What comes to mind when one muses over winter? To me, all the way in my niche of the world, winter is vintage. It is the glow of leafless trees in the evening, cinnamon being stirred into mugs of steam, bronze in the sky and wreaths for front doors, sharp corners in the wake of toboggans, and the general feeling of earth burning beneath the frost. When K-pop comes into the picture, these feelings of sentimentalism become even stronger and drive the truth a little further, which is extreme and unbearable cold.
I take my cup of K-pop a little stronger in the winter than in spring or summer. The only reason for this is that while I freeze away without anything to keep me occupied in my bedroom, K-pop (with a dash of K-drama) chases the winter (therefore lethargy) away.K-pop never hibernates, forever bustling in activity.
Although there are many distinct ways in which winter is found in K-pop MVs, one notable way is by paying detailed attention to its soft and muted hues, evening rays and moonlight, powerful scenes from both urban and rural life, symbolic objects, and overall poignancy. Since winter is a dynamic season, we also get to see its severe and frigid side which the MV showcases through sharper colors, heavy use of flashbacks, and utter desperation.
The music is similar in the way that it also shows us the dynamism of winter. In a song focusing on breakup and the end of a relationship, we get lyrics that are elegiac and reminiscent of loss. Whereas in a song that relays emotions of one who is in a relationship, there are mixed emotions of positivity and fear for the future in the lyrics. Either way, these two types are a part of the winter element in K-pop songs and MVs that chooses a softer, more passive expression of emotion.
Some idol groups that have successfully accompanied with their music the atmosphere of winter include Boyfriend with their “White Out,” Lovelyz with their “Good Night like Yesterday,” and Yoon Hyun-sang with his “Always Be with You.”
For example, In “White Out” the boys are restlessly lounging around, playing chess, and Dong-hyun can’t help but use his fancy car as an armrest while he mourns. If you look deeper, what makes the MV and song both wintry is that they embody the gentler element of winter mentioned before; from the beginning of the MV, Young-min is encased in light from the evening sun, Jeong-min looks empty with a table nicely decorated by candles and wine in front of him, and Hyun-seong is the epitome of desperation, even in the shower. The song is self-explanatory. The slow melody with higher notes show us how unstable Boyfriend is in “White Out.”
The Lovelyz girls sit prettily, each wearing her floral crown or crooning without fear in a forest surrounded by red thorns. “Good Night Like Yesterday” succeeds in showing winter because of how nostalgic and rational the lyrics of the song are. They are about that special type of winter where there are feelings of uncertainty stirred with faith. Babysoul looks beautiful as she sings with confidence in the darkness of her environment, Kei smiles angelically in a shining room of white, and the shadows passing over the moon are symbolic because they mirror the state of the relationship, and how much time is left before the night ends.
In a white room playing a white grand piano, Yoon Hyun-sang promises his lover he will always be with her. The sunlight shining through the forest as he plays and sings is romantic and dreamlike. His piano playing and gentle voice create a memorable melody, but the unique aspect of “Always Be with You” is that it is not a sad winter song, rather one to look forward to. In their quietness, the lyrics are moving and relatable. Just like winter is both cold and mesmerizing, he fears for the future but promises to keep moving and do his best for the one he loves.
Each of these MVs and songs share prominent elements of winter that are hard to miss. Boyfriend’s MV and song are about having difficulty saying goodbye and trying to end on a peaceful note. “White Out” relates exactly to Lovelyz’ song which is also strong in its usage of “goodnight” and “let’s not cry.” This is us hearing winter. We see winter in both “White Out” and “Good Night Like Yesterday” in different styles, but with the same setting; evening and darkness, flashes of white, motion and change, and imprisonment in a certain space.
Again, Yoon Hyun-sang’s idea of winter is a bit more on the hopeful and pleasant side. We find similarity in his song and MV with those of Lovelyz. The tone of “Good Night Like Yesterday” is not completely hopeless.
Instead of good-bye, good night. You might change your mind tomorrow
Good bye just for one night, everything will be okay
It might not be the kind of goodbye people say when they’re never seeing each other again
Both Lovelyz’ song and “Always Be With You” make visible the idea of having hope for and protecting fragile relationships.
MV wise, Yoon Hyun-sang and Lovelyz prominently use the color white to symbolize winter with its softness (hope), and coldness (fear).
Winter in K-pop is different from other seasons because we see MVs leaving behind the bright colors and short skirts of summer for a warmer and subdued look. In the songs a breakup in the autumn is now remembered with longing.
K-pop so to speak, adds a little RGB to our winter blues.
In order to stay true to “winter” in K-pop or even the seasons in general, there is a need for idol groups to correlate their music with their MVs in a way that is right for the time of year. It is awkward and misplaced when an idol or group comes out with a song about finding love and its MV is a sparkling and saturated display of catch-me- if-you-can. When beyond frozen doors the ground is covered in snow, people struggle to find warmth, and the trendiest article of clothing is a parka.
Nevertheless, K-pop is doing well this month and its transition from October is plain. With idols like Boyfriend, Lovelyz, and Yoon Hyun-sang we are getting more sentiment and quiet in the music and more maturity and drama in the MV.
Readers, what is your impression of winter in K-pop?
(Pop!Gasa. Images via Woollim Entertainment, Starship Entertainment, LOEN Entertainment)