Summer in K-pop is always a busy time, and August ended the season on a high note. The month hosted an eclectic mix of standout comebacks. Eric Nam and Woo Won-jae got brilliantly introspective. Oneus and Itzy took inspiration from theater and film, while Dreamcatcher and ONF leaned into their established strengths, both to great effect.

In this edition of Unsung Artists, we highlight a few August releases that slipped under our radar amid all the hustle and bustle. What these MVs have in common is how each skillfully uses its visual medium to elevate the song it showcases. The result is mediocre tunes transformed into memorable music, and good songs upgraded to great ones.

An honorable mention goes to The Rose’s gorgeous and gracious “Black Rose”. It didn’t make the official list because its MV compliments the track, rather than noticeably enhancing it. Nevertheless, “Black Rose” is a recommended watch.

Dingo x Bibi – “she got it”

Bibi is fast becoming one of the Korean indie scene’s most consistent young artists. Since her debut in 2019, she’s put out numerous singles and one mini album, all high quality. Bibi already popped up in one of our Unsung Artists features this year, and she’s earned her spot this month with “she got it”.

 “she got it” is a joint venture between Bibi and digital content creator Dingo. The web brand has previously worked with several notable hip hop figures, including Gray, Code Kunst, and The Quiett. Despite the collaborative nature of the project, “she got it” is pure Bibi, in all her unapologetically unorthodox glory.

The MV is full of outlandishly child-like locations. Colorful cereal boxes line walls, balloons litter floors, and a giant teddy bear takes the brunt of Bibi’s volatile emotions. The one contrasting visual is a set filled with eerie television screens. In these largely kid-friendly environments, Bibi swears allegiance to cigarettes and condoms, sex and rebellion. It makes for quite a contrast and lands a subversive punch. “she got it” is a solid track, but its darkly humorous MV takes it to another level.

Enoi – “W.A.Y (Where Are You)”

“W.A.Y (Where Are You)” is the latest release from relatively obscure boy group Enoi. The song itself is interchangeable with hundreds of other synth-heavy K-pop offerings. However, its MV is an admirably experimental visual feast.

There is a lot happening in “W.A.Y”. Some shots seem like they are straight out of a fairy tale, others a science fiction movie, and still others a strobe-light filled club. These images are all individually appealing, but they could clash with one another. Fortunately, a shared color palette of contrasting neons and neutrals provides aesthetic continuity.

The MV excels when it melds its fantastical and modern elements. For instance, there are several shots in which one image is superimposed onto another, creating three horizontal bars of contrasting visuals. It is unique details like this that make “W.A.Y” worth a look.

SuperM – “100”

Anyone hoping for a change in concept for SuperM will be disappointed with “100”. Musically, the song has even less finesse than their bombastic debut. As regards its MV though, “100” is a definite improvement for the so-called Avengers of K-pop.

“Jopping” took itself very seriously. That was a mistake, resulting in an MV that was dated without being classic, and epic without having any weight. “100” takes the opposite tact. Breezy futuristic imagery and speedy choreographic sequences abound. This combination gives each member a chance to look excessively handsome, and the whole group the opportunity to demonstrate their exceptional dancing prowess. The result is that “100” is actually fun! As the first of two pre-releases heralding SuperM’s sophomore comeback, that’s a good impression to make.

Brave Girls – “We Ride”

Brave Girls’ nearly decade-long career has featured more than its fair share of bumps. Debuting to high expectations as the creation of legendary producer Brave Brothers, Brave Girls has weathered multiple member changes and recurring lengthy hiatuses. The now four-member girl group got a brief boost in publicity through member Eunji’s appearance on Queendom last year. Perhaps that is what led to “We Ride”, their first comeback in almost three years. Whatever the cause, “We Ride” is a delight.

The song is the definition of laid back, the perfect tune for a chill summer evening. The track’s considerable appeal is increased by its eighties influenced MV. An early shot of the members riding in a technicolor cityscape is truly arresting. When the otherwise minimal video budget catches up with them, Brave Girls cheekily confronts their limited resources. A series of images shows each member in unique locations, including a sunny beach and a luxurious restaurant. Each time, a quick camera pull back reveals the settings to be nothing but a collection of shoddy backdrops and props. Unflustered, the Brave Girls calmly carry on with the show.

Refreshingly self-aware and full of unforced charisma, the MV for “We Ride” is utterly charming. Here’s hoping the wait for Brave Girls’ next comeback won’t be years. This evidently underrated group deserves better.

Hoppipolla – “Let’s!”

The winner of JTBC’s unique survival show SuperBand, Hoppipolla has a distinctly sentimental sound. Combining emotive vocals, keyboard, guitar, and cello will have that effect. Their newest release is no exception. In this case though, Hoppipolla’s signature style is given timely relevance thanks to its brilliantly bittersweet MV.

In “Let’s!”, five friends take a trip together. Or rather, a young woman has a solo adventure in a lush summer landscape, accompanied by the members of Hoppipolla by means of video chat. Their virtual connection comes with an important perk. In this MV’s universe, people can reach through their screens to lend each other a helping hand.

What does this look like? When the woman wants to take a selfie, Kim Young-so blows bubbles to her, enhancing the shot. When she starts to feel overheated, I’ll comes to her rescue with a hand fan. Trying to open a soda with your teeth not working out? Ha Hyung-sang will toss you a bottle opener. Forgot to bring matches to light your firecracker? Hong Jin-ho will lend you his lighter.

In our current coronavirus-crippled world, this straightforward story hits home. In “Let’s!”, friends literally defy time and space to make each other’s day just a bit better. What many of us wouldn’t give to be able to do the same.

OnlyOneOf, produced by GroovyRoom – “a sOng Of ice and fire”

OnlyOneOf is back with the second in their three-part Produced by [ ] series, which features the talents of an assortment of notable K-pop producers. Title track “a sOng Of ice and fire” is an attractively moody club number. Its deceptively simple MV strengthens the songs positive qualities.

The MV for “a sOng Of ice and fire” could be classified as a glorified dance practice. There is no plot, only a handful of sets, and nearly every shot is a choreographic one. On closer inspection though, “a sOng Of ice and fire” reveals an abundance of carefully considered details. Dynamic camerawork and sharp editing give the narrative-less MV momentum. Atmospheric lighting bathes OnlyOneOf in evocative rays of color and shadow. Flowing white outfits worn by the members move beautifully with them as they execute the song’s graceful but powerful dance. Everything serves to heighten, but never distract from, the MV’s central performance.

This multitude of small, smart decisions results in a thoroughly satisfying MV. OnlyOneOf comes across as impressively charismatic, because of rather than in spite of their basic environment. It doesn’t matter whether a MV has one set or twenty. It doesn’t matter if it costs millions or pennies. What ultimately makes the difference between an impressive and a disappointing viewing experience is thoughtfulness, and just a touch of extra effort. “a sOng Of ice and fire” proves that.

(HiphopKR, Korea Herald, YouTube[1][2][3][4][5][6]. Images via Brave Entertainment, Dreamus, KiTheWhale Entertainment, Moss Music)