June served up some memorable music videos, some with striking visual imagery or aesthetics, and others with compelling narratives. Let’s check out some of the highlights from this month that we did not have the opportunity to review.

Badvillain – “Badvillain”

Badvillain, the new girl group from label Big Planet Made, built hype for their debut throughout May with a series of dance performance videos. Fans quickly recognized Emma Song from Street Woman Fighter and Yunseo and Inhye from My Teenage Girl, and videos like “Hurricane” promised a strong dance emphasis and hip-hop focused sound. 

The MV for debut track “Badvillain,” however, surprised viewers by featuring little dancing until the last third of the song.  Instead, the MV takes more of a cinematic heist concept, depicting the members posing for mugshots and donning gas masks. The various scenes do not necessarily add up to a coherent narrative, but the images portray the group’s fierceness. The MV is filmed impressively, particularly when the members lead a rebellion and the camera sweeps around in epic long shots.

Classical piano in the rap-driven verses and orchestral strings in the pre-chorus and chorus heighten the song’s drama. The classical instrumentation is definitely the highlight of the song. A stronger, more melodic hook aside the “la la la” would have better matched the grandeur of the instrumentals and MV visuals, and would have more effectively distinguished “Badvillain” from other girl crush songs. Still, with the intensity of both their pre-debut and debut material, Badvillain have announced themselves as rookies to watch.

AkMu – “Hero”

“I don’t wanna go back to my home,” Suhyun sings in the opening lines to AkMu’s latest title track “Hero.” The line suggests a person who prefers to live in fantasy through the promise of a new lover. The song’s bossa nova beats, strumming guitar, and Suhyun and Chanhyuk’s warm vocals create a soothing, intimate feeling, with the repeated lines “Shooby-dooby, love to you” in the post-chorus adding some lightness. 

Fitting a song called “Hero,” the MV is full of fairy tale imagery, starting with Suhyun as a princess with singing teapots and clocks a la Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Other scenes towards the end reenact Peter Pan. The sets and costumes are both beautiful and obviously constructed, as though they are performing a play. The MV deftly balances multiple aesthetics, from traditional cel animation to shadow puppetry. Packaging all the imagery together as a storybook at the end, AKMU create magic in the quirky and whimsical way that only they can.  

Sunmi – “Balloon in Love”

Like “Hero,” Sunmi’s sentimental pop rock track “Balloon in Love” is immersed in fantasy. In sharp contrast to AKMU’s childlike storybook romances, however, Sunmi reminisces about a steamy summer affair. The MV does not shy away from depicting Sunmi and her love interest in everyday intimate moments (lying side by side in the grass, embracing in the rain) and implied erotic ones (behind dewy windows). We never precisely see Sunmi’s lover’s face, but it works within the hazy aesthetic of the MV. Most scenes are bathed in natural sunlight, shrouded in mist or fog, or softly blurred. There is a gauzy look to the MV, emphasized in white and pastel pink color palette, that makes the whole relationship feel dreamlike and ephemeral.

In the chorus, Sunmi begs, “Stay by my side, please. Blow more on my side.” The background synths give the song a faintly hopeful note, while Sunmi’s vocals convey a tinge of fear that her ‘balloon of love’ will pop, deflate, or fly away. In the bridge, the synths drop away and the electric guitar becomes more insistent, underscoring some of Sunmi’s urgency as she declares, “You’re the only one who could take me to the sky.” Throughout “Balloon Love”, Sunmi effectively conveys the bittersweet emotions of knowing love will eventually end.

K.Will – “No Sad Song for My Broken Heart”

Twelve years ago, K.Will released “Please Don’t,” whose MV dramatized an unrequited gay romance. “No Sad Song for My Broken Heart” continues the storyline with the same actors, Seo In-guk and Ahn Jae-hyun, and like its predecessor, hinges on a harrowing twist. The two men seem to see each other again at a funeral and reconnect over drinks, with Ahn holding up his bare ring finger to indicate he is no longer married. The camera’s point of view largely takes Seo’s, lingering over Ahn’s closed eyelids and lips, and showing Seo whispering a confession to Ahn while they hugged in an empty train tunnel. It thus becomes particularly shocking to see the match cut from Ahn in the tunnel to him at the funeral, which turns out to be Seo’s. 

For some, the MV may replicate tired tropes of gay romances with tragic endings. Some fans have turned to interpretations with time travel and multiple timelines. There are details to support those readings, like Ahn using a Blackberry, and the many cuts to his watch with different times on them. 

K.Will’s melancholy, emotive vocal performance conveys the regret of a man who did not give enough in a relationship. As he sings in the second verse, “Maybe I was too confident since I didn’t even try to hold on to you.” In the context of the MV between two (presumably closeted) men, the song conveys the heartbreak of yearning for love that did not, and could not even exist. 

Lee Young-ji feat. Doh Kyungsoo (D.O) – “Small Girl”

If one would categorize “No Song for My Broken Heart” as a heartbreaking romantic drama, then Lee Young-ji’s R&B track “Small Girl” would be a heartwarming romantic comedy. Singing in English over simple, vibey instrumentals, Lee expresses insecurity about having a “big laugh, big voice, and big personality” when her love interest (and society at large) has a “small girl fantasy.” EXO’s D.O features on the second verse and co-stars in the MV, and his warm vocals provide the perfect voice of reassurance: “If I cared about all those things… then I’m not yours.” 

The MV illustrates Lee’s self-doubts by showing her growing larger and larger throughout the song, first filling an entire room, then towering over a whole forest. Eventually, the MV switches to an animated sequence, where Lee is now sky high and D.O flies off a bicycle into the clouds to sit on her hand. The final scene, in which D.O awkwardly kisses Lee’s cheek and then she runs off, could only be described as ‘adorable.’ With its catchy melodies and charming video, “Small Girl” conveys a message of body acceptance in a light-hearted package accessible for all audiences.

Red Velvet – “Cosmic”

Commemorating their 10th anniversary, Red Velvet has released “Cosmic,” an elegant disco pop song that might be their most satisfying title track in years. It starts off surprisingly mellow, with the members singing over a funky bassline and simple snare. However, the chorus, with its lush, layered vocal harmonies and strings overlaying the bouncy bass, lifts up the song with buoyant energy. When Wendy belts out “I just can’t say good night” in the bridge, the song soars even further, with the synths bursting in a magical, almost poignant release. 

The MV, which pays homage to Ari Aster’s 2019 horror film Midsommar, even mirroring specific shots. An unfortunate young backpacker crash-lands into a forest, only to be chased by Seulgi and then sacrificed, as the imagery of flowers over her eyes suggests. I don’t know that the MV intends to explore the film’s themes of grief, trauma, and toxic relationships so much as draw upon its aesthetics. The film’s approach of dark horror occurring in constant light matches Red Velvet’s sensibility, as the group often juxtaposes brightness with unsettling elements in their music and videos. “Cosmic” captures Red Velvet’s unique ability to balance contrasting emotions and tones.

Chuu – “Strawberry Rush”

A sweet and infectious synthpop track, Chuu’s “Strawberry Rush” is the aptly named follow-up to her solo debut “Howl” (with even the magical monsters featured in the video making some cameo appearances). While in “Howl” Chuu gradually slowly emerges from self-isolation in a dark room, “Strawberry Rush” is teeming with color and dynamic energy. Chuu both sings and raps over a lively synth line, continually maintaining momentum.

The MV simulates a video game, with Chuu running on walls and dodging obstacles in pursuit of a trophy flying through the sky. “Strawberry Rush” is the third video on this list to incorporate animation (along with “Hero” and “Small Girl”), and is the most impressive in how it integrates animated elements into live action scenes. Busy but still coherent, the MV depicts Chuu’s determination in a fun, fantastical way.  

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6][7]. Lyrics via YouTube. Image via SM Entertainment).