Astro‘s MVs to date have mostly been performance-focused, for good reason: while their bright, playful debut image and the accompanying choreography may not have you thinking of their performances as dance of the year, the group have long been skilled and expressive dancers (their performance of “Again” stands out in my memory). “Knock”, their latest MV, continues capitalising on this strength, while also building on a more aesthetic approach they first experimented with in 2018’s “Always You”.

As a song, “Knock”—whose Korean title is “Looking for You”—tells of the persona’s longing for someone precious who is likened to a star in the dark night. His search for this person unfolds through the motif of travelling through time and space to enter a new world. The MV picks up on the idea of alternate worlds and the contrasting images of light and dark, creating otherworldly dimensions using celestial images and flashes of light and shadow.

Befitting the group’s name, the “Knock” MV is dominated by images relating to outer space. It opens with a large blue moon, and in the next scene, the platform Sanha stands on resembles a full moon as well, while the shadow it casts is the shape of a crescent moon. Past the halfway mark of the MV, the group choreography shots begin to feature a cluster of planets, and the round windows that Rocky and Moonbin sit in look like spacecraft windows with a view of the galaxies outside.

These celestial images are clear indicators that the space within “Knock” is out of this world, but the MV also uses more subtle techniques to build up this idea of an alternate dimension. The tilted camera angles, rotated footage, and the use of discontinuous editing to combine shots of the same member from different angles and distances in quick succession (see Rocky’s sequence from 1:23 to 1:30) all create a sense of disorientation. This is a space that has its own forces besides gravity: rock fragments float next to Eunwoo, and he and Rocky are shown ascending a Mobius strip-like staircase that spirals in the opposite direction they are moving in.

More fascinating is the use of lighting and editing to create the sense of time passing at warp speed. The motif of time is introduced early in the MV. A shadow passes over the moon in the opening shot, as if a full lunar cycle has elapsed in mere seconds. Sanha’s shadow moves like the hand of a clock, and a pendulum hangs over the set of one of the group shots. Shadows and light sweep over Sanha’s individual set like a time lapse sequence in a nature documentary. A variety of landscapes flash outside Moonbin’s window. These visuals give rise to the feeling of time moving unnaturally fast. The trailing of images (at the 0:56, 1:18, and 1:20 minute mark) further hint at some kind of warping of earthly laws of physics that messes with the speed of light.

Put together, these techniques lay out the narrative in the lyrics. Astro embark on a journey through time and space to find this person they cherish (it is never made explicit whether their connection is romantic). They are shown in isolation for most of the MV, with the exception of the group dance shots. As the song reaches its pensive bridge (that does a wonderful job of highlighting the softness of Eunwoo and Sanha’s vocals), the members’ movements begin to converge. Eunwoo and Sanha stand with arms interlocked, the pendulum swings to reveal MJ and Jinjin facing each other, and Rocky and Eunwoo walk past each other. These images lead up to a bird’s eye shot of the six members gathering like stars colliding, a shot that recalls the ending scene of their “Always You” MV.

The visual rhythm of “Knock” is carefully calibrated by the use of lighting, movement, and editing; these not only bring out the song’s narrative, but also add dimension to the viewer’s experience of the music. The scenes accompanying the dreamy, plaintive opening verse linger, and the camerawork and the shadow sweeping across Sanha’s set moves almost hypnotically. When MJ’s first line switches up the rhythm, the visual rhythm speeds up as well with quick cuts between shots; when he draws out the next line, the camera stays on him for longer without moving. The pace of editing picks up again with Jinjin’s pre-chorus rap verse. One of the most subtle yet most powerful moments of such orchestrated visual rhythms comes at the 2:10 minute mark: the lights flash in tandem to punctuate each syllable Sanha sings.

Although there is a lot of movement and detail, the MV is executed with simplicity and elegance. The narrative “Knock” paints isn’t complex, but because it is orchestrated with such attention to detail and subtlety, the effect is quite moving. Conceptually, Astro had a solid run for the first two years of their career by establishing a bright, playful image from “Hide and Seek” up to “Crazy Sexy Cool”. But together with the inevitable “maturing” phase that boy groups tend to pass through, their MVs and music have ventured towards more generic territory. Compared to gems like “Breathless”, it is hard to say with certainty that “Knock” is a uniquely Astro MV, but it at least feels like a step in a good direction.

(YouTube. Images via Fantagio Entertainment. Lyrics via YouTube.)