It’s that time of year again, where we at Seoulbeats dive back into all the releases so far this year and narrow down our favorites. When it comes to MVs, there are a million things that can make a release stand out. While some releases excel in visual concepts, others offer a narrative that pulls at the heart strings. This year brought a good batch of amazing cinematography, quirky narratives, and emotional content. Here, Qing, Sarah and Chelsea mull over their favorites from the first half of 2016. After reading through their choices and judging criteria, don’t forget to let us know your favorites in the comments!
“One of These Nights”
“How People Move”
“Seasons of the Heart”
“One of These Nights”
“I Am You, You Are Me”
|Baek A Yeon
|5||Chen & Heize
“Bonnie & Clyde”
Chelsea: This list was such a struggle to come up with. It’s not that 2016 so far is lacking in pretty MV’s, but unlike years previous, very few stood out to me for their story/message as well as their visuals. Whereas in last year’s mid year review I chose MVs mostly for their political undertones, this year my assessment was based almost purely on aesthetics. More specifically, how well the content of the track matched up with the visuals.
What criteria were you guys judging by?
Qing: The artistic value of a MV is one of the most important factors in my assessment: the plot (if any), visual aspects, and cinematography should be coherent and thoughtful. I also look out for how the aesthetics and editing match aural details in the song, such as the mood, pace, or how it rises and falls. The MV should either support the song’s content, like Chelsea mentioned, or stand solidly on its own if the content should differ. To me, it doesn’t really matter what type of MV it is—narrative, dance, lyric, or pure aesthetics. But something about the MV should stick in my mind, whether it’s the story, the acting, an image, or even a particular prop.
Sarah: Similarly to Qing, I think a music video should enhance the song in some way and also be able to artistically stand on it’s own. I didn’t make my choices based on only one criterion, instead I tried to choose music videos of different types that all spoke to me in some way, and worked well in the full package of visuals, plot, and music. I tend to go for the more dramatic, but I’ve found it has to tie together in some way in the end. Hence, Red Velvet made it into my top 10, but despite its gorgeousness and the high quality cinematography it was a bit too open ended in plot to make the top 5 for me.
Qing and Chelsea, what were some specific reasons why these videos made your top 5?
Qing: The meticulous use of cinematography to achieve a visually stunning MV was what made Red Velvet‘s “One of These Nights” top my list. I appreciated the open-endedness that Sarah mentioned. I don’t like it when a MV is too open-ended to the extent that you can’t make any sense out of it. “One of These Nights”, however, has a directed open-endedness to it.
Although you can’t pin it down to one interpretation, you can still interpret it, for instance as a elegy to the victims of the Sewol Ferry incident. Even if you choose not to read it this way, it is a strong expression of the core emotion of the song: longing. The directors didn’t fit an obvious story line to it, choosing instead to use Red Velvet’s expressions and gestures, and the colors, lighting, and editing. So it was that much more evocative and artistic, and I found myself drawn to it the more times I watched it. It wasn’t empty aesthetics; it captured the emotions and mood of the song in an achingly beautiful way.
Chelsea: I also put Red Velvet’s “One of These Nights” on my list because it’s simply a beautiful, and subtly emotional, compliment to a track that is all about longing and distance. I’m not necessarily convinced about the Sewol interpretation, but I do applaud SM for putting so much care into the MV to tell an emotional story without a clear narrative. For me, it wasn’t so much about trying to understand what the MV was about, but rather experiencing the emotions the track conveyed in a mysterious and cathartic way.
Qing: I originally had Yoochun‘s “How Much Love Do You Have In Your Wallet” in second place. The story it told moved me to tears and it delicately brought out the mix of gloominess and hope expressed by the song. But in the end, I swapped in Seo In-Guk‘s “Seasons of the Heart” because the camerawork and editing was used to a greater artistic effect to support the music and mood. Unlike “One of These Nights”, “Seasons of the Heart” had a clear story to it. Like “One of These Nights”, though, there was a deliberate and careful use of muted colors and soft lighting to create a dreamy, melancholic mood. Instead of just telling the story, the MV shows it, or more specifically the emotions of the couple underlying it.
Sarah: Oh, yes, “How Much Love Do You Have In Your Wallet” had a wonderful story to it. I almost chose that one as well. Instead I decided to go for Jungin‘s “UUU” for the emotional kick, and “Crosswalk” for the story line. Another story line MV that really grabbed my heart was “Narcissus” by Heechul, Whee-in, and Jung-mo. The song was already emotional and while the MV started off as an ordinary, though quite cute, love story, the twist at the end really hit me hard. I appreciated the simplicity of the plot there too.
Chelsea: On the opposite end of the spectrum, Akmu’s “How People Move” tops my list this year because it’s pure fun, with amazing aesthetics to boot. Echoing Qing in her MV review, I love that Akmu’s songs are all about the quirkiness of the mundane, and I think the “How People Move” MV captured the eccentricities of the song in a visually intriguing way. Long story short, it made me smile.
The same can be said for Baek A-yeon’s “So-So.” Even though the track is not necessarily happy, the narrative of Baek A-yeon essentially being hospitalized for romantic apathy made me both giggle and empathize. The MV turned the whole romance plot on it’s head, with an adorable cast of characters that wanted nothing more than to make Baek A-yeon smile. Their efforts combined with her continued ambivalence played well into the song’s wavering between longing for love and not really minding being alone.
Qing: Like Chelsea, I appreciated how fun “How People Move” was, but it was a pity that the potential of the quirky concept (of AkMu being kidnapped by toys) was not fully exploited. “Re-Bye” made it to my list instead because it went all out with the narrative, and so it felt more complete. Although it doesn’t reflect the content of the song (unlike “How People Move”), the styling and set matches the retro, glamorous sound really well. It’s an unmistakably AkMu MV: delightful, with a twist at the end.
Sarah: Chelsea, I also laughed when I watched Baek A Yeon’s “So-so”. The imagery at first looked so like an ordinary love story, and then we realize she’s being treated for romantic apathy, and it suddenly becomes that much more absurd. However it was just the right amount of absurdity and simply made the point of the song that much stronger. I’d also like to mention Cross Gene’s “누나 너 말야” for another twist of absurdity. It isn’t as well formatted as “So So”, which is why I didn’t put it up high on my list, but I enjoyed it none-the-less. Truly, a bad boy concept where they try to fight using basketballs and skateboards and it turns out the damsel in distress does all the work of saving herself anyway? What’s not to like.
Going back to Qing’s earlier comment, the most open-ended, purely visual favorite for me was Winner‘s “Sentimental“, though Akmu’s “How People Move” was also very high on my list – the playfulness of it all, the partially implied simple story line, the colors, everything worked so well. I also loved Astro’s “Hide & Seek” for many of the same reasons, and just the overall cuteness of it all, toeing that line so well between disgusting and adorable. However, I ended up choosing Astro’s “Cat’s Eye” over “Hide & Seek” because of how refreshing it was to see a more natural and different style of dance MV. Compliments to the boys of Astro for being able to pull off not one, but two spectacular debut music videos.
Chelsea: Astro’s “Cat’s Eye” is really cute, Sarah. Thanks for bringing them to my attention. I dare say, they’re the best at rocking that whole school-boy-in-love trope so far this year.
Looking at my final two picks, Lee Hi’s “Breathe” stood out to me for the way it beautifully captured Seoul. Specifically the way it contrasted the hustle bustle with moments of reprieve all set to Lee Hi’s soothing vocals. Dean’s “Bonnie & Clyde” is a wild ride of a track, and the MV played into the sensual disorientation of the melody really well for me.
It seems like you both struggled to get your list down to only five MVs, what were some of your almosts? How did you manage to narrow it down?
Sarah: I actually had a long list of almosts. I easily made a top 10 list, and still had another five or six beyond that I was trying to choose from. Considering I started counting music videos of the spring and gave up when I got close to 200… there were quite a lot that I was trying to sift through to find the ones I remembered as standing out to me. I chose Monsta X‘s “All In” right off the bat as my number one because it appealed to me personally in all the right ways. I can understand where others might not feel the same way about it, but the heavy plot (no dancing), the aesthetic, the sci-fi and apocalyptic aspects, and the drama and acting of all the members, all tickled my fancy. The others I had a much harder time choosing.
Some honorable mentions I want to make sure to highlight (because they’re just so good) are Vidan’s “Wishes of the Rings” – while not strictly a K-pop music video it’s a gorgeous indie one, seriously just go watch it right now, with subtitles, and enjoy the story time – Kei.G‘s “Shine” – an adorable love story with a tiny robot matchmaker, enough said – and the heart-wrenching, if you read into them, “Letting Go” by Day6 and “Galaxy” by Ladies’ Code – both tributes to lost group members and both showing extensive imagery of those now empty places. I agree that there were a lot of them that had very similar colors and themes, but I think it’s always been that way – the themes have simply shifted slightly. It’s always interesting to see what the new obsession of directors is, and how they each reference it in different ways, like the differences between “So So” and Jonghyun‘s “She Is” or AkMu and Red Velvet.
Qing: Like Sarah, I started with a list of about 10 MVs, so I have a bunch of honorable mentions. I’ve already commented on “How Much Love Do You Have In Your Wallet” and “So-So”; “Letting Go” is another MV that stood out, for the reason Sarah has mentioned. The song on its own might be read as a message to an ex-lover, especially because there are so many love songs around that we tend to assume romantic love is the subject of most tracks. But the repeated presence of empty keyboards quite subtly but powerfully shift the viewer’s interpretation to relate it to Junhyeok‘s departure from the group. It doesn’t displace the first reading, but rather adds another possible reading, which enriches the song.
Although Eric Nam‘s “Good for You” was the title track, the “Interview” MV stole the show for me. The set draws from different types of interviews—verbal, magazine, video—and mixes virtual interfaces with physical materials. It’s a really inventive lyric MV, with the lyrics popping up in all kinds of places, like name cards, menus, and a clapboard. The little surprises kept the video going. It was thoroughly enjoyable, just like Mamamoo‘s “1cm Taller Than You“. “1cm Taller Than You” is such a great parody. It uses a simple set, but drew laughs from me with the girls’ cute upset expressions and the scene that uses their height gradient to move a toy car.
Chelsea: Truth be told, I didn’t have a lot of “almosts” for this list. While the MVs this year have all been aesthetically competent, very few actually stood out to me. I think some of it has to do with the fact that a lot of MVs seem to be using similar color schemes/aesthetics that they all sort of blend together into a blob of pastels — unless it’s a group I have an attachment to.
Do you feel the same way or am I just missing something?
Qing: Pastels have definitely been very dominant in MVs this year. I don’t mind pastels, but I think it should be used with a clearer purpose. What I like about “So-so” is that it didn’t amp up the saturation. It’s just soothing pastels, mellow and not too sweet, like A-Yeon’s vocals and the song itself. I love the cameo by her poodle Very, and how the MV is like “who needs a relationship when you have a dog!” or alternatively “fall in love with a guy who likes your dog!”
Speaking of colors, the predominance of blacks and oranges in Zico‘s “I Am You, You Are Me” brought out the ambivalence of the song and the MV’s story. The concept alone seems cute, inverting the idea of couple outfits: instead of falling in love, dating, and then wearing couple outfits, the couple in the MV start noticing each other because they keep wearing the same things by accident. The lyrics are light-hearted, but there’s a dark edge to certain lines and surrealism in the music, matched by the uncanniness of the couple’s similarities in the MV. They not only wear the same clothes, but also find their shoelaces untied on the same side, and get a cut on their fingers at the same time. There is a blend of attraction and aversion that is very fascinating.
Chelsea: With the overwhelming wave of pastels this year, MV’s like Zico’s definitely stand out — especially when the distinctive color choices actually contribute to the narrative, like you said, Qing. The vibrant colors in “How People Move” are a major reason the MV tops my list. They played up the bright nature of the track, rather than subduing it in pastels, which my eyes appreciated. I was disappointed by “She Is” because it could have had a lovely color scheme, had the brightness not been reduced so much. But, that’s a whole other discussion to be had.
Looking back, with all the potential criteria for choosing our favorites, it’s kind of amazing that we not only managed to narrow down a list of five, but that we shared so many favorites. (If not on our official list, then on our ‘almost’ list.) There were trends this year, for sure, but it seems like the MVs that stood out for us were those that thought outside of the box or turned the trends on their heads to entertain the audience. While I may not be completely wowed by the output so far in 2016, I do agree there have been some real gems this year; and I think we’re all looking forward to what the rest of the year has in store.
Readers, do you agree with our choices? What are you favorite MVs so far in 2016?
(YouTube     . Images via YG Entertainment, Jellyfish Entertainment, SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, Polaris Entertainment.)