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.
What could this unfinished business be?
Well. I’ll leave you here, with this.