In k-pop, music videos are nearly as important as the songs themselves. It’s become such a visual genre, regularly churning out glossy videos that look much more expensive than they are. Without focusing too much on the actual song (though it’s impossible to fully separate the two), here were the top ten visual moments of the year.
Prolific directors Digipedi brought a whole lot of color to Liar Liar, with a memorably monochromatic set. But it the was the constant, cheeky hints that the girls were up to no good that made this such an effective visual.
For the bulk of their debut year, Monsta X seemed too serious for their own good. Fighter blew that wide open with its cheesy 80’s-themed science fiction references. They get major bonus points for riffing off the Stranger Things font, which is especially effective during the instrumental’s final moments.
How People Move‘s gorgeous set did a stunning job of visually representing the fantastical, hodgepodge nature of AKMU’s colorful music. Taking cues from classic cinematic tricks and optical illusions like the Penrose Stairs, it’s an unrelenting feast for the eyes.
Russian Roulette may have been Red Velvet’s quirkiest song yet, and its video follows suit. Comprised of light pastels, the brightness of the color contrasts with the storyline’s wicked undertone, in which the girls attempt to off each other in various cartoon-inspired ways. The editing is spectacular.
At its core, Cheer Up is a classic girl group k-pop video, but this is the genre firing on all cylinders. Giving each member time to shine, the various cosplay-inspired scenes are brilliantly cut together, seamlessly segueing from one to another in an effective spotlight for the group.
Unlike their misguided Pretty U music video earlier in the year, Very Nice does a great job showcasing the song’s choreography while offering an old-school musical feel. The exploding confetti from the heart is a brilliant visual, but nothing beats the final explosion, bursting into a firework of energy as the song abruptly closes.
NCT were given a distinct visual with The 7th Sense, which relies on monochromatic filters to give the video real character. While it’s primarily a showcase for the track’s choreography, the languid cinematography and color choices create a striking, memorable visual that instantly set the group apart.
K-pop videos can be emotional as well, and I’m Young‘s final moments are a real punch to the gut. But the best thing about the music video is that it doesn’t trade in the overwrought, k-drama type of storytelling, but instead unfolds quietly and really sneaks up on you. Though it doesn’t match the big budget styling of many k-pop music videos, the storytelling is very cinematic in its own way and enhances the song exponentially.
Cosmic Girls weren’t really cosmic until Secret hit. This is the kind of music video that can launch a million brilliant screen shots. There’s so many creative, science-fiction inspired ideas at play here. Some of them are totally cheesy, while others are jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Best of all, there’s no context given to any of it, allowing the viewer to invent their own stories around any of the evocative shots.
BTS have been reinventing what a k-pop music video is for the past year or so, but Blood, Sweat & Tears brings them into new, epic territory. Of all of the videos on this list, it feels the most like a real moment, moving from standard (but gorgeously shot) choreography scenes to provocative, religious overtones. It’s more open for interpretation than it is straightforward, but there’s no arguing over the video’s many stunning images — from that apocalyptic Last Supper table, to the metal-draped organ, to Jin’s controversial moment with the black-winged angel statue.