Watch Hwasa’s Striking Music Video for ‘Maria’
The MAMAMOO member’s latest single deals with the pressures around identity and stardom
South Korean girl group MAMAMOO’s vocalist Hwasa made a solo comeback today with her debut EP Maria, led by the lead single of the same name. The record follows her solo debut with “Twit,” a bright yet melancholic single that wowed audiences upon its release in 2019 (also featured on the EP.) According to the singer-songwriter, “Maria” has a slightly similar vibe thanks to the introspective lyrics hidden beneath the upbeat and lush instrumentals.
Co-composed by Hwasa and producer Park Woosang, “Maria” combines elements of trap and synth, boosting Hwasa’s powerful vocals with an upbeat Latin pop section over the bridge, which makes a slightly strange segue into a ballad-y string section. She begins the chorus as though she’s about to take it low and dark, but lifts the tone instead to push the track into brighter territory. The slight step into darkness further complements the track and video’s underlying dark message and adds a haunting edge that’s hard to forget. In addition to her birth name Ahn Hyejin, Maria is another name Hwasa goes by, and the track is a letter to herself. The lyrics describe the struggles that come with fame, outlining the emotions that need to be suppressed and the effect being in the public eye has on one’s mental health. Hwasa sings, “I’m so lonely/I swallowed my hatred/I don’t even have the strength to be angry/I don’t have time.” She encourages herself to stand up and keep fighting, quite literally instructing herself to not to bow to public criticism, “Why do you keep struggling/You are already beautiful… I’ll change the way I go/I’ll turn crisis into opportunity/If you really want to see me cry/Tears in your eyes.”
The music video teeters between playful and seductive to dark and melancholic, using contrasting imagery to showcase the two sides of Ahn Hyejin: Hwasa and Maria. The opening scene features the singer-songwriter lying seemingly lifeless in a pool, surrounded by photographers and law enforcement as another version of her surveys the scene in silence. There are two Hwasa’s–one with red hair and the other with black. The Hwasa with red hair seems to reflect her bold, public persona while Maria is the more vulnerable human behind the dazzling pop star, a side of the singer the public aren’t privy to. Several scenes point to Hwasa’s battle with the media and netizens (the thousands of sharp pencils targeting a trapped Maria in one scene is particularly striking) while others reference her journey to balancing both sides of herself. At the end of the video, Hwasa comes to a realization that Maria isn’t alone–the other three members of MAMAMOO’s arrive to spend time with her and cheer her up.
Hwasa references various films in the music video for “Maria,” but the most clear shout-out is the one she gives 2000 Italian romantic drama Malèna; the film uses a similar switch up of hair colors (red and black) to show the various transitions and trials in the titular character’s life and also features a scene where Malèna (played by Monica Bellucci) sits with a cigarette and a blank gaze as many men scramble to hold up lighters and be of service. The film outlines the perceptions that people form about a woman–including criticizing them, sexualising them and celebrating them–often for the sake of gossip or entertainment and with no regard to the woman’s true feelings .
“Just like my previous song ‘Twit,’ ‘Maria’ has a touch of sadness on top of an exciting beat,” Hwasa explained in an interview with The Korea Times about what inspired her to write the track. “From an early age, I have always liked such songs because they seem to mirror people’s actual life.” The singer-songwriter participated in the production of several of the seven tracks on the EP and chose to work with celebrated rappers and producers like ZICO (“Kidding”) and DPR Live (I’m Bad Too.) In the weeks leading up to the release of Maria, Hwasa teased fans with the release of the dreamy first track “Intro: Nobody Else” and an accompanying video.