Perhaps one of the greatest testaments to K-pop’s depth of quality is how, every once in a while, a relatively under-the-radar release will come and knock the wind out of you. Of course, Taeyeon is a living legend, so no release of hers could be considered truly obscure. Still, her latest single “Heaven” was preceded by minimal promotion. Nevertheless, in spite of the surprising lack of fanfare, the MV is a meticulously crafted horror triumph.

“Heaven” belongs squarely in the surprisingly popular killer-girls concept wheel, and given Taeyeon’s shared SM Entertainment affiliation, will likely prompt comparisons to Red Velvet, the reigning queens of K-pop murder. However, Red Velvet’s menace is accented with elements of the ethereal, the naïve, and the playful, creating a kind of soft ‘bubblegum murder’ aesthetic as brilliantly exemplified in their recent comeback “Cosmic.” In contrast, “Heaven” is sharp, darkly comedic, and perfectly comfortable making its audience squirm a bit. There is no spoonful of honey to wash this thorny, eldritch fairytale down.  

“Heaven” relies on two key visual metaphors to create evocatively violent tableaus: cooking and gardening. The MV opens to the scratching sound of metal-on-metal as Taeyeon mixes something up in the kitchen. What follows is a lineup of increasingly sketchy dishes, from ice cream drizzled with aggressively red hot fudge, to ax-chopped salad (perhaps featuring the foot-shaped vegetable Taeyeon harvests from her garden), to the suspiciously eyeball-resembling cherry that crowns a decadent dessert.

In between her domestic endeavors, Taeyeon takes a break to hunt down a hapless bear who, based on brief and hilarious flashbacks showing the bear presenting Taeyeon with flowers, seems to be a stand in for the (ex?) lover she sings about:

Perfect heaven because it’s without you

A dimension of heart blowing in, oh

Something no one has ever seen

More thrilling than your imagination, oh heaven

The track’s groovy synths and ambiguous lyrics—at times Taeyeon seems to celebrate a breakup, while at other moments she asks for her paramour to “ruin me even more” and promises to “show you the way to heaven”—make both the MV and song even more fascinating. Is the MV hinting at a darker meaning to a line like “something no one has ever seen,” or are the MV’s visual choices independent of what could be read as a fairly standard ‘toxic love’ song?

The MVs many tonal elements, from jaded humor to genuine menace, are tied together by Taeyeon’s exceptional performance. Styled to perfection, hair blacker than black and twisted into Pippi Longstocking braids, she cuts an imposing yet coquettish figure, and this is mirrored in her expressions and physical stances. She stares her opponent or task down, all-business, one minute, then joyfully dances through a decaying dining room the next, and never do you question that this person is the same terrifying and alluring dark angel.

“Heaven” is a totally unique entry in Taeyeon’s discography, a catalog defined, of course, by her vocal mastery, but also by her willingness to experiment with a huge variety of sounds and aesthetics. Whether “Heaven” will be a one-off or the start of a more prolonged conceptual dance remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that “Heaven” presents the feminist pathos of a domestic goddess gone mad with astonishing wit, creativity, and polish. It’s a murderous fable written by a very jaded adult, and its greatest trick is that for all its surface-level unpleasantness, it’s an absolute joy to behold.

(YouTube. Lyrics via YouTube. Images via SM Entertainment.)