This year’s breakout debut group, NewJeans, are back with their latest dose of nostalgia just in time for the holiday season. Following their swift rise to stardom with debut EP New Jeans, helmed by viral chart-toppers “Hype Boy” and “Attention,” expectations for whatever the group were to release next couldn’t have been higher.
While merely a pre-release b-side from the group’s upcoming single “OMG,” “Ditto” easily lives up to the, well, hype created by their initial releases. When NewJeans broke out onto the scene just a short while ago, they immediately made waves for their refreshingly minimalist take on nostalgic sounds of the ‘90s and early 2000s. “Attention” and “Hype Boy” were sparkling, hypnotic products of Y2K pop and R&B, “Hurt” was a bubbly foray into the doo-wop genre, and “Cookie” took unexpected inspiration from the Jersey club scene. Similarly, “Ditto” keeps the group’s (and ADOR CEO Min Hee-jin’s) vision to revive genres of decades past alive and well, this time with the incorporation of ‘90s-era Baltimore club beats.
On its surface, the base of the track’s racing, tantalizing beat is repetitive enough to stifle the melody, but an overarching sense of airiness and the members’ ethereal vocals and harmonies — almost to the point of eeriness — ensure that’s never the case. Maknae Hye-in’s dreamy “woo woos” at the start set the tone for the song’s unnerving yet familiar nature, which can also be said about its pair of MVs.
The pang of nostalgia that strikes in “Ditto” and its two MVs (one entitled “Side A” and the other “Side B”) is even more stark compared to the group’s other visual releases. Both MV components tell two sides of the story of a high schooler named Ban Hee-soo, played by Park Ji-hu of All Of Us Are Dead and Little Women. Compared to the vibrant, lively hues of the MVs for “Attention” and “Hype Boy,” “Ditto” is strikingly dim and dull, primarily filled with old camcorder footage of the NewJeans members dancing and laughing together at school.
While the retro style of the camcorder scenes, along with a throughline of overexposed lighting and props signaling a bygone era (box TVs, videotapes, clunky boomboxes) conjure a sentimental portrait of the past, these elements also make both MVs equally unsettling. MV “Side A,” which viewers are intended to watch first, reveals that these grainy camcorder outtakes of the five NewJeans members were filmed by Hee-soo during school. At the beginning of the MV, Hee-soo dusts off an old videotape, which then begins to play footage of NewJeans playing around together and b-roll of their school. This first segment is set against a sentimental piano melody, establishing both a sense of wistfulness and spookiness before “Ditto” even begins to play.
Although some non-camcorder footage scenes depict Hee-soo personally interacting with the members, including one scene where Minji draws a heart on her cast using red nail polish, she does not appear in any of the actual recorded footage with the members. In other scenes where Hee-soo is happily videotaping the members, she also catches footage of her classmates, including an implied love interest played by Choi Hyun-wook (Twenty-Five Twenty-One), looking at her with slightly worrisome expressions.
The contrast of the expressions of Hee-soo’s classmates versus that of her “friends” (NewJeans) in the camcorder footage is eerie enough to suggest that something is off in the “Side A” MV. The end of the MV confirms this, as Hee-soo is depicted standing alone in a field of snow, making eye contact with a lone deer. The track cuts out, and the remaining scenes show almost the same scenes from when Hee-soo was filming NewJeans before, only this time from the perspective of her other classmates to reveal that she actually wasn’t filming anyone the entire time.
In “Side B,” this discrepancy plays out further, only Hee-soo is less inclined to film the NewJeans members. She does it more sporadically, and seemingly less willingly, than in “Side A.” At one point, Hee-soo walks to the top of the school’s roof and drops the camcorder off the building, presumably retiring her efforts to record the members. Later, she again meets a lone deer eye to eye. The end of “Side B” picks up just where “Side A” starts, with Hee-soo rewatching the old footage she took during her days at school.
While viewers have passed several theories around as to the exact meaning of the intertwining of Hee-soo, NewJeans, the deer, and Hyun-wook’s character across both MVs, the MVs shared visuals suggest a dark, realistic representation of the nuanced relationship between idols and their fans. For one, Ban Hee-soo’s name sounds like NewJeans’ fan name, “Bunnies.” In the case of these two MVs, Hee-soo is a “Bunny,” representative of idols’ fans, who feels a parasocial friendship with the idols she is a fan of (in this case, the NewJeans members she films). Hee-soo “interacting” with and presuming a sense of closeness to NewJeans by filming them, particularly in “Side A,” is reflective of what the typical K-pop fan does in real life — film their favorite idols via fancams or consume content of them through a screen. It’s not entirely one-sided either, though. While many of the videos Hee-soo films of NewJeans are of them dancing to the choreography of “Ditto,” other clips are of the members looking directly into the camera and even saying Hee-soo’s name, making her feel like a part of the group.
If “Side A” is the height of closeness between fan and idol, “Side B” is what happens when that closeness begins to fade — Hee-soo ultimately leaves the members behind to move onto a new stage in her life, as represented by her leaving her video camera behind and walking away with her school crush. The deer she meets is presumably a sign of these changes, as it appears in “Side A” and “Side B” when her relationship with NewJeans is at a crossroads. Ultimately, Hee-soo’s choice of romantic love over love for an idol group is arguably representative of fans moving onto new stages in their lives. However, given the smile on her face when she watches her memories of NewJeans back, her time with them was never in vain.
Despite both MVs’ cryptic storylines, when paired together, they excel at conjuring up an air of wistfulness and longing for the past, even if viewers’ days as fans aren’t behind them just yet. Between the bliss expressed by both Hee-soo and NewJeans in “Side A” and the very real and complex feelings that arise in “Side B”, along with the MVs’ unsaturated coloring, use of gritty camcorder footage, and ambiguous storylines, “Ditto” as a whole revels in a level of simplistic realism few other K-pop MVs even attempt to reach. NewJeans have surely established a unique space for themselves, and we can’t wait to see where they take things next.
(YouTube. Images via ADOR/HYBE Labels.)