10 Best K-pop Music Videos of 2019
From Sunmi’s warning against social media to BTS’ deep dive into the psyche and JUS2’s sleek and sexy camerawork, here are some of the most outstanding visuals K-pop served this year
JUS2 — “Focus On Me”
GOT7 have delivered some of the most sophisticated and complex visuals of 2019 so it was terribly difficult to pick just one, but after much contemplation, we had to go with the sleek and sexy “Focus On Me” by the group’s sub-unit JUS2. Comprising vocalists JB and Yugyeom, JUS2 debuted in March this year, astounding fans with the elegant and highly artistic video for the lead single “Focus On Me” from their EP Focus. The video was conceptualized to look like a single one-take zoom-out; stellar, seamless editing, smooth green screen transitions and deft camerawork build the illusion perfectly. Rooms and sets melt into each other while JB and Yugyeom display some of the most in-sync choreography, mirroring each other in breathtaking sequences. “Focus On Me” is the perfect amalgamation of art, innovation, high fashion and seduction, all of which complement the duo’s deep-house/R&B sound.
Sunmi — “Noir”
The queen of quirky darkness returned this year to drive in a message about the dangers of social media with her video for “Noir.” In the clip, Sunmi portrays our generation’s addiction to social media validation and ‘likes’–symbolized by the tiny heart-shaped candies she keeps consuming. She starts participating in various (real) viral online challenges to garner more internet fame and fakes trips to exotic destinations for likes and popularity. Soon her actions escalate, with each challenge getting darker than the last until she begins to physically cause harm to herself, but seems unable to stop. Hashtags like ‘#nofilter’ and ‘#followme’ make appearances all through but other than the ‘comments’ on her social media posts she is alone, depicting the crushing loneliness and desperation of the ‘real’ world that pushes people to social media. Even the title is a brilliant commentary on our current relationship with social media, with Sunmi stating in an interview, “[Noir] is the French word for black, ominous, gloomy. I wondered what the contemporary of noir is,” further explaining that social media is the “noir of our era.”
Seventeen — “Fear”
It’s impossible not to be enthralled from the moment you begin watching the music video for “Fear.” This year Seventeen proved they aren’t here to play, opting for a darker image right from January’s “Getting Closer” to August’s “Hit” (which upped the group’s sex appeal quotient.) Their crowning glory, however, most definitely lies with “Fear,” the most elegant, opulent and hard-hitting release from the 13-member group that we have seen so far. It’s the darkest they’ve ever gone and it most certainly pays off–the clip combines and elevates everything they presented over 2019 with clean-cut shots, surrealistic sets, creative lighting and gliding camera angles highlighting the group’s extremely sharp, in-sync choreography as well as their ethereal looks. There is no compromise on close-ups either; the styling for each member is elegant and sleek with some of the best hair and make-up we’ve seen from the K-pop industry this year. Vocalist Jeonghan’s icy gaze as he smears blood red paint across his lips makes for an unforgettable, haunting image. It’s no surprise that this comeback was the one that finally got Seventeen their first Daesang.
(G)I-DLE — “Lion”
Co-conceptualized by the group’s leader Soyeon, (G)I-DLE’s music video for “Lion” is a victorious celebration of female power. The slow zoom-in on vocalist Minnie right at the start paired with the track’s Afrobeat drums is goosebumps-inducing–a vibe the video manages to maintain throughout its duration. At the start of the clip there are arrows, cages and frames that attempt to ‘trap’ the six members, who show off exactly how dangerous they are–they brandish gold claws and throw threatening gazes at the camera, absolutely bold and fearless. The choreography is strong and unique, with movements that incorporate ‘claws’ forming a crown on top of the girls’ heads while backup dancers prowl around the members like actual wildcats. One of the biggest highlights is Soyeon ‘breaking free’ from the cage she was trapped in and strutting confidently to the camera during her rap solo before declaring “I’m a queen!” Towards the end of the clip, the six members are dressed in gowns and crowns as they ascend a staircase to gaze over a giant throne room where six lions stride into the frame. “Lion” ends with a slow zoom-out from vocalist Soojin as she repeats the same lines as Minnie, an echo of how the video began and… a perfect circle.
BTS — “Persona”
Like the lyrics of the track, the bright yet profound video for “Persona” highlights the evolution of the self and how we learn from the past to become a better version of who we already are. The track is a solo from BTS’ leader RM and the clip sees him confront versions of himself, as though he is diving deeper into the layers of what builds his consciousness and identity. He repeatedly asks the key question, “Who am I?” and there are references to Carl Jung’s analytical psychology, with words like ‘persona,’ shadow,’ and ‘ego’ cropping up on the classroom blackboard, in graffiti and on mannequins stationed around the rapper. Much like how the track sounds bright and dynamic with its Nineties-esque beat, the video’s vibrant colors and RM’s playfulness throughout make it seem cheery, but the deeper existential crisis behind that facade is very real. It is a metaphor of how we as humans function every single day: trying to live happy lives without thinking much about the theories of life and death that lurk in the back of the mind. There are references to various visuals and sounds from their school and youth-themed 2014 EP Skool Luv Affair, (the nod to old-school BTS is always an instant win) and use it to build a comparison to show the audience the evolution BTS from then to now.
BLACKPINK — “Kill This Love”
Nothing screams ‘anthem’ louder than “Kill This Love” and its video was definitely made to back up the sentiment. BLACKPINK burst into 2019 with undeniable badassery and “Kill This Love” was the weapon. The track is a vicious and confident rejection of love, both in its lyrics as well as its video. From the dark opening scene with the four members standing triumphantly in front of gleaming pipe organs, to the final group choreography with dozens of dancers, the music video is packed full of vibrant colors and dynamic choreography that all indicate a ‘done with it’ attitude towards romantic relationships. Vocalists Rosé and Jisoo hunt down and kill their more innocent doubles, a metaphor of them killing their naive past selves that believed in love being beautiful and without pain, while rappers Jennie and Lisa are more aggressive and bold–already familiar and recovered from heartbreak. In addition to the stunning hair, makeup and fashion, the major point of triumph is the outstanding set design–every verse of the song features a set (and costume) change, each more striking than the last, and BLACKPINK seem to get stronger and more confident as the video progresses. Almost all of it was achieved without green screen; a highly impressive feat when you see the section featuring the giant heart-shaped bear-trap.
Taemin — “Want”
The video for “Want” is perhaps Taemin’s most dangerous yet. Surrounded by darkness, smoke and glistening snakes, the SHINee vocalist proves he is the ultimate king of seduction as he attempts (and succeeds) to make the audience fall for him. He embraces androgyny to present a beautiful avatar of himself that can tempt any man or woman, but retains a certain danger with his menacing gaze and slow, fluid dance moves. Close-ups of Taemin interspersed with those of a black snake gliding over his skin are main indications of that danger, telling the viewer that while he is the shining apple on the tree in the garden of Eden, he is also the Devil himself. “Want” is built of clever contrasts, pitting dark sets against Taemin’s red and electric blue clothing, flashing strobe lights to bathe him in different colors and switching between black and white. A particularly striking moment of symbolism comes forth towards the end; the giant screen behind him displays ‘The Gates of Hell’, a sculpture by French artist Auguste Rodin that depicts a scene from the Inferno, the first section of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.
Hwasa — “Twit”
Mamamoo vocalist Hwasa made her solo debut earlier this year with “Twit,” a video that at first comes across as playful and sassy because of the upbeat track, but holds a much deeper, painful meaning. In the clip, Hwasa is seen repeatedly rejecting her boyfriend, seemingly bored with him. At first she is confident and oozes sex appeal as she bounces between scenes with bright choreography, quirky outfits but this soon begins to change with scenes of her wrapped in plastic, indicating the relationship made her feel trapped or like she was suffocating. There are clips that indicate this is a regular occurrence when she is in a relationship with the presence of five different men dressed identically and five birds on the empty branches of a tree, all of which she surveys from a detached distance. As the video progresses, it brings to surface the loneliness that lingers beneath Hwasa’s bubbly, confident surface. Her boyfriend ends up leaving her, unable to deal with constant rejection, and she attempts to cling to him with no success. “Twit” is one of the most vulnerable and soul-baring releases this year that explores the fear we have of investing too much in a relationship–which ironically is what leads to said relationship falling apart.
WINNER — “SOSO”
Raw, beautiful and painful, WINNER’s music video for “SOSO” is a cinematic masterpiece. The clip portrays the anger, sadness and emptiness in the track perfectly and the four members don’t shy away from letting all their emotions out. They scream, cry, break things in some scenes, and lie on the ground numbly in others, portraying the grief and shock that surrounds the end of a relationship. Possibly the most tear-jerking music video of the year, “SOSO” is heartbreaking and breathtaking in equal measure with bold use of contrast and colorization to depict the war of emotion within each member. Stand out visual moments include the scene where leader Yoon hangs suspended over dark spikes but is indifferent to the danger, rapper MINO lying on the ground as he is quite literally stepped on by strangers, and vocalist Jinwoo falling in slow motion through a dark, night sky with shock painted across his features. The most powerful imagery of them all, however, is the one where member Hoony stares at his own reflection in multiple mirrors while completely nude. He attempts to wrap his own arms around his own body as if to protect or comfort himself and it’s beautiful but poignant. The rapper explained that the decision to go fully nude was his own in order to showcase the vulnerability in the song. It also makes him the first male K-pop idol to do so in a music video.
ATEEZ — “Say My Name”
This powerhouse rookie group flooded 2019 with three (!) comebacks, and “Say My Name” was the big kick-off back in January. The music video showcases everything we love about the eight member group, including their confidence, stellar choreography and penchant for dark concepts. The clip is visually linked to ATEEZ’s other stand-out release of the year “Hala Hala”–in addition to clips of the band performing the smooth choreography, the video shows each member meeting and confronting their masked “Hala Hala” alter egos. This could perhaps symbolize that they’re ready to conquer their inner demons and take on the K-pop industry full throttle, or it also be a metaphor for ATEEZ’s determination to constantly improve on their own success. Towards the end of the video, the editing is tight as the members alternate between their all-black outfits and their clothing in “Say My Name”; its a jaw-dropping display of creativity that hints at a balance between dark and light, but also perhaps a coming-of-age moment where ATEEZ have found and understood their true identities as artists.