The 12 best K-pop music videos of 2014
2014 was one hell of a messy year for K-pop. Dating scandals, legal disputes and member departures seemed to plague the industry throughout the year but these paled into insignificance compared to the tragic fatal car accident that rocked the industry and the horrific national tragedy which put it on effective hiatus for weeks. All in all 2014 was not a good year for K-pop. Despite this, a fair number of really great music videos were released throughout the year. Here are the best twelve music videos of 2014 according to Beyond Hallyu:
12. Epik High ft. Younha – We Fight Ourselves
It’s been a good year for Epik High with the release of their eighth studio album doing extremely well on the charts and further consolidating their position as Korean hip hop legends. They released a number of videos but by far the most popular was Born Hater, largely for all of its frantic and star-studded cameos. However the best video, at least for me, was the ‘Karaoke Live’ version of We Fight Ourselves, their collaboration with indie darling, Younha.
The strength of this video lies in its simplicity. Unlike the big overblown productions abundant in K-pop, the premise of the video is simple: a live performance in a noraebang. The thing that makes it so entertaining to watch is how perfectly they mimic friends hanging out a noraebang after a night out. All the little details from Mithra sitting half-asleep in the corner to Tukutz tapping away on his phone – it’s the perfect mix of being simultaneously friendly and uninterested. The highlight moment is when a pleading and apologetic Younha sings with a passion matched only in intensity by Epik High’s complete indifference – two of whom are too busy queuing up the next track while Mithra messes about with maracas in the corner. The only things missing are soju and beer.
11. B.A.P – 1004 (Angel)
Speaking of big, overblown productions, earlier this year, before their dramatic lawsuit announcement, B.A.P released one of their biggest videos to date. Gut-wrenching melodramatic tales of lost love inhabiting dystopic, desaturated worlds of grief and perfect eyeliner are a standard of the K-pop boy band music video genre and one that do (or should we say ‘did’?) better than BAP. It’s exactly what the fans wanted and it’s what they got. Still the video has more than enough plot and visual flair to entertain non-fans as well. The only thing that taints the enjoyment of this video is the nagging feeling that these huge video productions are one of the reasons BAP are now suing their company for lack of payment and breach of contract.
10. Block B – HER
This video is frantic, colourful, a little confused and highly entertaining – a lot like Block B, really. There’s a basketball court, an ostrich and a home shopping channel selling clothes detergent. None of it makes any sense but that’s what makes it so fun.
9. Soyu x Junggigo – Some
I really feel like I should hate both this song and video but I can’t. It’s just so wonderfully irritating. The Korean word dapdaphada (답답하다) has a number of different meanings. Literally, it means to be suffocating or stifling but more figuratively it is used to express frustration or exasperation. Both the song and music video perfectly express that feeling of frustrated anxiety that manifests itself in feelings of physical restriction that so often accompanies the beginning of a new relationship. That time when everyone is really excited but each party is trying to play it cool while also getting annoyed and confused when the other person acts equally casually. When used in TV dramas, as it so often is, this tact can get old pretty quickly but a four and a half minute music video is just the perfect length of time to encapsulate the anxiety and the confusion but ultimate excitement of new love.
8. TVXQ! – Spellbound
Pseudo one take music videos have become pretty popular in K-pop over the last couple of years. EXO’s Growl was the big one from last year and YG had been dabbling in, although never quite committing to the style, for a couple of years with videos like Bad Boy and Lonely. Rarely are these actually filmed in one take but rather the camera movement and editing are used to very cleverly conceal numerous cuts. The were a couple of good additions to the genre this year including BTS’s War of Hormone but the best use of the single moving shot music video was TVXQ’s Spellbound. I’ve always felt this technique is best used to showcase a great dance performance which is exactly what this video does. Not only do Yunho and Changmin put in a great performance but the backing dancers are also some of the best I have ever seen in K-pop. Some of the zooms, which seem to have been added in post-production, are a little jarring but overall the video allows TVXQ to showcase their performance with a little more style that if it were a boring old SM box video.
7. Puer Kim – Manyo Mash
Earlier in the year, I wrote about this video and how its imagery lacked nuance and subtlety but it all honesty that’s part of what makes it so entertaining. Her shameless criticism of the K-pop industry, portrayed in the video as a world of dead-eyed mannequins and torture dungeons, is refreshing in its bluntness. Shamelessness is something she has dabbled in even before signing with her current label Mystic89, with lots of imagery reminiscent of the exploitation films of the 1960 and 70s in her earlier videos, and I certainly hope this continues into the future. If this video is anything to go by, Puer Kim, who once described herself as wanting to become a singer who sings with her chest (referencing a Korean saying for people who put a lot of emotion into their music, and no doubt also her above average cup size), is a breath of fresh air in the highly sanitised world of K-pop.
6. Orange Caramel – My Copycat
Pop music is supposed to be fun. This is something that can sometimes be forgotten in the overblown, over-dramatic videos churned out by the K-pop machine. But this mantra has always been and continues to be at the heart of Orange Caramel’s videos. So much so that the entire video is made up of a series of visual puzzles. Digipedi, the team behind the video are known for their quirky, eye-meltingly colourful videos but few are quite as fun as this one. You would need to watch it dozens of times to notice all the little easter eggs and visual quirks hidden in the madness (I’ve only just noticed, for example, that the two halves of the blue room the three members dance are perfect mirror images of each other). It’s always rewarding as a viewer to feel that someone has put a lot of time and effort into your enjoyment and that’s the feeling this video gives off.
5. 2NE1 – Come Back Home
Originally this was supposed to be two videos: one for Come Back Home and one for its acoustic version. The result of combining the two is a video which lacks a completely cohesive plotline but nonetheless has a very strong visual identity. When we spoke to director Dee Shin earlier in the year, she told us her intention for the video was to mix “the virtual reality concept we’re all familiar from watching sci-fi films and the tragic love story we always hear in pop songs”. With this in mind in definitely hits the mark and is one of the most visually ambitious (and expensive) K-pop videos ever made.
4. Gain ft. Bumkey – Fxxk U
Lots of K-pop fans ‘ship’ pairs of idols but, personally, I prefer to ship the creatives who work behind the scenes. One of my favourite combinations is the trio: director Hwang Soo-ah, composer Lee Min-soo and lyricist Kim Eana. When these three names are on the bill, you know you’re in for something good. Fxxk U is no exception and it’s easily one of the bravest K-pop music videos ever made. Domestic abuse and sexual violence are topics I’ve never seen covered in a K-pop video before and although the video tiptoes right up to the line between condemning and glamorising intimate partner violence, it’s constructed so masterfully that it manages to just avoid it and in doing so is really able to explore the complex motivations of victims and perpetrators of this abuse.
3. IU/Seo Tai Ji – Sogyeokdong
I’ve chosen to put these two videos together as really they come as a pair. There is so much in both versions that it is hard to only write a short paragraph on why they are so brilliant. If you would like more information on the historical context of Sogyeokdong, an area of Seoul which lay at the heart of some very unsavoury government activities during Chun Doo-hwan’s military dictatorship in the 1980s, I would highly recommend Ask A Korean’s blogpost on the subject. Like Fxxk U, Sogyeokdong is here not only for its daring subject matter but also for its inspired filmmaking. There is so much to take in these videos and so much further to be understood by watching both and comparing them. As well as addressing Korean history it also explores more universal human themes. Little inconsistencies throughout are a reminder of the subjective nature of memory and the impact trauma can have on what we remember. One little example of this is the taxi scene at the beginning of both videos. In the IU version, the little girl says to the taxi driver “I’ll go only for a little while and get out.” (조금만 가서 내릴 거예요) whereas in the Seo Taiji version she says “I’m only going a short while. I’ll get out.” (좀만 가다. 내릴 께요.). Both mean the same but they are not said in the same way reminding the viewer that our memories are not universal truths but subjective interpretations that bend with time and experience.
2. Orange Caramel – Catallena
Initially when I was compiling this list I was struggling to decide which Orange Caramel video should be included but in the end I enjoyed them so much that both had to go in. Without a shadow of a doubt Catallena is my favourite girl group music video of 2014. It’s hilarious, absurd and disturbing in equal measure and watching it gave me a gleeful enjoyment I rarely feel with K-pop these days. It’s just so odd and fun silly that it’s impossible not to enjoy it.
1. Akdong Musician – Melted
Sometimes getting to close to the process behind the entertainment you like can ruin it but when I had the opportunity to talk to Dee Shin, the director of Melted, earlier the year, seeing her passion and hearing her vision only made me enjoy this video more. We’ve already written extensively about what makes it so great but what marks it out as such an outstanding piece of work is that it never loses its impact even if you watch it numerous times. The song, which asks the simple question “Why are adults so cold?”, was given a new profound layer of significance when it was released only a couple of days before the Sewol Ferry tragedy in April. This was made all the more true as the deaths of victions, particularly the many school children, seemed to be primarily at the feet of a long line of self-serving adults acting in their own best interests with little thought or compassion for others. This in turn adds more weight to the video. 2014 was a tough year in a number of ways so it seems fitting that the number one video on this list is a little melancholy. And in years to come when the misfortunes and scandals of this year in K-pop have been all but forgotten, no doubt many of us will still come back to this music video to appreciate what a fantastic piece of filmmaking it is.
What was your favourite music video of 2014? Let us know.