K-pop is a highly visual medium, and although my song reviews try not to focus on the accompanying music videos, I certainly have my opinions! Here are my top ten visual moments of 2017, along with quite a few incredible honorable mentions.
Shot entirely in black and white before the track’s splash-of-color climax, the video uses an abandoned subway, tight hallways and dark alleys to frame the girls in a claustrophobic setting that contrasts well with the solid white background of the choreography shots.
A gorgeously shot, dignified music video in keeping with Super Junior‘s status as k-pop’s elder statesmen. The cinematography lingers on each member as they journey down hallways designed to evoke their individual struggles — both inside and outside the industry. It ends on a hopeful note, but does a beautiful job illustrating the emotional side of the group.
A Spielbergian collage of retro coming-of-age fantasy that harnesses the duo’s quirkiness to create an imaginative escape from reality as the two set off on a journey spawned by some sort of mysterious spore-like creatures. It sounds about as strange as it comes off, but the video’s concentrated burst of childlike wonder unfolds beautifully.
Few k-pop videos attempt to tell a coherent story, and even fewer end up being as funny as The Real. N.Flying reinvented themselves as sailors here, attempting to catch the biggest fish of their lives. It all ends in a fun twist that will have Produce 101 fans cheering, but the video’s biggest strengths are its expressiveness and bright, Wes Anderson-esque color palette.
VIXX tends to go all out when it comes to concepts, and Shangri-La is no different. Featuring some of the most beautiful cinematography and set design of the year, the video cast the guys in a somewhat androgynous, highly stylized light. Its use of color is outstanding, with each moment capable of becoming its own iconic image. This is a “box set” video done right.
Set in a vintage theater, Ending Credit channels the 80’s with a reflective edge thanks to Jung Hwa‘s poignant performance. I’ve always been a fan of music videos that throw all their focus on one artist, utilizing long cuts to fully reveal the charisma and pathos behind their choreography. Ending Credit is a testament to timeless star power, but also delivers a killer shot of emotion as Jung Hwa herself seems to become overwhelmed by what she’s seeing unfold on screen.
Harnessing Sunmi’s explosive charisma, Gashina is a surreal portrait of dream-like magical realism. Similar to Jung Hwa’s video, much of the focus is squarely on Sunmi herself, allowing the seemingly freeform choreography to shine. The video is a testament to style over substance, and that’s totally fine. Each moment unfurls like the spread of some high fashion pictorial, anchored by a warm, evocative color palete and riveting performance.
Opening with one of the year’s most evocative images, as member V silently rests his ear on snow-covered train tracks, Spring Day goes on to perfect the type of naval-gazing, slice-of-life visual storytelling that has made BTS so unique among k-pop groups. Utilizing movement and transportation (trains, tides, an endless supply of opening doors) as a signifier for loss and transition, the video paints a series of lasting moments that rank among the group’s most potent.
Undoubtedly the most controversial video of the year, 365 Fresh won’t be for everyone. It completely subverts idol-group expectations, and not in a subtle way. Whether it’s the blatant sexuality, the drug use, or the implied suicide, it could easily be argued that the video is trying much too hard to be provocative. And that may be the case, but it’s carried by a trio of brilliant performances and assured storytelling that elevate its Tarantino-esque desire to shock. I do worry about the romanticisization of its anti-heroes in a culture where issues like suicide are infrequently addressed, but 365 Fresh deserves a spotlight for its cinematic spectacle alone.
No one else in k-pop is making music videos quite like BTS. Not Today is an enormous rallying cry, and receives a visual that’s just as big. From the opening shots of a small army barreling along the tracks of a craggy quarry to the long pan inside an abandoned parking garage, the video screams “epic.” It becomes even more so as the choreography explodes with a militant fury. Stunning aerial shots intersperse with dramatic slow-motion running (an effective — if overused — music video trope), eliciting that rare sense of k-pop fervor that only the biggest of groups can create. It may lack the emotional punch of Spring Day, but there’s simply no denying its intense, big-budget energy.