Title: Bermuda Triangle
Artist: Zico featuring Crush and Dean
I don’t know that I get any particular vibes from the settings used in “Bermuda Triangle”? The video opens with a wasteland shot in black and white, swings to a neon-lit alley where the trio play at being gangsters for Zico’s first verse and part of Crush’s, the second verse is set in… maybe an outdoor restaurant… Then there’s the hotel room – very luxe even before the introduction of the money all over the bed and the hot tub surrounded by expensive alsochol bottles- and the church – because Zico’s Catholic faith is so important to him that it was actually maybe one of the first things I knew about him?
There are things about “Bermuda Triangle”’s different settings that I can… squint and see as nods to hip hop culture and other artists’ videos? Shots – like Zico in the hot tub – that give me “Godfather” energy and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was on purpose because of how hip hop artists worldwide reach for that film to signal at how hood and hardcore they are.
Off the bat, I’m literally obsessed with Dean on this track. He’s the only one whose contribution I know by heart and can sing along to without having to check myself most of the time. I know I’d heard “Instagram” before this because of Korean hip hop radio stations on Spotify or playlists on YouTube, but I count this as my official introduction to him because it’s what got me invested.
If I listen to this song on its own – aside from a single line that I’m unspooling in my full thoughts below – it’s fantastic. Zico, like my fake nemesis Jay Park, is really good at what he does. Both in performance and by connecting with other incredibly talented artists. “Bermuda Triangle” is, as Tamar Herman notes in her review of the track, “a dark, minimalistic synth and bass-heavy song that focuses on the threesome’s slick vocals.” This is a song that absolutely gives you this trio at their best and makes you want to listen to more of them because’s a very brag-heavy song.
Short answer? Catch me laughing out fucking loud.
Long answer? Zico is an artist I find to be incredibly talented and incredibly frustrating. The hood cosplay is pretty overt here from Zico’s hair in (“gel twists” and a terrible fuzzy fried… well I’m not sure what to call it but it looks like the driest fro ever) on down to his actual outfits across the MV and it’s clear that this is pretty much what he just… does in his music videos? (We’ll tackle Block B’s “Shall We Dance” and his previous solo work, the controversy-laden “Tough Cookie” later on in this series. Don’t worry.)
I think they all have some level of unfortunate hair in this video but it’s not a major constant so you can ignore it if you catch it – you probably did subconsciouslyI just have a sixth sense for Zico specifically doing nonsense.
This video came out in 2016 so while we weren’t subject to first-generation k-pop idol antiblackness… It’s still not great.. Like, for the record, a lot of the blackface we know of in modern Korean pop and hip hop controversies comes from around this time period. So I wasn’t expecting perfection or even… self awareness, actually.
Now, with “Bermuda Triangle”, the thing that caught my ear on this was back when I started doing my #StitchProcesses project I was going through a Korean hip hop playlist on YouTube and came across this song. First time I listened to it, I didn’t have captions on and so I thought I misheard part of the lyrics that blended English with Korean. You know… the same way I misheard the f-slur in “Tough Cookie” for a couple of weeks.
One of the later times I watched it, I had the captions on and I caught some lyrics from Zico that would stay with me two years later:
“우린 황인종 but I got black soul/We’re yellow people but I got black soul”
Y’all… that’s fucking hilarious and it’s one of the things that has had Zico living on my shitlist for a couple of years even though I genuinely enjoyed most of what he did in 2020 (and can’t get enough of his feature alongside CL on Epik High’s “Rosario”.) Because who just says shit like this?
But also –
The thing is that this isn’t just a Zico thing and this speaks back to an understanding of what hip hop is, who can be hip hop, and how to be hip hop authentically that permeates a ton of Korean pop and hip hop.
In the second chapter of the excellent monograph Hanguk Hip Hop, Myoung Sun Song points out that:
For Korean rappers, creating a tie to blackness is crucial in identifying themselves as hip hop artists. This is referenced by many artists in their lyrics (e.g., having a black heart, black mind, black soul). (47)
Earlier on in the monograph (literally on page four), Song translates Deepflow’s lyrics from the third verse of “We Made Us” (Jerry.K featuring The Quiett, Deepflow, & Dok2) where he says that:
We made us 우린 닮아가 모두의 어머니를/노란 피부에 심장은 검은 이들
We made us, we all resemble our mothers / With yellow skin, hearts are black
As Song points out in her text, this is a sort of mental rhetoric around how hip hop can “grow” or has “grown” in Korea. Blackness – studying the performances of “approved” artists, mimicking those artists and incorporating their flows and messaging into their lyrics while also attempting to look like them, claiming some sort of internal connection with blackness that gives them access to authentic hip hop. To perform “Black music” – whether it’s gospel, jazz, or hip hop – requires some level of performative blackness, and that has been the case for non-black artists for decades. It’s just rare to hear white artists – for example – say that they’ve got a Black heart/soul/mind unless they’re doing a (still-racist) ‘Inner Sassy Black Woman” bit.
In interviews (both in Hanguk Hip Hop and in other external outlets), Korean rappers have talked about what drew them to hip hop and how they view the genre across the board it’s that:
- Many Korean rappers see cultural similarities between themselves and Black Americans via their struggles dealing with systemic oppression… but also in how they engage with their communities (one rapper interviewed for Hanguk Hip Hop talked about how family units, loud conversations, and a love of food were three of the commonalities he saw between Koreans and Black Americans.
- Hip hop as a genre is a useful vehicle for Koreans – and other non-Black people – to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo, come for haters, and “flex” and otherwise show off their successes in the face of people who doubted them. It’s a genre linked with power in a way that I don’t know many other genres are – even though punk (also started by Black people, by the way!) is really the ultimate in subversive pro-protest music!
For that last bit: think about how while a huge amount of American musical exports are actually Black American in origin, we don’t view them as such when exported to countries like Korea as part of the flow of culture. See Jaeyoung Yang’s “Korean Black Music and its Culture: Soul, Funk, and Hip-Hop” where he writes that:
The arrival of rock ’n’ roll, which is grounded in African-American dance music, initiated a fresh, new development. Due to the success of musicians such as the Kim Sisters, the Add4, and the Key Boys, rock ’n’ roll was settled as the latest Western popular music trend until the mid 1960s. Although rooted in African-American music, rock music was spread in Korea as a form of Anglo-American music. This shows that there was no strong link between African-American music and Korean pop music back then. (96)
Almost everything is Black music at its root – when it comes to exported US music, that is – and that makes the exclusive focus on hip hop as where you must have a Black soul/mind/heart in order to succeed… really interesting. Because none of the Korean rockstars I know of now have talked about that as Black music or something that requires blackness in performance. Even though Sister Rosetta Tharpe pretty much paved the way for everyone here.
I’d genuinely love to ask Zico what he thinks a Black soul is and how he knows he has one. If he can explain it to me without being incredibly antiblack, I won’t sneak and pinch his ears if we’re ever in the same public space.