9Muses’ “Remember” begins with a bang — literally. It opens in a dilapidated, ominous corridor that wouldn’t be out of place in a haunted house, and a little over ten seconds later, a gunshot rings out. Thus, the viewer is hooked from the beginning, keen to understand what happened and why. With a sound that matches the MV well and a visual palette that is a feast for the eyes, this is a great comeback for the currently 4-member group. That said, the audience should beware it implies and outright shows some troubling and potentially triggering themes and images, as does this review.
While Kyungri’s part as a femme fatale is not particularly new in a K-pop MV (After School’s “Flashback” comes to mind, as well as Troublemaker’s “Troublemaker”, EXID’s “Hot Pink”, Secret’s “Poison”), I was intrigued to see Keumjo running around, clearly terrified, dragging her giant teddy bear. It’s a very distinct and disturbing visual, that childlike terror, and I was both curious and apprehensive as to where the story was going to go. The footage of Keumjo hiding in the bath, petrified, is brutal, though we never see the man directly catch her.
There’s a mystery to this MV which has everyone wondering… what exactly happened? Is this a story of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) where the photographer (boyfriend?) is taking photos of four personalities in one body? We have Keumjo as the innocent, fragile young girl, Sojin who the man is photographing and potentially dating, Hyemi as the original owner of the body, locked out and unable to control her actions, and Kyungri as a jealous and violent lover. This ties in well with the title of the album, “Identity”.
Or, is it a tale of reincarnation, like the title “Remember” might suggest? In this theory we have an adult in a position of power who assaulted Keumjo and Hyemi, who could be Keumjo having passed on or transformed, a kind of ghost or goddess, or even her subconscious. This is supported by the way Hyemi’s eyes turn red in anger, and Sojin reacts by pushing the man away. Sojin could represent either the part of the group who loved him once, or loves him still, and Kyungri, the one determined to get revenge. Other theories have Sojin as the girl the man sees on the outside, but Kyungri as who the girl really is on the inside.
My personal theory, which I supremely doubt is actually accurate at all, is that this is a representation specifically of the K-pop industry, of the sexual coercion under the misnomer of “sponsorship”, or generally about rape. There is pretty much zero chance of “sponsorship” being the plot-line, but I like the thought of this important topic actually being brought up and discussed. Think about it… we have Keumjo as the young trainee, vulnerable and innocent, trapped in a terrifying place and trying to defend herself from stronger, older predators who are hunting her.
In this continued story, we then have her transformation as she grows into her three personalities; Sojin, as the sexy star beloved by the camera and forced to play “nice” (or “sexy” rather) for the company. If she fails, she will be dropped from the label, so she adopts the sexy idol persona. We then have Kyungri, as the person she wishes she could be—to turn the tables, be the predator for once, to stop the abusers, save herself and get revenge.
Finally, I would say Hyemi is her original self as she changes and feels isolated from her old life and her support system; trapped in another fake world, surrounded by strange images and reflections of herself and drowning in them, unable to break through to who she once was. Hyemi would be the point where an idol looks into the mirror and doesn’t recognise themselves. The ending fits this theory too; even though Kyungri shoots the man and then sets the area around him on fire, he’s inexplicably alive, seemingly unharmed. What’s more, he’s ignoring her and staring at photos. The MV ends on the teddy bear burning… possibly symbolising the destruction of innocence, the ending of childhood.
Equally possible and unpalatable are linked themes child abuse or of blackmail with sexually explicit photos. While these ideas are traumatic and distasteful, this glorious yet simultaneously awful MV would be wasted on a more run of the mill love concept, likely as it is. It’s rare that we see MVs on these dark topics, but they can be done sensitively, as demonstrated by Purfles’ “A bad thing”. “Remember” looks and feels like it is destined for more than just unrequited love to me, though lyrics like “Remember your words are always lies” and “You never even loved me” are ambiguous and vague. While it aggravates viewers to be kept in the dark, keeping fans guessing is an excellent promotional tool as it ensures fans keep speaking to each other, keep guessing, keep watching and most importantly- keep sharing. For this reason, it is unlikely that the full story will come out any time soon- if ever. If indeed it is a more contentious theme, it is even less likely to come out.
Visually, this clip is beautiful and symbolic. Between the haunting halls of the derelict building, we are treated to stunning imagery: Kyungri emerging from the darkness like an avenging angel dragging a length of rope and Keumjo’s innocent white dress and giant teddy bear. With 9Muses in white dresses trapped in see-through columns, Hyemi reaching out almost in confusion to her reflection in the mirror and Sojin being viewed through a camera lens, we have such scenic and dramatically evocative shots we’re spoilt for what to focus on.The flowers in the bathtub scenes are immediately, brutally juxtaposed against the bloody hessian sack being dragged along the floor. In another chilling reminder, Keumjo, Sojin, and Hyemi’s scenes dancing with the man contrast rather poetically with Kyungri dancing with the skeleton and prompts us to realise we’re not quite sure who is the predator and who is the prey.
The narrative is set from the get go by sound effects of heavy breathing, cameras clicking wildly, and then the gunshot. This is not a catchy pop tune, nor do they belt out strong notes from the beginning. Instead we have a subtle, almost gentle sound, understated without being boring. The build up of “Love me love me love me love me love me” and “Lonely lonely lonely lonely lonely” leads into a chorus that is not so much instantly catchy as it grows on the listener. We still have a chance to hear 9Muses’ vocal chops, which are lovely and strong, if not the most standout feature in comparison to the MV’s visuals. The background music is interesting without being overwhelming and supports the song, likewise the pause after the first chorus is well timed and allows the viewer to reflect before the second verse. One thing I found a bit odd at first listen was the mish-mash of sounds towards the end, with the chorus topped by adlibbed high notes topped again by the rap line. It sounded a little chaotic and I’m not convinced it worked.
I was impressed by the acting of the members, which, while neither prolonged or especially demanding, gave a strong sense of legitimacy to the clip. When acting is poor and idols struggle to articulate the character they play, the whole MV is undermined, and I was pleased to see this didn’t happen here. The editing was generally well done and the visuals well planned, though I would question the inclusion of the later shots in the bath, which make 9Muses look simultaneously vulnerable and sexy. The imagery is consistent given other scenes, but at the same time, to show a scene implying a child cowering from violence hiding in the bath and later use the bath imagery to show the members looking attractive yet vulnerable… well, it’s deeply flawed at best.
Overall, “Remember” shows how an excellent MV allows a song to shine and become more than it would have been otherwise. A poorly planned MV would have missed the subtleties of the song and seen them become monotonous and repetititous. I would have liked to see stronger evidence that this was more than just a love song but the ambiguity does keep the mystery alive for fans. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed this clip so perhaps for now, I can keep my theory alive in my heart, and keep watching, keep sharing, and keep wondering.