K-POP X 2014
To celebrate k-pop in it’s full glory this year, hallyuhighfashion will attempt to collate as many of this year’s comebacks as possible under the tag: ‘2014’. Happy New Year!
"Whatcha Doin’ Today?" - 4Minute
I don’t know what I expected when I sat down to watch 4Minute’s latest video “Whatcha Doin’ Today?”. I had a vague k-pop music video blueprint in my mind, of course. There would wonderful styling, there would be sharp choreography, there would be futuristic sets. I hoped but didn’t expect that by the end of the video, I would be applauding, glued to my screen, dazzled by the modernity and the creativity that I had just witnessed.
Let’s start with the music. “Whatcha Doin’ Today?” is three minutes and forty-one seconds of classic k-pop goodness. Opening with a hook of kitschy, high harmonies, then sliding into an extended vocal solo by Sohyun that you can really get your teeth into - packed full of delicately pronounced rolling Korean and expressively spun notes. Jiyoon then launches into one of the finest rap verses I have ever heard in female k-pop. Hard edged, feminist, fierce, bubbling, challenging - Jiyoon is one of the members of 4Minute most neglected by the media. In my opinion, her extraordinary talents have been largely ignored. She keeps excellent rhythm - one special incidence of this is a fantastic, bouncy little segment of her verse, where she precisely aligns her rapping to her gestures and dancing. I feel this is much in tune with the Seoul school of hip-hop - that rapping is something to be practiced, something to be studied for years of one’s life, something to be examined. In South Korea, rap is a foreign import - hip-hop culture germinated in the Bronx of the late 1970s but I feel has found a rather fitting summer home in the Seoul of the present day. Seoul is a 24 hour mega city, bustling with life on every corner and down every alleyway. It is one of the most ethnically homogenous large cities on Earth, yet, like with any city of enormous size, you will find every kind of person living there. Growing up in Seoul, one must feel that the only way to have their voice heard over the swell of the crowds they encounter each day is to shout. What is hip-hop but learning to talk boldly, loudly and distinctively? Learning to make your unique voice, culture and perspective your greatest asset, not a downfall in a uniform urban setting?
The song, actually, like many of 4Minute’s latest offerings, is very intricate and evenly balanced. The hook is scant - it glides swiftly over the mind, maybe occasionally reappearing after it has been a couple of days since you last heard it. It is not designed to become stuck in your mind, but of course, like most k-pop hooks, there is an earworming quality to it. The most genius element of the composition of “Whatcha Doin’ Today?” is the simple but wise division of solos. There seem to be three major ways to split roles in k-pop production. Either roles are divided solely on perceived merits of members and feelings of the ‘untalented’ group members and the public at large are cast aside to achieve technical excellence. Members may end up with barely any vocal solos on an album, or in the worst cases, their whole career, particularly if they are one part of a very large group. The second method is to quickly chop between soloists. This means solos are largely brief, but everybody has a role and it can create some noticeably pleasant differences in the song’s vocal styles - a kind of xylophone effect. The third way, the way of this song, is the simplest. Sohyun, Hyuna, Jihyun, Gayoon and Jiyoon’s individual talents were all used to their fullest potential on this recording. Hyuna’s indisputable, recognisable vocal talents and characterful rap style that have made her solo career so wildly successful. Jihyun’s delicate, decadent and sumptous girlish voice that softens the sharpness, confidence, masculinity and incredible speed of Jiyoon’s rapping. Gayoon’s light, unassuming, bouncy and memorable vocals that twang with fun and emotion. Sohyun’s technical brilliance, vibrant cuteness and deep relationship with the aural elements of the Korean language. Using a simple method of dividing solos, based around allocating an individual their own verse, no stone is left unturned.
Fashion wise, this video is a triumph. A wonderfully sexy Hyuna enters purposefully, clad in a delicious mixture of feminine sportswear, playful pearls and beautifully cut sequin pieces. She drapes herself seductively across a lamp post and sashays forward, followed by 4Minute’s troupe of glossy, patent leather French maids in kitschy baby pink bob wigs, jewelled cat-eye reading glasses and tacky silk silver evening gloves. Some vigorous twerking follows. It is at this point one realises that they are in for a visual delight. A dance break follows, where each member shines in a metallic look worthy of a little ‘oohing and aahing’ - linger a little but not too long, the best is yet to come. Sohyun’s solo segment involved two of my favourite outfits of the video: a striking transparent PVC miniskirt, teamed with a monochrome patent crop top with some tiny floral touches, a well proportioned scarlet mini-bag and a really great necklace and some unusual suspenders that crown the look. She then spring cleans in a dark avant-garde cross between bunny girl ears and devil horns, some sheer polka dots, some denim and some socks with silver slingbacks. Then comes one of the most intriguing visual juxtapositions of a video overflowing with them - Jiyoon performs her entire rap verse sitting on an immaculate toilet, in an immaculate toilet stall, holographic sweatpants around her ankles. She includes some pretty assertive hand gestures too, including some that skirt around the sexual. I dont know about you, but rarely have I seen a female artist secure and cool enough to take on such a striking scene. Her t-shirt slogan reads ‘flower’ - perhaps a laughing reference to the false modesties many women try to bestoy upon themselves? She is crammed in by 4Minute’s large group of footmen dressed in Burberry Prorsum’s iconic Spring/Summer 2013 metallic suits in brilliant turquoise and hot pink. These are the finest fashion treats of the entire production. The suits are innately beautiful and cannot look unpleasant, but were styled up very skillfully with gold brogues and baby pink socks, designed to reference the clothes worn by footmen in charge of horses and carriages in high societies of old.
Next, we visit 4Minute in their dressing room being attended to by their very sexy French maids. It’s a sigh inducingly pretty sight. They wear languid, kawaii pyjamas and sleepwear with perfectly manicured nails, coiffed hair and glitter coated, alien lipstick. Gayoon’s first solo cut involves a column of metallic pink pussy bows, some form fitting black leather pants and a male servant in yet another Burberry Prorsum treat: gold and pink, this time around. Jihyun’s Marie Antoinette worthy creation is a shift dress, covered completely by powdery, pastel roses. It is frothy, it is beautiful and it will entrance you. She has everything that Queen Antoinette would crave if she were alive today and starring in a k-pop video - stacks of elaborately iced cakes, giant lollipops, eye jewels and coloured circle lenses. Gayoon draws in the air with a sparkler whilst wearing sexy metallic pink jeans and a fantastic, slinky gold slogan t-shirt, that is tune with the pertinent lyrics of “Whatcha Doin’ Today?” - ‘a little bit of reassurance’.
If all this wasn’t enough for you in terms of fashion delights, you are in luck. There is also another set of SS 2013 Burberry Prorsum men’s suits in algae green. There are a few more of the moment, nonchalant grunge looks for 4Minute. There are some wonderful, tactile, memorable metallic knits. There are some striking glitter manicures and eyebrows. Hyuna wears a delightful minimalist red silk t-shirt, with an origami cut. And if all of that still hasn’t gained your seal of approval there is one more lovely set of metallics to close the video, with a focus on gold.
The real gem of this video, however, is its boldness and its cinematic direction. Rarely have I seen a k-pop video with more inherent surrealism. And isn’t surrealism directly futuristic and therefore directly forward thinking? Dancing is, of course, used. But not in the typical k-pop way - there was no routine, there was no perfect cheorography. 4Minute, instead, had a party. They freestyled, they twerked, they jumped up and down. Any chereography was stylised and pointedly surreal. The cut speed of “Whatcha Doin’ Today?” was eye blurringly quick, hypnotically quick. But, yet, not over the top. 4Minute weren’t in a crazed fit of hyper-activity, merely an appropriate trance, naturally induced by the bright lights of post-modern Seoul. This was also a landmark video in many ways: it included edgy sexual scenes, some of them homoerotic. And whilst, over the years, there has been much male/male k-pop homoerotica on stage, during performances and on television shows, it is a lot rarer in music videos. Another point of note was that mostly, when we see male/male kisses within k-pop media, they are between stunningly attractive young idols. In 4Minute’s video, the actors chosen were slightly older and maybe not as traditionally attractive. This is important for many reasons - older people are scarce in any youth media these days, particularly in any sort of sexual or romantic light… Add to that the fact that it is a same-sex kiss scene, and you have yet one more reason to find “Whatcha Doin’ Today?” utterly captivating. The main quality that this video leaked and overflowed with was maturity. It was artistic, conscious, considered, thought provoking, subtle. This is not only the finest 4Minute video I have ever seen, but one of the finest k-pop music videos I have ever seen. It is every reason that I fell for the genre in the first place, condensed into a few minutes: a high art take on pop culture, energy, youth, vibrancy, a never failing attention paid to fashion, intense care taken over every note, a modern and glamorous approach to LGBT culture, music videos that are lessons on the art of the music video… How magical to see all these bright and bold qualities still so exuberantly alive in 2014.
Since this is hallyuhighfashion, we’ll finish with one last fashion game: most of the looks in this video are showy and surreal but not stagewear and nothing would be lost in translation if it was to be used as street style inspiration. How about deciding on the look that you covet the most? Write in into the ask box, and I’ll reply and give you a free promo, too. Have fun.