Friday, February 13, 2015

1deep9u: Sohyunna's guide to the arthouse in K-Pop

K-Pop is a simple enough thing to define, it is pop music in the Korean language; simple enough, right? Arthouse has no such luck, often being used as a catch-all term for anything without any explosions, in a foreign language, made for under £4, or completely incomprehensible. K-Pop music videos are usually simple to understand and very high budget, but I have chosen to explore the MVs which are more similar to Michael Haneke than Michael Bay. At least, that's what I will say but it is more than likely (read: absolutely certain) that these actually aren't arthouse at all and I am just posting them for a few cheap laughs. Either way, I will be looking at, as yet, an undecided number of videos and telling you why they should be screened in smoky picture, houses and analysed by turtleneck wearers for years to come, along with the arthouse directors who they mirror the most.

'Doom Dada' (TOP)

'Doom Dada' being in this post was an inevitability. Upon its release, it had eager tumblr users questioning 'WHAT DOES IT MEAN?' and was generally seen to be a good thing. I think that 'Doom Dada' is a great song with a great video too but I am a pretentious hipster so it was probably aimed at me. You probably don't need convincing that this is the most arthouse of K-Pop videos, but fuck you Imma tell you why. First things first, TOP starts in the same position as his Turn It Up MV, this connection across MVs is clearly a sign of auteurship; something which the arthouse circuit loves to death. In this, we can liken 'Doom Dada' to the films of any auteur so I will pick one at random and say that it harks back to the works of Satyajit Ray. Furthermore, we have artistic references up the dick in 'Doom Dada', not only does the title make reference to the anti-art movement 'Dadaism' but TOP clearly wants to fellate Salvador Dali with the amount of Dali imagery and moustache flaunting throughout the MV.

The Official Pimp

This video was basically trying to tick all the boxes to ensure that it would be questioned, for years to come, and celebrated by Mark Kermode: the shit with the monkeys is drawing on Kubrick, the motorcycle section is making a reference to The Good, The Bad, and The Weird, the entire thing is shot in black and white which is artsy as fuck, there is an unexplained zebra, and the entire shit with taking the baby through the woods is probably some Freudian metaphor, but I ain't gonna back that claim up with any research or effort so take my word for it. Now of course 'Doom Dada' is setting a benchmark and nothing else in this post will reach its levels in how explicitly arthouse and referential it is, is where it gets more interesting.

'Bloom' (Gain)

The arthouse would be nowhere without films about sexual discovery, and the niche sexual discovery genre of K-Pop would be nowhere without K-Pop's very own sex pixie: Gain! 'Bloom' is longer than it needs to be due to its 2 minute prologue which means that it is already well on its way to being reviewed in Sight & Sound. Not only that, but the entire thing is about SEX! Learn this dear reader: if there is a sex scene with anything other than sonorous classical music playing in the background, it is probably not from an arthouse film, but if you make an entire film about sex then you have instantly become the darling of every bearded cinephile in the world. Pat yourself on the back. The fact that there is a masturbation scene is a bonus because masturbation only occurs in foreign cinema and porn: truth. The fact that 'Bloom' is rather long, for what it is, whilst being about an incredibly attractive person with dyed hair and sexual discovery has me comparing it to Blue is the Warmest Colour which makes me think that 'Bloom' is equally, if not more, deserving of winning the Palme d'Or because it has been so incredibly influential in allowing this to happen:

Nothing that brings us that can ever be a bad thing. However, as is always the case; the remake just wasn't as classy or beloved as the original. We can all still get a kick out of it though.

Multiple other shit that Gain has been involved with

I could do a lengthy post for each one, but it would probably get quite boring quite fast (not that it isn't boring already). Gain's repertoire, both as a solo artist and a member of Brown Eyed Girls, probably has her winning a fellowship from the Film Critics' Circle of Romania or something. '

'Abracadabra' is the kind of high-octane revenge story that one would expect to see in The Vengeance Trilogy (though admittedly with far less blood to ensure it gets past the censors), 'Fxxk You' is clearly pushing boundaries, in its allusion to an expletive in a foreign language *shocked gasp*, whilst also showing many artsy shots of domestic and sexual abuse - which, I guess, makes it like Irreversible.

This time, preferring to take on a more lighter tone, 'Truth or Dare 'satirises the very industry that Gain is a part of, interspersing the overtly sexual and box-based MV shots with Gain's friends talking smack about her because she is so much hotter than them and they are jealous. Also she smells and has cooties. In all honesty, 'Truth or Dare' has a pretty dope music video, which is helped by Gain existing and talking about her arse and at points it raised a knowing chuckle, a raised eyebrow, and a sip of brandy because the satire is so high-brow. If I had to liken it to anything (which I have committed myself to doing now) I would say it is like The Player (which probably isn't arthouse but fuck you). These videos show that whilst 'Doom Dada' is the most artsy single video, no-one holds a candle to the artsiness of Gain's entire oeuvre.

Please Don't (K.,Will)

In some circles, 'Please Don't' has a plot twist as infamous as 'The Sixth Sense', that's right; K.Will is a ghost! 'Please Don't' is a music video where those who show it to their friends refuse to answer any questions about why we are watching it/who the fuck K.Will is/whether or not they know how to get in contact with Dasom. 'Please Don't' is the type of arthouse that everyone simultaneously knows about and understands, with a twist that we all toyed with in our minds yet it was still surprising when the penny dropped.

Even if you don't give a fuck about K.Will, you know about 'Please Don't', the song itself has a moderate amount of appeal considering that it is a solo male singer who never shows their face (that's when you know they were hired for vocal wankery), and most people couldn't recite its basic tune. 'Please Don't' is more of a video than a song because the video has a plot that is worth a damn (and the song has maybe 2 notes that are worth a damn). This is the arthouse that would be added as an afterthought on the Best Picture nominee list to show that the Academy definitely knows and cares about the indie scene. I don't know what film this is like... Let's say Melancholia because both have a wedding and the bride gets a kinda shitty deal.

The Day Before (Nell)

Continuing the trend of songs which are bad, but have interesting videos, we have this snorefest from Nell (who?) which is so tedious that I couldn't remember the song title between watching the video and switching tabs to write about it here. Whilst 'Please Don't' was rather melodramatic and operatic in its style, 'The Day Before' is far more similar to a British indie film in that you feel that were it to have dialogue, it would be comprised solely of mumbled apologies. 'The Day Before' is rather similar to 'Please Don't' in terms of its themes and the fact that it has a twist ending; however, the latter is so serene and submissive that you don't expect there to be a twist even if you know what the twist is. I think it is a pretty good video and will watch it every so often but every time I am sure it will just be about 2 geezers sitting down for a cup of coffee with no consequences. 'The Day Before' is so apologetic and non-confrontational that it disappears like Bob Girls debuting when AOA released Short Hair. You know that it was worth your while, but forget what it was exactly; rather like the British indie film that no-one remembers: Lilting.

'1004' (B.A.P)

Just in case you thought our narratives were getting too tangible, the most litigious idols in K-Pop come along with a Lynchian video about the passing of time in which each member seems embroiled in their own narrative. Bang Yongguk digs for food to give to the third world, Zelo references 'Heavy Rain' by putting someone on a carousel and never getting them back, Himchan looks desperately around a house for nothing in particular, Jongup finds some wings which clearly mean something, but the audience doesn't care what, and the other two members kinda fuck about.

There are numerous fan theories as to what this video is on about and I don't particularly care to retell any of them - I could come up with my own if I watched hard enough and asked myself why Bang Yongguk was digging under a whale skeleton, but I would rather not bother myself with such pointless shit. However, while we are talking about this, what the fuck does "1004" even mean? The subtitle is 'angel' which seems to be wholly unconnected to a number that TS pulled out of their arse. Even though I can't make heads nor tails of it, '1004' is very appealing and something tells me that it is good, but I couldn't tell you why, because of that it can clearly be likened to Inland Empire.

'Mama Beat' (LC9)

Wouldn't ya know it, Gain has featured in another song in this post. This time she just provides an irrelevant and pointless chorus to Nega nugus LC9's debut. Whilst the arthouse circuit loves sexual awakening and intangible narratives as much as anyone, it is also partial to a good ol' fashioned 'bout of hyperviolence. Think about it, would Tarantino's films be considered nearly as good if they had been directed by anyone else? With that moderately irrelevant question in mind, let's talk about 'Mama Beat' which has a video comprised solely of the members beating each other up with shitty blood effects (they will claim that it is ironically bad for the sake of art). Not much else to say about that really, it doesn't bear any analysis or exploration, it is just some rad fight scenes, but because the violence is at such a high level, it transcends low-brow entertainment and becomes high-brow. Also one of the members possibly beat someone up so this video taught them bad things. Whilst it is not quite as extreme, since I am using this as an example of hyperviolence I will say that it is reminiscent of Ichi the Killer.


And so we reach the end of this post. In all likelihood I will post a follow-up at some point in the future but I hope I have shown to you the #deep and #edgy side of K-Pop, the side that causes a stir at Sundance, that gets most of its publicity from word-of-mouth, that gets positive reviews whilst ther eviewer is hard-pressed to recall a single element of the plot. I am willing to see the arthouse potential in any K-Pop video so the next arthouse outing will likely be the unexpected arthouse in K-Pop. If you want to send death threats or complaints about how this article was a personal attack against your family then I'm not that hard to find but until that point, goodnight sweet prince. Appreciate K-Pop not as mere bubblegum pop but as Art.


  1. I'm sure you were joking, but for those who don't know, 1004 is pronounced the same as angel in Korean.

  2. "K-Pop's very own sex pixie: Gain"

    Thank you for this. I now have a quick way to sum up Gain for the uneducated.

  3. soooo TOP is an idiot who is terrified of women and sex for no real reason

    1. Also penis envy drives him to do everything

  4. For once I can actually recognize most of these videos but after reading your list I think you missed one very good one; Brown Eyed Girls - Cleansing Cream.

    1. I could have included that and Sign but I didn't want this to be overly Gain heavy. They both fit the bill, would liken them to Takashi Miike films prolly.

  5. Guy @ BLOOM MV is hawt. would Ride him

    Get out gain

  6. I love it when kpop gets artsy and stuff, there are still so many indie/foreign films to 'take inspiration' from.
    Also awesome article!

  7. Mynames baby I'm sorry would also qualify for artsy violence tbh. But great post!

    1. The plot of Baby I'm Sorry is slightly too populist but otherwise that is a true point. Thank you muchly.