T-ara has made a tremendous effort to bounce back from their various scandals. Full group comebacks, Japanese comebacks, sub-groups, another full comeback; you name it, they’ve tried it. Sadly for them, none of these efforts have paid off. Now, CCM seems to be trying the only thing they have left: solo debuts. Jiyeon has made the first debut with “Never Ever” and it’s…alright.
The song itself is decent. It hits a tempo that’s faster and dance-ier than a ballad, but not quite hitting the fast BPM of most T-ara songs. The slower beat and more sensual sound prevents a casual listener from mistaking “Never Ever” for a T-ara song. Jiyeon, while not a standout vocalist, is still able to deliver a good performance, making up in charisma what she lacks in vocal skill.
The production work is also decent. “Never Ever” is pretty stripped down, allowing Jiyeon’s voice to dominate over the instrumentals. Shockingly, this works really well. “Never Ever” was no doubt written for Jiyeon specifically, but the crisp, minimalistic music compliments her voice wonderfully. That said, “Never Ever” is decent; no more, no less. It’s pleasant to listen to, but it doesn’t really pop.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhQGlshAK3k]
The MV, on the other hand, is a cut above the usual…half the time. For half of the video, we see Jiyeon coping with her breakup in a very mature way: dwelling on the pain! She’s heartbroken, clearly incapable of doing much more than just going through the motions of life. Jiyeon also starts knitting a sexy red scarf that is sure to win her handsome boyfriend back. Yet, throughout these segments, there’s something not right. Everything’s fuzzy; the camerawork is out of sync. Jiyeon’s entire world literally vanishes into a wall of white, and she doesn’t notice. It’s a nice trip right into the Uncanny Valley. The last shot reveals Jiyeon locked in a (fairly archaic) insane asylum, her knitting the only color in a sea of white.
These leads to two very interesting theories about what happened. Option one is that the whole thing, from her romance to her fish, was imaginary. She has been locked in the asylum the whole time, and even in her own mind, she cannot be happy. Her love that she’s so devoted to was never really there at all, adding a whole boatload of tragedy and some logic to Jiyeon’s declarations.
Never ever, I can’t give up on you
Never ever, I’m writing down each letter of your name
Never ever, don’t hide from me
Never ever, don’t leave me
I can’t breathe without you, not for 1 minute 1 second
Never ever, ever never
After all, it’s hard to get over someone when they’re quite literally a part of you, even if you know they’re not real.
The other theory is that her relationship was real, and the end sent Jiyeon into a psychotic break. The world around her is how she sees it. She was able to cope somewhat, as shown by her routine and general ability to keep herself alive, but slowly, she broke down. Everything began to blur as it lost any sense of importance to her, with only her boyfriend and scarf remaining in focus. The complete washout would be how she saw the process of getting institutionalized. Taken this way, the lyrics imply her boyfriend’s death over a breakup. Routine, lifelessness, and clinging to possessions of the deceased– like the scarf– are as much aspects of grief as they are depression. Either way, the MV shows something rarely seen in fiction: a respectful portrayal of mental illness.
Even if they aren’t perceived as dangerous, those with mental illnesses are just as often seen as lost little sheep who need the help of someone else to get along in the world. In “Never Ever,” Jiyeon’s emotions aren’t disregarded, and she’s not treated as lesser than anyone else. That last shot revealing her institutionalization is a sliver of who she is and what she feels, just as a mental illness is a facet of who its bearer is.
CCM could have taken the cheap route and played up the institutionalization angle. It would have been just as easy to start with the shot of Jiyeon in the hospital, and to add more shots of her while committed in order to play up the idea that her love is so strong it literally drove her crazy. Instead, they saved that reveal for the last shot. It gives the whole concept of being so delusional or so heartbroken and depressed that the best choice is institutionalization the sense of tragedy and sympathy that it should be met with. It’s a quiet dignity that is often denied sufferers of mental illness, both in reality and fiction.
While the story half of the MV is wonderful, the dance shots are much less so. Everything just has this sense of awkwardness to it. That’s not to say that Jiyeon was doing her routine badly; in fact, she was downright graceful, like a cat slinking around. It’s that the moves have an inherent awkwardness that nobody could overcome. The pelvic grinding is odd, and I don’t think there is any move weirder that her arms-above-the-head/hip-swing combo. The clock arms were creative, but still a bit off.
Overall, Jiyeon is a good performer who was given average material, and she sells it as well as anyone could hope to. The MV’s story, on the other hand, was fabulous. Thoughts, readers?
(Coremidas, Images via CCM)