Amidst a sea of releases that do not seem particularly impressive, Kaitlin, Zea, and Karen discuss the MVs that caught their attention. Cinematographic work and visual aesthetics have a large draw this time round. K-pop MVs need a twist to help them shine in a market oversaturated with MVs that dish out all-too-familiar stories. As the discussion reveals, more artistic film styles might be the answer to creating compelling MVs.

Karen: Before we go full force with our discussions, I’d like to admit that this year has been quite lacklustre so far. It took me a long, long while pouring through many MVs before deciding that I had to look into music outside of K-pop for this list. It was surprising to see that both of you seem to have enjoyed the K-pop MVs released so far, with them making up the entire of your lists! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts, and perhaps I’ll have a change of heart.

Kaitlin: I unfortunately have to agree, Karen. I feel like MV visuals for both girl and boy groups in 2019 are stuck in a generic rut. There’s a trend of being “aesthetic” without much substance.

Many videos from groups like Black Pink, BTS, Twice and more have been all about the cool backdrops, choreography and outfits without any compelling overall concept. In the moment, Lisa looks cool swagging around the cereal aisle and Chaeyoung captivates strutting down a mirrored hallway, but moments like these leave no lasting impression.

There are certainly memorable MVs from years past that don’t have specific storylines, but I personally find the ones that stick with me at least have some interesting symbolism. This was why Sunmi’s “Noir” was easily my number one pick. The MV has something to say that expanded the meaning of the song’s lyrics. And it clearly communicates its message using imagery that is darkly clever and haunting. Zea, what made it your top choice for the year so far?

Zea: I have to echo what you said, Kaitlin, that “Noir” was easily my first pick simply because it stands out in a year where MVs have been decidedly lacklustre. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing — I expected nothing less from Sunmi — but it makes use of subtle and simple imagery to make a statement that remains in the viewers’ minds long after its four-minute duration. The MV begs multiple rewatches so the viewer can catch the easter eggs hidden away, like her heart-shaped earrings or her little finger roll-up throwback to “Gashina,” and I can’t think of any other MV this year that inspired an instant replay, at least from me.

I was expecting more K-R&B MVs to make up my list, too, but none of my favourite artists — Dean, Heize, DPR Live — delivered this year so far. None of my favourite K-Pop artists delivered either! I was hoping that BTS’s “Boy With Luv” would feature heavy imagery and parallels to their “Boy In Luv” MV to showcase their growth but alas. I was also hoping to get a “Sentimental”-esque video out of Winner now that they’re releasing more upbeat music, but to no avail. I think the lack of choices has led to us having similar picks! Both of you have Jus2’s “Focus On Me” as your second pick; what inspired that?

Karen: Stories just don’t seem to be very well-crafted in most K-pop MVs this year, and it is artistry that has caught my attention. Jus2’s “Focus On Me” ranks high on my list because it blends cinematographic and editing techniques with choreography and lyrical content. The MV utilises extended tracking shots in various ways, compelling viewers to constantly refocus on what comes to occupy center screen. Falling in place with the song’s content itself, I found this intriguing. What more, the versatile fusing of choreography with editing, especially when JB and Yugyeom are made to appear as a single entity, flitting in and out of each other’s position, also draws attention to the meticulous and perfectly coordinated choreography. These two are certainly the best dancers Got7 have to offer.

Speaking of artistry over narratives, Jooyoung‘s “Lost” also came in at a close third. Not only is his music super, as always; the MV is a mesmerising bricolage of images emphasising loneliness and uncertainty. The cold colour palettes of blues, greens, and at times splatters of anxiety-inducing reds, emphasise the distress conveyed through the lyrics. The use of stop motion is suffocating, highlighting an inability or fear of moving forward. The emptiness feels overwhelming, and the MV sets itself apart from other performance-oriented MVs because it feels more like an art exhibit. I was captivated the moment I saw it and left pondering over it for a long time.

Kaitlin, what about Jus2’s MV appealed to you? And what other MVs on your list worked in similar or different ways?

Kaitlin: I totally agree that Jus2’s “Focus on Me” creates a visually compelling blend of choreography and editing. The MV’s use of reflections and duplications is artistic and thoughtful. Even with all the glitches, lasers and pan-outs, you can still see and appreciate all the dance moves. In fact, the special effects tricks enhance the meaning and musicality of the choreography and the song.

While Jus2’s symbolism is light-handed, I also enjoyed the cinematic fairytale story of Lee Hi’s “No One” featuring B.I of iKon. Fairytale references used to be all the rage in K-pop with IU, Gugudan, Boyfriend, 2PM and more immediately coming to mind.

If this MV had simply relied on subtle Snow White or Little Red Riding Hood symbolism, I don’t think it would’ve made the cut for me. But the dreamy, colorful use of multiple references to Narnia, The Little Prince and The Nutcracker, and the cute cat-twist at the end made me smile and want to watch the video again. What made it your number three pick, Zea?

Zea: What cinched the spot is its excellent use of symbolism and recurring imagery. The moon, in reference to the “lonely night” that Lee Hi sings about, as well as the blue roses, and all the fairytale references — I interpreted her crawling through the door as a nod to Alice in Wonderland — made the MV memorable. I also enjoyed the hazy colour palette because I can only watch so many MVs with harsh neon lights.

I also really enjoyed the colour palette of Seventeen’s “Home”, the only MV featured across our lists. The numerous doors featured in the MV were a nod to finding home in different and not always conventional places. The beautiful solo and group shots meshed well with the group dancing shots; at no point did a shot seem jarring or out-of-place, resulting in a cohesive and eye-catching MV. What stood out to you both?

Kaitlin: Even though it didn’t have many bells and whistles, “Home” had a simple, effective and artistic way of conveying the song’s message. The moment when Seungkwan pulls the light switch and the MV cuts to the 13 members in a living room, illuminated with a warm glow, captured the song’s ethos.

I agree that the spaces felt tied together through the doors, walls and windows. I also love that they represented different phases of Seventeen’s career so far. For example, a basketball court was the main setting of the MV for “Mansae,” while the flickering of a street light was a key dance point of “Don’t Wanna Cry.” It was a subtle wink to fans.

Karen: Seventeen have a wonderful way of using visual aesthetics to direct attention towards their music and choreography, even way back in “Very Nice.” The scene transitions and video editing matched the beat of the song and shifts in dance moves, which is fitting for a group that pays such great attention to music composition and performance.

Furthermore, the MV itself is an artwork to watch, with its calming and slower-paced landscape shots. Like you both mentioned, the use of corridors and doors made for smooth transitions. Building upon this use of space, I admired how these were used as gateways between narrower and more expansive backdrops to emphasise the notion of going home. The resulting effect, complemented by the highly artistic scenes and versatile use of camera techniques, is a mesmerising MV that conveys the comfort of returning to a safe haven.

Contrasted against Seventeen’s “Home,” would be Jung Seunghwan’s “The Voyager”. Unlike “Home,” which relied heavily on aesthetics to win over its audience, “The Voyager” manages to deliver a narrative of loneliness with an astute use of composition, colour, and acting. The overpowering blues, paired with the strategic use of faint natural light, creates a sense of strangling estrangement. I also noticed the intentional lack of conversation or even interaction when the two lovers are in the same scene. The artistry in “The Voyager” stood out to me as more complexly developed than that of “Home,” placing the former higher on my list.

Zea, I see that you have both Taemin and Super Junior on your list. These are two big names coming from SM, with stunning track records. I am interested to hear what about these recent releases from them appealed to you.

Zea: Super Junior’s “Ahora Tu Puedes Marchar” is a cover of a popular Latin-American singer Luis Miguel’s 1987 song. It was included in Super Junior’s last EP, “One More Time,” and while writing my review of it, I watched the original MV to see whether Super Junior had done the song justice—they had.

When Super Junior released the MV for it, I was amazed to realize that they had recreated Luis Miguel’s original MV, shot by shot. Miguel’s original version consists of him scowling at his ex-lover for doing him wrong, and so does Super Junior’s version, except their exaggerated gestures and wigs bring a smile to the viewer’s face. One of my favourite things about Super Junior is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, and this MV is evidence of that.

Super Junior paid incredible attention to detail, from Miguel’s outfit to the backup dancers’ dance moves to, again, the gestures all of them make. The end result is an MV that is not a parody, but a tribute to the original artist. It’s a great example of cultural appreciation.

In contrast to Super Junior’s attention to detail, what amazed me about “Want” was its simplicity. There are no overt displays of skin, or visual innuendos to evoke sensuality; there’s just Taemin masterfully dancing in shot after well-edited shot. Taemin seduces the watcher by his smooth and skillful dance moves, which is testament to his growth as an artist.

Smooth dancing shots are also heavily featured in Loona’s “Butterfly” MV. Was that why it earned a spot on your list Kaitlin?

Kaitlin: I’ve caught some of the releases from Loona and the group’s various pre-debut subunits but hadn’t hopped on the “Stan Loona” hype train. I expected “Butterfly” to be another performance-driven MV in the same vein as “Hi High” and “Favorite.” The “Butterfly” MV captures the group’s synchronization, formations, and dance skills with simple costuming and two main sets for the members. But the video also does something unique, beautiful and refreshing in the K-pop landscape.

The dream-like MV is populated with women from around the world, with a variety of skin tones and body types, embodying the message of the song. These women find the courage to break free, dance with abandon and take off running toward their dreams with the hair, clothes, or hijabs billowing behind them like butterfly wings.

Although the members and these women aren’t interacting, the MV flows well between the group scenes and these solo shots. Everything cohesively comes together to create a sense of triumph and celebration of women following their dreams.

Karen: That really does sound very charming. I’ll probably have to give it another watch. Talking about dancing free, Epik High’s “Lovedrunk,” does the very opposite in their MV. They have IU and Jin Seo-yeon perform martial arts with a high degree of restraint.

As expected of Epik High, they delivered a cinematographic masterpiece filled with symbolism and emotional depth. As Tablo explains, the MV personifies the emotions of wanting to erase somebody after a heartbreak in what is a martial arts fantasy movie — all compressed within five minutes.

Not only does the song captivate with the poeticism of its lyrics — the MV accentuates the feeling of desperation and loneliness. It enthralls with its primarily blank and white colour palette that explodes with red petals in its climax, as well as the isolating shots of each actor against a dark background of falling snow. Rather than doing something ordinary, like filming the members drinking or spotlighting alcohol (as suggested by the lyrics), Epik High have taken top spot on my list for their artistic perfection.

What are your favourite MVs so far this year? Do you share the same thoughts as our writers? Let us know!

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6][7]. Images via Epik High, YG Entertainment)