Following the momentous NCT 2020 project featuring all 23 members of the supergroup and senior sub-unit NCT 127’s recent Japanese release, China-based WayV is back.
Their title MVs are usually quite outlandish, and swagger comes to mind when thinking about these works. In the two years the sub-unit has been around, WayV has built their image around the common themes of dreams, journeys, freedom, and time. Their MVs are always notable for their high quality (and budget) and like many other MVs in the K-pop/C-pop realms, the MVs generally revolve around choreography.
However, “Kick Back” injects something new into WayV’s latest addition to their discography. The editing works alongside the play of cohesion and juxtaposition within the MV sets to really boost “Kick Back” to make it stand out in the choreography formula that can very easily become redundant. There is little reliance on just eye-catching camerawork or choreography to supply the visual interest; rather, the set design provides continuity and dynamism that then lends itself to a larger—while more abstract—concept of time that the group relays through “Kick Back.”
The track kicks off with an NCT-esque signature “noise” hook, a brash and grinding sound that captures grittiness and chaos in a few beats. Youngest Yangyang opens the title with his rap. “Transcending time” is his first phrase, which is reminiscent of “Turn Back Time” and its lyrics, “Time and space expand beyond the limit.” Xiaojun’s vocal range expands a little more, too, as he takes the climatic high note that keeps climbing.
WayV options for a simpler hook this time around compared with the crowded chorus of “Turn Back Time.” The chanted style “We got that kick kick kick kick kick kick back” stubbornly gets stuck in listeners’ head; ”Kick Back” is an earworm through and through.
But what might draw viewers back to the MV is the editing and clever contrast tucked into the set design, particularly with the circle motifs and the rigidness of straight lines fighting against this rounded continuity. The editing stops pulled are unveiled more carefully and with a skillful touch. A balance is struck between dynamic and overpowering in “Kick Back.”
The circular motif visually expresses the idea of “kicking back” and the inevitability of time. This shape appears often in the set design and becomes an avenue for light. The MV opens with a close-up of an eye rendered as thermal energy, but before viewers can truly absorb what they are seeing, they are thrown through the iris, hurtling past the cosmos to the members of WayV. This first set has the seven surrounded by a cylinder-like container of stone with circles cut out of it in an even pattern. These portals reveal mountainous scenes and a gradient of the starry sky.
Ten’s solo set is also a design of notable attention. Beams of light cut across the frame as the dancer peers inside of the rotating column despite the blinding brightness in the center through one of the circles carved on its exterior. Not only is this design eye-catching with the dynamic light, but the shape of this prop bears uncanny resemblance to the set that supported the group earlier. It is as if Ten is looking in on them from a different time or from a completely different world.
Other solo sets contrast with the smoothness of the circle motif, as rectangles are the dominant form. Mirrors are a common appearance in WayV MVs, such as “Regular” and “Turn Back Time.” However, this time the prop is made new for Xiaojun, Yangyang, and Winwin’s individual scenes. The camera skirts around the edges of a cluster of tall rectangular mirrors, and glimpses of these members’ reflections emerge before disappearing just as quickly.
The strings of pearls looped around their necks are iridescent stars as the light bounces off of the jewelry. Anything else that catches the light creates a mystical and almost ethereal image around them. To make this set new, even if just for something different for a WayV MV, a warm light streak effect and grain is added before each cut to a different shot, prompting a fresh visual interest. The grain contrasts with the heightened clarity of other scenes in “Kick Back” and reflects the grittier aesthetic seen in “Turn Back Time.”
The sets of the group scenes bring these separate elements together. The convergence weaves the different expressions of continuity—the loop of time and the singular march of time moving forward. Juxtaposition and blending coexist as WayV appear in one frame.
The corridor set is a fascinating example of this. The circulating fans in the background is a creative way of including interesting movement into the limited space and to disperse light through the hall as well. Light streams from behind the door through the windows and the space between the blades of the fan. Additional light filters into the hallway through rectangles cut into the ceiling, creating new patterns on the slick walls.
This set is a convergence of continuums: the two fans constantly circle, unbroken, while the straight lines of the walls bleed into the background and beyond as they reach the vanishing point of the door’s windows. WayV also walks forward toward the double doors, adding to contrast between the rigid lines of movement in a singular direction against the rotating fans, perpetual in their circular dynamism.
“Kick Back” is a sensuous experience of a grittier hook underneath an alternation between the sleek and grungy like the stone facade and steel corridor sets. Sometimes they exist side-by-side creating more natural tension that pushes-and-pulls throughout the MV.
Pure fluidity enters “Kick Back” as another layer for the senses to explore through a swath of orange silk. The material spills over the bright desert scene set, an experience of rushing smoothness. This fluidity contrasts with the sharper cuts favored by the editing style and the accentuated moves and points of the choreography. The transitions between scenes after the appearance of this silk became softer and more malleable eventually to lead into the bridge, another reflection of the flow of time.
Viewers get to peek into WayV’s private world of memories and “secret spaces,” hidden moments emphasized by the editing. The film has been frozen, capturing the members as if they are now printed photos cut out for journaling with their rough edges, creases from being handled frequently, and the occasional succession of layering on other images. The creation of something new is in the works. This strategy is utilized a couple of times throughout the MV, and the careful balance of newness and repetition elevates these moments to ones that stand out in a sea of sleek visuals.
WayV’s latest comeback MV is engaging without being overwhelming, an equilibrium struck through its eye-catching transitions and its clever use of space and elements within the designs of the sets. Although “Kick Back,” like all of WayV’s prior MVs, is mostly choreography-based, this new one coaxes viewers to watch it a few more times and soak in the subtle artistry surrounding the members.
(YouTube. Images via SM Entertainment.)