Where would K-pop of the last decade be without Taemin? His impact is impossible to underestimate. For someone who has been in the K-pop industry as a member of a group since 2008 and as a solo artist since 2014, Taemin always manages to bring something new yet familiar, all while highlighting his strengths as a dancer, a singer, and an overall performer.
The maknae of Shinee is off to complete his military service on May 31, following the recent returns of his older members from their service and their comebacks—”Don’t Call Me” and “Atlantis”—during the first half of the year. As his final release before going into the military, “Advice” tackles thinking outside of the box and breaking free from the boxes others attempt to put you into, something Taemin has been doing his entire career. Throughout the era of his bowl cut in 2008 to his long hair in 2021, Taemin finds ways to challenge himself and those around him. He cannot be trapped into one definition of an “artist” or even of himself.
While the concept of being trapped was more overt in “Criminal,” as Taemin hands were literally tied up, but the “Advice” MV takes this idea another step further through more subtle visuals and lyrics. A significant difference with “Advice” is that Taemin actively fights against being boxed in.
This is clear in the Alice in Wonderland room, a space that looks like a hotel with its bolted door and sitting space across from the bed. This room is too small for Taemin to stand up straight, and even if he were to try to sleep on the bed, his feet, at least, would hang off of it. It is a visual representation of being boxed in, both physically and psychologically, as viewers are thrown into this scene because the MV transitions after rotating through a close-up of Taemin’s eye.
The minimal patterns are carefully contained within the rigid borders of their shapes, such as the rug and the bedspread. Taemin’s clothing is the only other source of pattern and color in this room of dim lighting and monochrome. In the five-second sequence, the artist’s spiky hat and jacket are all over: he sits in a chair just to cut to a shot of him in front of the camera, dominating the space even more than he had been before. Taemin is constantly moving, directly juxtaposing the rigid elements of the room. While he may not be able to open the door or physically break free from the walls around him, Taemin still can fight being trapped within the space in his own way, which means controlling the path he moves along in this place.
“Advice,” lyric-wise, establishes its confident tone from the very start, as Taemin sings,
Yeah, no matter what anyone says, my way
Nothing to tell from my face
The blurted out words without a filter
Even the veil that hides the smile inside the glass mask is lost
These lines can be applied to who Taemin is as an artist. No matter how someone knows him—from the youngest member of Shinee to the most senior one of SuperM—Taemin is known for forging his unique identity and continually capitalizing on his strengths.
In addition, there is something very alluring about the last phrase of the verse, “Even the veil that hides the smile inside the glass mask is lost.” It is difficult to visualize, but, at the same time, the image is intriguing. The words create layers, and they tuck one visual into another one.
The facades, however, are eliminated in the end, and this could be connected to Taemin’s increasing seniority and status in the K-pop industry. He can showcase different sides of himself because he is so established. The “smile” in the lyrics, for instance, indicates an inner self. This image reminds me of Taemin’s hilarious and heartwarming V Lives and his Instagram lives with Key, which are bound to make viewers laugh.
“Advice” is all about control. Taemin is not only claiming this in the lyrics but through the rhythm of the song as well. There is push-and-pull when he punctuates the sharp notes of the verses before moments of rapidity set against the steadier beats weaving in between the melody. Through it all, Taemin holds the power (“Best take my own advice” will get stuck in your head). He just about spits out the words, especially for the accusatory “Hey, you!,” and there is incredible tangible energy behind his singing, which is only emphasized by his dancing.
The heart of “Advice,” like many of Taemin’s title tracks, is its choreography. While the visuals of the MV and the lyrics of the song surely add to the battle of breaking from limitations, this concept—and, of course, Taemin’s skill—is best demonstrated in this way. The point choreography focuses on a hand gesture, as if Taemin’s hands are a mouth opening and he is shoving it closed.
At another glance, this same image is transformed into a diamond, similar to what you would find on the ace in a deck of cards. Not only was Taemin’s debut solo album titled Ace, but he is also considered to be an “ace” of K-pop, creating layers of meaning in this small moment.
Towards the end of the MV, Taemin is in the center of the camera frame, surrounded by his dancers. He engages in a sort of tug-of-war as those on his left side push against him, receiving a pull from him in return. The same is repeated on the other side. He may be tugged in various directions, or maybe face pressures from someone or something in particular, but he will fight back and come out victorious.
The barebones of the narrative in “Advice” is straightforward in the opening shot and the closing scenes of the MV. The smooth, ice-like background contrasts with the texture of Taemin’s facemask in the beginning. His back is turned towards the camera, as he plays the startling bare piano notes of “Advice” with hands covered in black. The mask does not cover his eyes, but Taemin keeps them closed. Although there is room around him, his body is hunched over the piano keys, dejected and trapped in the space. Sketches and lines in black cover Taemin’s naked upper body, leading the eye to his place at the piano and juxtaposing with his frigid environment.
Meanwhile, at the end, Taemin is back at the piano, drawn back to music. Amid the red lighting and the slightly obscured filter over the scene, viewers notice that there is no bench at the piano. He is not locked in one place; instead, he remains standing as he lightly touches the keys. Furthermore, Taemin’s hands are no longer covered in black paint, and his eyes are opened. Unlike at the beginning, he is conscious of viewers, noticeable in his piercing gaze. He is not trapped in his own world nor ignorant of what is happening around him, rather stronger connections are created with those on the other side of the screen. Taemin is in charge and in full control of what he does next.
As the MV makes its final cut, Taemin is once again shirtless. However, instead of hunching over the piano, his arms are spread outward, and white paint covers his body. This paint hides the black marks on his skin from earlier, which are like scars.
In the end, he stands alone, center stage, his chin tilted towards the sky.
The king will be back.
Taemin has been under K-pop’s spotlight for about half his life, and through “Advice” he tells us that he is not going anywhere anytime soon, even with his military service coming up. And we will be awaiting his return.
(YouTube. Images via SM Entertainment)