It’s officially summer, which in Korea means uncomfortable temperatures and a lot–and I mean a lot–of rain. But in the world of K-pop, it’s the time for brightness, smiles and, often, a turn towards the lighter side of things. This month, we’ve gone for some staples in the summer mode, and some songs which stray off the beachy path entirely. Whether the clouds are gathering or the sun is shining, June has something to offer. You can’t say it hasn’t been eventful…
BTS- “Yet To Come”
Calling BTS ‘unsung’ feels a little bit like called Steven Spielberg ‘up and coming’. But alas, here they are, with what may well be their latest release for a long time, “Yet To Come”. After the announcement of their extended break to focus on other projects (the word ‘hiatus’ quickly became a controversial one), the internet, not to mention the stock market, panicked. The news that the biggest K-pop group in history might be stepping back from the spotlight puts this otherwise fairly ephemeral ballad into a poignant context.
The MV’s setting is an expansive, warmly saturated desert, in which the members largely wonder and gaze, rather than attempting any kind of choreography. The solo shots are soft and slow, each member gazing warmly ahead or into the camera; there is nothing too fierce or intense here.
The outfits are reminiscent of eras past (the all-matching white is straight out of “Life Goes On”), whilst the set dressing, props and narrative make the references to their back catalogue even more direct. The members sit astride the truck from “Run”; the merry-go-round from “Spring Day” is behind Jungkook once again; the school bus of “No More Dream” is the MV’s final setting, and the roles of “Blood, Sweat and Tears” even become reversed as Jin covers V’s eyes from behind.
There is also another particularly striking visual reference from the latter MV—the winged angel statue that Jin once kissed is now giant, but submerged in the sand. As a miniscule Jin stares at it, the image, in combination with the desert setting, screams of Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias”. A pinnacle of romanticism, the poem describes a traveller coming across the ruins of an ancient king’s statue in a wasteland, upon which an inscription has been written.
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
The following line—”Nothing beside remains”—shows the ultimate hubris of this statement. Evoking this image, especially against the stark backdrop of the desert, is about as poetic a way to point to the transience of time as we’ve come to expect from classic BTS. Whilst it could seem that an MV consisting of what is basically an artistically-done ‘greatest hits’ montage is trying to make a bragging statement of achievement; this setting undermines that. As the closing lyrics of the song make clear, “Yet To Come” is a love letter to things passed, and the very fact that they do pass.
So was it honestly the best?
‘Cause I just wanna see the next
Through the memories so beautifully
Ultimately, as a bookmark to mark the end of one phase of the BTS story and the beginning of the next, “Yet To Come” serves as a loving nostalgia trip visually, and a welcome return to the poetic on a thematic level. Whatever will come next, we can only hope it is the best.
Loona- “Flip That”
The K-pop industry sure does have a clear and specific idea of what summer is: bright, colourful, and relentlessly smiley. There is nothing wrong with this concept as it can produce some of the most iconic songs of the genre; “Red Flavour” and “Touch My Body” immediately spring to mind. However, it’s not one that leaves much room for creative interpretation, as Loona’s latest single shows.
A light, refreshing track from the group more used to bringing us the edge of “Why Not” or the experimentation of “Butterfly”, “Flip That” is a sugary snack of a song in comparison. The MV begins with the members sitting together on an old-fashioned train, all dressed up in frills and pastels as they ride through the countryside. The other settings—a field with hanging laundry, a forest, a white and pink hall, a sweet shop and a room of flowers—are about as feminine and soft as it gets. It’s the clear message of K-pop summer coming through a cotton candy lense: this is not serious, this is not intense, this is sunny and airy.
Which is fine, if not unoriginal for a group like Loona. The main hook of the song, a catchy repetition of the title’s ‘that’, is fun, but the choreography of relatively simple hand movement sequences is underwhelming. The styling seems largely afraid to stray away from the most obvious signifiers of summertime; it’s all pastels, whites, pinks, frills, and gingham. Whilst there are some more excitingly colourful touches in the makeup (glitter freckles and heart stencils in orange blush were the standouts), that is where the creativity ends. This is not a weak summer song by any stretch, but it doesn’t stretch the artistic muscles that Loona have shown us they have.
To flip the coin to a much smaller girl group, Woo!ah! are also back with their second single of the year, “Danger”. While this song is not as explicitly summery as “Flip That”, it is a similarly bright and fizzy release, with a lot more fun thrown in to the mix of this technicolour, candy-themed MV.
Perhaps taking inspiration from the song’s simple hand-clapping rhythm in the introduction, throughout is a strong sense of whimsy. Computer animated backdrops show mountains of sweets and desserts, complete with pink palm trees, candy floss clouds, and glitter sand. These animated elements extend to the members themselves: Sora holds an apple that melts with pink and purple wax, the sweets Lucy raps about appear around her as she says them, and Nana even has multiple blue foxtails swirling behind her at one point.
Bright animation adds an element of playfulness to the song that amplifies its brightness. This fits well with the metallic synths of the chorus, and the fast call and response of the central lyrics. This is a song that is playing around a little with the colours in the colouring box, both musically and visually, so it tracks completely to have rainbow umbrellas and cartoon patterns popping up throughout. Through this relative boldness, Woo!ah! have snuck in an exciting little confection, ultimately taking a more interesting approach to the lightness and joy of this current season.
Omega X- “Play Dumb”
Now for the boys’ turn. Rookie group Omega X returns with their second single, and with it, another spin on the cute, energetic, summer style. Set primarily in a tennis court and on a football field, here the emphasis is quite literally on the liveliness and bounce of the song, as underlined by the ample use of tennis balls.
Said balls actually arrive on Earth as meteors (obviously), which are then poured over by the members, and even drawn by Xen at one point. Whether giant or game-sized, these balls are a pretty straightforward representation of the bounce and energy that this song gives, in contrast with the group’s earlier styles. The silliness of this concept, coupled with the joyful nature of the dance routines and the various scenes of members jostling and playing together, is at times reminiscent of GOT7’s iconic “Just Right” MV.
Both MVs share a cuter concept still relatively uncommon for boy groups, especially in the era of the dark concept. They have the same bright, primary colour palette and sportswear or casual outfit style (reminiscent of Pentagon’s brighter tracks) that screams of approachability over the experimentation associated with more mature concepts. There is a lot of repetition in both choruses: the hook of “play dumb diggy dumb dumb”, which is undoubtedly catchy. The simple guitar riff backing it fits today’s trends well. Ultimately, like its iconic predecessor, this is a successful attempt at the young, peppy and cute side of a boy group from Omega X.
Trendz and Omega X seem to be operating as perfect examples of different sides of the boy group coin. Coming back with not only their second single of the year, but their second ever, Trendz have decided to stay out of the sunshine and instead lean in to the hype sound and style.
This is an MV with a literally darker, more contrasting palette: the outfits are built around black, with black or white backdrops interchanged with an abandoned lobby behind them. It’s nothing new to use black and white in this way in K-pop. Quite the opposite, it’s popular because it’s so instinctively striking. And the group uses it well here, particularly to highlight their choreography and to contrast their song’s almost frenetic sound.
The opening sequence against pure white, with the suited-up members lifting Leon into a floating position at their centre, is visually arresting. The choreography in this particular set is really highlighted by this minimalist background, almost becoming reminiscient of Monsta X’s “Beautiful” in its simplicity.
The song also echoes Monsta X in its boisterous bravado, which the enthusiastic dance moves also serve well. The song’s title is howled like a wolf, so it feels logical to accompany this with clawed hands, though the addition of crouched crawls feels more left-of-field, and is exciting for it. Everything eventually gets a little crowded sonically, with an electric guitar riff, howls, shouts, and even a drum and bass section in the bridge. These settings, however, calm things down, as does the decision to keep the styling chic yet simple—we mostly see luxurious jackets over straight legged black trousers here.
It’s exciting to see that Trendz have swerved in completely the other direction from the classic summer style, and the choice is one that largely holds up due to their visual choices and energy in the MV. Musically, the song could do with the same restrictions that the MV puts to such good use, but overall, this is a refreshing side step if you would rather spend your summer ignoring the sunshine, shunning Day-Glo colours for monochrome. When summer K-pop can risk becoming a little bit too sticky and sweet, it’s a wise move to go for something a little spikier instead.