Missed what I’ve been doing with Music Video Anatomy? For the most recent installments, I covered WA$$UP (와썹 and Bermuda Triangle! We’re back on our bullshit this time and talking about Zico and hip hop masculinity!
Title: Tough Cookie (Feat. Don Mills)
The most iconic setting of Tough Cookie really is Zico in the bathtub and I think it’s what everyone thinks of if they’ve seen the video before.
However, I can’t stop thinking about how this video is set in different working class settings (a warehouse, a garage and its parking lot) and luxe-ish nightclub and barber shop settings. Fadeaway, an 1LLIONAIRE collab video with a bunch of heavy hitters in Korean hip hop that we’ll tackle later, has a similar but more polished feel when it comes to the juxtaposition of scenarios/settings.
I don’t know that Zico or the MVs director ever talked about why they chose the settings that they did, but I think it really does work for the understanding/presentation of hip hop as something simultaneously linked with Being Poor but also having success and excess.
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.
Missed what I’ve been doing with Music Video Anatomy? For the most recent installments, I covered Jay Park’s 몸매 (MOMMAE) and Taeyang’s MA GIRL! This time though, we’re looking at a girl group that probably should’ve quit before they got started… the since disbanded WA$$UP.
Title: WA$$UP (와썹)
The main setting of WA$$UP’s debut video is a basketball court in the middle of a city – I’m honestly still not sure if this was filmed in Korea or in the United States, actually. It’s an unsubtle callback to the origins of hip hop and teenagers coming up with rhymes while playing around in their neighborhoods. (Think of the kind of setting early in Netflix’s Roxanne Roxanne!)
There’s also a dark alley where one of the members does her own spin on ghost riding next to a very expensive car that I would be worried about crashing. I don’t think it adds anything to the music video, but it’s just… funny to me.
Setting: “MOMMAE” is set in a few different “places” (I’m using the term super loosely here). A dance floor in what almost looks like an abandoned club, a bed(room?) in bi flag colors, a tanning bed, a balcony, a pool, and what’s either a house party or a nightclub. It’s a video full of lots of lingering shots of women’s bodies in these places, as they’re dancing or lounging on every surface and you’re spending so much tieme looking at these women from the neck down that the body itself – the surface area revealed by the short shorts, sports bras and the like – could almost serve as a setting where the song’s themes play out?
Sound: It’s so helpful that Gray always drops a producer tag at the start of his songs. Like If I’m on shuffle or listening to a playlist and I hear that tag, I know I’m about to get some good music. Can that man produce things that aren’t absolutely enjoyable? I have yet to come up against an example!
Anyway, as long as I don’t actually look too long at the English translations for the lyrics, this is a great song. Looking at the lyrics – especially where Jay Park raps that “니 앞에 서면 비욘세 엉덩이도 납작해/When I’m in front of you, even Beyoncé’s butt seems flat – makes me want to lift and throw him.
Setting: There is not much to say about the setting of this video beyond how this looks like the filming budget was light. Like I remember seeing a twitter meme asking for folks to name videos that looked like they cost $10 (an exaggeration, of course) and I honestly thought of this video immediately?
Sound: Written by Big Bang’s leader G-Dragon and with music/arrangement by Israel Dwaine Cruz, “Ma Girl” is a smooth R&B track that sounds like it was ripped from the 90s. It’s a love song with Taeyang crooning about missing a love that he fears that he’s in the process of losing, and I mean… in the end it is basic. It’s comfortable in its familiarity though, sounding exactly like something I could imagine hearing on the radio as a younger adult or teenager.
A high point is the feature where G-Dragon and T.O.P pinged that part of my brain that had imprinted on the group back in the day before I went back to being a casual fan for the better part of a decade? They’re so YOUNG here!!
Styling: Yes, I see those cornrows. In “Ma Girl”, Taeyang really showcased the Light Skinned Energy TM that he’d become known for in some circles of international VIP and wider K-pop fandom. (Okay, look… it’s largely the Black parts, but still.) It’s not enough that he sounds like Omarion in this track… he has to look like him too. Back in 2008, while Black fans of K-pop (they were there, trust me) undoubtedly caught themselves kekeing over the visuals in this song and praying for Taeyang’s poor scalp with those tight ass braids.
“Ma Girl” looks and sounds like this for a reason.
Back in Cultural Appropriation in the Age of K-Pop Part One, I mentioned that:
As talented as Big Bang was when introduced to the Korean pop landscape, they were still functionally a Korean B2K cover group. Voice, visuals, and styling all pointed to the same conclusion: that Yang Hyun Suk clocked that Korean audiences wanted popular Black music… but not from Black people.
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 particular 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.
“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.”
Last installment, we dove into BTS’ debut single “No More Dream“!
Title: 눈누난나 (NUNU NANA)
The main recognizable settings for “Nunu Nana” are a restaurant kitchen doing double duty as a gambling den, what looks like a loading dock behind a set of shops with plenty of room for a red convertible to serve as the main focus, a building under construction and used for money laundering, and a music show stage.
The car itself is a really notable set piece for me because you have three moments where It’s a huge hip hop focus: in the beginning where Jessi’s on the car and a dancer is throwing her back out in front of it, where Jessi is twerking on it after washing the hood, and then the end when she and Hyori are hanging around and in it.
It feels like calling back to video vixen visuals only Jessi is, across the video, both the star the vixen dances for and the vixen herself and while that could be good… with Jessi, it’s… just kind of funny to me.
There are a couple main settings for No More Dream. At points across the video they’re on a school bus. At others, they’re in an alley in front of it. At the start of the video, they get off the school bus into skatepark with a skatepark with a quaint neighborhood theme and then a skatepark with classroom… themes.
One thing I like noting within Music Video Anatomy is when a hip hop video doesn’t go with expected settings. With “No More Dream” you can tell that there’s a goal for there to be some clear hip hop connection but then, as you can see on the Behind the Screen site’s entry on the No More Dream music video, there are a lot of nods to what’s basically alt culture that isn’t related to hip hop in the US? Which is pretty cool.
Artist: pH-1, HAON, Woodie Gochild, Jay Park, Sik-K, TRADE L, Big Naughty
Setting: This music video – which does double duty as a lyric video – is set in a Mexican restaurant in what appears to be a strip mall. It’s different from the go-to setting that several past H1GHR Music artists have gone with in their hip hop pasts – high school gym, dark alleys, night clubs. The novelty of the setting works for the song… mostly.
Music Video Anatomy is something I’ve been considering for a few weeks now especially in the context of my ongoing project on anti/blackness in Korean pop and hip hop. I tweet a lot of music video links during the day and I wanted to collect some of my thoughts and music recs somewhere more organized than that site. Hence this new recurring feature. It won’t all be modern Korean pop/hip hop – I have been revisiting older pop and hip hop here in the US – but it’ll skew heavily towards that!
Title: Born Hater
Artist: Epik High featuring Beenzino, Verbal Jint, MINO (Winner), Bobby (iKON), and B.I