Category Archives: K-Culture: The Year in Review

Top 5 KPOP Music Videos 2017

Note: I am a bit late with this but it has not been an auspicious start to 2018. As with my other lists, my choice of MV’s is based upon my own personal preference. As primarily a film theorist, I tend to gravitate towards painterly texts (this is both a reference to painting but also to Barthes’ concept of the painterly text in which the reader is required to actively decipher its meaning). Further I have been quite open – like a South Korean awards show – to what I have considered in this list. I have Music Videos, Performance Videos and Comeback Trailers on this list. As always feel free to disagree with me.

5. SEVENTEEN(세븐틴) SVT JUN & THE8 ‘MY I’ KOR ver. (Album: AI1 – EP)

Sometimes simplicity is best as demonstrated here by Jun and The8 from Seventeen and the MV for ‘My I’, the lyrics of which are purportedly inspired by last year’s Japanese smash hit anime My Name. The minimalist set emphasises the mirroring of Jun and The8: the divided self as signified metaphorically by the references to the ‘silhouette’ and the ‘shadow’, split between the present and future self, longing for reunification. The white ribbon that binds them together, is used to mimic the separation and duality of the self as well as the persistence of self over time.

4. K.A.R.D _ You In Me

‘You in Me’ is my favourite K.A.R.D MV to date.  It takes the creepier aspects of kdrama (obsession, stalking) and pushes them to the limit while subverting the damsel-in-distress/white knight binary by making Somin and Jiwoo the aggressors and J.steph and BM the victims of their obsessive love. The saturated colour palate of red, blues and yellows forms a gothic horror aesthetic against which frames the narrative of obsessive love that plays out. The silhouetted dance breaks function to heighten the overall menacing feeling of the MV, while the suitably gothic conclusion is refreshing.

3. TAEMIN 태민 ‘Thirsty (OFF-SICK Concert Ver.)’ Performance Video (Album: MOV..ing)

Taemin keeps on giving by following his multiple MV and PV of ‘Move’ with this Performance Video of ‘Thirsty’. The constant cross cutting between the spaces – a confined room and an open underground space – and between fisheye lens POV shots and wide angled shots emphasizes Taemin’s androgyny. Here the feminine is connoted through the circular fluidity of the first type of shot (almost womblike at times especially with the billowing yellow  parachute in the background) while the masculine is straight with sharp angles in the second. The red on red shots – Taemin wearing a red suit against a red background – are so densely saturated that Taemin almost seems to disappear in the background. This play on perspective is emphasized throughout the Performance Video disorientating the viewer with Taemin caught in desiring lens of the camera, leaving the viewer thirsty for more.

2. 빅스 (VIXX) – 도원경(桃源境) (Shangri-La) Official M/V (Album: Shangri-La EP)

It seems strange that VIXX’s ‘Shangri-La’ – which was released in July 2017 – has only got the deserved attention now after their mesmerising staging and performance on 2017 MBC Gayo Daejejun (31st December 2017). In terms of concept, choreography and execution, ‘Shangri-La’ is by and away one of the best MVs of 2017. VIXX’s visualisation of the lost paradise located in a Tibetan valley (as most fully realised in the West with James Hilton’s Lost Horizon which was published in 1933) draws on Orientalist imagery (fans, costume, setting) without confirming the East’s supposed inferiority (as in Edward Said’s seminal text, Orientalism – see this link to The Guardian’s  discussion of this as No. 8 on their ‘The 100 best nonfiction books’). VIXX’s choreography has a fluidity which is both feminine and masculine and deconstructs fixed gender binaries just as the movement of water in the video articulates the process of becoming rather than accentuating the notion of being. The use of costume here, as elsewhere in Kpop, echoes and accentuates that gender fluidity. ‘Shangri-La’ is an exquisite music video with entrancing performances, and I am so pleased to see both VIXX and the MV receiving the attention now that they ought to have received on its release.

1. BTS (방탄소년단) LOVE YOURSELF 承 Her ‘Serendipity’ Comeback Trailer  (Album: Love Yourself 承 ‘Her’ EP)

Serendipity is very different to BTS’s usual comeback trailers which have to date featured members of the rap line: RM, Suga and J-Hope. Featuring Jimin, whose tone matches the imagery and lyrics, the meaning of Serendipity is obtuse, although fan theories abound (but I am not going there), the mise-en-scène beautifully composed in which outside and inside space converge communicating the fragility of the self and its boundaries. Through the use of direct address, the words are intended not just to express a personal romantic relationship but rather, if not mainly, to convey the close bond between BTS and their fandom, or ARMY. Serendipity can be interpreted in many ways but it seems to me perhaps most directly a love letter to the fans that have supported BTS since their debut and the difficult years that followed. While the MV for DNA, the first single of the mini-album, is also beautifully composed, it is not as rich a text to interpret. I used a gif of Jimin letting go of the yellow balloon for my New Year message: the balloon as letting go of the past and moving forwards leaving the pain and trauma as 2017 behind (it was not a good year politically or personally).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MY TOP 5 KPOP SONGS 2017

Disclaimer: I haven’t heard every single song released in 2017 so these are the top songs that I have listened to. It is an opinion and you are welcome to disagree with me. There is a common thread to the songs that I choose. Music was very important to me when I was younger and going through my rock, emo, gothic and punk phases. The songs on this list speak to this generation’s anxieties and fears in a cathartic manner in a similar way to those I listened to when I was young did.  It always gets better ….

Please note: Some of the MV’s do not have subtitles, but these are easily found on YouTube or on Genius.

5.  ‘빈차 (HOME IS FAR AWAY)’ + ‘연애소설 (LOVE STORY)’ (Epik High)

4. ‘TRAUMA’ (세븐틴) _ SVT HIPHOPTEAM

3. ‘HANDS UP’ (B.A.P)

2. ‘무제(無題) (Untitled, 2014)’ (G-DRAGON)

1.’ 방탄소년단’ / ‘NOT TODAY’ (BTS)


Top 10 KPOP Albums 2017

Disclaimer: Any of my end of year lists are based upon what I have seen and/or watched. They might not be the ‘best’, if indeed there was a way to evaluate that objectively, but represent what I have most enjoyed listening to or watched.  Feel free to disagree with me. And by the way, I am tone deaf …

10. Taemin: MOVE — ing

 

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Beautiful Taemin, what can I say? Just a gift to the world and KPOP. Thanks for the multiple MVs of Move.

9. EXO: The War

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As with BTS, I prefer EXO’s 2016 album. However I am in the minority here. Having said this, EXO once again demonstrate why they are one of KPOP’s leading boy groups with their on-point vocals and raps.

8. VIXX: Shangri-La

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VIXX are the master’s of the concept album and Shangri-La is no  exception. In the West, Shangri-La is known as a mystical place in the East – the name of which derives from James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon – where harmony and love provide an oasis from the real world. VIXX’s take on it, is darker and less harmonious than Hilton’s, but well worth visiting.

7. K.A.R.DYou & Me

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K.A.R.D’s second mini-album of 2017 is considerably darker than Hola Hola and as such appeals to the Goth in me. While it didn’t do as well in the charts in Korea, it marks a more mature direction and style for what is the break-out KPOP act of 2017.

6. Seventeen: TEEN, AGE

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The diversity of Seventeen’s subunits works well here, although there is a lack of thematic coherence as a result. However with this, there can be little doubt that Seventeen has cemented its place amongst KPOP’s leading boy groups.

7: GOT7: 7 for 7

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The most cohesive work that GOT7 have produced to date which deserved more attention that it got when released. I hope that the group builds on this and receives the success that it undoubtedly deserves.

4: G-Dragon: Kwon Ji Yong

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With this self-titled album, G-Dragon introspectively examines the unreal life of a KPOP idol in which life is lived out almost exclusively in front of the camera lens and in the glare of the media. Emotionally depressing Kwon Ji Yong might be, but it is perhaps the most authentic glimpse of the type of life that KPOP idols have to live and the unrealistic exceptions that surround them which are representative of larger societal problems in South Korea. Perhaps now is the time to reflect on this.

 

3: VIXX LR: Whisper

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VIXX‘s LR – Leo and Ravi –  is perhaps one of the best KPOP’s subunits. Ravi’s distinctive rap melds well with Leo’s silky vocals on this, their second EP.

2: BTS: LOVE YOURSELF 承 ‘Her

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Certainly  2017 has marked a career defining point for BTS with LOVE YOURSELF 承 ‘Her’ smashing global records for a KPOP band. I personally prefer Wings and Blood, Sweat and Tears to Love Yourself and DNA, but then I am not the main demographic for the album.

1: Epik High: We’ve Done Something Wonderful

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By far and away, my favourite album of the year. Powerful, haunting and emotional, We’ve Done Something Wonderful demonstrates that KPOP rappers do not need to culturally appropriate an’other’s experience and history to produce socially conscious music.