Examining IU’s “Love Wins All” MV following ableism criticisms

IU’s latest single “Love Wins All” is currently doing its expected thing and dominating the charts, carrying overwhelmingly positive reactions. The music video, co-starring BTS member V and directed by the acclaimed Um Tae Hwa, has been met with similar general reception. However, not everybody has come away thrilled, specifically finding problems with the music video’s portrayal of disabilities.

From best I can tell, a lot of the talk started with bisexual stylist Nara Kim, who is notable for having worked with HYBE a bunch (specifically LE SSERAFIM). She initially spoke out in an Instagram post, leaving a caption on a photo.

I don’t want to be distorted as a straight and non-disabled person with normalcy through the camera. I’m satisfied with myself #Lovewins #lovewinsall

Later, she expanded on that message in two Instagram stories.

The reason why I mentioned this is that the song was initially titled “Love Wins.”
Korean queers, who thought queer’s slogan had been stolen, were furious. There is still controversy after the title of the song was changed and the music video was released.
The two main characters (IU and V) in the music video appear as blind and deaf people who are chased by “discrimination and oppression”.
Different situation from reality shows through camcorder (it means love filter, the director says) and the two appear to be happier (without disability) in this.

I mean, a music video featuring two rich, non-disabled world stars (known as cisgender hetero) uses disabilities, minorities as props to say about overcoming, ending up with a very normal ending of wearing a wedding dress and a tuxedo.
What needs to be overcome is the world, not disability or minorities. Stop the shallow compassion and using minorities as inspirational material

Netizens, whether in good faith or not, have latched onto this narrative in decent enough numbers to get coverage, and it’s currently being reported in news stories as a controversy.


Predictably (and unfortunately), the stylist and other netizens who have expressed their opinions, have been receiving a lot of backlash from fans, not only because it’s IU, but also because it involves V and she’s worked with HYBE. That said, it’s a point of view that didn’t cross my mind on my initial passes, and everybody sharing their perspective on it was something that at least made me re-examine the material. I don’t think it’s helpful to invalidate her feelings or those of anybody else who felt similarly about “Love Wins All” in good faith. If it makes you reflect and watch it again from another perspective, it can be a good thing and it’s worth investigating.

That said, even after reviewing the music video again, I still came away with a different view of the themes at play*. As I said in my review, my interpretation was that their injuries were a result of the dystopian, post-apocalyptic hellscape they’re apart of, and the cube (or malice, as I called it) gave them those injuries/put them in that situation. The camera, therefore, simply serves as a device to take them back to a pre-apocalypse world, and while flashing back to that world does remove the injuries, I don’t believe it’s ableist for narratives to utilize flashbacks to times where characters were not distressed, injured, or in danger (war/thrillers/drama movies use this technique frequently). It primarily seems like the duo in the scene in question are just nostalgically wishing for a better world compared to the hellscape they’re stuck in now. Basically, I feel like you’d have to take the least-charitable interpretation of everything to conclude the message is ultimately something disparaging about the disabled or looking down on them in a back-handed way.

*Additionally, I would understand the continued complaints about the song title more if it wasn’t changed, even though it’s debatable whether it was necessary. But since IU did change it, in deference to the concerns of the LGBTQ community, I don’t quite understand still being upset about the song title unless one believes the initial title was decided upon with malicious intent.

On the contrary, my take on the themes presented was that the cube represents us (society, at large), the power we have, and the hardships we inflict on the characters. Metaphorically then, the message is marginalized individuals of any kind just want to and should be able to live their lives, but the rest of us make things difficult for them every step of the way, and we’re in constant pursuit. For example, even in the flashback, everything is not fine for the characters. There are still people yelling at them, judging them, and trying to prevent their happiness, but they are able to do what they want until the cube and its power shows up. It’s what inflicted them with their injuries and ruined the world at large, because the cube (us) is what drives the narrative and its actions are what the music video really targets.

In other words, it’s not “look at these poor disabled people”, but rather “look at what monsters we are”. Which is why in the end, even though their love and humanity endures, it’s society who are reduced to a faceless, nameless, glowing cube and actively causing their tragic end. So in a way it also asks the viewer, which are you? And thus, when Nara Kim says in her message that “what needs to be overcome is the world“, I absolutely agree, but I believe that’s exactly what the music video was trying to convey.


Anyway, this isn’t intended as some kind of defense post since I think alternative viewpoints are definitely worth considering with something like this. Rather, it’s a re-examination of the themes and narrative with regards to the ableist concerns that were brought up. My opinion might prove to be totally “wrong” (it’s art, so interpret it how you want, honestly), or either looking too much into it or not too far enough, but that’s what I came away with.


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