This is always one of my favorite end-of-year posts, as if gives me the chance to write about a vital facet of K-pop that I rarely touch on throughout the year. Visuals can make or break a song’s legacy, and these ten videos helped to improve and expand their already-strong soundtracks.
+ Make sure to check out the rest of the year-end countdowns here!
ATEEZ – Wonderland
Dongkiz – Blockbuster
Hong Jinyoung – Love Tonight
TXT – Run Away
VERIVERY – Tag Tag Tag
10. HWASA – TWIT
A showcase for Hwasa’s insane charisma, in which she chides and teases a foolish lover while wearing some of the most ridiculous K-pop fashion of the year. The simple set design and monochromatic colors ensure that the eye is drawn exactly where it should be.
9. BTS – BOY WITH LUV
Designed like an old movie-musical, Boy In Luv‘s bright, movable set design gives the video beautiful flow, and the pastel backdrop adds a dreamlike quality that’s well-suited to the song’s upbeat, breezy energy.
8. TXT – MAGIC ISLAND
Magic Island is a long-form mini movie, as obtuse and dreamlike as anything that Big Hit releases. And though the actual song is only a small part of the experience, the entire thing is shot beautifully and structured like chapters in a book. Amidst the ghosts and dragons and forest fires, the video presents a touching allegory about the coming-of-age of its protagonists.
7. JUS2 – FOCUS ON ME
The camera is in constant motion for Focus On Me‘s beguiling video, pulling out to give the illusion of a one-take performance. The set design is gorgeous, utilizing bold colors and empty space to enforce the song’s directive and showcase the duo’s understated choreography.
6. ONF – WE MUST LOVE
Shot like a big-budget sci-fi movie, We Must Love picked the perfect locations for its dramatic storyline. There’s some brilliant imagery here, from an old dragon temple, to a shower of falling stars, to that sterile, blue-lit hallway. The video has even more resonance after Laun left the group this August.
5. STRAY KIDS – MIROH
Stray Kids open Miroh by disrupting the system, staging a well-organized coup. We then move to a rooftop performance, surreal in its use of digital effects and lighting. The overthrow quickly turns into a big party (because… of course it does), complete with neon face masks and disruptive dancing in the streets. It’s a galvanizing bit of nonsense that fits the song perfectly.
4. LIM HYUNSIK – DEAR LOVE
Dear Love‘s sci-fi conceit nails a sense of loneliness and renewed hope, climaxing in one of the year’s most dramatic turns. It’s a simple storyline, but one that matches the heft of the song while simultaneously vaulting it to a new level. There’s just enough fantastical influence during the video’s second half to keep viewers guessing and coming back for more.
3. SUNMI – NOIR
Sunmi is no stranger to this particular countdown, but Noir might be her most biting work yet. Lampooning the ‘like’ culture of social media while at the same time reveling in it, she’s managed to create the exact meme-worthy piece of pop art that she’s criticizing. At the same time, the video is delightfully surreal, adding needed humor to a seriously messed-up situation.
2. ITZY – ICY
ICY was the best, most concentrated delivery method for idol group charisma this year. It’s basically just three minutes of ITZY terrorizing downtown Los Angeles, but it’s shot with such verve and energy that it quickly takes on a life of its own. The splashes of animation and bold costuming add a cartoon-like appeal, but it’s the girls’ fearless personalities that really stand out.
1. TXT – NAP OF A STAR
Recalling the quirky work of Wes Anderson, as well as the surrealist, effects-driven productions of early film pioneer Georges Méliès, Nap Of A Star knows its influences and revels in them. It succinctly laid out TXT’s debut-era concept, painting the boys as outcast creatures in a starlit forest. The stop-motion illusion is brilliantly done, but the emotive storytelling is what makes this surprising and compelling. It’s the most idiosyncratic video of the year, with absolutely gorgeous set design and a sense of unlimited imagination.
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Awwww you just placed nap of star at 1. !!! I loved all the songs💙
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GOT7 “You Calling My Name”. The minimalist backgrounds and focused lighting leave only the performers as a main focal point. The “dark mode” theme with a subdued colors and alternating silhouettes calms your visual senses which in turn allows your audio senses to focus more on the song.
PinkFantasy SHY “12 o’clock”. Designed like an old theater-musical. The video is laced with a mix of old Broadway and Hollywood sets with a “Cinderella” meets “Singing In The Rain” theme. The wardrobe alternates between fairy-tale ball and Andrews Sisters swing.
Oh My Girl “The Fifth Season (SSFWL)”. No explanation needed.
EXO “Obsession”. While seemingly a disjointed collection of unrelated vignettes that range from sci-fi, to horror, to futuristic, to modern, each expresses the chaos that an extreme obsession can produce.
Red Velvet “Sappy”. Uses architecture and everyday objects to create an imbalance in perception. From miniature sets with full-sized girls to shots of the girls with miniature props, the goal is to distort your sense of scale.
Cherry Bullet “Q&A” & “Really Really”. Each places the girls in various video game environments to create a mix of AR and VR.
Dreamcatcher “Piri”. Mixes different film genres such as suspense, horror, and psychological.
GWSN “Pinky Star” & “Red Sun”: Fuses sets that blend optical perspective (think Escher) with fantasy dollhouse elements.
LOOΠΔ – Butterfly. One word.. ..choreography. That simple.
DALsooobin “Katchup”. Gives Sunmi’s “NOIR”, a run for its money.
(G)I-dle “Senorita”. Interspersed with moments of impending catastrophe.
…and many more.
However, let me end with one of my favorite producers of music videos on YouTube. JHN Studios takes existing music videos and faithfully recreates with 8-bit visual and audio styles that faithfully reproduce the originals. Given the exhaustive effort needed for each video, he’s considerably prolific. JHN Studio even created alternate versions for some of the 10 videos Nick chose in this post. Here’s a few links:
Hwasa – TWIT:
BTS – Boy With Luv:
ITZY – ICY:
…and just because, TWICE – Feel Special:
I *almost* added that GOT7 mv to my honorable mentions, but decided to go with the sub-unit instead. Sappy’s great, too.
I feel Superhuman was overlooked but it was one of my favorite MV of the year along with Wannabe but this may be my personal bias showing haha.
Both great videos! I just didn’t feel like either brought anything new to the table… just really solid K-pop mvs.
Not a bad list.
I usually only watch the video a couple times before I go all audio. It can make for a strange experience later – sonny boy put on youtube Stray Kids “Side Effects” for dear aunty. I had only seen it once, so my created mental image of song did not match the video at all.
I hadn’t seen the JHB studios before, so thank you for that. Very cute! I like the Itzy Icy best. I think the boop boop music works best with that candy colored melody-heavy type song. Actually the reduction to that video game sound makes the great songs stand out – BP Kill this love, for example, when it is reduced to just boops reveals how poorly the melody is written.
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Your comment “mental image of song did not match the video” comment reminded me of a similar moment in my past. I’ve always been a big fan of Pink Floyd but I hadn’t seen the “Pink Floyd – The Wall” movie or heard the album. A friend had become obsessed with the album so we ended up listening to the entire double album (26 songs, around 80 minutes) on a long drive to the coast. Now I was obsessed.
If you’re not familiar, “The Wall” is a sort of rock opera/Greek tragedy foray into the psychotic break of a fictional character. After listening to the album many times, I had formed mental images for not only each of the 26 songs, but the entire story they collectively wove. Those mental images were special because they represented the way all of the songs had personally imprinted on me.
Then I saw the film and everything changed. Now I was seeing a visual reference of the story and it was nothing like the image I had created myself. The movie had narrowed the meaning of each song to a precise and distinct reference. I still appreciated the music very much, but it was different now; less personal. In a way, I “needed” to see the movie, but large parts of me wish that I hadn’t.
The same thing can happen with books that become movies. Anywho, just thought I’d share.
Funny that you mention the wall because I was given the film as a present at Christmas, and I’m incredibly hesitant to watch it. It’s my favourite album of all time; the emotions and imagery it conjures are so intensely personal that I don’t want my interpretation tainted by the film. And by the sounds of it, it did exactly that for you! That being said, I do love the Gerald Scarfe animations (which I think pair with the music perfectly)…
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Well, I don’t want anyone to miss out on the film. I ended up separating the two. When I listen to the album, I block out the movie; vice-versa when I re-watch the movie.
Then there’s “The Final Cut” (Wall leftovers and new material); which impacted me similarly. Thankfully, I don’t have to compartmentalize that one; but it was sadly Roger Waters last album with the group.
I don’t watch music videos too often but I do find the one for “Miroh” to be kinda delightful in a weird way. There’s something uncanny-valley about Stray Kids overthrowing the bourgeoisie(?) in, like, full-on boy group attire. The all-black clad protesters/back-up dancers are really the cherry on top of this “JYP boy group is actually black bloc” nonsensical romp. Similarly to CLC’s “No” music video, it’s also nonsensical in a meta way, since being a K-pop idol within your first years of debut is just about one of the least “disruptive to authority” things you can do. I do love it dearly, though.
If I had to pick, “Noir” would probably be my favorite of the year if I had to pick. A not-so-subtle message presented nicely enough that it didn’t create another IU’s “Twenty-three” sort of controversy.
I am admittedly lazy when it comes to watching music videos. The intensely visual aspect of kpop was only important for me in my first half-year of being a fan; then I started treating kpop like I treated all of my other music – audio before visual. Which is a habit I’m trying to break, because I feel like kpop as a… medium?… is at least 1/4 to 1/3 visual. I’m missing out!
My favorite music video of the year was probably Itzy’s Icy. It manages to hold my attention all the way through with all its bright in-your-faceness, and I watch it whenever I want a mood-lifter. ONF’s two MVs were stunning, too. The cinematic feel was great. I’m surprised nobody on Youtube has made any theory videos on them yet!
this is an INCREDIBLY late response to this post, but i just wanted to say– i’m really sad to see that no one mentioned Chungha’s “Snapping” mv!! most of her sets were very unique and visually stunning, and the video editing was absolutely top-notch. there’s been too many mvs that will arbitrarily cut shots with different size dimensions together (4minute’s “Hate” comes to mind…), to a very jarring effect, but “Snapping”… some utterly MASTERFUL transitions there.
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