2021 has started off with a bang, for better or worse. In K-pop, it has definitely been for the better. January was packed with exciting music, including striking comebacks from Yunho, Chungha, Oneus, Golden Child, and Dreamcatcher. Of course, in the real world, we’ve seen more of a mixed bag of eventful occurrences.
In contrast to the busy and even hectic nature of the past month, this edition of Unsung Artists is filled with simple pleasures. The surface-level ordinariness of these MVs may have been why we didn’t get around to covering them at Seoulbeats. However, a closer glance at each reveals thoughtful details and straight-forward thrills. This batch of releases proves that an MV doesn’t have to be complicated to make an impact.
Susan – “Shattered”
Susan is a fairly obscure K-indie artist with a creamy voice and a cool attitude. She put out a quality trio of MVs in early January. “Eros” and “Amateur Lover” each have strong points, but “Shattered” blows them both away with its moody force.
The song itself is a beautifully restrained ballad. Its MV features Susan executing a flowing set of delicate modern-dance style movements. There is nothing particularly special about the pairing of an emotionally loaded track with an expressive dance routine. What allows “Shattered” to overcome its banal concept is a combination of dynamic camera work, carefully coordinated musical and dance flourishes, and a luminous performance from Susan. The result is hauntingly stunning.
Dvwn – “Free Flight”
Dvwn’s “Free Flight” is hard to pin down. Its lyrics live in the land of metaphors and illusions, never stating their true intentions. The firmest conclusion that can be drawn is that “Free Flight” is about the mundane but impactful estrangements that can occur between loved ones who are nevertheless enduringly committed to each other:
Don’t hold back your emotions, Even the deep sighs
If we leave them here, A thin ray of red sunshine
Comes to pick you up, light-hearted
Don’t be missing it on the flight back
It will be vacant here for you always
Likewise, the song’s MV evokes more than it explains. The always wonderful Park Shin-hye stars as a woman living in a subtly whimsical reality, where pedestrian traffic lights dance and tiny paper boats travel across the pages of a book. The visuals do hint that the sticky issues the lyrics reference have to do with communication. Park Shin-hye starts the MV hesitatingly writing a message on a paper airplane, which when thrown, transforms into a literal plane that her character is a passenger on. Coming full circle, the MV ends with dozens of paper airplanes whizzing out of a just-opened door. No matter its ultimate meaning, “Free Flight” is a bittersweet standout.
E’Last – “Dangerous”
Switching gears completely, “Dangerous” is a shot of pure K-pop adrenaline. The MV mixes energetic performance sequences with aesthetic shots of the E’Last members in alternatively fantastical and minimalist environments.
The fact that “Dangerous” is a b-side may account for its slightly bare bones structure. Despite this, the MV has impact thanks to E’Last’s charisma and the track’s eye-catching choreography. It is impressive and promising that less than a year into their career, E’Last already have enough performing power to pretty much carry an MV. As a bonus, the dance practice for “Dangerous” is recommended for its highly satisfying synchronicity.
AleXa – “Never Let You Go”
In “Never Let You Go”, a platinum-haired AleXa wanders forlornly through picturesque winter landscapes singing of a love foolishly lost. The MV’s predictable progression is occasionally interrupted by unexpected visual and sonic inserts, like burning paper bearing the song’s lyrics, or fades and even abrupt pauses in the music. These unusual choices make “Never Let You Go” just different enough to keep viewers’ interest through its entire four-minute run.
AleXa has gained a cult following with her energetic girl-crush releases. As a soft ballad, “Never Let You Go” is a complete change for the soloist. She carries it surprisingly well. While her vocal range is not vast, AleXa’s delivery of this mournful love song is convincing. “Never Let You Go” is an auspicious track for AleXa because it proves that she has something priceless: versatility.
Stray Kids’ I.N ft. Bang Chan and Changbin “막내온탑 (Maknae on Top)”
“막내온탑 (Maknae on Top)” feels like the world’s most well-produced fan edit. Seriously, poking loving fun at the dominant role of the maknae in many groups is the primary job of a fair number of K-pop focused YouTubers and meme-makers. What a delight then that Stray Kids maknae I.N, in collaboration with group mates Bang Chan and Changbin, decided to satirize his own position in the group.
The MV is an endless parade of visual gags and cheeky set pieces. If Bang Chan ecstatically grinning while gingerly holding I.N’s photo card doesn’t crack you up, I don’t know what will. On top of the fun visual antics of “막내온탑 (Maknae on Top)”, the song is also a legitimate bop. Its Cha Cha beat works alongside trap-style vocals to create a lethally addictive track. This means that while “막내온탑 (Maknae on Top)” is full of treats for longtime Stray Kids fans, it can also be enjoyed by more casual listeners. “막내온탑 (Maknae on Top)” indeed:
SKZ’ real maknae is 1st place
In just one hit of facts, the hyungs snap out of it
I might be polite but I have no thoughts of being the youngest
This year and next year too I’d be SKZ’ maknae on top
Cherry Bullet – “Love So Sweet”
At first look. “Love So Sweet” seems like typical bubblegum K-pop fare. However, repeated viewings reveal something vaguely sinister lurking under its candy-colored surface. Perhaps it is the song’s conspicuously empty production which makes it feel off-kilter. The innovative transitions throughout the MV, with shots swinging through door frames from one dancing set of members to another, certainly unbalance “Love So Sweet” in a compelling way. The bridge prior to the final chorus also hints that there might be a less sugary side to Cherry Bullet’s love:
One-sided love, Makes me feel bittersweet
Without noticing, I’m addicted to you
Tell me what you want
I’ll give it to you little by little
Giving love Love So Sweet
Is that a promise or a threat? Unfortunately, “Love So Sweet” never really answers that question, instead waffling between a cloyingly precious versus a more unusual creepy cute vibe without committing to either approach. Despite it flaws, “Love So Sweet” is visually intriguing and tonally unique.
Kyuhyun – “Moving On”
The winter edition of Kyuhyun’s ongoing Four Seasons project, “Moving On” has a comfortingly old-fashioned aura. Everything from its lush instrumentation to the sentimental story-driven MV is pleasantly predictable.
The one unusual touch is that while the song’s lyrics seem to be from the point of view of Gong Myung’s character, who reluctantly but firmly initiates a breakup with his girlfriend, the MV is clearly rooted in the perspective of said girlfriend. Part of this may be because of the lovely performance of Chae Soo-bin, who communicates volumes with the smallest of gestures, but it also feels like a choice that the MV structure supports.
“Moving On” opens and closes on a solo shot of Chae Soo-bin. She is the protagonist of the song’s visual storytelling, while her now ex-boyfriend is the protagonist of the song’s lyrical narrative. This sharing and contrasting of perspectives lends the otherwise softly simple “Moving On” complexity and genuine depth.