2021 hasn’t (yet) provided a ton of stellar MVs. Still, Aastha, Celina, and Siena have plenty to discuss. The MVs that rose to the top of the heap represent a range of styles, but have in common an eye for detail and a willingness to subvert expectations.

Aastha: I have to admit that I had an easy time picking my favourite MVs from the year so far. 2021 has been busy with consistent releases, but there were only a few MVs that impressed me. Maybe that would explain the overlapping picks amongst the three of us. Celina and Siena, both of you have Epik High’s “Rosario” as your top choice. Why did the MV sway you so much? 

Siena: I agree that the first half of 2021 has only produced a handful of standout MVs. Not only do we all have picks in common, several of both you and Celina’s choices were on my shortlist.

What made “Rosario” my number one is how beautifully the MV compliments and enhances the song itself. “Rosario” is a track about celebrity, and the public scrutiny that comes with it, and the haunted hotel metaphor of the MV captures that idea in a visually witty way. I also love how the unique phone-like dimensions of the MV give “Rosario” such a distinctive look. Celina, what landed “Rosario” (also!) at your top spot?

Celina: My list was also short, it was just a matter of what order I wanted them in. I actually struggled between Epik High and Heize since I obviously think they both have great MVs. Ultimately, Epik High’s beat it out though just because of the camera shots.

Like Siena, I was also intrigued by the mobile-friendly style shooting of the MV. I have seen that before by other artists, but the long corridors and small rooms fit so perfectly with the theme of the MV. It created a sense of crowdedness that made you feel like you were in the same room with them. 

I also liked the use of lighting in general but specifically with CL. The light was used behind her creating shadows to obstruct her visuals while illuminating the decorations in the space. 

With Heize’s “Happen,” I liked all the different storylines used to show the endless possibilities between two people. The use of common meet-cutes and the overall cheerful tone of the MV sets you up for a happy ending. Despite that it leaves you sort-of unsatisfied, it fits perfectly with the concept of song regarding coincidences.

Aastha, what did you like about it?

Aastha: My reasons for liking “Happen” are similar to yours. I love that the ending was unsatisfying. The juxtaposition between the colour tones and the stereotypical plot set-up was paired perfectly with an unexpected but welcomed conclusion. You’re right that it was conceptualised carefully to suit the idea of coincidences. I was a fan of the fact that it took a twist and showed what happens when coincidences remain as that — a coincidence, and nothing more. On a more superficial level, I enjoyed the colour choices and the clean angles of the subjects that the camerawork brought out. “Happen” was pleasing in terms of both the aesthetic and the execution of the plot. 

Camerawork is also the reason I picked Bibi’s “Life is a Bi…”. Though there isn’t much going on in the MV, it was great that the camera wasn’t stationary most of the time, at least not until the end. Since “Life is a Bi…” is about Bibi’s progression through life, the consistent movement of the camera really amped up that notion of unending, unwanted progression. Only towards the end does the direction include more stationary shots; Bibi realizes that keeping pace with everyone around her is too taxing, and needs a rest. The direction emphasizes that. It’s always the subtleties that go far in selling a MV or concept for me.

Siena: Everglow’s “First” is very different than “Life is a Bi…”, but camerawork also played a major role in “First” landing on my list. The energetic camera movement throughout “First” creates so much momentum, and I was also impressed by how seamlessly the special effects are integrated. Mostly though, “First” is just really fun. You don’t even have to like the song to enjoy the MV’s aesthetically pleasing girl power vibes. I think creating a good guilty pleasure MV is actually incredibly hard, and I give “First” a lot of credit for succeeding in that task when frankly, many more prominent and well-financed comebacks have failed.

On the other hand, there are certain technical choices in Golden Child’s “Burn It” that I don’t love related to editing, lighting, and transition music. However, I really admire the narrative power of the MV, and that’s why it’s my fourth pick. Creating a satisfying zombie movie narrative in under seven minutes is impressive, and Golden Child do a great job both using familiar zombie tropes to quickly establish the MV’s world, and subverting them in exciting ways. “Burn It” is a unique and unexpectedly moving MV, with a really humane message at its heart. 

Enhypen’s “Drunk-Dazed” is definitely not warm-hearted! But it’s captivating, and it landed on both your lists. Why?

Celina: You know I had not really listened to Enhypen before but I actually signed up to review the MV. Let me tell you, I did not expect that kind of bloody content in a K-pop MV. With a title like “Drunk-Dazed,” I thought this was going to be your typical party concept. However, it went to another level. I liked the contrasting images of the elated party-goers with the more ominous scenes of the members drinking and surrounded by blood. Sunghoon dancing in blood was simultaneously nauseating and mesmerizing.  

On top of the MV’s concept, I liked the dance choreography and the catchy tune. It fits well with the overall chaotic and eerie tone of the MV. All in all, it was a great twist to a party concept.   

Aastha, what did you like about it?

Aastha: What initially drew me to Enhypen’s “Drunk-Dazed” was what you mentioned later, Celina. The choreography and the chaotic video direction fit really well with the sense of lawlessness they wanted to bring in their depiction of a tumultuous party with a dangerous edge. 

Another point was the details leading up to the bloody bridge (for a lack of better description). What you think is simply fruit punch was potentially blood. The cake being red, them standing in front of a goddess-like figure — all of it ties together in the end, when they reach a climactic high dancing in blood and sitting alongside blood fountains. These hints helped to create a level of suspense throughout the MV, despite it being largely a dance MV. 

Siena, I’m curious as to what landed HyunA’s “Good Girl” so high up on your list. I thought it had interesting visuals, but it wasn’t near my top 5 MVs. 

Siena: I totally get that, Aastha. What made “Good Girl” my number two pick has a lot to do with the criteria I used to narrow down my shortlist. I looked at how well a MV showcases a specific comeback, but also the artist more generally. “Good Girl” isn’t revolutionary, but it highlights HyunA’s unique charms brilliantly.

Every aspect of “Good Girl” matches HyunA’s persona, like its bold colors, playful sexiness, and intense self-awareness. The MV’s subject, the unwelcome commentary that comes with celebrity, isn’t new. But the way HyunA explores these ideas in her own style feels distinctive, and it’s also really fun. Watching computer mouses squirm around an unmoved HyunA, or seeing her cheekily reference her iconic and in some eyes controversial 2017 Melon Music Awards performance is a blast. 

The MV also captures HyunA’s signature blend of confidence and vulnerability. For example, in the final bridge the energetic choreography gets delicate, and HyunA is seen smoking a lit match, illustrating the precarity and cost of her celebrity. The biggest compliment I can give “Good Girl” is that if you were a complete newbie wanting to understand HyunA’s enduring appeal, all you would have to do is watch this MV.

Celina, you also chose a MV about celebrity, literally! What made IU’s “Celebrity” your third pick?

Celina: Right! I was thinking about IU as you described HyunA. I think IU’s MV also matches her characteristics. She is soft yet confident, and she has been under the public’s eye since she was child. IU put out 3 MVs this year, and I loved her album. However, it was “Celebrity” that helped bring the whole album together. 

Since this is about her MV, though, I liked her concept of self-reflection and fame. In the MV, IU stalks herself, she eats with a TV that displays herself, and even comforts herself. The conclusion shows her shocked by her own reflection and taking a moment to recognize herself. I thought that scene was impactful because the lyrics talk about taking a moment to recognize your own beauty.

The MV has a lot of metaphors regarding fame. Her other self is dressed more sloppy with a messy bun, while her celebrity self is more together and polished. There are also contrasting scenes like when she is sitting in disguise on the steps while everyone walks by ignoring her. Meanwhile, in another scene she is sitting in a room with cameras flashing lights through the window around her. It shows the paradox of having hundreds of people around you while still feeling alone. Overall, I just liked how the entire MV came together and helped give an introduction to her album, Lilac.

So I see the two of you both chose U-Know Yunho’s MV.  This MV really looks like an action movie! 

Siena: Of all the MVs I’ve seen so far in 2021, U-Know Yunho’s “Thank U” is by far the most visually stunning. As Aastha noted in her review, “Thank U” draws heavily on classic noir imagery, sometimes down to the tiniest details. That level of commitment shows up in every other part of the MV as well and really pays off. I love so many of the tiny choices that make up the whole of “Thank U”, especially the limited use of dialogue, and the surprisingly seamless integration of flashy dance sequences amidst the gangster cinema-inspired madness. 

Aastha, what drew you to “Thank U”?

Aastha: My biased Cassie self aside, I think there is lots that “Thank U” did well that it deserved a spot on my list. Like you mention, Siena, the production of this MV was careful and committed. Not just in terms of sticking to noir imagery, but in the direction, the choreography, the action sequences, and the acting. There was not an element that was excessive or unnecessary; despite being eight minutes long, it left you wanting more. 

On a personal level, this is the quality of MVs that I expect from TVXQ. While they usually deliver in musicality, I have waited years for an MV as good as “Thank U”. It’s not often you see an MV sell a song so well, but “Thank U” does it. With an MV this long and gripping, “Thank U” stands out in more ways than one, especially in this era of short MVs and streaming counts. Another shoutout: Yunho has also improved a lot as an actor. “Thank U” has exponentially elevated his artistry.

For a similar reason, I was drawn to DPR Ian’s “Scaredy Cat”. If you’re familiar with him, you would know that he’s a talented filmmaker. “Scaredy Cat” is a huge step forward for him as an artist. From the music and the lyrics to the visuals, acting, and direction, the MV comes together to tell a dark, fascinating story. 

Celina, what did you like about “What Type of X”?

Celina: First of all, I think it’s cool that we have HyunA, Jessi, and Heize because they’re all part of P Nation and I like how Psy is allowing his artists to express their individuality. Jessi was not someone I noticed until she went under Psy’s label. 

While there is not any deep symbolism or plot, this MV focuses on choreography and imagery. Dance-wise it has a fun and catchy dance that reminds me of a lot of Psy’s MVs. The dance is not overly simplistic either, so it is still something that requires talent. The use of a big dance crew is great because it helps Jessi stand out especially with the symmetric camera shots. She has great energy, facial expressions, and amazing costume designs that also help keep the focus on her. For example, even in a sea of black, Jessie in her all-black latex catsuit with a luxurious crown still looks like the star of the MV.

The small scenes all help establish her as a strong woman. While there are the more tropey scenes with the cars and cash, one of the settings stood out to me. She bites into an apple, and then the camera pans to show all the women on the floor. The implication is that they bit into the poison apples and fell to their deaths. However, Jessi keeps eating the apple unaffected implying that she is stronger than poison. 

All and all, it was an MV that stayed on my mind. I have watched it several times, and the song is a bop. I wanted to include this one on my list because, while I do love MVs with plots and symbolisms, I think it is also great when there is emphasis on the dance, settings, and costume designs. 

Even with a quiet first half of 2021, there were still lots of interesting MVs to enjoy. It will be exciting to see what the rest of the year brings! Readers, what are your favorite MVs of 2021 so far? Let us know in the comments.

(YouTube[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11]. Images via Big Hit Entertainment, Hybe Labels, P Nation, SM Entertainment)