Yunho (TVXQ) – “Thank U”
Release Date: January 18
“Thank U” is part gangster movie, part audition for action roles, and part metaphor for the ups and downs that Yunho has fought through in his career. It’s also technically impressive — employing Quentin Tarantino‘s habit of “borrowing” from other great directors — as it takes inspiration from luminaries like Park Chan Wook, Mishima Yukio, John Woo, Kim Jee Woon, and Tarantino himself. Appropriately then, it has just about everything you’d want from a mini-movie music video, with top-tier execution ranging from direction to set design to utilizing sound effectively.
The visual story operates well as both a noir gangster revenge story and the dramatized process of dealing with the toxic sides of celebrity and moving past it or rising above it. The last act of ‘A Bittersweet Life‘ except with a happy ending is a surprisingly effective vehicle for this, and just for flair, it adds stuff like Yunho looking as cool and chic as ever and throwing down some choreography in the middle as if just to style on any competition. “Thank U” isn’t only one of the better conceived and executed music videos of 2021, but one of the best I can remember from K-pop in years.
IU – “LILAC”
Release Date: March 25
“LILAC” is a music video that’s an ideal accompaniment, bringing to life the themes and narrative of the song while supplying visual tones to match that of the soundscape. The set design and color palette are beautiful, and IU‘s choreo for both the fight and dance scenes are slickly done.
In a lot of ways it’s like ‘Snowpiercer‘ if you displace the dystopian hellscape cannibal train with a bright and beautiful remembrance of ones 20s that plays out sorta like a musical. IU traverses train cars that represent different phases of her last decade or so, partially in the spirit of nostalgia and partially as a way to say goodbye to them without regrets. Just as the train moves forward, so does she before things abruptly vanish. While somber for a bit, another train then arrives and IU’s smile indicates an anticipation of the possibilities to come.
KANG DANIEL – “PARANOIA”
Release Date: April 13
While I didn’t expect to get a relatively accurate representation of anxiety and panic disorder from a K-pop music video this year, KANG DANIEL delivered just that, with the “PARANOIA” music video putting the creeping, sinister soundscape into action. As horrible as his struggles must’ve been, it’s impressive and admirable that he’s been able to channel the experience into something that helps showcase his growth as an artist.
The portrayal of the mental health battle is conceived well, showing it as being suffocated by the feeling of things closing in on you, the fear that everything surrounding you is malicious, and that even when you’re “okay” there’s still like a faceless, nameless assailant lurking. It helps create this wary and fearful atmosphere for the music video, and that should be easy enough for anybody to understand.
Jackson Wang – “LMLY”
Release Date: March 26
Attempting to rank music videos for the first time has really made me realize that one thing I appreciate is cinematic concepts that pay tribute to legendary directors, while putting their own twist on it to make it relevant to their music. “LMLY” does this with one of my favorites, borrowing aesthetic notes from 90s Hong Kong cinema and Wong Kar Wai in particular (‘Fallen Angels‘?).
It tells the tale of an unrequited love that seems to be about a relationship that went awry, but through recreating the shots of their supposed romance with Jackson Wang talking to himself instead of the woman it reveals that he imagined all of this, which makes it more of an ode to loneliness than anything. It’s a beautiful compliment to the music video, hitting on the retro theme accurately, much like its sonic counterpart.
TXT – “0X1=LOVESONG”
Album: ‘The Chaos Chapter: FREEZE’
Release Date: May 31
Okay, so for the most part this is basically Dudes Rock, the K-pop music video. Things going to shit at home? Steal your parents’ car and get the boys together to go on a road trip of a lifetime, then just hang out and play around doing fun shit. A perfect compliment to the vibe the song generally gives off. Do dudes need expensive luxuries to bond and have fun? Of course not, an abandoned pool and rocking out in a dirt field is plenty sufficient. It’s a lot of fun to experience as a viewer and it matches well with the song’s combination of rousing moments but with a bubbling of melancholy.
Then the ending puts that undercurrent front and center by providing an interesting twist, calling into question how much of the experience was just imagined. It seems to tie into the quote that begins the music video, highlighting that perhaps this was a way of filling that unhappy void in life and this whole thing was a reflection of the emptiness and loneliness being felt. A thought to ruminate on that matches thematically, fitting appropriately with a song that has an almost exhilarating feeling to it but is lyrically quite desperate.