Since it’s about mid-way through 2012, I decided to compile a longlist of my favorite music videos in K-pop so far.
Music videos are obviously central to the overarching aesthetic of K-pop. We like to look at idols (male and female), watch them dance, see them act out certain scenes (ranging from the quite narrative “Grasshopper Song” to the essentially narrative-less slumber party of “Hoi Hoi”). I think it’s a really basic aspect of human existence to like to do this, and I think in the midst of all the critical theory about scopophilia, voyeurism, spectatorship, the male gaze, and so forth, we forget the almost primordial, instinctual desire to look at and be looked at.
It’s no accident that every single one of these videos puts its idols in the center stage, and K-pop music videos are one of the primary ways we learn about these idols (and learning about them, developing a relationship with them, and approximating something approaching intimacy seems absolutely central to K-pop fandom). What we learn about them is not like what you might find in a documentary (or, even more tenuously related to “reality,” a reality TV show), but it’s no less real: to see Hyuna dressed up in one of these elaborate outfits and dancing around in the way that only she can do reveals something about her that’s very different from what you might learn by asking her some straightforward questions. But perhaps it’s an equally “real” aspect of who she is, because when you put anyone in a situation in which they must perform, they naturally reveal themselves. It hardly matters how artificial that situation is or how much it deviates from the performer’s “natural” personality and behavior—are any of these things simple or stable anyways?
The “Hoi Hoi” video makes literal something that almost all of these videos have in common: they are similar to elaborate acts of dress-up. Certainly, clothes, makeup, and hairstyles are important for K-pop music videos (and as important for the men as for the women). But what’s also important is just the act of “trying on” something, and by that, I mean not just the clothes but the poses, the personas, the attitudes. We’re so invested in a stable sense of self that we resist behavior and activities that seem to be “not who we are.” But the joy of K-pop videos is in the freedom to “try on” anything and everything: just as gender is performative, so is “being,” considered more generally, and this is another reason that the question of “what these idols are really like” hardly matters. In fact, it’s a question that I think hinders us psychologically to a great extent, even though it presents itself as being concerned with noble concepts like “truth,” “authenticity,” and “the natural,” none of which I care for all that much.
I like music videos for very simple reasons: I like the dancing, the clothes, the poses, the attitudes, pretty much everything. But what I look for in a video, what makes one stand out as being really good or great (like the ones below), is not so different from what I look for in cinema: I want to see meaning being created and a story being told in a cinematic way. In cinema, it’s often not the story on the surface that moves the viewer, but the story being told, as if whispered quietly to the viewer, through cinematic style. “The Grasshopper Song” or “Mr. Bang Bang” certainly tell actual stories, but what is “Volume Up” all about? I don’t know, but it’s nonetheless one of my favorite videos of the year, a favorite even among the handful I listed below. When I watch it, it moves me and makes me feel something through editing, staging, movement, color, and every other tool a filmmaker has at his or her disposal. It doesn’t have a clear narrative, but there’s a current of emotion running through it that makes everything coherent and powerful. It’s a shame they never let you know who directs any of these videos—I’m assuming each music label has a stable of filmmakers they work with—because some of these videos work remarkably well as pure cinema and the people who created them deserve to be acknowledged.
Other times, a music video can work like a song sequence in a musical. Take a look at this clip of Judy Garland’s performance of “Friendly Star” from the great and underrated Summer Stock:
Aside from the fact that music videos today generally use more kinetic cutting—though there are exceptions, like Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”—would it be that odd to call Garland’s “Friendly Star” a music video? A slight stretch, but not by much. One of my favorite K-pop videos this year is the “Only Dance Version” of SHINee’s “Sherlock (Clue + Note).” It’s just one extended dance sequence, not unlike the “Performance Version” of Brown Eyed Girls’ “Abracadabra.” You could easily take either video and, more or less, insert them into a larger movie musical. And what is probably my favorite video this year, Girls’ Generation’s “Paparazzi,” makes this connection explicit by referencing Singin’ in the Rain and placing a brief narrative frame around the dancing portion of the video. This combination of music, dance, narrative, and cinema is a form of art I cherish deeply.
Here’s my list for the year so far:
- Big Bang - “Fantastic Baby”
- Big Bang - “Monster”
- Dal Shabet - “Mr. Bang Bang”
- EXO-K - “History”
- 4minute - “Volume Up”
- f(x) - “Electric Shock”
- Girl’s Day - “Oh! My God”
- Girls’ Generation - “Paparazzi”
- G.NA - “2 Hot”
- Infinite - “The Chaser”
- JJ Project - “Bounce”
- Rainbow Pixie - “Hoi Hoi”
- SHINee - “Sherlock (Clue + Note) (Only Dance Version)”
- Sistar - “Alone”
- Sunny Hill - “The Grasshopper Song”
- Sunny Hill - “Princess and Prince Charming”
- 2NE1 - “Scream”
- Wonder Girls - “Like This”
What are your favorite K-pop videos from 2012?
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- subdee said: I like these a lot! Also Miss A “Touch”, Shinwa “Venus”, Block B “Nalina”/Girls’ Generation “Twinkle” (which I like to think of as masculine and feminine versions of THE SAME SONG), T-ara “Lovey Dovey” (whose zombie-audience captures a deep truth).
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- shiningwizard said: c-real’s “sorry but i.” no dancing except for the ballet of doomed fatalism and uncertainty that draws them away, then back to the boy. disquiet of the heart and living with it. the final unresolved looks to the camera, the storm kept inside.
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