Just in time for the jangma (rainy season) here in Korea, songstress Younha (also termed as the “original IU”) has released a remake of her previous collaboration with hip hop trio Epik High, “Umbrella”. While both MVs feature shots of endless rain and lingering looks, it is needless to say that despite the similarity in subject matter Younha’s solo version of “Umbrella” has a decidedly different interpretation shown in the MV as compared to the collaboration version. Known for her ballads, Younha’s version is a decidedly gentler, more wistful remake of the original.
The opening shot of rain falling onto a pavement immediately establishes the melancholy, pensive mood of the song and MV with its subdued colour palette, and Younha’s delicate vocals provide the perfect aural counterpart to the visuals. A large portion of the MV shows Younha walking around in the rain under an umbrella while an unnamed man appears in the background, always keeping a distance from her. Occasionally, their paths intersect and they are together for a fleeting moment before it is revealed that the man is gone, or in fact does not exist. The MV ends with Younha fading away as she walks into the distance out of the camera’s sight, giving it the lingering, wistful ending that the rest of the MV is imbued with.
While the imagery of the MV is simple, it also proves that an MV does not have to rely on overly complex imagery and symbolism in order to portray an idea effectively. The lyrics often rely on the same few images— rain/tears welling up, the rain cloud, the umbrella— but far from feeling repetitive, the starkness of the few images in the lyrics, also echoed in the minimalism of the MV, adds a feeling of hollowness to the song.
That being said, simple imagery like that shown in the MV is hardly the kind that would linger with the viewer long after the MV ends, given that similar MVs are a dime a dozen among Korean ballad MVs. In comparison, the collaboration version of “Umbrella” between Younha and Epik High back in 2008 takes a more literal, and subsequently visceral, approach to the loss of the significant other/umbrella.
The main difference between both versions is that the Epik High version is much more packed, with Tablo and Mithra both having a substantial rap verses while Younha’s vocals add the more delicate colour to the song; in the Younha version, having purely her vocals makes the song more lyrical and less frantic. With Tablo anchoring the performance of the jilted lover, the MV’s most striking imagery derives from the artistic choice to depict the rain indoors— Tablo awakes in bed to a soaking wet room, and the rain relentlessly beats down even as he attempts to complete daily tasks like brush his teeth. The juxtaposition of comic-like, hand-drawn images in the MV intercut with the bleak scenes of Tablo and the unnamed woman adds a sense of ironic whimsy into a melancholic song.
Perhaps most obvious is the difference in ending— while Younha ends with a gradual fading away into the rain, Epik High ends with the emergence of the sun and the rainbow, as our male and female protagonists are reunited by the rainbow at the end. Thus, while Younha’s “Umbrella” remains consistent in tone throughout, Epik High offers a more eclectic range of visuals that subsequently makes for richer viewing.
In all, while Younha’s solo MV version of “Umbrella” is a valiant effort and does well to play to her strengths, with simple yet exquisite imagery to complement her sweet tones, the original version combining both Epik High and Younha results in a much more interesting MV.