The Storyline K-Pop Music Video: Ambiguous Narratives and the Viewing Experience

Investigating Music Video Culture in K-Pop

Blackpink — Lovesick Girls (2020) Dir. Seo Hyunseung. This is the highly anticipated comeback of one of K-Pop’s most popular groups. Sandwiched between choreography, close-ups of the members, and the curated sets, are scenes depicting a broken down relationship — reflecting the song. They are brief moments, without explanation of how the conflict in the relationship emerged in the music video’s storyline.
Seventeen — Thanks (2018) Dir. Beomjin / VM Project Architecture. This is a classic example of a K-Pop music video trifecta that was described earlier. There is no plot to this music video, but visually showcases the group. That said, it does have an objective: accentuates the groups’s talent and agency over their craft. This is especially important to this group as they are known and promoted as “self-producing”, from their music to their performances.
One of the Official Teasers for BTS — Wings (2016) Dir. Choi Yongseok / Lumpens.
Official Teaser for BTS — I NEED U (2015) Dir. Choi Yongseok / Lumpens.
BTS — I NEED U (2015) Dir. Choi Yongseok / Lumpens.
BTS — RUN (2015) Dir. Choi Yongseok / Lumpens.
A strong example of this ambiguous storytelling is in BTS’ Love Yourself Highlight Reel (2017) — Dir. Choi Yongseok / Lumpens. This is a compilation of several teasers, released in anticipation of the “Love Yourself” album series. The narratives the members follow reflects the songs from this album trilogy. At large, it is theorised by fans to be part of the “Bangtan Universe”, a fictional world which the band explores in multiple videos. They have continuously referenced this since 2015, that began with their EPs under the “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” titles. It has taken the forms of short stories, books, a webtoon and a mobile game; mediums which goes in greater narrative detail.
BTS — Euphoria : Theme of LOVE YOURSELF 起 Wonder (2018) — Dir. Choi Yongseok / Lumpens. This is the music video/short film that follows the Highlight Reel (mentioned above), but focuses on their track “Euphoria”. The video references moments from their “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” series, in particular the “화양연화 on Stage : Prologue” short film.
A Bangtan Universe Twitter Thread, summarising the key points within the narrative. These types of posts are shared among the fanbase, creating a conversation and uniting the community.
Another Bangtan Universe Twitter Thread. This time, the original poster adds their own interpretation of the narrative. Again, creating conversation. This shows how willing their audience is to participate in the story.
An example of an interpretation of the music video’s narrative, encouraged by the ambiguity of the plot. Again, demonstrating full engagement with the story, with photographic evidence to support their case. It’s evident from the detail how much they enjoy creating their own theories. Some fans consider this as their favourite aspect of an album cycle.
Some interpretations aren’t as detailed as others. Like this example, a brief idea or a short impression will do. Across the few examples shown, you can see how vast the reactions are from the material offered by the music video. Despite how interactions may appear, there is engagement for sure.
BTS — Fake Love (2018) — Dir. Lumpens. A video essay, exploring one music video alone. While Fans like to analyse and theorise links between videos (in this case, a larger universe), they also give the same amount of effort and energy onto singular projects.
BTS — Map of the Soul 7: Interlude Shadow (2019) — Dir. Oui Kim. Another video essay, exploring a singular music video alone. Aside from the storyline, they reference other elements within the film (e.g. set design) to support their claims.
Red Velvet — Peek-A-Boo (2017). The past few examples given revolves around the same band. This is because they utilise the storytelling technique particularly well across their projects. However, the technique is not exclusive to them. Other groups apply the same technique and attract the same kind of interaction with their music videos. I believe it would benefit the report to have more examples of the technique, especially in a girl group context, to further the study and strengthen its case.
BoA — Disturbance (2013) Dir. Kwon SoonWook / Metaoloz
“Go Back to the Past” — The Happy Ending, where the characters reconcile.
“Let Time Go By” — The Sad Ending, where the characters break up and move on.
Taeyang — Wedding Dress (2009). The music video follows a love triangle storyline, featuring the best friend and missed-opportunity tropes. It showcases choreography, staying true to the genre elements. That said, what is shown on the music video is a direct interpretation of what is the song is about. Even still, this music video has broken the hearts of many and further emphasises the message in the song. Since its release, it’s been considered as one of the most iconic K-Pop music videos and one of the the first to become widely popular on the internet, propelling the genre forward in its early days — attracting covers and remakes. This also launched Taeyang’s career as a soloist and as a stand-out act in K-Pop, beyond his group Big Bang.
After School — Shampoo (2011). A music video that resembles a K-Drama plot. The storyline involves everyone in the group, with one member as the main character. Interestingly, it ties the Tap Dance concept they have for this album seamlessly, which they focus on in another video titled “Let’s Step Up”. In this music video’s narrative, the members of the group are all part of a Tap Dance group; the storyline, the members’ characters and the dynamic between them are explored in that context. On the other hand, the song’s message and the music video storyline doesn’t totally align. The lyrics describes a relationship using scent metaphors; while that is not visually illustrated, the music video does lift the song’s romantic themes.

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Charlene Louise

Charlene Louise

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As F.R. David once sung, “Words don’t come easy to me” — so here’s me trying. Talking design, film, and pop culture; from east, west and everything in between.