and with good reason, too – it makes everything seem more spontaneous. Adding the extra layer of movement adds depth to the world. Suddenly, you can feel the rain on your own skin and hair. Filming in rain is really challenging so I imagine they used a rain machine, but I could be wrong. My classmates have filmed in the rain, and I’ve been on sets in the sleet. (Word of advice: don’t shoot in sleet. Everyone’s miserable.)
Shooting in the rain is not something everyone does because it’s cumbersome. It requires a lot of patience and dedication, as well as a lack of self preservation because shooting in rain can get cold and uncomfortable. The point is it’s very impressive that they shot a good chunk of the video in this setting. The video would not be complete without this touch.
Now for the fun part. The use of VFX is much lighter in Move than it is in other videos, but that’s not to say it’s completely absent. For one thing, the colors are much more intense than they would be naturally – even the outdoor shots come across as theatrical. Then much of the video has a soft, vaporwave style filter over it, while another good chunk of it has full-on TV style glitches. In those situations it feels intense.
The thing is, the video is not reliant on these effects. These are purely done for aesthetic purposes, to give a feeling of a world. They’re not necessary. One only needs to look at the solo version of the video, which features Taemin dancing with his backup dancers but cuts out all the ancillary inserts. In fact, the most important editing in the video is done through strategic cuts or transitions. On occasion, the frame will move slightly within the shot, but always on the beat. The cuts, in turn, are built around the beats and Taemin’s dance. Taemin is always the centerpiece.
There are three moments where there are lots of VFX – however, these three moments are isolated. You have the rain moving backwards, which is just an act of rewinding the video. You have the faces being blotted out, which is mostly just masking the video and putting some cool stuff underneath, and making the mask glitch out. Lastly, there’s the sequence at the end where Taemin’s body seems to fade in and out. I don’t entirely know how they did this but my guess is they keyed out one color, or a range of colors, slowed down the footage below, and added some effects to it. It seems pretty simple, but it’s a hard balance to strike.
As filmmakers, it’s our job to find the emotional core of something, and for “Move”, the core is Taemin himself. Any visual effects are just accessories so that the true gem can shine. This whole video is designed to showcase Taemin as a performer. It’s kept very simple, the camera rarely leaves him. There’s no story, because the video relies on Taemin himself to carry the mood. And that’s a good thing. When you have raw talent like that, you just have to let them do what they do best. Sometime the best directing is no directing at all. Just let the person exist, in their space, as they are.
It’s been a while since I last talked about Sunmi and since then, there have been a number of releases from her, which gives me a lot to talk about. So, when doing some research on her new releases, I decided to take a listen to “Noir”. And, let’s be honest I was blown away.
“Noir” is a strangely serene, eerie alternative-pop song. It’s very repetitive in its underlying tracks and chorus, but for some reason it still feels new every time I listen to it. The song transports you to another world, a bubble that colors your whole world around you. It’s not a bubble of safety but a bubble of perspective. The music video itself is all about perceptions and changing how you act to appeal to a mass audience.
Honestly, this is something I personally grapple with as an artist and as a child of the internet. Do I tell people about all of the hard things I go through? Do I put on a smiling face? Or do I do what some people do and capitalize my troubles? “Noir” is a beautiful video that explores this issue in a number of creative ways, all with bright colors and crisp visuals. While the video does go in some scary, downright frightening directions, it never ceases to be visually pleasing – which shows the exact issue that the music video is struggling with.
The aspect ratio of the video is 1.375:1 approximately – the video is generally letterboxed on the sides. This narrows our perspective and gives us a retro feeling. 1.375:1 is in fact the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences standard. It’s an interesting choice because the standard aspect ratio of YouTube and most music videos is 16:9. So even though the music video is intended to talk about the internet and modern day, it’s shot to give the feeling of traditional filmmaking – the kind you’d send to be developed off site and not know how it looks until you are in the cutting room.
The colors of the video are generally pastels, but there are some bold colors that stick out – red, fuchsia, blue, turquoise, orange. There is minimal use of black, but it stands out whenever it appears – usually on one of Sunmi’s outfits, or in the shadows. But what makes the film so dynamic is the texture. In fact the first shot we get is pure texture – Sunmi’s barely-chapped, gloss covered lips. Her hair and her clothing also provide texture, not to mention cloth backgrounds, furniture and of course, fire.
The symbolism hits particularly hard, specifically with regards to how actual filmmaking works. I will deliberately choose to not be patronizing and explain the purpose of the cell phones, selfie sticks, use of “like” and “dislike”, etc. because those are so prevalent in modern culture. But what makes Sunmi’s “Noir” work is the subtle symbolism. The reference to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the knife game, the reference to “Gashina” – none of this is explicitly spelled out for the viewer, but due to our collective internet culture, we feel the weight of those visuals. They mean something to us.
However, what impacts me the most is the way framing of the shots, both on a broad and small scale, impacts the symbolism as a whole. Framing a shot can make or break your whole movie. The effectiveness of the way “Noir” is framed can be shown in four specific scenes: the flowers scene, the wine/death scene, and the makeup-gone-awry scene. The first two heavily rely on the phone as a tool for framing, but the makeup one does not – and we’ll dive into why.
The flowers scene is comprised of two specific shots. The first has Sunmi singing next to some flowers, in what looks like a rose garden. It’s edited to look like an instagram post of Sunmi’s. But in the next shot, we get a wide of where she actually is – a bathroom, with some strategically placed flower pots on a shelf next to her. She’s perfectly centered in this wide shot, sitting on a toilet in some glamorous, designer outfit, with her hair filled with butterflied as she sneezes into some toilet paper. The shot is continuous, slowly dollying into her face. In two shots, we have a whole story.
The death scene is composed of three shots, though two are nearly identical. It’s effectively the inverse of the other one, in that we start wide, then see the phone perspective. It’s pointed downwards on what seems like a tripod, but because the floor is at an angle everything feels weirdly slanted. Sunmi dominates one third of the screen. A wine bottle pours straight downwards, while a wine glass sits on the far left perfectly normal. The shadows are intensely dramatic, making Sunmi look extremely ominious. The next shot is a close up of her on the ground, next to the spilled wine, which looks suspiciously like blood. She sits up unharmed as the camera pulls away and we see her full body – but the next shot, through her phone, is an image of her on an Instagram Live, looking fairly dead next to that wine. People in the comments are worrying about her. Framing is everything.
Without the phone being used as a viewpoint, the makeup scene is particularly haunting. We get the mirror shot in the bathroom, with the main viewpoint being Sunmi’s lips as she puts red lipstick on in a pastel green room. We punch closer – the lipstick is now being spread across Sunmi’s face. The next shot of her we get, her hair is teased up, her eyeshadow is smeared, her lipstick looks kinda like the joker’s smile. Finally, we get a wide of the bathroom we saw earlier, however at an angle. She’s smack in the center, barely illuminated while her shadows fall across the wall. The intense angles of the shadows in this scene show just how broken she’s become by the time we get here – and yet she’s still taking photos for the world to see.
Sunmi’s “Noir” is a beautiful way of showing just how complicated our world has become with social media. It takes an anti-social media stance, however, I don’t think it’s completely against it. I think it would be more accurate to say this is against using social media to make a false version of yourself. As with any medium – film, literature, art – your phone can be used for good and evil. Film has been used for propaganda, literature has been used to control people, art has been used in politics. We now have the ability to cause world change with our fingertips with our phones, and yet we spend our time on social media creating false versions of ourselves. We have a powerful and dangerous tool at our disposal now. Sunmi is hyper-aware of that, and the power that comes with being an idol.
With the death of Choi Jinri, better known as Sulli of f(x), hitting headlines yesterday, we have to call into question how we treat other people online and how we depict ourselves. Sulli was actively against cyberbullying, having been the target of much of it. We have to call into question the role that K-Pop fans and anti-fans played in her life, and how we can learn from what we collectively did right and wrong. We also have to call into question the pressure idols feel to always have a good time on camera and never show their struggles – or if they do, to monetize their struggles. “Noir” is incredibly important in showing us the pain of an idol’s experience, as well as the experience of the individual. It’s not that we should collectively harness the power of social media to “do good”, but rather be aware of the power we have, and how it can positively and negatively affect our lives.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE WILL DISCUSS TOPICS THAT MAY BE CONSIDERED INAPPROPRIATE, INCLUDING SEXUAL THEMES. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Originally this article was going to be about Sunmi’s “Gashina”, if I’m being totally honest. But in the process of organizing a K-Pop presentation for my university, I ended up hung up on “24 Hours”. You know how you get little voice nagging at you to do something? It kinda eats away at you and pokes at your mind, trying to get you to pay attention, to listen. Well, here I stood, caught between two beautiful music videos. While I definitely want to talk about “Gashina” soon, I think my efforts are best served talking about “24 Hours” while these thoughts are fresh in my mind.
Sunmi is part of a new wave of positive female role models in K-Pop. What started with bands like 2NE1 and SNSD/Girls’ Generation has now come full force. Bands like Brown Eyed Girls and Mamamoo show strong women; younger girl groups like PRISTIN, gugudan, and Red Velvet show girls as being forces in their own right; soloists like Ga-In, Yezi, CL, and Kahi show what it means to be a woman in K-Pop. Girl groups like TWICE and BLACKPINK dominate the charts. MOMOLAND skyrocketed to fame in the course of a month. K-Pop is no longer a man’s playground.
Sunmi’s transformation from a member of Wonder Girls to a powerful artist all on her own is indicative of this change. She has an incredible presence onstage and translating that into a music video leads something innately addicting. Her style is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying that she’s very talented.
Which brings us back to “24 Hours”. The song was part of Sunmi’s reintroduction into K-Pop after leaving Wonder Girls in 2010 to pursue her academics. Sunmi would go on to resume promotions with Wonder Girls in 2015 before their quiet disbandment several years later. Sunmi is now at MakeUs Entertainment, becoming incredibly successful as a solo artist. She’s been composing much of her music on her own now, which is why it sounds so different from her early solo works (largely composed by JYP himself). Yet the seeds are planted in “24 Hours” for what Sunmi would ultimately become. Just as 2NE1 would not have been what they became without “Fire”, I feel as though Sunmi needed to do “Full Moon” and “24 Hours” to experiment as an artist before turning into the megalith she is now.
I must say, this is one of those music videos I should probably avoid watching on a loop on the quiet car of the train going home, but who cares when it’s just that drop dead gorgeous? And it’s probably better than watching something like AOA – not that AOA is bad. On the contrary, AOA is very good. But that’s not what we’re arguing here, is it? The point is, it’s a very intimate video, the kind that hath earned a 15+ rating back in the simpler times of 2013.
The song itself is fantastic, but its subject matter is something that has been tried many times before. The verses and chorus are all about how time is finite and “24 hours is not enough”, wrapped in a healthy dose of sexual implications. The beat is pop but very percussive, and yet the vocals remind me almost of a tango. The bridge is even reminiscent of that. There’s also the prevailing use of clocks ticking, especially at the very beginning – it feels like you’re listening to a time bomb.
Color-wise, this is a testament to the incredible use of color that K-Pop has. Everything is very soft, but implies sensuality. Sunmi’s hair is mauve, and it’s the only thing that’s pink in the entire music video that isn’t a lens flare. Whites and blacks are paired with faded golds, reds, and indigos. Even purple makes an appearance. There’s also a great use of metallics, off-whites, browns, and grays, particularly in the background. Sunmi’s skin is also gold-hued, which is very different from the pale skin she had in “Full Moon”. Her boyfriend for the MV is also gold-skinned. As my mother calls it, it looks like they were dipped in honey.
The story seems fairly simple at first glance. Girl meets guy, girl has sexual relationship with guy, guy stops reciprocating. But what’s interesting is that at the end of the video, after all is said and done, the entire video starts rewinding. This is probably tied to the lyric about how 24 hours are not enough time, and Sunmi is rewinding time to spend more time with her new squeeze. However, it’s possible to see this in a more melancholy way – perhaps Sunmi and her boyfriend broke up when her boyfriend stopped reciprocating, and she’s rewinding time to undo her past transgressions, or try to win him back.
The video likes to play mind games. With the time changing and the motion blurs, combined with clever cutting, the entire music video becomes a sort of dreamlike experience. I mentioned in my article on Ravi’s “NIRVANA + Alcohol” that movement is important in making a K-Pop video. That is evident here. Much of the edits revolve around how Sunmi herself moves. Keep this in mind with the dance sequences, as the cuts help you follow how she moves.
Let’s keep that in mind when analyzing the dance. The camera starts at her eye level and generally speaking stays on the ground, going up. This is commonplace in a lot of K-Pop videos, done in part to highlight the complex dance movements, also in part to emphasize the sexiness of idols (which we’ll get to in a minute). I noticed though that Sunmi is not always in the center of the shots. This actually ended up being beneficial in some cases, because we get shots of Sunmi from the side that look spectacular. There’s only so many center shots you can get from an MV.
I remember watching this video again for who knows how many times and freaking out over an incredible scene. At the very beginning we see her get lifted by her boyfriend, gently put against a wall, then rolled into a bed in a seamless transition. It looks like she’s outside at night for one minute, then suddenly in the apartment, then on the bed.
It looks like one shot, but how did they make this work? They can’t have made her do the exact same poses, that’s physically not possible (unless you’re Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black and can do LITERALLY ANYTHING). After watching the video too many times while writing this article, I can tell you how they did it, and it’s actually pretty interesting.
There is only one transition in this clip, going from the initial dance sequence to the apartment scene. The dance sequence, which involves the initial part of choreography in the rain, is done in a studio, and I would assume that the apartment scene is done in a studio as well. When the light flickers on beat with the music as it turns into the very first verse, you may notice the rain machine stops. As the camera pans to the right, keeping the focus on Sunmi’s face, we see that one of the walls has neon lights on the back as well as other assorted lights. The other assorted lights are in fact fairy lights against a curtain. The orange light from the first dance sequence fades out so it looks like they’re really outside. When Sunmi is lifted up, a deep gold light turns on and the camera moves behind a curtain of fairy lights. Since the camera isn’t focusing on them, it looks like outdoor bokeh. The couple spins and there’s a crossfade to a pitch black screen.
Not a moment too soon, we’re introduced to the apartment. If you notice however, we only ever see two walls in this scene, forming a corner. The light keeps on Sunmi and is meant to loo like moonlight, but it’s really a spotlight. Sunmi’s boyfriend rolls her to the side, in front of the camera, and onto the bed. How does this work? Well, for those of you who are familiar with BBC’s Sherlock, you may be familiar with this scene from A Scandal in Belgravia.
In this scene, the bed is pushed up with springs, and Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t move. He’s holding a bedsheets in his hands, and pulls it up to his chin. There’s a similar thing happening here. The bed is vertical. The pillows are pinned to it, as are the sheets. It’s meant to look like a horizontal bed but that’s just a trick of a change in camera angle – you can see it if you slow down the frames and watch in slow motion. The camera shifts 90 degrees to the right, but does it in a subtle way. You can also tell because Sunmi’s hair is somehow floating above her head, which wouldn’t make sense unless you saw the entire screen from a different angle.
This moment is one of brilliance. It’s cut nearly seamlessly. If you’re not paying attention, you might not have realized anything was changing at all. It’s meant to fool you. I think the fact that this whole sequence has evaded me for so long is a testament to how well it fools you. (Except the bed thing, that took me maybe three or four watches to get because I’ve seen Sherlock).
One of the things I always look for in a music video where women are the artists is how many men there are at the center of the story, and whether or not their faces are shown. When women are objectified the focus is always on their bodies, so my curiosity is always drawn to whether or not the same treatment is applied to men. A good example of this is “Kill Bill” by Brown Eyed Girls. The entire music video revolves around the original Tarantino films, but to keep the women at the center, men are either facing away from the camera, or they have a cowboy hat pulled low over their faces.
Sunmi’s video, while not going to that level of reverse objectification, does a good job of putting the focus on Sunmi herself. The camera is always facing her face in story sequences. When it isn’t, the man in the music video has his face bowed down or looking away from the camera. Sometimes his back will be to you, while Sunmi runs hands over his muscles. But more often than not, she’s looking at you.
We also get no uncomfortable shots of her body. The only ones that come close to me are her feet at the beginning of the video, when she’s sitting on the bed, and the one scene where she takes off the shirt she’s wearing, and you don’t even see her do that in full. You could make an argument that the thumb over her lip is inherently sultry but I wouldn’t necessarily qualify that as complete objectification.
There is of course the nature of wearing a men’s shirt and her shorts, something that’s considered inherently sexualized. My personal take on this is that just because something is sexy does not make it objectification. Sunmi dresses similarly in later videos, and even has undressing sequences. Furthermore, we were recently introduced to girl group Laysha, which literally revolves around being sexy, even going so far as to have a flashing scene in one of their MVs (facing away from the camera, of course), so clearly the bar for what counts as exploitation or objectification has risen significantly. I do want to talk about that more in this context but for now I’m just going to leave this screenshot of Laysha’s music video “Party Tonight” to make my point.
Before we go on, let me just say I have no problem with sexy girls in videos as a general rule – I listen to AOA and Laysha and any other sexy girl band. But I do think it’s important to understand what the limits of what society at large deems appropriate. As far as I’m concerned, Sunmi’s video “24 Hours” falls within the realm of what I consider okay, if pushing it somewhat. That said, I fully acknowledge that many people would consider this kind of content inappropriate, and that is for you to determine and grapple with on your own. I am here to provide an analysis but I cannot dictate what your morals should be, only state what my morals are.
With all this in mind, it’s interesting how the video depicts intimacy. Some of it is overt, for example Sunmi lying in the bed with her supposed boyfriend, or her crawling on top of the table. But it also depicts intimacy in subtler ways. A hand going over Sunmi’s face, her sitting on the bed with her knees up, the transition into an a modern tango. Furthermore, the video uses shots that are mostly out of focus, so Sunmi and her boyfriend are the ones your eyes go to. It also uses a number of very clever transitions so that you barely notice anything but the two of them and their dances and sexual escapades.
Overall, this video does a great job of depicting Sunmi as a strong idol in her own right, but it lacks the power and punch that later videos of hers have. In those videos she’s powerful, but in this one, she’s eye catching. I think that without “24 Hours” we wouldn’t have the Sunmi we have today, just as without those early Madonna songs we wouldn’t have the Madonna we have now. While Sunmi is very different from the Sunmi of “Gashina”, “Heroine”, or “Siren”, we can appreciate who she was in “24 Hours”, and appreciate this beautiful art.
Warning: this song contains a fair amount of swearing. Swears are censored in the article, but I can’t say the same for the music.
This may be a K-Pop blog, which in other words means we’re talking about Korean, but today, let’s start with a different language. In Sanskrit, nirvana means “becoming extinguished.” In Buddhism, this means to “blow out” your desires and hatred in order to achieve a complete absence of suffering. It has been westernized to just mean heavenly, blissful, without care. Achieving Nirvana means that you’ve become enlightened. You’re blessed. You’re free.
Now let’s do another vocabulary lesson. Alcohol. A controlled substance, recreationally used in some cases, medically used in others. It is known for lowering inhibitions, relaxing the mind, inducing depression, and in many cases, causing fatal accidents. Ancient cultures worshipped it, and many people still do. It’s one of the oldest drugs on earth, and it’s definitely one of the most addictive. And yet, despite its destructiveness, no one can seem to pull away from it.
Kim Wonsik, known more colloquially by his stage name “Ravi”, released his mixtape NIRVANA in early 2018. Ravi has been doing mixtures for several years now in conjunction with his promotions alongside boyband VIXX. VIXX is known for two things primarily – their horror music video “Voodoo Doll”, which I’ve mentioned multiple times in my articles on Dreamcatcher, and for being invited to a private concert for the International Olympic Committee by the President of South Korea to perform their traditional Korean-style dance “Shangri-La”. Even so, each of the members has a career in their own right. Until recently, all six of them still lived together in a dorm by choice – I say until recently just because the leader decided to move into his own place right before military service – and yet, they continue doing music together as a whole. To me, that’s the mark of artists who enjoy working together.
But Ravi is an interesting case. He’s been writing for the band for years, mainly his own raps so he can keep his own tempo and intonation. You’ll see this a lot with artists, particularly in K-Pop. One of his favorite artists is G-Dragon, so we can consider him a spiritual successor thereof. But his style is unique, as his voice. Intelligent and fundamentally educational concepts are interspersed with “f***in” and other swear words. A bad*ss rap riff will be cut short by him jumping at the sight of a fly. He’ll wear rugged clothing in one shot and a full three piece suit in another. He’ll be surrounded by half-naked women in one music video and then in the next mixtape say that men who disrespect women should “eat their d***s like candy”. That is an actual lyric of his. One thing’s for sure, in an industry where there are tons of rappers, all of different walks of life and different perspectives, Ravi is enigmatic.
The music video for “NIRVANA”, however, isn’t solely for the one song. Towards the end, the entire video makes a sharp turn to something tonally different. It ends with his song “Alcohol”. The transition is so seamless, I didn’t realize they were two different songs. Nevertheless, the content of those songs is very different. “NIRVANA” is about someone who is content with himself. Alcohol is about someone who drinks to distract from his problems. It’s strange, but it’s revealing about the kind of person Ravi is. He’s someone who doesn’t see contentedness and depression as mutually exclusive subjects for an artist. It’s oddly refreshing.
The video, filmed by Brainshock Pictures, is oddly surrealist – doesn’t surprise me from the perspective of a fan of Ravi, but it’s still unlike other K-Pop videos. It does something most K-Pop videos don’t try to do. It doesn’t try to distract you. Instead it makes you calm. It makes you relaxed. You can sit back and actually enjoy his voice – and the video mimics his voice. Not the other way around. You’re not just experiencing a performance artist – you’re experiencing a musical artist.
Ravi’s voice is perfect for this kind of filmmaking because he’s very percussive in his speech and he has a good range. His songwriting is almost like painting a picture. Even I, someone who doesn’t understand Korean fluently, can feel his intention just from the way he raps. He paints pictures with his voice. Combine that with superb sound mixing on the part of Ravi, PUFF, and Park Jimin, the guest singer on the album and you have something masterful. Whether or not you like rap, you can tell it’s handled with care – therefore the video must be handled the same way.
“NIRVANA” as a song is an experience in of itself. It starts out with static that faintly sounds like the outdoors, then moves into chimes with a very soft melody behind them, and a woman speaking in what I believe is French. What’s interesting is what the video does in these opening notes: the first shot, during the static, is of Ravi standing in what appears to be a desert of some kind, flipped upside down. The next shots are of Ravi sitting on top of a rock, Ravi blindfolded standing with the phases of the moon, two Ravis mirrored across the sky, and Ravi standing with the blindfold, Ravi standing in the desert again, and a sunset.
What’s incredible is how these shots are colored and edited to match the music. The music has hardly begun, and yet we have something that works with it perfectly visually. The entire music video goes along these lines, making something with very little story and instead, aesthetics. It’s made to make you feel good, and that’s what it does.
Let’s talk about the editing for a hot minute. When editing music videos, you have to keep one eye on the sound waves and another on the viewport. You also have to be mindful of how the visuals themselves capture the sound – you don’t need to edit a clip if you have visual components already that indicate rhythm. The screen is going to be your friend and your enemy.
The movement that already exists on screen is mostly Ravi’s movements. He’s by himself for most of these shots, and when he’s with someone, he’s with himself. So how do you make more movement, more beats, out of his movements? Well you follow his hands. With almost every sweep, every gesture, some effect makes the video pulse, or glitch. If there isn’t, there will likely be a cut in the video, or a beat drop in the song to capture that movement.
The filmmakers aren’t content to just let him be by himself and let that be a continuous uninterrupted shot. There might be a prism glitch, or it might be colored such that it’s clearly edited. The thing is, it feels like he’s running through a parallel dimension more than it feels like there are effects layered on top. There are moments where it feels unreal – but it’s also not really meant to feel real. It’s meant more to capture the mood.
Some of the effects are a sort of scrubbing, as if you’re messing with a record player. Others are retiming, giving the same effect. Pictures will be played on reverse and then played again forward. Sometimes you see Ravi and you’ll see other versions of him superimposed over him. Sometimes the screen moves almost like a liquid, as if the visuals themselves are rolling off Ravi’s tongue. Even if you see the same effect twice, it never feels like the same effect.
The colors are very bold and deeply saturated, and yet it’s constantly changing. Ravi runs through pink fields, dances in purple ones, hovers under turquoise skies and runs alongside an orange ocean. It feels like they went to Home Depot and plucked the prettiest, boldest colors off a wall, regardless of what they were. And yet the colors are picked for specific reasons – blue is associated with peace, purple invokes romanticism, pink invokes playfulness, sunset orange catches the eye, and the spots of red create a sense of boldness. Combine that with he prevailing black in the clothing and shadows and you have this ambiguous calm. It’s a miniature Nirvana.
Symbolically I’m not 100% sure what the video is meant to convey other than an emotion, but I have a guess. I think part of it is meant to inherently be about wonderment. We see numerous times a moon that’s almost pulled to Earth. It’s like a lite Majora’s Mask.
However there also appears to be a theme of solitude, as well as mirroring. Mirroring in particular seems to be a theme as we see Ravi interact with himself. If we combine all the motifs (wonderment, solitude, and mirroring) we can assume that it’s meant to be about someone accepting themselves and seeing themselves in the same cosmic way we see the moon.
Let’s juxtapose this with “ALCOHOL” – the song “ALCOHOL” is about someone actively trying to avoid their problems. The video features a lot of typical hip-hop imagery (dancing and cars mostly) but it has a different feeling to it. The dancing seems less like happy dancing and more like people trying to bury their problems.
Ravi barely smiles in this video but his expression isn’t calm, it’s aggressive. It’s like he’s pushing you back with his face. He wants you to not feel bad for him.
Red is a prevailing theme in this one – red, the color of boldness and passion. But there is an inherent darkness to it. It’s the color of blood, and it’s the color of a siren. It is a color that can be both cold and harsh as well as warm and inviting. This entire part of the music video is a lit fire, of neon lights and underground dance clubs – a welcoming and yet toxic environment. Dance clubs thrive on physical human connection and yet omit verbal connection. And verbal connection is the entirety of Ravi’s medium.
We see Ravi in the video under lights, drinking and rapping, moving between people, looking around as if trying to look for people he could know. There’s an inherent nihilism to it. It’s like he’s not searching for a person, but for a purpose.
We sometimes see people look at the camera and make eye contact with it, as if they’re looking at him, or perhaps through him.
I’m going to go out on limb that Ravi isn’t literally an alcoholic but instead is trying to draw on the cultural understanding of alcohol in Korea. Drinking is not only a pastime in Korea – it’s a staple of how people interact. It’s prevalent in dramas regardless of the kind. Being drunk is not okay and yet you’re expected to keep drinking. Combine that with the high suicide rate in Korea and you have a recipe for a number of problems. Further mixing in the pressures of idol culture, and Ravi seems not to be talking about alcohol itself – he’s talking about pain.
Why did he choose to put “NIRVANA” and “ALCOHOL” together? I mean you could argue that it’s done for solely the music, but there’s something special about pairing up a song about loving yourself with a song about your sorrows. It sounds like someone who loves himself but is still trying to search for something in his life that he can’t really tell is missing. It could also be someone who only learns to move past their heartache by loving themselves. That would mean that from a story perspective, “Alcohol” is before “NIRVANA” but that said – I don’t think that there is meant to be a story here. If anything, the complete music video is a character study. We see someone navigating a world and learning to love himself while still finding himself trapped in this endless cycle of harm.
And yet, in spite of all this, the video is peaceful. It wants you to get pulled into a catharsis that the visuals create, and feel what it’s trying to get you to feel. You want to reach out, you want to know, and you want to understand. But you also want to be relaxed. You don’t want to want anything. In a way, there’s no video more perfect for a song called “NIRVANA”. It lulls you into a state of bliss and yet is aware of all of the agony it tries to communicate.
Ravi is an incredible artist. There is no question about it. He puts his thoughts there for you. More than that – he puts his heart in front of you. He wants you to feel something. And you feel it from he vibration of his voice to the stares off camera. “NIRVANA + ALCOHOL” is composed of both visual and auditory craftsmanship. And in a time where we’re oversaturated by boy groups under technicolor lights, it’s nice to see an artist who has a mind beyond the stage.