Loona’s first comeback of the year held a lot of promise. After all, it marked the return of leader Haseul from a nearly two-year hiatus, and with the group performing as a whole again, the Loonaverse lore seemed sure to blossom. Judging from their MV teasers, the girls also seemed primed to one-up themselves with an all-new concept, given last year’s prolonged girl crush experimentations.

In some ways, “PTT” delivers on this promise. It shows the best of Loona, that is, their sprawling mythology and ever elaborate choreography. Both elements shine more than usual since they are grounded in a stronger theme this time round. But in other ways, “PTT” also exposes the weaker sides of the group, namely their susceptibility to convention and their tricky relationship with cultural appropriation. 

“PTT” begins fairly innocently. Viewers are thrown back to a different era—Kim Lip’s debut MV “Eclipse,” to be exact. We see Kim Lip in the same outfit and haunting dome, only this time she is surrounded by piles of ash and a broken ceiling, which sets up an aura of doom. We circle around her in silence, until she lifts her head to stare at us, and a melodic rush of Indian drums, strings, and (for a modern flair) 808 bass hits us right in the ears. 

Blockberry Creative does not hide the fact that “PTT” heavily borrows from chart-topping Bollywood songs, and the sophisticated use of Indian instruments, from tabla drums to sitar strings, is indubitably the track’s song suit (more on this borrowing later on). It livens up an otherwise generic trap tune and fits well with the worldliness of Loona’s brand.

The universal touch has always been a staple in Loona MVs, but in “PTT,” this is boosted by strong motifs like time and ruin. The next scene after Kim Lip’s shows the 12-member group in an updated version of the red and white uniforms they donned in “Hi High.” They are surrounded by war banners, and the sequence is intercut with individual shots of the girls in colorful costumes. Olivia Hye is also seen banging on what could be a nagara drum, a traditional Indian kettle drum that was used during battle, while Hyunjin solemnly swings a medieval thurible, which lends the scene a forbidding air. 

There is an overall sense of chaos in the MV as it continually mixes ancient artifacts with battle cries and elemental forces. Fire brilliantly burns behind Haseul, water bubbles encircle Yves, and giant green leaves fan Yeojin. At this point, you’d be forgiven for asking, “What is going on?” because even for a K-pop outing, this seems a bit much.  

However, unlike the hapless mayhem of their previous MV, “PTT” grounds all these elements in a realized theme of destruction. Everything seems bound to apocalyptic doom, as evidenced by the sharp, aggressive dance formations (another win for Loona), ominous lyrics (“You break it / You make it”), and the black hole that appears late in the MV. Perhaps all this is best summed up in the overhead shot of Heejin, which looks like a time machine exploded in outer space

Of course, this also ties into Loona’s lore. “I want something else, more,” the pre-chorus goes, and indeed, after unifying their cohorts around the world, Loona seem ready to blow up the world and rebuild it in their own, vivid colors. The recurring references to Odd Eye Circle, one of Loona’s three subunits, also support this intent as the group is believed to have supernatural powers. 

There isn’t much else to say on the lore and choreo front, except that they largely live up to the hype Loona has built over the years. If anything went wrong, the girls always had these two to fall back on, and “PTT” reinforces these as their signature strengths.

That said, the MV isn’t without its faults. Once the chorus drops, it becomes clear that “PTT” is disappointingly, generically, basic. After a strong instrumental start, built up by an interesting, layered verse, the chorus decides to play hollow and familiar dubstep. Very little of the earlier instruments can be heard. It is also laced with onomatopoeic lyrics, and as if the cliche isn’t enough, the girls are dressed in black leather battle gear when they sing this. 

The scene and sound recall too many other acts to be tasteful; Everglow, Dreamcatcher, and especially Itzy with “Mafia and the Morning” come to mind. Suddenly, the bombast becomes apparent and “PTT,” for all its mythic joy, exposes Loona’s worrying lack of originality, which is odd, considering that uniqueness is something that Loona were initially poised to succeed in

But perhaps more alarming is the group’s increasingly liberal adoption of other cultures into their work. Days before the MV was released, Loona became a trending topic as K-pop fans asked whether Hyunjin’s headpiece, which resembled the traditional South Asian jewelry, matha patti, and Olivia’s wolf headdress, which recalled Indigenous North American headdresses, were instances of cultural appropriation

The response was mixed. In Hyunjin’s case, some claimed that because Blockberry credited Bollywood influences, it was more in line with appreciation than appropriation. Others said that the use of the piece was disrespectful because it functioned as a mere aesthetic when, in fact, it holds a very specific and significant meaning to South Asian women.                            

It is important to highlight the voices of those affected in instances like this, so I will only say that the fact that this is even being debated means that there must be something off in Blockberry and Loona’s presentation of borrowed culture. Perhaps they did mean to honor and appreciate other ways of life, as they have championed diversity in previous MVs. But “PTT” reveals they still have ways to go in respectfully doing so.

A faux pas like this ultimately takes away from the brilliance of the MV—and it is brilliantly built and performed, to be sure. Uninspired chorus notwithstanding, “PTT” is a treat that fans can marvel at and theorize to no end. If you wait for it, the bridge and post-chorus are the real gems of the MV. Here, the instruments are in full swing and the dance break encapsulates Loona’s performative strength. 

It is just unfortunate that the group had to take part in an insensitive phenomenon to carry out their vision. If they really want to rebuild a new order, one where “not even a single girl is oppressed” as Blockberry puts it, then perhaps they can begin with something simpler than destruction or world domination. They could strip off the cultural headpieces, for a start, and maybe burn the leather suits while they’re at it.

(YouTube [1][2][3][4], Fandom, The Hindu, ETimes, Reddit, Twitter. Images via Blockberry Creative.)