Changmin of TVXQ (or Max Changmin) first previewed his second mini-album, Devil, with a spectacular performance of “Fever” at SMTOWN Live 2022, and then followed it up with the funky, fresh, and exciting “Maniac” as a pre-release track, setting up expectations for a loud, thumping title track and album.

Hence, if you were taken for a surprise with how “Devil” turned out to be, know that you are not alone. Where viewers expected a uptempo, pompous show of a title track, “Devil” is anything but. Instead, the remake track is a slow-tempo R&B song that draws inspiration from hymns and blues and features the idol’s self-penned lyrics. It theatrically builds up both vocally and instrumentally to have a climatic, ascending finish that leaves you wanting more.

Vocally, “Devil” impresses. In general, that’s not an aspect to worry about when talking about TVXQ’s music. Still, “Devil” goes beyond to really highlight Changmin’s vocals, and displays how the vocalist has continued to grow regardless his experience.

“Devil” is far from being The Best MV Ever (“Maniac” easily steals the show), but it carries out the one job it has — emphasizing Changmin’s vocals and visualizing his lyrics — incredibly well.

It’s been a long time since a title track has had such a bold start: the first verse of “Devil” has no instrumental backing, and the vocals are supported only be a repetitive hymn-like hum. It’s a minimalistic but compelling introduction that grabs your attention; the MV works in congruency to be the same. It starts off with dark, slow scenes that draws attention to the imagery of a devil; the forest glows red, and shadows hauntingly creep the scene. The camera focuses mostly on Changmin’s face, such that the audience can’t help but notice the poignant lyrics and singing.

When I was stuck in tremendous hardships.
it was impossible for me to even take a step, just like a lost child.
Oh Devil, (it was then that) you whispered to me.

In “Devil”, Changmin’s goal was to write about the internal devil within us. Rather than referring to external temptation as the devil, his interpretation of the devil was the “evil” that stifles us when we’re faced with the harsh realities of life.

The MV sells this message mainly via clever set design and direction. Past the first verse, the MV switches just between two sets. One is supposedly Kwangya: a vast, empty space of white wilderness in which Changmin wanders (and dances). The other is an indoor rotating concrete slab with a ingenious rope mechanism and skilful lighting.

As Changmin sings of the devil trapping him, the ropes around him rotate to twist and cage him in even as he stands under an open area. As he looks up to the sky to escape the devil’s clutches, the ropes twist even more to capture him. The lyrics dramatically proclaim, “rain down on me”, and the lights come shining down on Changmin and the dancers that surround him.

When an MV is centred around dance, it’s details like these that help make it stand out. The difference between a dance-focused MV and a great dance-focused MV is that it doesn’t just follow the beat, but it follows the lyrics and vocals as well. The choreography itself is also a step-up from “Chocolate“‘s. It’s lyrically-driven, and suits the vocal-focus of “Devil” appropriately. (A shout-out to the many perfect twirls Changmin executes in just this one song.)

Other than that, the MV very obviously plays with the idea of colours to represent defeating the devil within. The MV starts out in a dense forest, as Changmin belts out being tempted and mocked by a devil. There is little light and shadows lurk in the frames. Changmin dons an all-black outfit, and his nails are painted black as well. The back-up dancers are dressed similarly.

As the MV and song progress to defeating the devil within, Changmin appears more and more in an all-white ensemble in an expansive, clear space (Kwangya). Behind him, a huge statue of him — representing his inner evil —- comes crumbling down. There are also interesting, quick moments that show his inner, lighter self overshadowed by the darker devil.

The MV does have its shortcomings, however. SM Entertainment re-uploaded a higher-quality video for “Devil” midway this review, complete with SM’s typical sound effects. While they usually work in most title tracks, it’s an odd choice for a smooth song like “Devil”, which doesn’t really have any hard-hitting beats in the instrumentals. The choreography comes as a complement to the vocals, and rather than emphasise the choreography, the sound effects distract you from the vocals. It makes the entire MV a slightly strange experience.

Though, the particular motif of a Not Deer was a nice touch. Fans would know that Changmin’s nickname is both deer and Bambi, the animated deer character, and it’s one of the only nicknames he acknowledges. It was incredibly creative to twist the commonly associated symbol to an uncomfortable symbol of a predator deer, perfectly aligned with a devil that’s out to get you. It’s a small detail, but it’s one that creates some layers to the MV. It also makes me wish for a more narrative-driven MV, especially with all the teasers that preceded the album release.

Regardless, “Devil” stands its ground as a solid dance MV. Rather than just putting out an MV for the sake of it, the MV for “Devil” goes beyond a dance MV. There is successful effort put in portraying a specific idea and showcasing precise parts of a song. Instead of doing too much, “Devil” was astutely directed to be a minimalistic MV for an instrumental that was also just as. It was a fantastic ground for the choreography and vocals of “Devil” to shine.

(YouTube: [1] [2] [3]. Jeon Eunjung Art Team. Twitter. Images via: SM Entertainment. Lyrics via: SM Entertainment.)