This is a long time coming. I’ve been promising this article for a while, as a part of my Cinnamon Bubblegum series. But, with recent developments in the K-Pop industry, I think it’s pertinent that I talk about this video now.
Of course, I’m referring to the deaths of Sulli from f(x) and Goo Hara from KARA. A lot of people are saying that this is casting a light on the pressure K-Pop idols undergo. However, I think that the pressure of idols is common knowledge. The concern for me is how often K-Pop fans are willing to ignore these pressures, in order to be consumers. I think personally, that it is possible to be a healthy consumer of K-Pop. So, that is what I am going to do. I am going to use Twice’s “Likey” to explain to you how to be a healthy consumer of K-Pop.
While “Likey” a solid pop song and extremely catchy, the heart of it is in the lyrics. The song is about social media and how it becomes difficult to draw a line at the high you get from likes online, and how you take care of yourself and your mental health.
For instance, take these lyrics:
BB크림 파파파 립스틱을 맘맘마 카메라에 담아볼까 예쁘게
Put on BB cream, pat pat pat Put on lipstick, mam mam ma Shall I make a pretty pose for the camera?
For those of you who don’t know, BB Cream is a type of makeup. It’s a combination of moisturizer and foundation. It’s extremely prevalent in Korea and other Asian countries, but is also common in American makeup.
Basically, the song talks at length about how getting dolled up to look pretty is difficult, but we do it anyway for the sake of our internet audiences. It’s very similar to the point made in the video for Sunmi’s “Noir”, though “Likey” is far more subtle about getting the point to come across.
The thing about “Likey” and Twice’s other music videos is that they don’t necessarily show the point of the video overtly. A lot of the messaging, while powerful, is toned down and made subtle. This is both a good and bad thing. On the one hand, I want to see more overt conversation happening, but at the same time, the subtlety is key to its success. You won’t notice the message the first time around, but you’ll notice it the second time. It means that the more you watch it, the more you’ll be able to get out of it.
This is absolutely a valid approach to filmmaking of any kind. For example, take Train to Busan, the 2016 Korean zombie movie. It’s a movie about zombies, sure, but there is a prevailing amount of class imagery. The main character himself is a successful businessman, accused by characters of being a “leech” – even his own daughter says this about him. Every person who he or his daughter take the time to help, however, ends up helping them in the long term. An old woman, a homeless man, a middle class man and his pregnant wife, some high school students – all are disenfranchised in some capacity by Korean societal classism and attitudes on age and gender. In the end, it’s the people on the train who submit to these ideals on their culture that become the horror of the film, not the zombies.
Comparing a Twice video to a zombie movie is probably a strange comparison, but Korean films and music videos make use of subtlety beautifully. “Likey” is no different. In the video, you see Twice performing everyday tasks, but recording them on handheld cameras. The visuals are even “filtered” at times, which takes the girls from moderately made up and undersaturated to an oversaturated world where they’re in different outfits and playing around. Hearts appear throughout, much like an Instagram post. The album is even named “Twicetagram”.
This is a good way of communicating the ideas of the video because if you like the song and peppy visuals on the surface, you will be more interested in what’s happening underneath. Once again, this is like Train to Busan. If you like zombie movies or thrillers, you will probably enjoy this movie, and if you watch it again – because it’s Train to Busan and you love it – you will see all of the subtle hints at the real message. It’s brilliantly done for this reason. Twice’s videos all tap into this same propensity for subtlety, and because of that, they’re brilliant.
STEPS TO BEING A HEALTHY CONSUMER OF KPOP
For this next part, I’m going to be pulling elements from this video, and presenting different steps for being a good K-Pop stan.
1) LIKE, BUT REALLY, COMMENT
I already mentioned the proliferation of cameras in the video, as well as filters and social media imagery. But one moment stands out to me. The moment where Momo is sitting in a chair while everyone does her hair and smiles around her. She looks visibly uneasy. She doesn’t want to sit in this seat, but she does. This is also the part with the “BB Cream pat pat pat” lyric. She’s posing for a camera but doesn’t want to be there.
There’s a lot of hate towards K-Pop idols on the internet. Some of it is from anti-fans who hate K-Pop in general, sometimes it’s fans trying to start fan wars. Sulli from f(x) was an advocate against this behavior and ultimately, the hate against her likely contributed to her death.
We don’t really think about how the idols feel about this, and it makes sense why. Trainees often have their internet access restricted, so they don’t see the things people say about them online until a great number of people already swing one way or another. Then, they tend to refine their online appearance, the same way normal people do. They tend not to get involved in fan wars because they don’t want to antagonize people. It’s a lose-lose situation, unfortunately. If they respond, they get hate from the people hating on them. If they don’t, then they run the risk of seeming detached, and people turn against them.
So, what can we do? Well, the support on social media helps. But likes only get you so far. It’s a very superficial way of telling someone you appreciate them. Especially on Instagram, where many idols congregate – there is no dislike button or anything, so your only choices are liking or commenting to tell a singer how you feel about them. As a result, there’s a number of people in the comments that do nothing but hate on these people. The things that will catch each idol’s eye more are the comments, since that’s where people are saying how they feel, and if there is too much hate in those comments, they will start to believe the hatred.
Instead of liking a post, comment on it. Words are a far less superficial form of validation and while there is a parasocial nature to any interaction with a celebrity, the fact of the matter is it’s a good way to show that you care. It might take a little longer, and a little more effort, but when they see how much love they’re getting in place of the hate, it does something positive. It shows them that they do matter to us, collectively.
2) SPEND RESPONSIBLY
There’s a lot of consumerism in this video. Jeongyeon ogles clothes she sees in a store window, store sign imagery is rampant – even the outfits push an air of consumerism. They often look too polished for the environments these girls are in. It feels off-putting, overtly glamorous, likely on purpose.
K-Pop is ultimately an industry, which makes money off of digital sales, concert tickets, and merchandise. I’m not knocking it for that – I’m in the film industry, which makes its money off of production, movie tickets, and merchandise. I do not claim superiority over the idol industry in any way. But what film production has taught me is that I should be careful about which creators and filmmakers I should support.
I strongly dislike Stanley Kubrick’s films in great part because he as a filmmaker was a terrible person. It took me forever to watch The Shining, and when I did, it left a sour taste in my mouth anyway because I knew he was abusive to the lead female actor. The one Kubrick movie I do like, Full Metal Jacket, still leaves a sour taste because he would shoot a single shot thirty times. In his mind, the first twenty-nine times, it wasn’t perfect, but he wouldn’t give any criticism to his actors to improve it.
In my book, a director who manipulates everything to the point of being his definition of perfection to the point of mistreating his actors is not a director, but a dictator. That said, despite my misgivings, I have to acknowledge the contributions he made to filmmaking. I won’t sit on my high horse about it and negate such contributions. But I’d rather watch something like Baby Driver than sit through A Clockwork Orange.
Apply the same principle to K-Pop. Some record companies are known for mistreating their singers; some are less severe. Some idols are cruel or arrogant; some are not. I don’t believe in cancel culture, but what I do believe is thinking about why you’re spending money on something. Merch is fun and all, but I don’t know if I necessarily would’ve bought any of SeungRi’s music if I knew Burning Sun would happen.
I absolutely am willing to spend money on Twice because I think their message is incredibly positive. Songs like “Feel Special” are incredibly important in an industry that has long since relied on songs that don’t have as much dimension, and are meant to make you feel good on the surface. I feel the same about Twice as I do about ITZY and Stray Kids. So, I’ve gladly bought their music.
If you truly admire your favorite bands, no matter what record company they are from, then you should absolutely spend money on them if you want. Support the idols you most believe in, but also hold them accountable. If something doesn’t sit right with you, focus your attention somewhere more positive. Because fueling a fire of negativity won’t do any good.
It intrigues me that “Likey” depicts these K-Pop idols doing normal activities – getting ice cream, dancing in a school gym, and riding a skateboard. These singers would likely get mobbed in public if they did any of these things. But that’s the point of the video. These girls are human beings. They eat ice cream, they go to school, they do all sorts of activities we do.
There’s a lot of discussion online about whether or not K-Pop fans support an industry that is exploitative of “woke” culture when it historically treats women and minorities badly. I personally think the debate lacks perspective on both sides. On the one hand, some K-Pop fans would like to assume everything is okay and that there are no issues. On the other hand, shamelessly bashing the industry is not going to get us anywhere. Many people exist in the middle of this debate, thinking that yes the industry needs to be fixed, but that doesn’t mean we should stop listening to it. However, many of those fans tend to be quiet during these debates on the internet.
I personally exist somewhere in the middle, but I think my opinion can best be expressed this way: “Idols are people too.” To take any establishment, be it a company or industry, and say that it’s all bad because of the policies or people in power – that removes any level of nuance from the debate. More harmfully, this takes empathy away from the people directly affected – in this case, the idols. When we rope the entire industry together and say that it’s all terrible and we should steer clear of it however we can, we forget that there are people caught in this system.
Imagine that every act you did was suddenly televised. What would it do to your psyche? We all think we want success, but when we get it, we always wish we could go back. But that doesn’t make you any less of a person. I think the issue with the current debate over K-Pop is we assume that the K-Pop idols are a part of the industry and that’s where their own agency and thoughts end. Much of the debate is “The industry is bad, therefore all idols are fake,” and “My favorite idols aren’t fake, therefore the industry isn’t bad.” The issue is not black and white.
What we need to do, collectively, as fans, is this: we need to remember these idols are human beings before anything else. The industry can be cruel but we can’t forget that there are humans caught in it. We can hate on bands or companies until we’re blue in the face, but in doing so, we forget to have perspective. We can’t allow ourselves to do that.
The industry is rapidly changing, always, every day. New bands keep appearing, new record companies, new songs. Every time I go to bookstores in Koreatown, I see a new album for a younger group that I haven’t even listened to once. But the principles I’ve addressed here will likely not change. The fact that social media affects the psyche, the fact that we should spend on the singers we truly believe in, and the fact that these are people with real feelings we should be empathetic towards – these are all important things we need to keep in mind in the future.
Jonghyun, Sulli, and Hara were not the first. They will probably not be the last. But it’s on us to prevent what happened to them from happening again. Where you put your likes, your comments, your money, and your love – it matters, in the end. Your voice matters as much as their music.
Twice began their successful journey with their show Sixteen, but the inciting incident, you could say, was “Like OOH-AHH”’s success. As stated in my article on “Like OOH-AHH”, Twice tapped into a new way of approaching bubblegum pop by adding a ton of spice to it and subverting the idol making machine. This is what I dubbed cinnamon bubblegum pop – definitely sweet, but with a powerful underlying kick. Now the question is – would this be a one time thing? Or would they continue this format?
All was answered by the time “Cheer Up” came along. “Cheer Up” is one of Twice’s most iconic music videos. It’s incredibly creative both in concept and in film technique. It’s a beautiful example of color correcting and editing – both of which are intrinsic to K-Pop – but it also shows what is most unique about Twice, which is their ability to subvert the expectations of what K-Pop idols are.
“Cheer Up” as a song is a very lighthearted song with a great hook. While it’s electronic predominantly, there is some instrumental elements and a beat that sounds almost like it belongs in a rock song not a pop song. It doesn’t have the best line distribution of K-Pop songs but generally speaking the verses give each member a moment to shine. The hook is balanced with English and Korean, though the English parts are accented and arguably mispronounced. However I think this adds to the charm so I have no complaints.
The concept of the video is introduced in the very first moment. We see a man with a camera instead of a head, with a colored magnifying/tinting lens in his hand, looking at all the girls as they eat in the kitchen. He finally sets his sights on Nayeon, puts magnifier in front of the camera lens.
Suddenly, the entire video changes. Nayeon is sitting on the floor, as she was previously, but she has a 90s-early 2000s era phone instead of a smartphone. The color grading is completely different, making it much darker, and we can see from the light from the windows that it’s supposed to be night. The room is much cleaner. She and her friends seem scared. It’s clear that the lens changed not just Nayeon, but the genre Nayeon appeared in.
In short, the video is about portraying each girl in a way that matches their personality by surrounding them with a genre of film or TV that clearly illustrates certain traits. However, there are a number of ways to interpret this idea. You could argue that each genre is supposed to represent each member in the real life – I don’t necessarily agree with this because certain members have either ultra-specific or ultra-broad genres applied to them, and it’s also hard to pick a genre that specifically encapsulates a person. There may be another interpretation though. The website kpopmap.com drew an explicit comparison between each member and a specific movie. Therefore it wouldn’t be so much about representing each member as it would be representing these particular films. While I love this idea, I don’t think that it’s as clear cut as that. But the beauty of art is that it can be interpreted any number of ways. I could very well be wrong, maybe they were meant to indicate specific movies, but I don’t necessarily have the same frame of reference so I was not able to read all of the potential indicators.
Before getting into my interpretation, let’s look at what we have:
Nayeon has a dark, saturated video that looks emblematic of most horror films, particularly the 2000s style with films like “Paranormal Activity”. She is holding a phone though, and this is where I agree with Kpopmap: I do think the phone is a specific reference to Scream. Scream – which came out in 1996, features an iconic scene where Drew Barrymore is being harassed on the phone by who we later find out is a serial killer. But in short, I think this is meant to show Nayeon in a general horrifying situation (obviously made Safe For Work), which in turn establishes her character as timid, fearful, or perhaps more accurately, cautious.
Mina is dressed in a schoolgirl uniform, a style emblematic of teen slice of life or romance in pop culture. Her shots are colored very softly, with light pinks and yellows and whites dominating the shots. She spends most of the video holding a card, waiting under cherry blossoms, while her friends encourage her to do something (presumably go and meet this boy, or maybe even the viewer, and confess love). This establishes Mina’s character as someone romantic and gentle.
Sana’s section is overly colorful, in all the craziest ways. Everything is saturated pink and yellow, the set pieces are patterned, and all of the girls wear colorful outfits and hold wands or other fun objects. Little animations are scattered throughout the video, mostly of objects that shouldn’t have faces with cute eyes on them – mainly musical notes. It’s very Banjo-Kazooie in that respect. As mentioned in my “Like OOH-AHH” article, Sana’s member profile establishes her as a very optimistic person – I think the magical girl style is meant to give us that personality trait.
Tzuyu, the beloved maknae, is in a sepia-toned section, with her dress being laced up by the other girls. She has an old fashioned bed with a canopy in the room, along with a vanity and paintings. Eventually she runs outside, carrying her skirt with her, and the outside is a beautiful mansion complete with a fountain. This is meant to establish Tzuyu’s character as sophisticated and formal.
Momo’s parts of the video show her in a subway, wearing all black with a green jacket and holding guns. She has Jihyo and Jeongyeon on either side of her, also holding guns, being her wingwomen. She’s in what appears to be a dilapidated New York subway (note the exit sign has the 1, 2, 3, 7, A, C, E, and S trains, all of which are metro stops – I have yet to find the station which allows you to transfer to all of them though.) I think this is meant to make Momo seem like a badass, sexy cop-type girl or secret agent. This would in turn establish a type of maturity.
Jeongyeon’s segments remind me of art films in general – you know, the kind that tend to get the Oscars. She has an apartment with tons of furniture, dangling curtains, plants, fans, art…all the things to establish a mysteriously enticing character in a film. She herself is wearing a silk shirt with pink accents and a dark patterned slip – she’s meant to be sexy in a more adult way, as opposed to Momo’s action type sexy. She also has a promise ring, which establishes her as someone’s significant other – probably yours. But it could also be she’s just wearing jewelry for the sake of wearing it. Either way, she has soft colors as well, but darker ones, making her seem like a deeper, more spiritual person.
Jihyo gets the chorus parts – she’s dancing the choreography in sporty uniforms with all of the others, and the brightness of the video makes it look like it belongs in some teen movie like High School Musical (though probably better.) There isn’t much to say here, but it does establish Jihyo as a dancer, and while her main function in the band is leader, this will come into play later.
Chaeyoung, one of the band’s two rappers, gets to be a cowgirl, but a slightly more modern one. She gets a car, she gets a gun, she gets a wanted poster, she gets a super-gold color scheme, hyper-saturated colors, and film noise put over her screen. She gets the quintessentially American setup, which is in complete contrast to the other rapper in this band.
Dahyun, the last rapper, gets the traditional Korean hanbok, fan, and palace. All of the camerawork in her scenes makes it look like she was shot for a drama. Her color scheme is mostly greens, reds, and whites, with some elements of gold, but everything is undersaturated so it doesn’t overpower anything. I think since she and Chaeyoung are the two rappers in the band, they are meant to mirror each other by being representative of two cultures.
My personal view of the video is that it is meant to use cultural iconography – some specific to a work of pop culture, some not – to show us specific personality types in their extremes as the basis of making a group. Idol groups are often constructed under the false pretenses of “you need X member to fit X personality type” in order to create something relatable. While I don’t want to be the kind of person who thinks every music video is somehow about the idol industry (just as I don’t think every movie is about capitalism) the argument can be made that art only exist because of the climate in which it’s created, and in many ways reflects that specific climate. I think that Twice’s “Cheer Up” reflects idol culture by dissecting what it means to have “the funny girl” in a group with “the sexy girl” or “the grown up girl” or “the childish girl”.
Twice is an interesting group in this respect for a number of reasons. They were made through television, so it doesn’t much matter which member fit which specific responsibility so long as they were all talented and had good chemistry. Continuing, they all come from different places: Momo is from Kyoto, Japan; Sana is from Osaka, Japan; Mina is from San Antonio, Texas and is of Japanese heritage; and Tzuyu is Taiwanese. There isn’t really much of an opening to tokenize any one member as “that foreign girl” in an industry where that happens far too often. And lastly, they all have different personalities and JYP Entertainment has always been able to bring out the best of individual personalities in its wide variety of idols without making it feel inorganic.
The video ends back in the original kitchen, except rather than having the members back to the way they were, they’re all wearing the outfits from the different genres. Tzuyu is standing as if waiting for someone asking her to dance, Mina is being shy and clutching her handbag, Nayeon is still on the floor panicking over the phone, Momo and Sana are in a gun versus magic shootout, Dahyun is fanning herself, Chaeyoung is spinning her gun and blowing it off like she’s shooting with it, and Jeongyeon is dancing around with a cup of what’s likely alcohol. But the most interesting subject for me is Jihyo, who we established earlier, functions as the dancer in this metaphor, is dancing still. In fact, she’s doing the exact same choreography, on a loop, seemingly not getting tired. This is one of the main reasons I think that the video comments on and subverts the idol industry.
The camera man scratches his head in confusion before putting one of the lenses back in front of him. He doesn’t quite know what to do with all these girls and their varied personalities. I think ultimately though, that’s okay. There’s a reason I had to stop picking biases of the groups I liked – every member has something unique about them to love. I think that the video for Cheer Up is emblematic of that – that it’s okay to be different, to not quite match up with everyone else, because when you’re in a group of your friends, it doesn’t much matter what sets you apart. All that matters is what brought you together initially.
EXID’s one of those girl groups that everyone knows and everyone likes no matter what. Even if you don’t love them, there’s always one or two songs you can’t stop listening to. While I am not quite a big enough fan to necessarily consider myself a part of the fandom, I always thought their dance routines were on point and they had a very natural chemistry. The songs were great, their voices were all distinct…there has always been a lot to like about them. Not only that, a number of people around me are big fans of theirs, so I have a pretty consistent exposure to them. Heck, my dad’s bias is Solji.
I definitely wanted to do an article on EXID at some point, it was really a matter of figuring out what to write about. Yes, “Up and Down” is iconic, but I wanted to start with something different. “Ah Yeah” was a great choice too, but I felt like that had been picked apart already by everybody. “I Love You” is on my list, but I didn’t want to go with something too recent. EXID’s had a lot of hits after all.
I finally figured out what video I wanted to write about when making the pre-show playlist for an event I’ve been preparing at university on K-Pop. I asked my girlfriend for help, as I didn’t want to have videos from groups I already was covering, I wanted to show the diversity of K-Pop as a genre. I knew I wanted to show an EXID video, and my girlfriend suggested I watch “L.I.E”. I watched it and fell in love with the video quickly, and added it to the lineup.
So there we had it. I had the perfect choice for a music video to write about.
In 2016, K-Pop was getting increasingly popular. Blackpink, Momoland, I.O.I, Pentagon, and KNK all debuted. VIXX had their Conception trilogy. BTS had “Young Forever” and “Blood Sweat and Tears”. SHINee sold out of their “1 of 1” cassette tape in twenty four hours, and not because everyone with a cassette player suddenly started listening to SHINee. 4minute broke up, but HyunA continued making music. Jessica Jung made her solo debut after leaving Girls Generation. It was not the biggest year K-Pop would ever have, but it was by no means their worst year, and the journey would be far from over.
2016 was also the year that we found out about Solji’s hiatus from the group to take care of her life-threatening hyperthyroidism. As a result, L.I.E would be the last song in two years we would see a five-member EXID. EXID was also at major popularity – not the peak that they got from “Up and Down”, but the consistent kind of popularity that comes from when a group is genuinely good at what they do. As for the music video, it’s a creative little video, with a high production value and gorgeous colors.
Everything sports a pink hue, with purples a a secondary color, and red as a tertiary color. We also get teals and blues that are positively gorgeous, and the occasional black accents – a dress, painted doors, and so on. Oh, and don’t forget the sparkly gold embroidery on the uniforms. And yet, there is something about it that feels distinctly not cheery. It hides something behind its own cuteness and suggestiveness. There seems to be a quiet anger – sometimes an overt one – and a distinct sadness to a number of elements. But still, it doesn’t stop cheering you up. If anything, the misplaced melancholy makes it almost more fun to watch, because it’s hard to understand why it’s there in the first place.
Which brings us to the Five Stages of Grief.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a 20th century psychiatrist from Zurich, Switzerland, wrote a book in 1969 called On Death and Dying. As near-death studies were her focus, she proposed a theory about how people deal with the end, or any tragedy. She broke it up into five parts – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. This was the birth of the Five Stages of Grief.
So, naturally, I’m going to connect a theory from the late 60s to a music video about sexy Korean girls in hotel uniforms.
Kübler-Ross proposed the stages as a way to understand the way people deal with death, but they can apply to any other kind of tragedy. For instance, let’s say a breakup. Where on earth would we get this notion? Perhaps, I don’t know, from the mysterious man at the beginning of the video, in a mask?
Keep in mind, there has been a fair amount of fan discussion to this end. Looking at the comments of “L.I.E”, people have noticed that it appears that each girl represents something. It’s just a question as to what that something is. Some people think that the story is very literal and that the girls are about to go murder the guy who checks into the hotel. Some even go as far to say that it’s a revenge kill on behalf of Jeonghwa, who we see lying in the elevator. Other people have a different theory entirely and say that the girls are representative of different ways of dealing with anger. I think that both of those theories have merit, but I personally disagree with both.
I think that to say that all K-Pop videos have a cut and dry story, especially when there’s craziness and weirdness going on, is kind of undercutting what the music videos try to do. As a filmmaker I can tell you that many K-Pop videos are trying to challenge the viewer, not just be aesthetic. In fact I would go as far to say that aesthetic is a secondary component to most videos – the difference between K-Pop and Western music is that the two concepts are not mutually exclusive in K-Pop. You can have a video that challenges you while still being visually pleasing. I’ll cover a number of videos I think that do a good job of that, but let’s keep the focus here, on EXID.
The reason I think that the girls represent the five stages of grief is because there’s five of them, for one thing, but they’re all in very different, isolated situations. They all behave differently and even though they generally speaking wear the same uniforms, they all have different color schemes attached to them and different ways of wearing those uniforms. Because of this we can more easily split them up and try to figure out what each member signifies. It’s kind of like tarot, each card has a different meaning. So let’s see what we can read here.
The song is a pop song, but I would say more of a classic pop song. Electronic music is mixed with some solid drum beats and some easy guitar parts. It has a clear build to the chorus and the bridge is still playfully climbing. There’s a rap break, and two electronic dance breaks – which I would say is more of a feature of K-Pop than it is of anything else. It’s a product of the fact that the members have to dance as part of training. Very few K-Pop groups can get away with not having this training (unless you’re in YG Entertainment).
All of the line distribution is fairly reasonable, so each girl has a chance to shine. I’ve mentioned this in other articles as something that bothers me heavily about K-Pop is when bands give certain members all of the lines and then ignore other members. This song by and large avoids that pitfall. I’d say there’s always an issue when you have a member who does mostly rap, because they will likely only do the bridge or one verse. But in spite of that the band generally keeps things even between members.
The set really leans into the hotel concept, with everything taking place on a sound stage that’s made to look like different parts of a hotel. We have the front lawn, the front desk, a hallway, an elevator, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen. However, as is a pitfall of having a video shot on a sound stage, it’s hard to make things look realistic.
EXID and the production company August Frogs lean into the lack of realism. The colors are bright and vibrant and there is no attempt at making you feel like you’re really there. If you get immersed you get immersed because of the beauty. Frankly, I don’t know of many hotels that are a single story but also have at least six floors represented by their room numbers, and two elevators, one red and one pink. I also don’t know of many hotels that have such vibrant reds and purples…except maybe The Grand Budapest Hotel.
I’ll cover these set designs more with each individual member and show pictures accordingly, so as not to be redundant.
Instead of uncovering each member in chronological order, like I did with “PIRI”, or doing it with a criteria of how much screen time each member gets, like I did for “Fly High”, I am going to instead do it in order of the five stages of grief, and what each member inherently represents. Again, the five stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Anxiety. Therefore, that is the order I shall do this in. For each member, I’m breaking this up into two parts, production design and story. This isn’t an act of laziness, to group up the costumes, colors, and sets in this way – I just think those three things, such as they appear, are inextricably linked in this video. The symbolism will ultimately arise from discussion of each member.
Before we do that though, I just want to take a moment and highlight the outfits that the band wears in the dance sequence. There is no particular significance to these, but they are sexy and powerful in heels and I love them for it. I also like the silver accents and how each member manages to stand out. Each member looks good in their own special way. The long socks really highlight Solji’s height. The high neck on Jeonghwa’s shirt and the silver accents on the waist draw your eyes to Jeonghwa’s long torso in a really pretty way. Hani’s got the short sporty sleeves and a nice V-neck which gives her figure a lot of dimension. Hyerin is tiny so the off-the-shoulder look is perfect for her. And LE…well LE just looks great. High ponies and long sleeves are a good look for her. Then again I’m biased.
Solji – Denial
Part 1: Production Design
Solji spends the majority of her time in the hallway, which is lit coolly with fluorescents and small ornate lamps. The deep turquoise is more unfeeling than it is for any of the other members, largely due to this lighting. This is further exacerbated by the black doors, but undercut by the red carpeting. Blue hues usually indicate sadness or calm but red indicates nearly the opposite – rage and passion. She also appears in the red elevator. The red elevator is gilded with gold and is smooth and pristine, with a lighter red carpet below.
Of course we can’t talk about color without talking about Solji herself. Solji is a paler person so she looks good in cool tones, and she can also pull off orange hair. Anyone who looks good in orange gets points in my book. Her hotel uniform is white and a cool, bright purple, with a red streak on the side, a small red bow tie, and black heels. The shirt is open in the back, and the skirt is long but tight – she’s tall, she can pull this off. Of course, don’t forget her hotel EXID hat and her “KILL X” name tag. Her makeup is also cooler, with pink lipstick and eyes that are smokey enough to grab you, but also not smokey enough to be distracting.
She also wears a black dress, when she’s in the red elevator. This stood out to me because it seemed so out of place against the red and gold. Black, gold, and red is a weird combination. But I think this has to do with what Solji is intended to represent in this story. Either way – not gonna lie, this dress is gorgeous. It’s something I’d definitely wear for myself.
Part 2: Story
As stated before, Solji spends most of her time in the hallway, the shots of her in the elevator appear to just be inserts (though that’s not to say they’re not important in understanding her character). We see her lying on a room service cart, holding a room key and looking at it. This happens to be the room key for the aformentioned masked man, which happens to be 690. I don’t know if this is inherently a “69” joke but judging from the inherent sex appeal of the MV, I wouldn’t put it past the filmmakers.
Solji also sits on or in front of the cart on her knees, singing to herself or looking at the camera. Then of course, there are the numerous shots of her carrying a tray of food, knocking on doors, etc. Typical room service actions. There is something weird about the way she acts though – as we’ll see in later segments, she is basically the only member who is completely calm. Everyone else is kind of losing their minds but she’s somehow managing to keep it entirely together.
It’s simple, she’s in denial.
It’s pretty clear that the guy at the beginning of the video is meant to represent a generic boyfriend, not necessarily anyone’s in particular. Solji is the one member who doesn’t seem angry with him even as she is probably fully aware that he has another girl with him. The doors are closed, so she can’t see it – maybe it doesn’t exist if she just ignores it.
I also think that this makes sense when we consider this weird framed shot of a peach over Solji’s rear – again, this is mostly a sex joke because EXID does that a lot. They’re one of those girl bands where sex and attractiveness are kind of linked to their humor. Usually they do this by subverting expectations, and this random peach is no exception. But it’s kind of fitting if you consider the themes of denial surrounding Solji. Solji turns around to look at it/the camera, as if to be like “What are you doing?” If we consider that Solji represents the Denial stage of grief, she probably is only just now coming to the realization of her own objectification and lack of importance in the relationship.
Or it could just be a peach that’s meant to represent a butt for the hell of it.
Hyerin – Anger
Part One: Production Design
Hyerin spends half her time in the hallway and the other half in a hotel room. The hotel room is turquoise with wooden floors and a blue comforter on the bed, with white and black accents all over. There is a distinct mix of cool and warm lights – cool coming from the window but warm coming from the lamps. It’s very theatrical. This is further exemplified by the way the hall looks in all of Hyerin’s scenes – more often than not, the doors are open and light is pouring in, likely because she’s supposed to be a maid. But this creates a disorienting mix of lights that leads to a chaotic feeling for Hyerin’s character.
This chaos is brought to light in the form of Hyerin’s clothing. Hyerin’s maid outfit is practically made of weird fancy textures. There’s a frilly apron, a frilly trim along the skirt, lace around her neck, and bows along her chest. And of course there’s the hat, the black heels, and the KILL X name tag. However, she disregards the hat and heels quickly. Her hair is also short, and quickly becomes a mess after the hat’s off. When she’s in the hotel room she’s dressed similarly – while it is a fancy black dress, the cut of the top and the choker are still reminiscent of her maid outfit, and her hair is curled more.
Part Two: Story
If the outfit and lights weren’t enough to convince you that Hyerin is representative of anger, how about the fact that half the video is spent depicting her throwing things. When we first see her, she’s staring at a Ken doll in her room, before ripping his head off and singing to it. She seems almost drunk, but I feel like she’s more disoriented than intoxicated. The rest of her scenes in that room are spent with her ripping flower petals off of some roses and throwing the petals around, before lying on the ground next to her Ken doll surrounded by the petals.
This then brings us to her scenes in the hallway, where she’s dressed as a maid. She pushes her cart down the hall, seemingly polished, before hitting the door of room 690 with her duster. The duration of the time spent in this hallway is spent with Hyerin throwing towels and pillows, playing with her duster, hitting everything with her duster, ruffling her own hair, and even singing into her shoe. You could argue that this is Acceptance and not Anger, but I feel like she’s being happy to intentionally spite someone. I mean hitting doors is not indicative of someone who’s particularly level headed.
Hani – Bargaining
Part 1: Production Design
Hani spends a lot of time at the front desk, and in the kitchen. The front desk room is red with blue in the foreground, light colored wood making up the desk and key wall. The entire room is cool toned, from the black trim to the pink bells on the desk, but Hani herself isn’t – in fact, in this room, she looks particularly vibrant and radiant. Yes her skin is pale but her uniform is not.
We then get to the kitchen, where the production design is fairly different to that of the front desk – or really, any other room in this video. It is a small, confined space – low ceilings and thin walls, and the camera always shoots downwards to make sure you see Hani and the room as small. Even the lamps dangle low around her head. The walls are an unmemorable pink and the furniture is a distinctly bland teal with brown accenting. There is a weird spread of food on the table, including lemons, meat, and three different pepper shakers. There are also oranges across the room and flowers all over the place. But again, it’s alright, because Hani seems to take all the color that the walls and furniture left behind. She looks like she’s not meant to be there.
She is also the only member lacking in a costume change. She has a coat on top that has ruffles, and a skirt on the bottom. There is red trim along everything and gold buttons along the front. She also keeps her hat on until the end. And let’s not forget the Kill X on her name tag.
Part 2: Story
We begin Hani’s story at the front desk, where a mildly upset Hani hands the key off the wall and gives it to our masked boyfriend. She doesn’t even touch him, just drops the key in his hand. When the boyfriend takes his new girlfriend’s hand, he doesn’t seem to notice how Hani is reacting – she’s watching their hands with a blank, yet seemingly angry facial expression. She turns to the camera and smirks when the two leave.
The immediate next time we see her, she’s in the kitchen, preparing to cook. She tenderizes the meet with mallets and also examines one of her several pepper shakers. She also spends a bit of time looking at one of the oranges, which has been cut but not fully lengthwise – which makes me wonder if this has to do with the peach scene and my theory about objectification. But oranges do symbolize fertility, luxury, and even good luck in some cultures. So I think the orange is more about what you read into it as opposed to having a concrete meaning. Plus, she is cooking. So maybe it just has to do with that.
Interspersed with this are inserts of Hani sitting on the front desk, or just abesntly pressing the buttons on the front desk. She seems bored but also expectant. Something is clearly supposed to happen, but it hasn’t yet. Eventually though, Hani has clearly had enough. Her lyrics in the bridge consist of her singing “go to hell”, and after this point, Hani throws the pepper shaker, rips her hat off, starts drinking champagne, even going so far as to pour some of it on her head. The room seems to start moving as the lamps begin rotating and the camera tilts.
There’s a lot to get into here. The main reason I think Hani is representative of Bargaining is because she seems to be forcing herself to ignore things. It doesn’t feel like willful ignorance the way Solji’s acting does. Instead it seems like she’s trying really really hard to not pay attention to things. She’s also the only memeber who doesn’t change uniform, as if she’s trying really hard to be a good hotel employee and good chef at the same time. Or, perhaps more accurately, trying to balance her own interests and the interests of this guy. That could also explain the boredom she feels at the desk – she’s probably thinking “If I do all of this right, he’ll come back to me.” Of course, this doesn’t happen. Hani eventually gives up and gives into some pettiness and starts overdoing the pepper, likely just to irritate and anger her (former) boyfriend.
Jeonghwa – Depression
Part 1: Production Design
Jeonghwa has three sets – the hallway, which is lit the same way it is in Solji’s scenes, and both elevators. The pink elevator and the red elevator, as far as I can tell, are actually the same elevator, but the shots are colored so wildly differently that I will refer to them separately. Nonetheless, the pink elevator has fluorescent lighting from the top, whereas the red elevator has a spotlight that’s a much warmer hue.
In both elevators, Jeonghwa is wearing her uniform, which has a grayish mauve piece underneath a shrug, and let’s not forget the red trim and gold buttons, and the KILL X name tag. But Jeonghwa also wears a police uniform and ankle boots, an outfit that seems to come out of nowhere. It’s a dark blue, as police uniforms often are, with a belt and a V neck so her chest is shown off – your typical sexy police uniform fare.
Part 2: Story
The biggest indicator I have for why Jeonghwa represents depression is the fact that she’s lying on the floor for most of the video. This is one of the reasons many people have actually speculated that she’s supposed to be dead, especially since she has her body in that typical murder outline shape. But the thing, is lying down and doing absolutely nothing is a typical symptom of depression. In a way the fact that she’s lying in a presumably moving elevator (while her shoe floats through the air no less) is likely indicative of the fact that the world is moving without her.
The biggest hitch in that analysis is why she’s dressed in a police uniform for part of the video. My best guess is that she is meant to be channeling a sort of “what else has he done” attitude, and trying to figure out the extent she should be upset at all. It’s a fairly defeatist attitude, but it’s the best I’ve got.
It also strikes me as odd that the man presumably comes into the elevator while she’s in there. There are two possibilities for this that would give somewhat of a justification to this. One, maybe the guy is coming to beat her down even further in her state. Two, maybe it’s not the same guy, and some sort of rescuer. I mean we only see his shadow, it’s not so far fetched that this could be the case.
LE – Acceptance
Part 1: Production design
LE’s sets are the front lawn and the bathroom, but two different parts of the bathroom. There’s a lot of hot pink in her sets, mostly in the lights. Her blue bathroom has pink lighting (and a cactus for reasons I can’t even begin to explain) while a cold spotlight shines down on her. When we have close ups of her in the bathroom, by the mirror, the light on top is pink, causing the light blue tiles to look pink, and the mirror is the color of bubblegum. While the lawn has almost no bright pink, there is still a soft pink that makes everything glow a bit against the blue bricks and white columns.
LE’s costumes are among the more provocative. Her uniform is short shorts and jacket with her stomach exposed. She mostly rocks a curly ponytail, sometimes high sometimes low, and her makeup is mostly neutral, which makes her bright red nails stand out. She also wears a silky bathrobe for a number of scenes, and is naked in the bathtub for the rest. Everything about her character is confident and relaxed. Oh and the KILL X name tag. Let’s not forget that.
Part 2: Story
LE has minimal story, but it strikes me as interesting that she’s the first member we see. She’s the valet of this hotel – the boyfriend drives his car up, gets out with his girlfriend, and LE apathetically takes the keys while the boyfriend is chummy with his girlfriend. The rest of her shots are all inserts – her in the bathtub, her looking in the mirror, her lounging in the car. It’s pretty black and white here.
The biggest reason that I believe LE represents acceptance comes down ultimately to the fact that she has no story. She mostly lies surrounded by floating rubber ducks. But I think that’s the point – she’s apathetic to the guy, and has moved on from whatever pain she felt. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy. She just doesn’t care. And that’s the important thing here.
There is, of course, one character I have omitted from this analysis: the boyfriend.
The X referred to on the KILL X name tag is probably the boyfriend. He looks like a dopey guy in suspenders and he’s also wearing floral print and a mask. Everything about him just seems ridiculous. It begs the question what they saw in him in the first place – but I think that’s the key here. People have 20/20 hindsight about relationships and we see here, the attraction that these girls feel is inherently misplaced. At the end of the video, he stumbles out of the hotel room, looks around, and explodes into yellow foam. I don’t think the yellow is of any particular symbolism, it’s just an opposite color to turquoise and a primary color alongside red. So it’s a visual technique. But why would he stumble out of the room? He probably got kicked out by his new girlfriend, and explodes when he realizes he can’t keep cheating but still doesn’t want to take responsibility. Or maybe he just explodes in the minds of the girls as they officially move on.
I love “L.I.E”. I really love it. It’s so gorgeous and playful but also has plenty to uncover. It’s a good song, and each member has a moment to be the star. It’s a fun romp with an uplifting message: screw boys who wrong you, they don’t matter.
At the end of the video we see the girls running through the halls together, laughing, having fun. Everything is on their terms now, and they don’t need some adulterer to validate them. With such a milked topic, it’s interesting to me that EXID and August Frogs could do something so unique. Any and all K-Pop fans should watch this video, to learn how to mix the crazy and the symbolic. The joy in this MV is trying to understand, after all.
I was a young K-Pop fan when I first encountered Super Junior. I was still going through my angsty emo phase (i.e. a whole lotta euro-EDM and alternative rock) so K-Pop was still new to me and relatively unexplored territory. I was mostly a BIGBANG fan, with a healthy side of Brown Eyed Girls, and I didn’t really care about pushing myself to learning new groups. But eventually I managed to branch out into other boy groups and girl groups – SHINee, VIXX, f(x), and various soloists.
A friend of mine, who I consider a sister to this day, recommended Super Junior to me, and I ended up getting hooked on “Mr. Simple”. “Mr. Simple” was relatively new at the time. It was electronic, and incredibly catchy. The video wasn’t great but I wasn’t expecting it to be – it was typical music video fodder of the time. Plain sets, bright lights, mostly dancing. But I didn’t care. There was something fascinating about those idols…they had something that other bands didn’t. Presence. Now I don’t use that phrase lightly. Presence to me is the ability to command your attention by doing both something serious and something ridiculous. That comes both with personality and talent – commanding your audience without doing much at all.
But Super Junior has something else – authenticity. Many companies manufacture the personalities of their idols, and Super Junior’s main label, SM Entertainment, is no stranger to that. EXO, one of the biggest groups in K-Pop, comes under fire once in a blue moon for manufacturing a happy-go-lucky band when the members don’t really like each other, creating a sexy personality for Kai when according to family he was always quiet and shy. And this isn’t just SM – groups go through copious training processes to come up with a persona and train in dancing and singing. It becomes difficult to distinguish what is real and what is not. It’s one of the reasons many veteran fans find it hard to get into younger groups – there is an overabundance of them and at varying degrees of legitimacy. This begs the question: why should you believe Super Junior is real?
Understanding Super Junior
The Super Junior we know now almost didn’t exist. Super Junior was a project group made out of trainees that SM had that all had other talents that had nothing to do with being idols, and were generally not “good enough” to be in TVXQ. The intent was to rotate them out when they hit a certain age, like After School would ultimately do. The Super Junior we know was originally Super Junior ’05, because there was no intention of keeping the group together forever.
But these 12 boys would stay together. They had a chemistry that would put any science project K-Pop group to shame. People weren’t tuning in just because they were cute or talented. They laughed at each other, screamed at each other, fought together, cried together. They were hilarious. And they were real.
I obviously am not an expert in idol psychology. But I have been lucky enough to see idols live, and I can tell you – you can pretty much tell when an idol is faking it and when they’re not. The second time I went to KCON NY, I saw Stray Kids, Heize, Pentagon, Red Velvet, and Super Junior. But what struck me seeing all of these acts was how Super Junior dominated that night. Sure there were other groups who get more views on YouTube more consistently, but Super Junior got the best reaction from the audience. They were on fire, above the hundreds of fans, getting higher and louder screams than anything I’d ever heard in my life.
Again, you can tell, when a band is onstage, if they’re faking it and if they’re not. Super Junior was definitely poised and seasoned, but to say that they were fake would do a huge disservice to what the band has. They made jokes and didn’t overdo it. They didn’t try to be bad boys. They didn’t try to be anything but themselves.
The argument can be made that this in of itself is an act. But I don’t think it is, for a very simple reason – no one has been able to replicate this. Many groups have tried to throw together more than ten members just to see if something sticks, male and female. Even SNSD/Girls Generation was made as a counterpart to Super Junior. But Super Junior seems to be tied together by this red string of fate that wants them to keep going. Members have left, but they stay friends with the band. One member got married, but he still has a home with them (at least in the eyes of the band, many fans are still angry with Sungmin for no reason). One member, Kangin, developed alcohol abuse problems, but the band didn’t throw him under the bus – instead there was quiet anger, one I can only associate with brothers watching a brother screw himself over, and not being able to do anything about it. Through all of the playful and casually adversarial dynamics members may have, it’s clear to me that they love each other. I can think of very few groups that have this love. There are some who do, but it’s hard to spot them in a world where everyone’s just looking for the next big thing.
Most of this probably seems irrelevant. This is a film analysis blog and here I am talking about how much a group loves each other. But there’s a reason. Super Junior is the band I would consider to be the first modern K-Pop group. There had been other Korean bands and even Korean boy and girl bands before them. But Super Junior popularized the obscenely large group, had natural chemistry, weren’t overtly sexy, had catchy hits, and even came up with the term K-Pop to describe their own style. They were a perfect storm and that storm was a hurricane.
So the argument can be made that “Sorry Sorry” is therefore, the first real K-Pop song, and thus the first real K-Pop music video. Trying to isolate members in meaningful ways so that they can be differentiated, yet showing the unity of a complete group. They also had English hooks, easy dance moves, and distinctive parts in different ranges. Anyone can do at least part of “Sorry Sorry”, and everyone knows part of the chorus. And while TVXQ’s “Mirotic” and BIGBANG’s “Lies” came out before “Sorry Sorry” did, the songs were not nearly as accessible on a large scale – “Mirotic” is really angling to be sexy, which alienates fans who can’t see themselves that way (or that don’t find Yunho attractive) and “Lies” tries really hard to be American while also being too much of a ballad. “Sorry Sorry”, unlike either of those two, is a song for everyone.
What “Sorry Sorry” Does Right
Coming at it from that angle, “Sorry Sorry” is indicative of the shift in focus at the time from solely music to group dynamics. The dance routine by itself is moderately simple until we get to Eunhyuk’s popping and locking during the bridge. The focus is not on how well the members can dance – we know that some members of Super Junior don’t really have the best dancing ability, and Heechul in particular has a number of medical conditions that prevent him from dropping onto the floor in a breakdance. So having a moderate dance routine keeps everyone on even footing. Then having a dance break were the members that can dance well can show off…well that highlights the individual responsibilities of everyone in the group.
The video is also black and white, which is another equalizer. K-Pop is known as the genre where no one can keep a hair color for more than ten minutes. When you eliminate color, the focus is immediately on the members’ faces. To an extent also on their outfits, but you’re going to want to look where the movement is, and the movement is often constrained to the faces or dance moves. There are very few aesthetic shots in this MV. The set is not much to speak of. There are no flashing lights. So where are you going to look but their faces?
The opening shots are, in fact, aesthetic shots, but they’re also such non sequiturs that they don’t have much bearing on the music video itself. In terms of these shots right at the beginning though I think it’s important to note that Kibum is the only member whose face is visible, as he is an actor first and foremost. This opening does set the tone for something sexy but also classy, as all the objects depicted – stocking and garter, string of pearls, envelope with a wax seal – are indicative of wealth. Yet despite the connotations of the girl lifting her dress to reveal the stocking and garter, none of the members in the group are exposed. Romance is not meant to be the point of the video otherwise we’d probably get more overtly sexy shots – SM hasn’t shied away from this stuff before. We don’t get a face to this woman either, she is only the object of desire insofar as the subject of the song.
The woman is important though, because she operates as a viewer insert character. We do see her eye at one point, looking through a keyhole. This becomes a recurring motif, not because of the keyhole itself, but because of the fisheye look that many of the shots have. It’s meant to look like members are standing outside your room and looking in, trying to win you over. It’s actually pretty effective, because you feel closer to the members by being all up in their business, or them being all up in yours.
The final shot of the opening is the pearls falling, with the title of the video and all the members’ names. I think this does a good job of directing the focus of the viewer to the individuals – even if you can’t tell the difference between Donghae and Siwon (though you absolutely should) you at least know their names and that each member has an individual identity. This is further emphasized by the fact that there are both small differences in the members’ outfits when they’re intended to match somewhat – different shades of shirts, different ties, different jewelry, different styles of suit – and large differences when they’re not. Each member looks like they have their own personality. Yet I wouldn’t say that the personalities are shoved in your face, with the exception of the sunglasses on Eunhyuk and Han Geng which is just a try hard move when anyone does it. Sorry.
PSA: Don’t wear sunglasses indoors.
The biggest problem I have with the MV is probably Heechul being so underused. Heechul is a personal favorite idol of mine. He’s a great talent with a great personality. He’s irreverent and he’s smooth. However he was distinctly shafted in this video. It might be because of his health problems, or it might be because they were trying to put a focus on younger members, but in any event, he has two lines in the ENTIRE song, and one of them is just him laughing. This is remedied by the time “Mr. Simple” rolls around, but it does bother me as someone who values groups that keep even line distribution.
Back to Basics
In my scriptwriting course at school we were taught that ultimately, every movie or play is a pantomime, and that dialogue is just kind of a nice treat, an addition to that. Therefore, the silent movie would be an ultimate form of storytelling, and if you can nail that you’re golden. Obviously it’s more complicated than saying mastering the silent movie makes you be able to master all stories ever, but you see my point. “Sorry Sorry”, in this context, is a silent movie, stripped down to the absolute basics of what makes K-Pop…well, K-Pop.
This video serves as a road map for all K-Pop to come after. Most group MVs are variations of the format that Super Junior provided. Not to say that each group is intentionally trying to rip off SuJu. Rather, K-Pop as a medium and a mode for creativity is defined by what Super Junior successfully did. I think a comprehensive study of K-Pop should separate it into two distinct zones, before and after Super Junior. Before Super Junior the genre was kind of going through an adolescent period of taking American styles, mixing it with Korean styles, and not really knowing what was going to stick. “Sorry Sorry”, however, cuts everything out and makes something both catchy and accessible, while highlighting the members as parts of a whole and not reducing them to mere archetypes. The success of “Sorry Sorry” showed the industry what fans actually wanted. And I think that’s where Super Junior can teach us where the soul of K-Pop actually is.
Warning: this 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.
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.
There’s something oddly fascinating about the concept of schoolgirls. There is an implied innocence to them that isn’t allotted to schoolboys, but at the same time they are consistently sexualized or represented by older women. They exist in the societal limbo between children and adults, taking on one form or the other whenever it’s convenient.
Dreamcatcher’s music video “Fly High” takes advantage of the concept of school girls to tell a dramatic, fantastical story. The song is on their “Prequel” album, so it’s safe to assume that this is part of the story that was established by their previous music videos, “Chase Me” and “Good Night”. The music video is distinctly less horror than the previous ones were, and yet, it is unsettling in a very atmospheric way. There is still fantasy at play and something bizarre and uncanny, that makes you emotionally invested.
The song has a lighter feel than their previous songs, but still fits the rock pop feel that they’ve consistently had going. It sports nice piano at the beginning with a sweet drum beat, with an intense electric guitar and the occasional violin in the background. The vocals are smoother than they were in “Good Night,” probably to fit a more pop feel. Overall the song has a better drive and beat, so let’s see how the video holds up in comparison.
The color scheme is a generally soft palette with bold colors, covering most of the rainbow. It’s like watching a period piece, only colored infinitely better. Every time there is a shot, there are clear focal points, while everything continues to be coherent and have a consistent feel. The colors that stick out most are dark red, dark blue, varying shades of gold and white. There isn’t as much darkness as in other videos – night scenes have much more creative uses of light, and the video as whole does not have as dark of an atmosphere. That said the video as a whole isn’t bright and happy – it goes into a strange direction.
Since the story is so difficult to unpack and scattered in a bunch of smaller pieces, I’m going to address each one separately. We’re going to start with individual members, then break into pairings of members, and end with the scenes that have all of the members.
She only gets one scene by herself, but appears in scenes with other members. The one scene we see of her, she’s walking backwards through the woods.
Criminally underused, but still has her brief moment. The only one where she’s alone is her sitting in a bathtub, staring off into space while water drips from her hands.
She spends most of her time walking backwards and forwards through the woods, carrying a bunny toy. Like the other girls, she operates almost as if she’s in a trance. At one point though, we see her carrying something else – a rolled canvas.
Dami reprises her role as someone interested in the occult. We see her pull a book off the shelf, then read something to herself while on the floor. She’s surrounded by books, candles, and picture frames. There’s also a floating book for some reason – still can’t figure out why. She’s by the door, claiming the space as her own, and what appears to be the same bookshelf she got the book from, judging from the wood. As the camera moves closer while she’s speaking, feathers also scattered on the floor blow around her. Whatever she’s doing is working.
Gahyeon has one particularly interesting moment. We see her lying on a bed, surrounded by beautiful flowers of varying colors. There is also a single deer antler on the bed with her, by her feet. The deer antler is likely a callback to the deer heads in “Good Night”, but it does emphasize that Gahyeon’s character has something to do with nature. Her hair is even green on the ends. A hand hits the light switch and shuts it off. Feathers start flying about what we later realize is the room Dami is doing the ritual in. Gahyeon opens her eyes, and the door closes.
She thrashes about in the bed, while interspersed are clips of a woman in a white veil, carrying a candlestick, walk through the halls and towards Gahyeon. We don’t get a confirmation as to who this woman is but we can assume at this point it’s another member. Anyway, Gahyeon thrashes, seemingly immobilized. A hand with strange fantasy paint reaches out and covers her eyes.
Yooheyon is one of the two members with the most screen time. However her most important scenes involve JiU, so I want to cover those separately. The scenes that Yoohyeon gets by herself are vague, but nonetheless something that pulls in her audience. The first moment of note is Yoohyeon singing in the attic, and in the living room/parlor. The lyrics for this particular shot sequence translate into “Like I’m trapped in forgotten time / I’m trapped / In this night / A dangerous rainbow is engraved.” She makes a clock motion with her hands at the part about time, in the attic, and also a gentle choking motion at the part about being trapped, in the living room.
In a later shot, we see Yoohyeon walking towards a mirror that’s precariously placed in the yard, near the street. She walks towards it and stands in front of it ominously. Cut to her sitting in front of the mirror and touching it, and black drips out from the area near her hand and down the mirror. In the behind the scenes, Yoohyeon described it as “evil” that was supposed to be dripping out.
We also get a shot of her running through the yard, but then she stops and turns around to face the camera. When she does it cuts to a new shot of her, in the woods, wearing dark blue. She walks forward, her face empty and ominous. We see her walking away from the building, down the same path, closer to night than before.
It’s presumed, based on context clues, that Yoohyeon is the veiled figure that messes with Gahyeon. Those context clues are mainly just Yoohyeon’s predisposition to the evil things in the MV as well as the fact that we see Yoohyeon in the attic, same as the veiled figure. This is mostly conjecture but it could make sense.
Ah yes, JiU. She has the most screen time out of every member. The first shot is of her, surrounded by butterflies. The shot is very blue – the ocean behind is blue, the sky is blue, the dress is light blue, and the butterflies are blue. Later in the MV the butterflies catch on fire and disappear – this is important.
JiU walks with the other members outside in the daytime, in her schoolgirl outfit, before veering to catch something with a jar – when we get back inside, we see that it’s a spider. She spends a lot of time looking at it before one of her friends – who we don’t see at this stage – pulls her away.
We also see a girl playing piano in a room filled with black balls/balloons, on a piano covered with smaller balls like marbles. JiU walks by the room wearing a black dress, and peers in. Inside is another JiU, wearing the same dress as in the butterfly shot. JiU is shocked as the camera briefly zooms in. It moves quickly so you might miss it, but it’s there and definitely a provoking moment.
JiU is then seen running through the halls, looking over her shoulder. She seems afraid of something, but it’s not stated what it is that she’s running from. She opens the doors of the mansion and runs towards the gate. She seems urgent, but when she finally gets to the gate and closes it, she’s calm, as if there was no sense of urgency to begin with.
Siyeon and SuA
Their pairing is seen walking together through the woods in all their shots together, usually backwards. Sometimes they’re holding hands and looking at each other, other times they’re just standing, separate, Shining style. At one point, they’re holding hands and walking backwards into mist, but emerge from the same mist wearing cloaks. SuA holds the ritual book from “Good Night.” The two of them look at each other and smile.
JiU and Yoohyeon
The meat of the story is in one single interaction between these two. When JiU puts her captured spider on the table, it’s Yoohyeon who pulls her away. Behind her back she is holding a magnifying glass. So when JiU is out of the way, Yoohyeon kills the spider, letting smoke come off of the glass. This is supposedly what the burning butterflies allude to later in the video.
SuA, Siyeon, and Gahyeon
There’s only one shot of the three of them all together, but it’s of them standing perfectly still, peering down on the camera from a higher staircase. The shot is ominous from the unnatural angle, and there are deeper skulls all along the walls. There’s also a thread coming from Gahyeon’s position on the balcony. It’s unclear what the thread is supposed to be holding but it is there.
(It’s also worth mentioning, for sake of being thorough, that there is a shot with Dami, Yoohyeon, and what appears to be SuA running down the stairs, but I’m not sure if it’s of any particular significance.)
There are a number of scenes with all of the Dreamcatcher members. The first one of note is obviously the girls running in schoolgirl uniforms along the grassy path, then playing in retro-style dresses in the yard. JiU, SuA, and Siyeon all look at a birdcage before running to the other members.
The members play a Marco Polo style game where JiU has her eyes covered. The girls also play a game where JiU is against a wall and they have to run and chase her, but when she turns around to look, they all freeze. It’s a red-light-green-light situation. They end up going back inside, which is where we see JiU and the spider. The yard also has a modern art sculpture and picnic tables. There’s another scene that appears to be part of this sequence later in the music video, where Handong flies a black paper airplane. It looks like all the girls are running to catch it, but costumes indicate that this is a different day.
There’s an eerie sequence in the second verse, broken up into two parts. The first part takes place in a dining room inside the house and the second part takes place in the kitchen. The first part, we see six of the members seated, with SuA approaching the head of the table. On the right, Gahyeon, Handong, and Yoohyeon are sitting, and, directly opposite them, respectively, are Siyeon, Dami, and JiU. All six of them are sitting perfectly straight with books in front of them, and all six of them have their eyes closed. SuA carries a bell over before taking her stance. The girls all write in notebooks, before snapping their glances to the camera.
The second part of this sequence starts here, where we see the girls in the kitchen at a similar table, passing knives down the line to each other. SuA rings a bell, and they all start cutting their food – except it’s not actually food, it’s a white flower. It’s too far away to see specifically what it the flower is. If I ever find out the flower name, I’ll edit this article accordingly.
The last few shots are carefully crafted. We see SuA, surrounded by the other girls, drive a knife into the picture from “Chase Me”, cutting the edges to take it off the frame. We then see an overhead shot of the girls dancing and spinning on the yard, before standing perfectly standing still and looking up at the camera in dance formation.
This video was confusing at best, but still so beautiful to watch. Every image feels like a painting. Scrubbing through the video frame by frame made me appreciate it that much more. The shots are much better than the previous music videos by Dreamcatcher, with better focus when appropriate and no artificial sharpening. There are a handful of artificial effects, but nothing out of place. Everything feels balanced.
There is a lot of use of slow motion, long shots and short ones, a variety of different camera techniques. There are a lot of wide shots this time around, showcasing the entire setting, be it a room or outdoors. A lot of the camera techniques we associate with horror are used in this MV, particularly the one point perspective used in Kubrick-style films. There’s also awkward angles, often looking upward to the focal point of a shot. This causes a feeling of smallness, of wonderment, but also tension.
There is also a great use of natural space, and nature in general, to make the horror feel real. One of the biggest problems that “Chase Me” and “Good Night” had was weird use of effects. Good use of them, but often times they were clearly not real. The use of nature in this mv makes everything feel real, so when an effect appears it doesn’t feel out of place. Most of the aesthetic is created through props, set pieces, etc.
There is also a use of retro costumes and set pieces – nothing that shouldn’t be there is there. Everything is of the time, whatever the time may be. But it also doesn’t feel excessively retro. You can still put yourself in the position of the character and relate to them on some level. I mean malevolent witch girls is not the most relatable thing in the world, but the playfulness and curiosity of the Dreamcatcher members is still relatable.
There are a lot of story elements that are out of order in this, but the main recurring theme seems to be nature. Not just physical nature, but natural versus unnatural behavior. That said the film isn’t about nature. But just because there is a recurring theme does not mean that the film has to be about that theme. A Marvel movie can be all about superheroes but have a recurring theme and still be separate from the themes.
Let’s focus on the themes of physical nature first. Gahyeon’s bed is surrounded by flowers, much of the music video takes place outside, JiU has a predisposition to like bugs, and even the visuals make use of the four elements in various ways – we have water dripping off Handong’s hands, we have fire coming off the candles, we have earth EVERYWHERE, and since wind is an invisible element, we have hair blowing and butterflies. One could argue that witchcraft is working in conjunction with nature, so even the use of ritual books could be a force of nature. But that point is open to interpretation and part of a bigger discussion on the nature of witchcraft and religion, and this is a K-Pop blog so we’ll keep the focus geared towards the video.
The theme of natural versus unnatural behavior is the part that has the most relevance to this video. We see the girls interacting playfully with each other, playing games, exploring the surroundings, doing typical things that girls do. On the opposite side we have these strange scenes where the girls are standing perfectly still, faces blank, doing things in complete unison. There is of course the veiled figure, probably Yoohyeon, behaving like a ghost, existing in the limbo between the natural and unnatural. Siyeon and SuA walk backwards, an act that is inherently uncomfortable or involves video editing or time manipulation. You could even say that the cutting of the white flower is something unnatural – the white flower being on the plate and presumably being eaten is definitely not supposed to be happening. And, of course, there’s the act of burning the spider – death is natural but murder isn’t.
If I’ve said “natural” enough times to make you hate trees forever, don’t worry – let’s just analyze the story for a minute. It seems that some figure, and is affecting JiU, Yoohyeon, Gahyeon, and the other members. I don’t necessarily believe that Dami is the one doing the summoning, but she has the ritual book – I’m more willing to believe that she has an interest in dark magic. What’s happening with Dami just feels like it’s more isolated, more to do with her own journey into the unknown than the other girls.
The other girls, however, definitely seem to be increasingly effected by the dark magic in their world. JiU seems to be trying to protect herself, and by extension, the other girls, from whatever the dark entity is. But, ultimately, she succumbs to the evil being – we can see from the calm expression on her face that the being wins to some extent.
Yoohyeon also is affected by this and is the possible cause of these problems in the video. She burns the spider, she is touched by the evil, she walks around almost like she’s possessed. It seems like something has taken hold of her, and it’s something that she can’t control. It’s also possible that she is some sort of dark being herself, but since transformation is a motif (butterflies are a typical indicator of this theme) and we see her transformation into the blue dress, I don’t think she’s necessarily supposed to represent that.
As for what all of the girls are doing, where they’re all at the tables or acting playful. Symmetry and stiff, unnatural behavior are typically associated with horror films. Their use is often to indicate ghosts, or otherworldliness. When there’s symmetry, there’s something wrong. But if the girls are doing ghostly things inside the house but also being playful, they must somehow exist within the spheres of evil and innocence.
Overall there’s a lot to unpack in the Dreamcatcher video “Fly High”. I think this video is a must-watch in modern K-Pop. It has all of the big things and the little things, great camerawork and a great location, enough story to keep you invested and enough vagueness to make you curious. My biggest complaint is the lack of balance between members in this video, but that’s something that’ll come with time – all K-Pop groups go through a period where one member seems to be pushed into the front, usually around the debut. So with that in mind, let’s see if we get any answers to the looming question in their next video “You and I”, and if later videos balance out all the girls.
Sequels are a tricky business in any sort of media. Sometimes they surpass the previous installment to the point where the previous installment loses its luster. Sometimes they fall short of expectations and ruin the original work. Sometimes they just remake their predecessor. Other times they go in a completely new direction.
Dreamcatcher’s “Good Night” is a direct sequel to “Chase Me”, the debut song after their reformation. It’s a continuation of the story-based music videos that have since become a staple of their group, sporting, once again, a timeless haunted feeling and a rock-pop track. In my article on “Chase Me” I stated the importance of a debut song being memorable, but I also said that the group could be forgiven for having some glaring problems with their first music video, on account of it being just that. So, where does “Good Night” fit in the realm of sequels? Is it a good video or a bad video? A worthy successor or a failed attempt?
The music itself is good, but more aggressive and less cutesy than “Chase Me” was, or than “Fly High” and “You and I” would be. It personally is a little too much rock for me, but still holds up. It doesn’t have a great vocal hook, but it still has a nice musical hook in the chorus. However the girls’ voices take on a raspier and more spoken quality. It isn’t my personal favorite of their songs, but it has some good moments – I particularly like the high notes best.
“Good Night” brings back the mid-20th-century style but brings in more elements that are 19th century or even medieval. The video has a different color scheme than “Chase Me” did, sporting more blue and varying degrees of pink and yellow, as opposed to the green, red, and gold. Both of these videos still make use of black, which makes sense as this is a horror style music video. Costuming for the girls is more along the lines of flowing dresses and skirts with varying skirt lengths, mostly long sleeves, and somewhat see through fabric at times. It seems though, from the long sleeves and often neck lengths of the dresses, this is a departure from the mixed sexy/cutesy concept from “Chase Me” – the plot of this video deals with malevolent spirits and it would not be appropriate to sexualize the girls in this context. (Of course, the skirts are extremely short and outfits more form-fitting in the dance segments, but asking girls to dance in full length dresses would probably cause injuries.) The girls appear to be more made-up, but not as pale as they did in “Chase Me” – instead, depending on the set and lighting, we get to see more gold undertones or cool undertones in their skin. All this aside, we can now break into the analysis.
The opening of “Good Night” is the closing scene of “Chase Me”, where Jo Donghyuk, an actor brought in for these music videos, breaks down the door of a hotel room to find a picture of the seven Dreamcatcher members, wearing all white, sitting like typical horror-movie dolls.
Donghyuk smiles ominously, we get a layered effect of film burn that looks almost like blood, before the song comes in with some ominous chimes. From here, the music video breaks into three segments, not including the dance pieces. These segments are the girls’ room, the forest, and Donghyuk’s room.
Donghyuk’s room is the starting point for the video, where he has a desk, two very tall bookshelves, two taxidermy deer heads, pictures all over the walls, and several candles. He also has an hourglass and a mirror, and a clock on the desk in a glass container. He pulls a book off his shelf, which has a leafy, natural texture on the cover, chains around it, and a skull for a lock. This book becomes a recurring motif not just in this video, but in other videos as well by Dreamcatcher. We’ll come back to this in a minute.
The girls’ room is where the most important story elements are, because what the girls JiU, Handong, and Dami do in this room in turn effect the events in other segments of the video. The room is an alternate version of Donghyuk’s room, with most of the same elements, just a few key differences. For one thing we see another cult ritual happening, this time with two skulls, one of which is on fire, an hourglass, several books, and more candles than a Yankee Candle store. Finally, the girls actually make use of the objects in their room as opposed to Donghyuk, who spends most of his time involved in his book.
The forest segments involve Siyeon, Yoohyeon, and SuA. Siyeon and Yoohyeon are pursued by two people in masks and hoods, and SuA is entrapped by wooden arms, almost skeletal. They seem to be coming from the tree, which begs the question why they’re doing that in the first place. Siyeon and Yoohyeon largely spend their time running away and hiding. At one point they make stick people from nearby sticks and hang them from the trees. It’s not clear if this is meant to be some sort of magic thing or just a distraction to let them get away but in any event it works.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t brought up Gahyeon, she’s largely not in this video for some reason, but she has a few moments. For one thing she gets to be in the girls’ room surrounded by bubbles, which is a cool image.
Then of course there’s the elephant in the room – her falling through space. Surrounded by books. And book pages. In a white dress. Yeah, it seems like even though we don’t get to see much of her, she has some crucial part in the story at play.
Anyway, the whole Gahyeon-falling-through-space thing is triggered by Donghyuk flipping to a particular page in the ritual book, as I’ll call it. He seems amused by it. Since this is a sequel, supposedly, to “Chase Me”, it seems like he wants to harness something that the girls have – maybe it’s their power or their souls. He still seems to be the protagonist of the story, but not one we should necessarily feel sympathy for.
JiU, Handong, and Dami, meanwhile, are not having it. They lurk in their world, by the mirror, watching Donghyuk read the book and occasionally messing with things in their world. At one point Donghyuk is flipping the book, when Handong appears on screen for an instant, peering through the mirror. Suddenly her eye is superimposed over everything and he’s forced to stop what he’s doing. He goes towards the mirror, only to see a glimpse of JiU in the mirror.
Not long after, we get to Dami reaching through the mirror to get the ritual book. The girls return to the circle and we see JiU burning the page that triggered the wooden hands on SuA, which then cuts to SuA surrounded by the burning arms, unscathed.
JiU, Handong, and Dami rip books off the shelves, which causes a whirlwind of papers inside Donghyuk’s room. Donghyuk walks towards the mirror, picking up a dreamcatcher, then looks back into the mirror, which is empty.
In between inserts, the video cuts to him, now entrapped in the mirror, with JiU, Handong, and Dami all looking at him, now wearing medieval cloaks. The final few shots of the music video are of the girls walking through the woods, all wearing cloaks and carrying torches. One of them (presumably Dami) drops the book, and we see the book on the floor of the woods as the music fades out.
“Good Night” is much harder to unpack than “Chase Me” because there is more going on, as well as a universe with rules that might be well-defined as far as the script is concerned, but are not well defined by extension to the viewers. When that happens it’s hard to differentiate aesthetics from actual story elements.
The color scheme is not nearly as bold as it was in “Chase Me” and not as memorable as it is in later videos, particularly “Fly High” and “You and I”. It does not differentiate particular segments of the video well, at least in terms of color. The biggest counter argument to this point is the fact that the inserts have a variety of color schemes, including pastel pinks that dominate the screen, and the two rooms are differentiated very slightly in hue. The girls’ room has always felt more blue to me, and Donghyuk’s room has always felt more purple. However, when I went back to watch the video so I could write this review, I realized that the rooms were mostly lit and colored the same, but the outfits of the characters were what I was focusing on – the black allowed the purple-ish hue to come through in Donghyuk’s room, and the light colors allowed the blue to be more visible in the girls’ room. They were also lit slightly differently, but more to keep light on the girls on the floor than to indicate an atmospheric change. So the two spaces have very few differences ultimately, which feels like a wasted opportunity – why not have more differences in the mirrored rooms?
The cuts are also extremely fast and the camerawork is more jittery. The sharp focus problem that “Chase Me” had comes back, only now we have weird blurring effects. So the video feels more artificial than Chase Me did, where it was still fairly consistent. We also have the wide aspect ratio, which makes these things stand out even more.
Of course, not everything about this video is negative. It has very compelling imagery and a clear feeling of a story. The dance routine is definitely powerful and the costumes, while I don’t like them as much as I like them in Dreamcatcher’s other videos, they do give the sense of who these characters are and make you feel intrigued. The sets are good, despite the poorly distinguished color grading. And the girls, of course, come across very well. Their inserts show a lot of personality and make you want to watch the video more. So while the film doesn’t do the best job it could have, it still does well insofar as making you want more.
“Good Night” hammers in the fact that something is going on with the members and that Donghyuk seems to be intrigued by it. He seems to know a lot about who these girls are but not anything about their abilities or how the magic works, and yet he definitely wants to harness their power. The ritual book is ultimately what makes this clear, at least to me. He seems amused and intrigued by the book, as if it holds answers. Furthermore, when he opens it and flips to pages, that’s when we see Gahyeon falling and SuA being attacked by a tree. He doesn’t appear to be causing these events but his ambivalence thereof seems to be a factor in why they’re still ongoing.
However, JiU, Handong, and Dami are consistently working at something, which ultimately appears to be bailing their friends out of their situation. I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re “higher up” or “more powerful” than their fellow members in this video but they seem to have more of an understanding of how their world works and how to manipulate it. That said, all seven of them seem to have some understanding of how to manipulate this world. SuA and Gahyeon seem victims of the world but that might just be because driving plot points of seven different characters is a tough thing to do. But the girls in the room clearly understand the magic at play, and Siyeon and Yoohyeon know how to get away from the people who are chasing them.
Why they’re being chased is ultimately unclear, and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the fact that their previous song was called “Chase Me”. My money is on the chasers being general demons of the mirrored world. They are definitely trapped in that world against their will, but it is not apparent as to whether or not they ever get out of it. It appears that they do, or at least begin some sort of journey out of that world. If we presume that they’re dead, then maybe the mirrored world is some sort of purgatory or hell, and they have to move on, be it to heaven or to a reincarnated life. We don’t have much to go on to that end but it is a possibility.
“Good Night” tries to be more original than “Chase Me” was but falls short of its predecessor. However, that might have been beneficial to Dreamcatcher. “Fly High” came out not long after “Good Night” and that video has a lot of original elements, traditional horror, and K-Pop staples, making it a beautiful video. “Good Night” put the pieces in place for Dreamcatcher to explore more original ideas into their later videos, while still giving them a lot of room to grow. It is a great sequel in that respect, because it makes the viewer want to see more, and that, ultimately, is what a music video is there to do.