As temperatures rise in Korea and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, K-pop is gearing up for its busiest season of the year. Artists have been dutifully delivering a variety of upbeat releases, and the MVs accompanying them are equally vibrant. For this double issue of Unsung Artists, we’ve picked out some MVs from April and May that surprise, delight, or are just pure fun.
Flowers, greenery, open fields, sunshine; there are hardly better images to bring spring to mind. As a pre-release for Seventeen’s promotions for Face the Sun, “Darl+ing” taps into the cheer of the season. The members doodle, read, and play scrabble in colorful, sun-drenched sets. The mood is pastoral and carefree, a perfect match for the youthful optimism that characterises the group. Fans will undoubtedly notice fun Easter eggs, like b-side song titles and excerpts from the lyrics. sneaking into the sets.
But appearances are deceptive, and a careful look reveals details that start off perplexing and wind up disturbing. Early on in the MV, the fields that surround Vernon begin to disintegrate; later, Hoshi breaks a vase, and when he drops one of the shards into water, a dark liquid ripples out from it. A church that hosted a fun performance by DK appears as a deserted mess, and S.Coups‘ shadow elongates at preternatural speed. Soon, the members find themselves falling into a dark alternative universe, and the MV ends with no answers.
As a pre-release MV, “Dar+ling” succeeds in intriguing the viewer for the comeback that is to follow. With the contrast between a carefree atmosphere and the mysterious, unsettling visuals unveiled at the ending, it teases both the upbeat side to the album, and its darker edge.
Like “Dar+ling”, Melomance’s “Invitation” also plays on the audience’s expectations. The story is set up as a college meet-cute. Roh Jeong-eui, who may be familiar to some for her role as Hong Si-ah in the drama 18 Again, falls for her classmate (Melomance member Kim Min-seok) at first sight. She hatches an elaborate, over-the-top plan to get him to notice her, sending paper planes flying and origami letters dangling.
As fate would have it, her letters keep landing in the hands of another guy; the viewer begins to wonder if they will end up becoming a couple instead. But there’s a twist: he has figured out the intended recipient, and happily, her crush has been getting her letters. The MV ends with him reciprocating her feelings, and they run off into a glowing corridor… or so we think. The real ending is another surprise, turning this seemingly predictable plot into an entertaining watch.
Ballad MVs rarely stray from two types. The first is a narrative-type MV like Melomance’s “Invitation”, and the second is simply a sequence of shots of the ballad singer. The latter usually ends up being forgettable, but Ryeowook’s “Hiding Words” avoids this pitfall by establishing a few points of visual interest.
Ballads often have a simple structure, starting off with a pared down instrumental and mellow melodies. Each repetition of the chorus builds the song’s intensity, allowing the vocalist to fully showcase their range and emotional delivery. The MV for “Hiding Words” pays attention to this progression. It begins with a dreamlike sequence, introducing the motif of flight through camera movements that spiral downwards like a falling bird, the superimposition of an image of Ryeowook so that his hands seem to form a pair of wings, and a close-up of feathers resting on his sleeve.
As the song builds, slow movements such as lingering shots of Ryeowook and the drifting of feathers are replaced by faster cuts between shots of different sets, increasing the visual rhythm. More colours, movements, and visual details are introduced in the chorus, and the more emotionally charged verses are paired with scenes of waves and a bird-shaped kite teetering in the sky. This careful orchestration of the visual details does not call too much attention to itself; instead, it solidly supports Ryeowook’s powerful delivery of the song.
Ily:1—”Love in Bloom”
Like Ryeowook’s MV, Ily:1‘s debut MV doesn’t do anything new, but still impresses with its thoughtful, solid execution. The set and styling looks like what you’d get if you crossed Red Velvet‘s tropical-themed “Happiness” with any of WJSN‘s pastel, fantastical MVs—the result is a balance between elegant, lush visuals and a sense of cheer.
“Love in Bloom” is a performance-based MV, a smart choice considering that it needs to introduce the viewer to this new group. Its strengths lie in the details: Ririka‘s 90s-throwback hair wrap, a burst of CG bubbles when Ara gestures at the camera, and the way the lighting morphs in the background in lava lamp colours. The pull-back, rotating transition effects keep segues between the choreography and solo scenes dynamic.
For all its movements, though, “Love in Bloom” doesn’t distract from its purpose of spotlighting the members, and I found myself instantly drawn in by their joyful performance and mentally noting them down for my best debuts longlist.
If Ily:1 and Class:y are any indication, it seems like the colon is spilling over from boy group album titles into group names. I’m not sure how to feel about this trend, but I do know how I feel when it comes to Class:y‘s debut MV: surprise, and some delight. “Shut Down” opens on a perplexing note: dramatic blockbuster music paired with a primarily pink, purple, and blue futuristic school. Apocalyptic imagery gives way to a cheerful classroom in ruins. Just as you settle into the catchy verses and the group’s pleasing, cream-coloured school uniforms that are doubtless a pain when you’re on your period, a zombie crashes into the bright orange corridors.
The strange visual mishmash likely makes little sense to a viewer new to K-pop, but it may ring some bells for the seasoned fan. “Shut Down” has effectively snipped some iconic concepts from MVs of other girl groups: the futuristic, 8-bit game aesthetics of Cherry Bullet, the fun text overlays of StayC, and of course, Twice‘s cheerful zombie-themed debut with “Like Ooh-Ahh“. The song’s verses are also instantly reminiscent of some of Red Velvet’s “red” releases (“Happiness”, “Red Flavour“). In a saturated scene where it’s hard to define oneself with originality, Class:y have opted instead to embrace their legacy, piecing it together to form something new.
Psy (feat. Suga)—”That That”
While some artists progress through their careers by constantly reinventing themselves, Psy does the opposite. He locks firmly onto what he’s good at, and delivers this reliably every comeback. The MV for “That That” may tap into the two-year-old yeehaw trend that’s still going strong, but it also offers something distinct: Psy’s signature deadpan physical comedy.
From the moment he pushes through the saloon doors with a blissful smile, Psy has your attention and amusement. “That That” is his post-pandemic anthem, and he breathes in a lungful of air—an action I would not encouraging emulating in a true Western desert setting—grateful just to be outdoors. But we don’t linger in this bliss for long; Psy launches straight into a celebratory dance that’s so refined in its silliness, it’s actually cool.
Considering the fact that Psy is wearing sunglasses throughout most of the MV, it’s impressive how much emotion he conveys solely through his body. Humour emanates from the way he waves his hands at super speed, the precise angling of his head, and how he holds a goofy pose just the right number of seconds for maximum comic effect. Although the star cameo by BTS‘ Suga ups the fun factor significantly, the MV is undoubtedly carried by Psy’s unique showmanship. It’s the perfect post-pandemic anthem to dance to.