K-pop’s love for trends is perhaps stronger than its love for anything else. Mirroring the trendiness of Korean social culture more generally, a new item or aesthetic will have barely taken its first steps on TikTok before K-pop is running ahead with it, full pelt. A few years ago, when male harnesses were all the rage, you couldn’t move for light bondage-wear in every dark boy group concept. When the e-girl style blew up, it was not long before idols from Jennie to Nayeon were sporting front hair highlights. This is, of course, not uniquely a K-pop phenomenon, but one that is amped to the maximum by the highly visual elements of the genre.
And trends are trends because many people like them, which is fine, don’t get me wrong. Critiquing groups who are aiming to be popular by doing things that are popular is an exercise in missing the point. However, what can often be frustrating about K-pop here is the general approach to trending concepts or fashions. Rather than using them as an avenue to explore things in a new way, a method to think about something new, K-pop seems to favour the trend as a gimmick, as little more than a method to grab attention. Look at how its choreographies have changed over the years to accommodate TikTok as an example.
It is this gimmicky, surface-level understanding and use of trending and popular aesthetics and concepts that stand out in Tri.be’s latest MV release, “Kiss”. The song has hooks aplenty, and the MV is a veritable checklist of some of K-pop’s most enduring and recent trending fashions. However, none of these are either fresh enough, or indeed well enough explored, to take the song beyond anything more than a collage of ideas done better elsewhere.
The format of this upbeat, firmly fourth-generation girl crush track comfortably follows that of infinite MVs before it: here we have a solo stage for each member, and four separate group stages in three different outfits. The backdrops are interior, with a slight theme of school, in that Songsun’s solo stage and one of the group backdrops is a classroom, and a school bus sits behind the members in the opening and closing choreography section. This theme is loose, however; Soeun appears to be rapping in an industrial kitchen; Jia sits on a decadent white throne in a black marble room; Mire is in a concrete yard surrounded by tires, and Hyunbin raps in the alleyway that briefly becomes another group dance spot.
These setups are as well-lit and staged as any K-pop MV will be, but there is a lack of creativity in these staging decisions. There probably isn’t a K-pop group alive who hasn’t done a school concept, and even Mire’s backdrop, one of the more distinctive of all the members, ultimately ends up looking like an echo of (G)I-dle’s “Uh Oh”. Kelly’s solo section is the most visually arresting, set amid coral silk curtains and under a chandelier, but again, there is no sense to it. This specific section is intriguing, but the rest feel derivative.
This lacklustre outcome is unsurprising, given the song’s reliance on hooks and nonsensical lyrics to form the thrust of the song. Once again, it’s worth emphasising that this isn’t inherently a bad thing, not even here with Tri.be. The chorus’s main hook of “blow a little/blow a little kiss” works well with the decision to extend the last word into a long hiss over zipping synths.
Slow moments in fast songs are always attention-grabbing as the rhythm is forced to change, and it is the song’s standout moment. However, when surrounded by “yali yali yali”, “ha ha ha” and even the playground chant of “K-I-S-S-I-N-G”, this standout moment becomes inconsequential in a blur of throw-away riffs that verge on even being irritating. It may be attention-grabbing to be this heavy on catchy words and rhymes, but it fails to add anything to the song.
The choreography of the MV suffers a similar fate. The point dance move, accompanying the hiss of “kiss”, centres around hips swaying side to side with slightly bent knees and a wide stance. Recently, moves like this have been seen in Everglow’s “Pirate”, and of course, this is all ultimately a riff on the iconic “Abracadabra” by Brown Eyed Girls. That is not to say it isn’t pulled off well by Tri.be, but it does not build anything new onto the move to make it feel like anything other than a reference.
The dancing hints at the members’ real potential at various points during the MV, particularly at the end when there is some brief floorwork. Extending the athleticism needed for moves like this would have been more exciting to see than a cool, but oft-copied one that we all know from other places.
The styling of the MV is where the most unfortunate choices are made here. As mentioned above, there is a school setting, which requires school uniforms by law in K-pop. These are neither here nor there, a more cropped, monochromatic version than we’ve seen elsewhere, but not revolutionary. A K-pop trend ticked off rather than played with. There are some flashes of better outfits, particularly in Kelly’s lavender ruffle gown and Soeun’s rainbow minidress under a white t-shirt, perhaps a call-back to the multi-colour scheme of 2021’s “Rub a Dum”.
However, once again, there feels like an abundance of popular ideas not taken anywhere. There is a brief group sequence where the members are all clad in white crop tops with simple blue jeans, maybe a nod to the simple Calvin Klein aesthetic which has regained popularity. But this was recently done with Ive in “Love Dive”, and whilst this group also did little with the idea, neither did Tri.be.
90s hip-hop-inspired athleisure wear combined with denim shorts forms the theme of the other main dance set piece, but it feels almost randomly selected. This isn’t a song that pulls on influences from this era—it is far more childlike and bubblier—so the outfits make no sense. It is a style we’ve seen on idols like Jessi, (G)I-dle and Rosé, to name a few, so it ends up feeling like Tri.be’s styling team simply picked this one from a list for no real reason.
The worst consequence of this costume choice is that it results in Hyunbin being styled in a New York Yankees baseball cap and long, black braids. It is a styling decision that has obviously come out of the hip hop theme that the whole group was dressed in, and here it veers fully into appropriative territory. Here we have the worst result of K-pop’s relationship to trends, with a style that has been taken worn in spite of many, many well publicised explanations of why this is an insensitive choice to make.
In this example, the desire to create a visually distinctive look for a member using a fashionable hairstyle is so surface level that it actually actively ignores a very real problem of appropriating black culture. It is a real dud moment in the MV, and the most egregious highlighting of what is wrong with gimmicky decisions.
This mistake is the grand failure of “Kiss”. The song is packed with hooks and catchy lyrical quirks to get your attention, but not in an exciting or appealing way. There are distinct visuals, but they often feel like copies of better work, or at their worst points, even offensive failures to understand concepts. Tri.be do have charisma in this MV, and all the members undoubtedly commit to what they have been given. It is just that that commitment becomes wasted when there is neither a deeper purpose to the striking visual and aural moments nor enough creativity to make them stand on their own.
(YouTube. Images via TR Entertainment.)