VIXX are known mostly for their concepts – especially the way they integrate this concept not just with the music video, but in their lyrics, their costumes, and even their choreography. While VIXX don’t immediately come to mind when talking about choreography, that isn’t to say that their choreography is bad. With their recent comeback, “Shangri-La,” gaining attention due to their use of the fan, now is a good time to talk about the six member group.

Let’s start with something easy: is there anything that stands out from VIXX’s choreography?

Pat: Legs. Legs. And more legs. 

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get more serious. VIXX back in 2012 had choreography that was more typical of the boy group of that era: knife-like choreography and synchronization, probably modeled out of the success of Infinite. This is mostly highlighted in “Rock Ur Body.” But they then shifted to a somewhat more different style in 2013, and this was when I was most interested in their choreography. While they still executed their dances sharply and in synch, there was more usage in imagery – Voodoo rituals, time, powering their cyborg bodies before unplugging themselves. They’ve been adding in more fluid movements lately, and I still don’t know how I feel about that.

What I guess I’m trying to say is that I find the change in their overall style is something that stands out to me. But also legs.  

Carly: Number one for me will always be “Hyde” –  the way they mixed fan service with drama and made it into choreography was amazing. I love dance, but to me dance doesn’t have to be physically difficult and choreographically complex to be effective. This song for me was a good example of that. Too often groups just use isolated symmetry where everyone stands apart, doing the same things but never actually interacting with each other. But it was the interaction between members that sold me the most for “Hyde” – they bounced off each other in pairings, hi 5s, weaving under each other, joint moves with one member behind another and so on.

I’m also not above a bit of fan service, so I was 100% on board with Ravi feeling N up, and even more on board with being able to pretend it was for the symbolism! Speaking of the symbolism, the costuming really complemented the theme and the moves, with the struggle between “good” and “evil”, and the stark contrasts when members were interacting. The dance, while not the most difficult, was interesting and varied, and sold the story of the MV.  The drama around that end move- the ripping off of the ‘mask’ was epic. As the front row sank to their knees and the back row triumphantly placed the mask upon their own faces, I was 100% sold on that story. I can only imagine the fanfiction that came from that MV.

Cjontai: I’m going to follow Carly and say “Hyde” is one of my favorites as well. I think it was the first time I heard of them. I remember seeing the concept photos and wondering who they were. They looked so sleek and polished.

I loved the good versus evil theme, and how it was turned on its head through the choreo. Their bodies wove through various limbs as a symbol of how it isn’t always easy to distinguish good from bad.

This consistent use of symbolism is why I love their dances. You’re always seeing a picture through their bodies. Consider the pendulum move N does in “Voodoo Doll.” They’re going “tick tock tick tock” as he swings a long cane. They replicate this same move with all members using their arms later in the choreo. I also can’t get over how they had stilted movements, as if they were broken dolls. It fit so perfectly with the song. I can’t get over it!

Now with “Shangri-La,” we’re adding props again. Instead of using a solitary prop for one member, they’re all involved. The timing is immaculate, down to when they open and close the fans. Also, I’m loving that VIXX is so comfortable with their sexuality that they aren’t shying away from the softer, more contemporary dance elements. Some guys would view the fans as too feminine, but VIXX isn’t worried about that.

Carly: Ooh I forgot “Voodoo Doll,” I very much loved the drama in that MV too. That cane was so badass and the members reacted perfectly, though when I rewatched it, I realised I’d forgotten how brutal it was!

Pat: Count me as another person who loves “Voodoo Doll.” One of the things I always look forward to when watching any VIXX concert is how they’ll bring that cane into the stage, and how they take it off the stage. Likewise, I love the consistent symbolism they use. Aside from “Hyde” and “Voodoo Doll,” I also love the way the cyborg theme was depicted in “Error” – from plugging N on in the first verse, to the softer robotic movements in the chorus, and the plugging themselves off just as the song ends.

That’s actually an interesting point you bring up, Cjontai. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to VIXX, but I’ve never actually realized until now how comfortable the members are with their sexuality. They really don’t shy away from not only touching each other (aka most of VIXX’s Side B choreographies in their concerts), but also the softer, more fluid side that is usually reserved for females (at least in mainstream K-pop). What mostly stood out for me with “Shangri-La” is that they’re allowing N to incorporate his years of modern dance training into an actual promotion single.

Camiele: Not to jump on the “Voodoo Doll” bandwagon, but I actually didn’t pay attention to VIXX until “Voodoo Doll.” It was equal parts the concept, the darkness in it, the occult themes, but also the parallels to one of my absolute favorite sci-fi/horror films: The Cell. They were almost paying homage to the scene where Catherine first enters the killer’s nightmares/fantasies, looking behind each panel of glass to see another victim…. I was really impressed. There was more than just this ubiquitous idea of “dark” that people associate with VIXX. There was texture, movement indicative of the environment. I was impressed with their ability to not just incorporate thematic elements but embrace them, make them a part of their unit like added members.

As it pertains to their comfort with their sexuality, it’s more the norm than an exception in K-pop to give a lot of homoerotic imagery to titillate and entice female fans. The female demographic in K-pop and J-pop, as it were, is highly fascinated and, for lack of a better phrase, “turned on” by the idea of two hot guys touching each other intimately. Not sure where the fascination comes from, but VIXX certainly doesn’t have a corner on the market or anything. But it is interesting to note that they do opt for “softer” or less aggressive choreography, so at least that’s something refreshing.

Pat: From their debut to “Chained Up,” VIXX worked exclusively with Nana School. With “Chained Up,” Nana School teamed up with Ian Eastwood, who would later go on to do “Dynamite” on his own. Keone and Mari Madrid would go on to do “Fantasy” and “Shangri-La.” Do you think these changes were for the better – and if so, which of the new choreographers worked with VIXX the best?

Camiele: Just taking it from the perspective of someone who’s only sort of tangentially really paid attention to VIXX for their dance, “Chained Up” didn’t seem to sit incredibly well in their bodies as a collective. It could’ve been (as tends to happen from my perspective) a problem with directors, or the directors they work with, not actually knowing how to shoot dance. During moments that seemed of significance, the director seemed more intent on capturing something “pretty.” Could also be an issue with editing, with those editing the MVs leaving much of the connecting dance elements on the cutting room floor. But then again, it could just be that Ian’s choreo isn’t a match for the group. Not all of them are natural dancers, and the choreo for “Chained Up” seemed to highlight that more than usual for me.

Meanwhile, Keone and Mari integrate hip-hop and contemporary in a way that’s both technical enough to allow N the freedom to explore his abilities full and fluid enough to include the less dance-inclined members of the group. I also think Keone and Mari add an element of dimension to their choreo that I believe has been missing. What I’ve always felt is lacking in VIXX choreo is actual exploration of dance. For me, VIXX has always been a group that has been given choreo that sets up a big visual moment. Those moments really excite and impress; however, the choreography surrounding it has always been tertiary, as if it’s just in there as filler for the next big scene. Keone and Mari have added honest-to-goodness dance, not just for the sake of dance, but to make a complete story, show a complete image and actually shine a spotlight on all elements of the dance and not just the big centerpieces that everyone loses their shit over.

Cjontai: Oh, Team Madrid all the way! Initially, I was excited and worried when I heard about them working with VIXX. I had full faith in the team making great choreography based on their previous work with BTS. I was just concerned for poor VIXX because I know the Madrid style is intense. The couple of releases before “Fantasy” left something to be desired, but the Madrids made something for them that fit their strong dance image. VIXX executed the routines as perfectly, making for thrilling performances.

Nothing against Ian Eastwood, but after watching the “Dynamite” choreo again, I feel like it easily could’ve been a SHINee dance. The vibe of the song didn’t help, but that’s not to discredit it. I’m simply saying this was one of the few times I didn’t feel the style fit VIXX’s brand.

Pat: I definitely agree, Cjontai. I think I’ve only watched “Dynamite” lives three times, and was never impressed. Not because the choreography is bad, it’s just that it isn’t VIXX at all. Ian Eastwood’s choreography just doesn’t fit for the group, but at the same time, I feel like some change was needed – and that was what the Madrids did well. I feel like after “Error,” their dances became stagnant in terms of creativity, and was only really revitalized with “Fantasy,” and again with “Shangri-La.”

Final question: I think we can all agree that there is still plenty of room for VIXX to improve – which areas do you want them to improve on? The Madrids have also been a good fit with them – should they continue working with them, or are there other choreographers you see the group working with?

Carly: I can’t deny that VIXX’s work with Madrid has really shown growth in their skills and maturity- but at the same time, I still long for the drama. What I’d love to see is a way to combine both- to keep that passion, emotion and interaction and take it further with this more complex dancing. Undeniably, “Shangri-La” is one of their better songs in terms of dance skill, but I find the subtlety to verge on monotonous. I’ve come to expect an emotional connection from VIXX, a bit more personality, and I think that’s really one of their strengths.

Bae Yoon Jung has come up with such memorable choreography that I’d love to them do a sexy pop hit and have her choreograph something really iconic for them, like Girl’s Day’s “Expectation” or Brown Eyed Girls‘ “Abracadabra”. I don’t know who choreographed Miss A‘s “Hush”, but I could see that working for VIXX too. Whatever they do, I’d hate to see VIXX do another overly fake cutesy MV – I feel like not even a well choreographed dance could have saved “G.R.8.U.” where they semi-frequently seemed to be saying “just kill me” with their eyes. I also want them to avoid going with a concept that would look patently unbelievable- like something trying to make them look “tough” or ready to brawl.  For me, their next move has to stand out and show their personality, and it has to have some sort of drama or genuine quality to it, because that’s where I feel they excel.

Pat: The Bae doing choreo for a boy group? That is an odd concept, and I think I like it? Not necessarily for VIXX though, but maybe for another group. I just feel like over all VIXX’s strength is their ability to use their bodies the way they do – structured with this subtle flow and grace (although let’s be real, most of the grace is thanks to N’s style of dancing).

Weirdly enough, N also did the choreography for a significant portion of “G.R.8.U.” But I do agree on your last point – I don’t want VIXX doing something that is a boy group cliche a la hip hop influenced movements or the SM Entertainment styled pop choreography. “The Closer” is the closest we got to anything resembling most other K-pop groups from their recent releases, as well as “Dynamite” (and I put all the blame on Ian Eastwood), but there was just enough to make the choreography stand out by a bit. Like Carly said, VIXX’s strength is in the dramatics that they bring to stage – and this can be seen in their 2013 releases, “Error,” and “Fantasy” and “Shangri-La.” Considering the last two are seemingly the best received outside of Starlights, I’m interested to see what the Madrids can do for them a third time around.

Camiele: I think I may be one of the few that doesn’t view VIXX as a dance group, or consider dance a major part of their aesthetic. Though they do excel when it comes to executing choreography that focuses on a central visual piece, I mostly don’t consider what they do as dance focused as the few groups I actually do associate dance with their overall appeal. I suppose that’s what I’d like to see in the future: more dance. The choreo for “Shangri-La” did that for me, showed that not only do they execute the centerpieces well, they actually incorporate honest to goodness dance instead of a lot of filler movement until the next big “wow.”

In that regard, yes, the Madrids have done an astonishing job transforming them from a group that offers a lot of show pieces into a group that collectively incorporates dance in a way that doesn’t leave me bored from point to point. If their overall concept is the “softer” side of male idol group dancing, if they truly want to go there, perhaps Koharu Sugawara could take them on. I believe she’ll provide an interesting challenge for them. Her movement is incredibly distinct, forcing one to pay attention to every part of their bodies, placing emotion in every single movement. She may be overwhelming for most of the members. N has an added advantage to being a trained dancer. I think he would thrive the most under her tutelage while still challenging himself because she forces dancers out of their comfort zones. She also manages to combine what most consider “harder-hitting” choreo with the fluidity of raw emotion. Maybe if we stretch a little bit further… Sonya Tayeh. Nobody blends strength, emotion, bigness, loud and soft imagery like this woman. Again, she’d definitely challenge them, and honestly there are few groups or artists within K-pop that I think could capture what she brings to the table. Considering I’m not 100 percent sold on VIXX as a dance group, maybe I’m being a bit generous. But perhaps their willingness to challenge what’s common in K-pop dance is enough to bring Sonya’s choreo to life for me. I’d certainly love to see if they can handle these two astonishing women.

What are your thoughts on VIXX and their choreography? What would you like to see them do next? Sound out in the comments below!

(Images via Jellyfish Entertainment, MBC Music, KBS, MBC)