Gain’s Paradise Lost is one of the most challenging and provocative K-pop videos ever made
From domestic violence to the perils of hyper-competitiveness to the restrictions of organised religion, the team behind Gain’s new release Paradise Lost have a history of tackling subjects and incorporating themes that few others would dare to touch. Gain herself has also been the performer at the centre of many of the most boundary-pushing of these explorations.
But even for this team taking on a story many view to be a central part of the dogma of the world’s largest religion is a very brave step. One they took nonetheless.
Both the album, Hawwah and the music video, Paradise Lost at their hearts are an exploration and reinterpretation of the story of Eve (Hawwah is both her Hebrew and Korean name) retold from her perspective and arguably the women who have had their own and others’ understanding of themselves shaped by its legacy.
Paradise Lost’s depiction of Eve is built on the back of both the Book of Genesis and John Milton’s 17th Century epic poem of the same name. Milton’s Eve is a much more complex and developed character than her biblical counterpart. Unlike in Genesis in which she is merely his helper, while Eve is not quite Adam’s equal, having been created for and from him, she is “his likeness” and his “other self” with her own autonomous power. This is not noticed by Adam due to his infatuation with her beauty and his mistaking her modesty and obedience (which Milton considers her ‘virtues’) for intellectual inferiority.
In Milton’s tale, Satan tempts Eve with the fruit of the tree of knowledge by playing on this notion of inferiority. He asks her why it is that human cannot be equal in knowledge with God but after her fall Eve’s preoccupation is with her inequality with Adam.
But to Adam in what sort
Shall I appeer? shall I to him make known
As yet my change, and give him to partake
Full happiness with mee, or rather not,
But keep the odds of Knowledge in my power
Without Copartner? so to add what wants
In Femal Sex, the more to draw his Love,
And render me more equal, and perhaps,
A thing not undesireable, somtime
Superior: for inferior who is free?
– Milton, Paradise Lost
Sounds a lot like early feminist discourse, doesn’t it? Milton’s intentions in his writing have been the subject of hundreds of years of scholarly debate but it’s fairly clear that, at the very least, Paradise Lost reflected the patriarchal views of the period. The fallen Eve is a woman who threw aside her virtues of modesty and submission to find knowledge and strive for equality bringing doom upon humanity.
So that’s us up to date with the background of the video.
Gain’s Eve is very clearly not the Eve of Milton. Producer Cho Young-chul has explicitly said they wanted to give her a new story. So what is that story?
Both visually and lyrically, the strands of narrative seems to represent a post-fall Eve but also a more universal woman whose understanding of herself and particularly her sexuality has been shaped by these teachings.
Much of the symbolism and imagery in the video seems to connect Eve with a larger female experience of Christianity. One of the most striking of these is the repeated references to veils.
The veil is a piece of garb historically rich in symbolism of many kinds but its two most enduring associations are with submission and purity. The mantilla, the type of lace veil referenced in this video, was used pretty much universally by Catholic women for most of the first half of the 20th century falling largely fell out of use in most countries after the Second Vatican Council in the sixties.
The veil went out of fashion largely in response to women’s increasing role in society but, for some reason, many in the Korean Catholic church still maintain the tradition. They represent a very literal symbol of the submission and domination of women in a historically extremely patriarchal church.
For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head because of the angels.
– 1 Corinthians 11:8-10
The particular white veil alluded to in the video through the use of white lace, is an even more potent symbol of Catholic patriarchy representing not only the subjugation of women but also the valuation of women based primarily on sexual ‘purity’ being only worn by unmarried women and brides.
It seems to function to draw the story back into its context within the teachings of modern churches and the effect it has on Christian women to this day. Director Hwang Soo-ah’s describes the pipe water drinking scene as symbolic of the innate human drive for pleasure which the church’s teachings try to suppress. The combination of the two highlight the impossible position women are put in by traditional teachings about sexual purity.
The effects of these teachings are also shown in the extreme contrasts between dark and light – a visual representation of the shame and stigma attached to sex echoed in lyrics when she asks to “be in the darkness”. And although the video focusses primarily on Eve and prioritises the female experience, it also hints at the effect this might have on her version of Adam and men at large with lines like “You did nothing wrong” and “They’re lies, the things that shake you”.
This is part of a wider humanising dimension that seems to be laced throughout the video. Where the traditional stories of Eve focus on her betrayal of God and mankind and the temptation of Adam, this video focusses almost exclusively on her own thoughts and intentions. Eve is recast as a flawed human being making the kind of decisions humans do rather than some mythical woman-creature who brought doom to mankind.
The starkest rebuttal of that idea and the most provocative moment of the video occurs when we hear:
They’re talking about our fantasy
They’re making up another fantasy
They’re talking about our fantasy
They’re making up a story so they can control you and me
This is a backdrop to Gain dancing in distinctly serpentine movements and clothing showing that the serpent is not an external evil but a representation of her own internal desires. The paradise lost in the bible and in Milton’s poem is a fantasy, a simplification of the good and bad inherent in human nature and a tool used to manipulate and control people – particularly women.
But it should also be noted that even in its criticisms of religious dogma, the video does not paint Eve as purely a victim nor does it portray her as perfect. She retains the narcissistic trait of Milton’s portrayal, gazing at herself in the mirror, and the scene at the end in which she wears the same lavish crystal-studded outfit seems to show her revelling in the power her beauty gives her over (straight) men.
The Eve of Gain’s Paradise Lost is not a woman who betrayed mankind but a flawed yet sympathetic human being with passion, curiosity and a distinctly anti-authoritarian streak. Like many music videos, rather than having a linear narrative, Paradise Lost is made up of visual fragments that don’t necessarily fit together the way a realist short film would. However they still together form an overarching theme that, while not necessarily anti-God or anti-faith, is distinctly anti-organised religion.
More generally it seems to be anti-the kind of societal dogma that shames women for their sexuality and takes away their power (which in Korea’s case has been historically mainly enacted through Confucianism although Christianity has had an impact over the past couple of hundred years). The result is something humanist and progressive that is one of the most challenging and thought-provoking K-pop videos ever made.
And could we also say feminist? Yeah, it’s pretty feminist.