Dr Colette Balmain applies her specialism in Gothic Cinema to the world of KPOP – perfect for the Halloween season…
‘Gothic forces its readers, viewers, and listeners to identify the ghosts that haunt them…’
(Isabella van Elferan, 2012, Gothic Music, p. 15).
1. SHINee “Married to the Music” (2015)
“Married to the Music” doesn’t sound like an obvious choice to include in this list. However, the clever juxtaposition of music and image creates a creepy vibe perfect for playing at the Witching hour on the 31st October. Surrealistic in its imagery, “Married to the Music” draws on the tropes and conventions of horror including dismembered singing heads, exploding eyeballs, disembodied hands and sealed mouths all against a ghostly green background. The contrast between music and image here is effective at producing what could be interpreted as a subversive critique of the idol industry especially through the representation of the obsessed fan whose desire is not to marry the music but rather to marry the purveyor of it. After all, idols are literally married to the music through the widespread use of non-dating clauses in contracts. Who does the viewer identify with here? The partying members of SHINee or the obsessive fan, a common gothic theme wherein the object of desire is either literally or metaphorically fragmented into a series of fetishized object parts.
2. Dreamcatcher – “Chase Me” (2017)
Since they debuted on 13th January 2017, the girl group has made their mark on the KPOP scene by their total embrace of the dark concept; no aegyo (cuteness) to be found here. Their debut single album was titled Nightmare with the lead single “Chase Me”. Unlike many female idol and group songs, Dreamcatcher embrace their sexuality reconfiguring their status as fetishized object of [male] desire. This is demonstrated here through a refusal to be caught, expressed lyrically and performatively. The male pursuer is condemned to roam aimlessly down endless corridors, trapped by his desire, while Dreamcatcher inhabit open spaces signifying freedom from constraint.
3. VIXX – “Hyde” (2013)
If Dreamcatcher are the mistresses of the dark concept, then VIXX are the masters of it. “Hyde” with its implicit references to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde (1886) draws on the gothic doppelganger motif through the contrast between light and dark, the self split between the mannerly Jekyll and the animalistic Hyde. This is communicated through costume, lyrics, props and make-up and Ravi’s driving rap is in full force here, seductive and dominant. While science is what tempts Jekyll to liberate his darker half, here it is Satan and the promise of [sexual] knowledge as connotated by the slithering snake and the figurative Eve. Once liberated from worldly constraints, the double here is less the sadistic serial killer and more the fallen angel expelled from heaven for bodily transgression. Beyond the binary which constructs desire through loss and absence, “Hyde” transcends the everyday through the ultimate collapse between good and evil as the self becomes the very embodiment of difference.
4. Lee Jung Hyun – “V” (2013)
Directed by Park Chan-wook and Park Chan-kyong, “V” contains multiple intertextual and intermedial references to gothic horror media. This is signaled in the opening shot where a man (Jin Goo) finds himself in the middle of nowhere, having crashed his car, with only the only light coming from a foreboding and fog shrouded mansion in the distance. This is not only reminiscent of many vampire films but also the opening to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) when Brad and Janet run out of gas and tentatively approach the lair of the sexually ambiguous and genderqueer Frankenfurter, with no idea of what deviant desires lay trapped within the walls of his gothic dwelling. Similarly, in “V” the man finds himself the object of dark and deviant desires on entry into Jung Hyun’s mansion. Here ghostly girls with no legs play skipping games and the mistress herself, Jung Hyun, attempts to subdue and seduce him into unholy matrimony through spiritual and bodily containment.
5. RM – “Forever Rain” (2018)
Perhaps the least obvious music video on this list, RM’s “Forever Rain” offers a different type of gothic: understated and sublime exploring the zones of liminality inhabited by KPOP idols, and the possible freedoms that such liminality offers. It can be loosely categorized as ethereal gothic, a sub-genre of goth music, that was formalized in the work of The Cocteau Twins in 1982. Ethereal gothic while obsessed with the darker side of humanity, is marked out by its introspectively and emotionality eschewing goth and punk’s violent resistant acting out for an otherworldly mediation on the nature of the human and the processes of subjugation. In “Forever Rain”, a single drop of rain quickly multiplies into a storm of driving rain with the umbrella the only protection against it. Trapped in the crowd, RM’s fictional black and white self meditates on the nature of the self whose transformations through time make it difficult to stand still in the moment. This emotional introspection brought into relief by the ink textuality of the video connotes the uncanniness of contemporary postmodern society and the corresponding alienation and objectification of the self.
What would you add to the list?