Together as a foursome for the first time since member J Steph’s military enlistment, KARD are back with their latest title track, “Ring The Alarm.” Without knowing anything about this song or video at all, the name and timing alone hint at two of the group’s signature elements: summery vibes and bombast. Whilst the former is undoubtedly displayed, via KARD’s typical Latin music influences, the latter is slightly sidestepped in favour of something a little tighter and more controlled.
In the “Ring The Alarm” MV, we see the group take on a more chill version of the summer dance track, complimented with more disparate visuals. There are arresting set pieces, strong choreographic moments, and striking styling (oh boy, is it striking!). But strangely, whilst composed of various strong elements, there is a lack of consistency and coherence that keeps the MV from being completely satisfying.
The core of this MV is built around the set pieces for the individual members; so far, so standard for a pop MV of any kind. Particularly with a co-ed group with only four members, this is always going to be a fairly necessary tool to lean on. Tricks like matching outfits, or nailing synchronicity in your choreography, are instantly harder to pull off with fewer people, not to mention people with wildly differing heights.
However, “Ring The Alarm” continues the trend of KARD’s awareness of this fact, and how to use it to their strengths. Much as with “Red Moon” or “Dumb Litty,” we have each member here against their own backdrop, though they are generally in more intricately dressed sets than either of those previous MVs. Somin is placed in an orange-bathed living room complete with goldfish tank, before sitting in a giant red heart against plush red curtains. Jiwoo is alone in an empty restaurant before posing under a striking diamond chandelier. BM is astride a truck in a gas station before climbing a mountain (busy day). And last but not least, J Steph inhabits a barren, high-ceilinged room and a cityscape rooftop.
There is a lot of visual ingenuity here, from the perspective shifts of Somin through the fish tanks and J Steph through a keyhole, to the sheer beauty in the symmetry of the chandelier, and dramatic flourishes like Somin dangling in black space while wearing a luscious yellow gown. In short, it’s incredibly pleasing to look at during these individual shots. However, when the group come together, the scenes begin to feel empty, with the four members dancing in a huge empty room, or on a wide building’s rooftop.
Unlike the smaller studio settings of “Red Moon,” “Dumb Litty,” or their previous single, “Gunshot,” here the stage is bigger, but not for any clear purpose. In “Gunshot,” back-up dancers were used to solve this problem, but here there is simply space in several wide shots with nothing going on. It could be that this choice was made to emphasise the calmer, less frenetic sonic atmosphere of the song, but it just ends up making certain scenes slightly anticlimactic.
In addition to this, these individual set pieces do not seem to link together in any clear sense. There is a general tone of abandoned social settings: Jiwoo’s restaurant has no customers, and no one else seems to be invited into J Steph’s minimalist parlour set up. But this is clutching at straws, given that, unlike in the group’s previous work, there is no colour palette or styling choice that links everything together. This could well be completely intentional, another nod to KARD’s particularly strong member individuality, but it reads as confusing.
There is, however, one linking factor towards the end of the MV: the inclusion of playing card symbolism. Now, I won’t pretend to understand the deep lore of what this means in the KARD universe, but it is clear that different members and scenarios represent different suits. BM is the King, posing in a CGI playing card, Somin sits in a giant heart, and Jiwoo sits under diamonds (it would probably be a bit too hard to make spades glamourous, so diamonds are probably the right choice). The members also see through suit-shaped pupils, while Jiwoo is at one point the eye of a card tornado. These moments are nicely inventive ways to tie in the imagery that surrounds their group name, and make it more prominent than it has been in recent MVs. Again, the actual meaning of it is unclear, if there is any at all, though perhaps it is over-labouring the point to be looking for it in a song with as relaxed an energy as this.
Alongside moving their playing card imagery to the foreground more than they have recently done, KARD are also particularly bold here in their styling choices. Whilst they’ve never been a group to shy away from exciting clothing—again, another bonus of the distinctiveness afforded to a co-ed group—there are some real standouts here.
Perhaps the most attention grabbing outfit is the cropped, short-sleeved leather jacket worn by BM for one of the group dance sequences; he may be one of the only male idols who regularly bares as much flesh as his female counterparts. But that is not all there is to see. In the second dance sequence, with a white, pale colour palette, Somin wears a micro-mini skirt formed entirely of scrunched up blue satin. Jiwoo also sports rainbow coloured hair, shimmering black organza sleeves, and brilliantly graphic black eyeliner at various points.
These styling choices, like the set dressing, are compelling, and suitably unique in style for a modern K-pop MV. They create interesting silhouettes and patterns, as well as the drama of other outfits like Somin’s aforementioned yellow gown. But, once again, there isn’t as much cohesion as there could be. There is more here than in the backdrops—as mentioned, one of the dance sequences has a clear colour palette—but it still feels ultimately disparate. In work like “Red Moon,” KARD have shown easily that outfit cohesion is possible. If the choice to move away from this is intentional, the stand out pieces make sense. But again, there isn’t quite the through line to make a clear theme stand out.
The choreography in the MV does at least strike a clear style. With a chorus that pulls back rather than dropping a beat, and less bombastic line delivery, “Ring The Alarm” is a step back from the more ‘club-banger’ heavy style KARD have done before. Because of this, the choreography becomes slightly less aggressive and instead wonderfully gender neutral, though KARD haven’t shied away from this aspect before.
There are swaying hips, swivelling ankles, and even a key choreography point where all the members lift one leg coquettishly whilst the opposite hand goes behind their head. This last move is almost cutesy in its femininity, but approached with equal characterisation by all four members. This dancing is more light-hearted, more in-keeping with the gentler beats of the song, and provides a through-line where much of the styling misses one.
Ultimately, “Ring The Alarm” is a visual feast of an MV, if one that is missing an overall flavour. Striking outfits, well-constructed set pieces, and fine-tuned choreography match the lighter, more summery approach of the song itself, but offer no extra depth to it. It is undoubtedly an entertaining thing to behold—KARD rarely fail on that front—but in prioritizing emphasising individual members and relaxed melodies, a linking theme seems to have been slightly forgotten. There is a definite teasing in the playing card imagery at the end of the MV: maybe it is there to show us that this is one part of a greater narrative. Maybes and what-ifs aside, KARD have not failed their viewers in their latest release, only slightly confused them.
(YouTube. Images via DSP Entertainment.)