Title: Uh Oh
Artist: (G) I-DLE
The first setting of the music video – and the part worth clocking and commenting on for me – is a part of a strip mall that looks like something you’d see in the United States with English signs for a tattoo parlor, a corner store or bodega (the store on the right), and a pawn shop (trust me on that one). If I went outside right now, those three things are probably right close to each other in my own neighborhood. They are not anywhere near where any member of (G)I-DLE calls home because of where these businesses are located.
The use of the corner store/strip mall as a locale for the video is to ping viewers’ brains into going “ah, yes, they’re in ‘the hood’ and so this song is authentic”. You see similar attempts to situate Korean (and Korean American) artists accordingly in older videos like CL’s Hello Bitches or Dumbfoundead’s “Mijangwon” where the setting has its own very loud character.
Described as belonging to “the boom bap hip hop genre” both the music and visuals of “Uh Oh” were put together to evoke this sense of authenticity in hip hop that always makes my teeth itch. I do think that (G)I-DLE – and Soyeon in paritcular in the group – are really talented and make interesting and innovative music that their peers aren’t always doing. Like 4Minute before them, this is a hip-hop oriented group and that means a lot of their song stylings lean heavily on things like “boom bap” hip hop or trap or whatever they think will catch an audience that knows them but isn’t familiar with hip hop outside of them.
Clothing wise, the young women of (G)I-DLE are all wearing clothing meant to make you think they’re hip hop. Whatever hip hop actually means to them. From them on down to the back up dancers, this is a really good example of “hood cosplay” specifically because it’s the clothing and hairstyles in context. On their own, in a montage of the girls hanging out at an indoor mall or playing laser tag or something… the outfits would literally not have the context of “we’re basically cosplaying folks who live in ~the hood~” and you could handwave away some of that.
Also, at one point Yuqi does have what looks like bantu knots in her hair and even if we reset the video so it was entirely in the desert or they were floating in outer space… I have to say that that doesn’t help.
In an article from Soompi about the music video release, (G) I-dle’s Soyeon is quoted as saying:
“I didn’t necessarily plan to make ’90s-style music when I started working on the song, but I wanted to do hip hop. So I thought about what kind of hip hop would be unique to (G)I-DLE and not too cliché, and I thought of boom bap hip hop.”
One of my long lasting issues with this group is that they just sort of… pick pick pick at what leaps out as cool and sort of edgy to them. Back in September 2019 after “Uh Oh” there was a whole issue when a video from Queendom showed the young women brainstorming their single for the show… and landing on an African theme… with Soyeon proudly expressing her desire for it to be “ethnic hip“.
In the grand scheme of things I get that “ethnic hip” isn’t on many people’s radar. For me, it was a frustrating reminder that things I don’t even have access to because of ongoing Diaspora Wars (a long, stressful story) are just seen as cute and quirky gateways to new and interesting music.
Soyeon’s decision to do hip hop that was “unique” to (G)I-DLE and therefore able to capture some new fan interest comes from a savvy mind. It’s smart and expected that artists will do what they can to pull new fans in and keep them guessing. However, I remain frustrated at the fact that these artists are just choosing hip hop because it sounds good to them, because they can do a edgier look than usual.
They’re not choosing it because they get it.
They’re not choosing it because they want to pay and throw it back to a multitasking musical genre coined by Black Americans that folks have used to fight for progress and get their fuck/fight on for decades.
It’s just a bit for Soyeon and the girls of (G)I-DLE.
When I listen to Soyeon rap in her familiar nasal twang – or I put on an (G)I-DLE song, I never feel a connection. I don’t feel like she’s even trying to do it for the culture (someone’s culture) or out of a genuine and almost tangible interest in hip hop… just that it’s something she’s good at (for a certain value of good, I guess), that her group looks good in, and that can bring in an audience looking for something firey.
Since “Uh Oh”, (G)I-DLE has put out two releases: “Lion” (which is the song “ethnic hip” got us) and “Oh My God” – with a music video that shares some visual similarities with FKA Twigs’ 2019 video “Cellophane”. Predictably, “Lion” and its stages are some level of uncomfortable for the ethnic Africana on display, but “Oh My God” isn’t bad at all!
It also, however, reminds me that the bouncing from an attempt at “hard” hip hop hop back to the sort of glossy pop in that comeback are just… choices. What sells, what’s easy to film, what audiences want.
“Uh Oh” is less annoying than last week’s Jessi-session, but it’s not because the appropriation and hood cosplay are any less. I don’t know the (G)I-DLE girls like that to know what they know about hip hop and Blackness… I do know that Jessi knows she’s doing too much and that we’re all side eying her for her choices.