Rookie group Ghost9 have been releasing a steady stream of sci-fi-influenced hype tracks since their debut in September 2020. Just seven months and three EPs later, the boys cracked the top five on the US iTunes chart with the sophomore single “W.ALL”. The propulsive EDM current that powers their discography mirrors the strategic path Maroo Entertainment has mapped to send the boys to the top of the charts.

Prior to their collective debut, Ghost9 split ranks to test their skills on survival shows Produce X 101 and MIXNINE. They’ve dropped a series of slick choreo clips on YouTube, established a cool cyberpunk alt-reality and even invented GLEEZ, a gang of cute cartoon avatars with their own fictional adventures running parallel to Ghost9’s universe.

The group’s third mini-album NOW: Where we are, here slides right in step with the kind of creatively-punctuated sonic trilogies originally pioneered by BTS. Each Ghost9 single staples glitchy electronic breakdowns to punchy rap couplets, sampling the hip-pop sound first tested by Big Bang and Monsta X. In their powerful performance-orientated MVs, the boys echo Ateez and Stray Kids, serving fierce ambition in the form of pure energy.

Ghost9’s prior MVs hint that the boys may have a shadowy robot waiting in the wings – but beyond that tantalising Easter egg, we’ve seen this before. In 2021, even as the K-pop industry blossoms further into global frontiers, Seoul is teeming with talented kids all hoping to take their chance at becoming Hallyu stars. This is exactly what makes “Seoul” such a dazzlingly subversive concept MV.

Taking the name of South Korea’s capital city as your title track is a brave move for a rookie. In 2009 SNSD and Super Junior teamed up for “Seoul”, a sunny government-approved CF to boost tourism. Eight years later BTS released “With Seoul” to kick off their new role as honorary ambassadors for the city. Ghost9 have yet to claim a music show win, but they’ve boldly elided their futuristic cyberpunk aesthetic with a euphoric anthem for national pride. They say it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission, and Ghost9 are ready to step up.

K-pop MVs have made an art form of exploring conceptual fantasies through music. The visuals for “Seoul” emulate this aesthetic in the real world to showcase the city at its brightest and most beautiful. In the first verse, the nine boys don cool streetwear to ride the subway, casually repping the red and blue of South Korea’s national flag. The colours of the train car are neon-bright and hyper-saturated, shifting a staple of humdrum reality towards the surreal. The members ride a twisting roller-coaster through a maze of CGI skyscrapers, as Jinwoo and Kangsung’s rap verses juxtapose the energy of the city with a reminder of the pace required to stay on course. Their words elevate the green-screen imagery from a clever trick to a subtle exploration of the struggle young people face trying to chase down their dreams among the city lights.

You shine too bright, it is so bright

The city is busy so we want peace, ayy

The city needs no more introduction

Look here, the sky is at my level

Time lapse, the default speed is Mach

Enjoy it now or try hard

We can do anything

Every scene evokes a sense of wonder, whether Ghost9 are shooting laser flares to light up the city or dancing before the ornate splendour of Gyeongbokgung Palace. “Seoul” never gets too close to the city itself; instead, its neon-drenched visuals style the city as a dreamscape – a place to find adventure and realise ambitions. This straightforward idealism carries an undercurrent of political soft power, anchored by the song’s soaring chorus and Ghost9’s energy. A decade ago the Korean government hired SM Entertainment’s flagship groups to boost tourism. But in the ‘20s, a potent synthesis of avant-garde K-beauty brands, big-name tech juggernauts, and K-pop creativity has carried South Korea’s culture worldwide. Ghost9 don’t need to wait to be chosen to showcase their city. The road to reaching global acclaim has been laid by the artists that came before them, so these nine rookies can showcase the Korean dream they intend to follow.

The lyrics convey a strong sense of patriotism and pride, juxtaposing references to the colours of the national flag and Seoul’s breathless pace with an invitation for listeners to visit in search of adventure. In the chorus, Junhyung stakes his claim to the city with the words “this is my Seoul” before Dongjun welcomes us, declaring “this is the place for you”. Within Ghost9’s vividly futuristic universe, this is Seoul city painted with a slick of K-pop gloss, covering the cracks explored in RM’s “seoul” or Tablo and Joey Bada$$’s duet “Hood”. At a moment when young people around the world are struggling to find employment and rising to confront the realities of the climate crisis, this kind of youthful optimism could be seen as shallow. But the hope conveyed by the boys’ energy in that synth-saturated chorus is irrepressible – and exactly the kind of blissful escapism K-pop promises to provide.

The song is driven by a spiralling EDM siren that judders beneath the tight rap salvos anchoring each verse. This DIY blend of hip-hop and electronic aggression borders on dissonance, but the song smooths out with each chorus, rising to a gorgeous harmony in the bridge. This latter half is where “Seoul” finds its groove, serving a sleek synth-drenched anthem that delivers pure euphoria. Splicing together genres is a K-pop trademark, but “Seoul” doesn’t quite fit its parts together into a unified sonic jigsaw. What the track lacks in cohesion, the members of Ghost9 make up for in charisma.

The boys don stylised hanboks and sharp suits to showcase their powerful choreography, dancing on a stage over the Han river and in the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. The MV’s blend of the past and future reflects the dreams of a rookie group gathering snatches of inspiration from the idols that came before them as they chart their path to K-pop stardom. “Seoul” is missing the robot – but there is a cool CGI dragon – and the song grounds Ghost9’s sci-fi identity in vivid new reality fans will find both familiar and enchanting.

YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6]. Lyrics via Genius. Images via Maroo Entertainment.