What’s to Hate About Epik High’s “Don’t Hate Me?”
After a much awaited three-year hiatus, Epik High returns with two title songs, one of which is the fun and upbeat “Don’t Hate Me.” Loaded with amusing antics and cosplay from a pack of murderous children arrived at a local supermarket through an alternate reality concept, the MV is tons of fun as the viewer is invited to a game of “spot the reference” for each kid’s hilarious Halloween costume. Among the cosplay participants are those portraying famous movie villains such as the Joker, Two-Face, Chucky, Jason, Scarface, Hannibal Lecter, Jigsaw, and most notorious of all: Lady Gaga (meat included) and G-Dragon (crayon included). If you’ve yet to do so, check out the hilarious MV for Epik High’s “Don’t Hate Me.”
There are three things which Epik High and YG Entertainment did very well with “Don’t Hate Me.” First of all, it feels like a breath of fresh air that Epik High is returning with something different from their usual overly sentimental and heartfelt tracks. It is quite apparent that YG played a hand in lightening up the group. Hang Won-ki, the director of Epik High’s previous more somber sobering hits “One,” “Run,” and “1 Minute 1 Second,” frames the light tone of the song very accordingly with a wacky funhouse theme, which is quite divergent from their previous collaborations, without taking too much away from the cerebral jolt that one would expect from an Epik High song. As fellow Seoulbeats writer, Gaya, predicted, YG left creative control mostly to the artists (with some musical input by in-house producer, Choice37) but definitely made its mark in terms of their aesthetics. Although Epik High returns with a far more commercial appeal that will attract new fans from the mainstream, their indie hip hop roots can still be felt through their music and artistic expression. The result of such a fusion between indie and mainstream may have negative implications which will be touched upon later on.
Secondly, the teasers that led up to the release of “Don’t Hate Me” were suitably accommodating to the song. Unlike the typical teasers nowadays which show a sample of the song and tip off the stylistic concept, YG’s simplistic approach kept audiences guessing, adding to the mounting anticipation of Epik High’s comeback. Starting with Psy, then Seungri, and finally with Epik High’s Tablo, all three YG artists are depicted holding up a plain white sign with big block letters that state, “DON’T HATE ME.” Through the teaser photos, the meaning of the song is alluded to without giving too much of it away. Playing off of the controversy surrounding some of its artists, YG’s choice of sign holders were meant to make a bold statement. Before Psy became “Gangnam Style,” he was known quite a bit for his daring antics. From inserting a cleverly profane title and inappropriate content into his debut song, to being busted for smoking marijuana before he could promote his new album, to being forced to return to military service due to his failure to fulfill his duties, Psy hasn’t exactly been the poster boy for proper celebrity conduct. His distressed manner in the teaser photo seems to indicate a desire for pity from those who might have acquired a poor impression of him due to his past actions.
In a more daring statement, Seungri is depicted with a remorseful look in his teaser photo, which is obviously referring to his two recent controversies: the leaked bedroom photos and a relationship scandal with Japanese actress, Anna Kubol. As with any controversy, the artists involved are always painted in a bad light by their legion of anti-fans. Unfortunately, an artist’s popularity and rabid fan base is always counteracted by an even more ravenous anti-fan base that is ready to pounce at an artist’s smallest revealed blemish. Such an example couldn’t have been more profound than the anti-fandom that developed through Tablo’s controversy regarding the legitimacy of his education at Stanford University. A 57-year old Korean-American was discovered to be at the head of an anti-fan café whose objective was to demean and tarnish Tablo’s career and image. In the aftermath of the scandal, Tablo was portrayed as the sympathized victim, which is very apparent in his beleaguered expression in the teaser photo. The three teasers help contextualize the song’s message in a very bold and artistic manner.
Lastly, the theme of the video coincides with and enhances the message of the song. Aside from the comical affect, what does a pack of rampaging maniacal children have to do with a song pertaining to Epik High’s (particularly Tablo’s) hardships and their relationship with their fans and anti-fans? The lyrics of “Don’t Hate Me” express a schizophrenic love-hate relationship that Epik High shares with their fans and anti-fans. While the chorus is an endearing tribute to their supportive fans, the verses rip at the detestable behavior of their anti-fans. The division in the intended audience (fans vs. anti-fans) is initially clear in that Epik High thanks their supporters for staying with them through the uplifting chorus while calling out their haters through the mocking rap verses. However, towards the bridge, the intended audience becomes a bit muddled as the speaker seems to be addressing both types of fans.
“Do you guys dislike me so much?
Please just love me.
They love me. They hate me.
(repeat two more times)
Love and hate! I appreciate both, whatever.”
After some more dubious statements about love and hate, the song ends with,
“It’s all I need that you are my fan!”
At this point, it becomes questionable whether their statements of love and hate are addressing their fans, anti-fans, or maybe both.
The MV contributes additional meaning through the representation of the kids and adults. In the beginning, Epik High is portrayed as tired, ungrateful, and unprofessional employees at a 24-hour supermarket. Just when the market’s patrons begin grimacing and complaining about Tablo’s ungracious servitude, all hell breaks loose as little monsters emerge through the doors of the supermarket and begin causing homicidal havoc. At this point, one may interpret the supermarket’s adult patrons as Epik High’s anti-fans who are showing their disapproval at their controversial behavior while the rampaging children may be seen as the rabid supporters of Epik High who have come to their aid. The band members join in the revolt and the adults are quickly overrun. When security finally arrives and threatens to put the little minions back in their place, they are also overpowered by the children’s demonic army. In a bit of a twist, the adults inside are converted into costumed villains and additional costumed adults arrive from the outside.
So if the children represent Epik High’s fans and the adults represent their anti-fans, then what do the presence of these costumed adults indicate? The MV’s lighthearted symbolism combined with the dubious lyrics addressed to both fans and anti-fans alike relay the message that Epik High has overcome their anti-fans and have even converted some of them into supportive fans. Through their persistence and desire to continue making good music, along with YG’s marketization of them into the mainstream, Epik High is stating that they are back and are stronger than ever.
Controversy always brings about unavoidable negative PR, but the positive is that it also brings about greater attention from the viewing public. Instead of avoiding Epik High’s controversial past, YG is directly addressing the issue, especially pertaining to Tablo’s innocence. They are utilizing the attention gained from Tablo’s scandal to draw greater attention to Epik High’s comeback. Epik High is also willing to overlook their marred relationship with some of their anti-fans and is willing to accept them into their growing fandom. Whether you hate them or love them, all they care is that you are their fan!
The only negative aspect of Epik High’s comeback is the question of whether they have been overly commercialized by YG. While their change of tone is certainly welcomed, does it sway too far from their indie hip hop roots? Epik High came out as a socially conscious hip hop group which, upon fame, became an intermediary between Korea’s mainstream and underground hip hop music scene. After their fallout with Woollim Entertainment, they started their own label, Map the Soul (which they eventually decided to merge back into Woollim), and continued making music that was in the recognizable style of Epik High. Now under the mainstream umbrella of YG, has Epik High gone too far in commercializing their brand?
While Epik High is still as lively and consciously sensible as ever, the commercial appeal of their MV unquestionably overrides some of their artistic appeal. For the purpose of catering to a wider audience through a fun and lighthearted tone, Epik High has sacrificed some of the intensity in their artistic expression that was so prevalent in their previous releases. As aesthetically appeasing pleasing as “Don’t Hate Me” is, and as much as I like that they are no longer emotionally hampered by all their heavily sentimental material, this MV and title track simply doesn’t give off the familiar Epik High vibe that their diehard fans have come to love. The greater appeal to first-timers of the Epik High brand comes at the risk of alienating their long-time fans. Whether their evolution is a good or a bad thing is definitely up for debate.
Overall rating: 4 out of 5
What’s your opinion, Seoulmates? Are you feeling Epik High’s new groove? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to mention which one was your favorite mini-costume!