As much criticism as K-pop receives for its superficial aesthetics and its derivative sound, critics and fans alike have to admit that its MVs are top notch. They are K-pop’s main selling point and the primary reason why it attracts so many international fans. MVs allow artists to convey universal messages that go beyond the scope of language. No matter where one resides in the world, a plump man horse-dancing through the streets will tickle one’s funny bone, a grazing lamb will remind one of innocence and purity, and a shirtless Daesung chained to a wall will…well, you know.
This year’s top MVs aimed to make us either utterly depressed or giddily cheerful. As for the voting, our readers clearly indicated that they preferred videos with a positive and upbeat vibe rather than ones which remind us of heartbreak and despair. Without further ado, let’s reflect on some of our top picks for 2012.
Coming in third on our poll, and receiving much recognition for its controversial topic, Ga-in’s transition into womanhood is both literally and figuratively depicted in “Bloom.” The MV does a fine job of blending the literal and figurative, comparing a woman’s sexual discovery to the blossoming of a flower. We’ve seen MVs this year use English metaphors to convey greater meaning to its international audience (see Yoseob’s “Caffeine”), but none does it better than “Bloom” which symbolically depicts images of an apple (biblical symbol for “knowledge” which appears next to Ga-in’s pillow and is thrown at her in the MV’s last shot), lambs, and of course plenty of flowers in bloom. Furthermore, these symbols of purity and discovery are brought into stunning contrast with one of K-pop’s most steamy sex scenes to date, along with a shot of Ga-in doing a sensuous pole dance purposely in front of a sprinkler on full blast. “Bloom” deserved every last vote from our readers and every bit of critical acclaim it’s received for the song’s vibrant message and the MV’s depiction of universal symbols and metaphors.
“Gangnam Style” was the year’s viral video sensation but it only comes in at second on our poll. Although mostly known for Psy’s display of clownish antics, “Gangnam Style” is actually filled with satirical meaning meant to poke fun at the lavish display of perceived wealth amongst those living and presiding in Seoul’s Gangnam district. It’s ultimately a subversive claim against the contradictory lifestyle pursued by so many who seek to “make it” in Korea’s most snotty and superficial hot spot of 15 square miles. While the song alone is far from complex or meaningful, the MV is hilariously noted for its ironic images. Through shots of Psy tanning at (not a beach but) a sandy playground, walking down a runway with models while getting pummeled by blowing trash, partying on a bus with the elderly, falling for HyunA in (of all places) the subway, going swimming (not in a luxurious pool but) in a hot tub, and rapping while sitting (not on a throne but) on a public toilet, the video is mocking the eccentric lifestyle of Gangnam by putting emphasis on some of the not so glamorous sacrifices people have to make in order to make ends meet and to endow in themselves a presumptuous sense of belonging in Seoul’s most uppity neighborhood. In essence, he is implying that many of Gangnam’s residents are making a fool of themselves because they do the same song and dance over and over again in order to fit in. In this case, it just happens to be a horse dance.
“Fantastic Baby” defeated “Gangnam Style” on our poll by a close margin and is Big Bang’s version of the surreal confidence type of song made popular by their sister group, 2NE1, through tracks like “Fire,” “Can’t Nobody,” and last year’s “I am the Best.” Big Bang puts their own spin on things by adding a resistance-through-music element; but it’s essentially a fun dance track complemented by boastful lyrics and a surprisingly over-the-top MV. The aesthetics transform the members of Big Bang into something we’ve never seen before, imitating kings who have been dethroned, exiled, and held captive. Their imprisoned states remind us a bit of the concept for Brown Eyed Girls’ “Sixth Sense,” though the images here are not so much designed for symbolism but more so for upping the video’s coolness factor. While there is a slight hint of a message in the plot which reveals masked protestors overthrowing an anti-music dictatorship through rebellion and dance to restore Big Bang as their rightful overlords, the overall purpose of the MV is meant to be catchy and fun. It’s simply one of those videos which make us want to put our hands up and yell “Boom Shakalaka.”
As for the best of the rest, it’s important to consider them through two separate criteria. As mentioned above, there are those MVs which are intended to inspire positivity and glee and those which are meant to instill a deep sobering message. Each type does so through its own style of cinematography and creative choices. Let’s begin with my picks for the most fun and exciting MVs of the year (outside of those already named).
Through Epik High’s “Don’t Hate Me,” YG shows us why it is the premier label when it comes to making MVs which are entertaining and downright mind blowing. Released a week before Halloween, Epik High pulled out all the spooky stops by featuring a murderous cast of little monsters who take over and inhabit a local supermarket through some form of alternate dimension black hole. The well designed mini-costumes, fake gore, and overall hysteria of the video makes it one of the most hilarious MVs of the year indicating Epik High’s new image and its bombastic return to the scene after going through some rough and uncertain times. For further analysis of the monstrous fun yet surprising depth of the video, click here, or check it out below.
Continuing on the theme of bad-ass hilarity, “Nillili Mambo” signaled Block B’s return to the scene after controversy put the group on hiatus for much of the year. With a modern pirate theme, the boys did not disappoint as the MV seemed like a trailer for a full-length feature film reminiscent of the ’90s Hong Kong triad movies, most popularized by the “Young and Dangerous” franchise. While Zico is no Ekin Cheng, the money-chasing gimmicks of low level gangsters, hilarious antics of the supporting cast, and exotic locale of which the video was shot makes it a fine tribute to the classic cinematic genre. The scene where U-Kwon reveals that his gun is out of bullets and in turn receives a beat down (instead of a bullet to the brain) is a comical archetype that is signature of this type of cinematic experience. Bravo to Block B.
As proof that the ladies can also pull off fun and exciting while still being sexy, my bias pick goes to T-ara’s “Lovey Dovey.” I understand some people didn’t like “Lovey Dovey” because the concept of the MV didn’t quite go along with the lyrics of the song, but since when did a song’s lyrics ever get in the way of our enjoyment of it? Of course, I am not referring to the stretched-out drama version’s conclusion to “Cry Cry,” but the more notable zombie dance version which, like “Nillili Mambo,” is also a tribute to another classic genre of film, but with a modern twist. Zombies and hot girls are common components of the low budget American sexploitation films of the ’60s which were a cover for selling softcore porn to men in the form of a movie. For further reference, check out Quentin Tarantino’s tribute to the genre in “Planet Terror.” Furthermore, the zombies and shuffling are perhaps minor references to LMFAO’s worldwide megahit “Party Rock Anthem.” Through this blend of classic and modern, “Lovey Dovey” has this sleazy underground dance club vibe that is vastly different from any concept this year. Plus, the girls turn into the most attractive zombies ever!
Next we have the MVs which I found to be the most meaningful and deep in their messages. These are the videos which will never win a popularity contest due to their pedantic posturing, but will deeply resonate with the viewer who spends the time and effort to deconstruct them for their full effect. They also happen to be very touching and possibly tear-inducing. Dive in at your own risk.
I won’t go too much into Nell’s “The Day Before” because much has already been said here and here, but it’s perhaps the most subtly impactful MV of the year. Upon first watch, many viewers will probably find the pacing too slow and end up scratching their heads at the end, like I did. However, this is definitely one of those videos which reward a second and third viewing. Hint: the sequences aren’t exactly in chronological order and they combine real events with imagined ones, telling a sadly beautiful story through features which are specific to the visual medium. This viewing is most rewarding if one first takes the plunge unguided, and then read the links provided above for further explanation.
The MV for Zia’s recent release, “One Year,” is well worth a look not only for the dramatic acting turns of several boy band members, but for the artistry of the video. While the song’s lyrics expresses the female narrator’s inability to let go of an ex even after a year since the breakup, the MV reveals that the nature of this past relationship was far from ideal. Instead of hiring one skilled actor to play the changing moods of the former boyfriend, the use of Siwan of ZE:A, Baro of B1A4, and Bang Yong-guk of B.A.P to represent the three emotional states of the male lead is quite creative, featuring some crafty camera-work which allows the three men to come in and out interchangeably within a continuous sequence. The shot where angry Baro stares into the mirror as the reflection somehow transforms into an enraged Bang Yong-guk is shocking and mesmerizing. Best of all, the changing personalities of the boyfriend tells us more about the character of the woman who yearns for her former lover and in a way blames herself in the lyrics despite their past relationship evidently being an emotional rollercoaster ride that bordered on abusive. There’s nothing more stunning than contrast.
Last but not least, the simplest and arguably the most touching MV on the list is Kim Jong-kook’s “Men Are All Like That.” The message in this video is succinct and concrete enough that any viewer can immediately decipher it upon first watch, albeit further viewings would serve to enhance the story’s final effect. The sequences convey a constant theme in the life of a man, played by Song Joong-ki, one which dictates the uncomplicated notion that men tire of things easily. This message is clearly developed through images of the male child growing tired of his old toy before moving on to a newer and better toy as we witness him continuously observe this pattern until he has become a fully grown adult. These sequences all lead up to the MV’s final tear-wrenching punch line, in which all of his former toys are left scattered and neglected in a plain room, and the latest addition to this heap of former interests is the woman for whom we see him lose passion in the final sequence. In this MV, the woman is purposely “objectified” as she is being presented quite literally as an object of the man’s desires. And like his other former objects of affection, she is left to be discarded as he anticipates the next interesting object that catches his fancy.
With the good, there is always the bad. Since my qualifiers for what’s good consists of those which are creative, enticing, and original, then the bad should by all means be derivative, plain, and uninspired. Here are my picks for this year’s first of the worst.
“Oppa is Just My Style” may be the second most viewed K-pop video of the year, but it doesn’t stop it from seeming like the ugly neglected twin of “Gangnam Style.” Cube obviously struck a deal with YG to make a HyunA follow-up showcase in exchange for lending her talents to “Gangnam Style.” YG certainly honored that back-room agreement, but probably left the production of “Oppa is Just My Style” to a team of interns.
Speaking of unoriginal, “Lovey Dovey Plus” was billed as a homage to “Lovey Dovey” by T-ara’s sibling group, Speed, but did that mean that their MV had to consist mostly of the members dancing in a plain room? I’m not even going to go into the MV’s second version which is basically a continuous shot of one of the Ryu twins’ face (I seriously can’t tell which one) as she sings and moves along to the song. As far as marketing goes, CCM could have done a much better job in launching this male sub-unit of Co-ed School which will likely become CCM’s first sincere entry into the boy band market.
As far as boring and unoriginal goes, this category is usually dominated by poor debuts from start-up companies that should have spent more time polishing their product before debuting its act. While there are certainly a number of horrible debut MVs to choose from this year, none could be as boring, uninspired, and generic as Lay-T’s debut with “Soft Soft.”
What MVs receive your vote for the best and worst of 2012?