The experience of becoming jaded, of losing faith and innocence, is very universal. We all live through moments that strip us of our naïveté in brutal ways. Translating that feeling into appealing art can be quite challenging though. Lean too far into the self-pitying aspect and you’ll come off as whiny. Sugarcoat the situation and you’ll fail to capture the acidic heart of the matter. 

In his latest comeback, Demian finds a perfect balance between those poles. “Love%” is a bitter but sultry deep dive into jaded emotions. Its accompanying MV visually manifests the battle that takes place in the mind of a jaded individual, hope and cynicism vying for control. 

“Love%” begins with Demian in a dimly lit corridor. He peaks into the rooms that line the hallway and is confronted by different versions of himself, most prominently a young boy and a figure whose face is covered by a hood. It is not initially obvious that the child and the masked man are representations of Demian, but clever editing gradually clues the viewer in. When Demian dances, so does the hooded man. In a sequence where one person sits in a chair and another encircles them threateningly, all three take turns as aggressor and aggressed.

Demian and the hooded man provide the primary conflict in “Love%”, menacing, chasing, and eventually physically attacking each other. The masked figure can be seen as a stand in for the more pessimistic parts of Demian’s nature, brought to the fore after one or more emotional disasters:

But the city I survived

For me, oh, not even one small wish had been present here

The city I survived

They all turned away to pay the price for anything good

Meanwhile, the young child, representing the hopeful instincts of Demian’s character, plays a more subtle role in the MV. The boy pops up occasionally, always with an impassive expression, but mostly just stays on the sidelines. At the end of the MV, Demian and the hooded figure are collapsed on the floor, breathless and spent from their struggle. Only then does the child spring into action, effortlessly opening an exit door that Demian had previously tried in vain to access. The boy leaves the sinister corridors that dominate “Love%” and enters a golden light-filled portal.

Does the child’s escape mean that Demian has retained some of his innocence? Or is the fact that Demian himself is left behind in the menacing landscape of “Love%” with only the masked man for company indicate a complete loss of youthful loves and dreams? That’s left up to the viewer. The uncertain conclusion of “Love%” actually strengthens the MV’s impact, emphasizing the uncomfortable ambiguity of being in a jaded state of mind. Cynicism is rearing its head, but hope hasn’t (yet) left the building, and love is the cause of both these inclinations. Explaining the meaning of “Love%” in a behind the scenes video, Demian said “I believe that love disappoints people, then saves them once again”, a sentiment echoed in the lyrics of “Love%”: 

You never know, after some time

We might be looking at the same place

Putting our hearts together like puzzles

Shoes making sounds, tip-tap

Come to me, you

The visual storytelling of “Love%” captures the unique disagreeableness of being jaded. The MV’s lighting design brilliantly amplifies its imagery, with neon blue and red streaks of light bathing everything in an eery glow. While the MV is intriguing, it is also undeniably disagreeable. “Love%” is not exactly the kind of thing you would watch to get a mood lift, which is a sign that it is doing its job well. However, the whole package is greatly enhanced and balanced by the appealing soundscape of the song itself. 

“Love%” is musically sultry and catchy. Demian smokily sings over a simple, almost bouncy beat. The track isn’t cheerful by any means. It uses unique melodic choices and lower tones to convey a sense of sophisticated melancholy. That being said, the song is fun, and that makes it a great counterpoint to the earnest darkness of the MV.

Dawn also stops by for a characteristically drawled verse. He unfortunately doesn’t make an appearance in the MV. That’s a shame because he seems like a performer who would have thrived within the unusual visual vibes of “Love%”. Still, his contribution is a nice musical addition to the track, breaking up what could have become an overly smooth flow. 

Dawn’s feature, coming as it does from a fairly well-known performer under a prominent label, indicates that Demian may be starting to gain some attention from the wider industry. “Love%” proves that he deserves it. The song is enjoyable on its own, and is further enhanced by its distinctive and thought-provoking MV.

Love%” also stands nicely alongside Demian’s 2020 trio of excellent debut singles. Piece by piece, Demian is building an impressive discography of moody tunes, each showcasing his wonderfully versatile and emotive voice. Demian may be jaded in “Love%”, but when it comes to his burgeoning career, he and we should have nothing but high hopes.

(YouTube. Lyrics via YouTube. Quote and quote translation via YouTube. Images via Sony Music Entertainment Korea)