“Like Crazy”, the single from Face, Jimin’s solo debut, is accompanied by a music video by Oui Kim, who also directed the music video for the pre-release single, “Set Me Free: Pt 2”. Oui Kim is one of South Korea’s leading creative directors and has shot videos for aespa, NCT127, KATIE, Zion.T and Red Velvet among others. The short video “Ohio”, by the indie rock group, Hyukoh, was Oui Kim’s directorial debut on 21 January 2015 (in a 2019 interview for Aught Magazine, he states that the reason for the compressed running time was due to budgetary constraints). He is, however, probably best known for his body of work with HYBE, having shot music videos for Seventeen, TXT and BTS (including videos for Agust D and Jimin). He cites the work of British documentary photographer, Martin Parr, noted for his surreal photographs of daily life, as his main inspiration. Oui Kim’s psychedelic aesthetics recall the heady days of the 1980s, while his camera work privileges imperfection over perfection, forcing us to look at reality through another lens. This can be clearly seen in Suga’s “Interlude Shadow”, the comeback trailer for BTS’s record-breaking Map of the Soul: 7 (2020) which he directed.
South Korea produces some of the most visually arresting and dynamic contemporary music videos, indeed K-Pop music videos are noted for their visual design or what Manovich (2016) terms, visual poetry. However while many of them conform to nationalistic ideology by avoiding the type of political statements that are common in the Western music industry, much of Oui Kim’s work deconstructs the perfect image of K-Pop, exposing the turmoil beneath, both personal and political; asking the viewer to see and thereby to think differently.
It is no surprise therefore that Oui Kim has worked consistently for Big Hit Entertainment (and now HYBE) as it set out at the very beginning to challenge the vacuity of much of K-Pop through lyrics and visuals; he directed the two angst-ridden music videos, “Agust D” and “Give It To Me” (2016) from Agust D’s first mixtape of the same name. However, his work with BTS goes back further as he was an assistant director for Lumpens, the creative production company that is responsible for most of BTS’s music videos including their last one “Yet to Come” (2020) before their enforced hiatus of the same year. He left in 2014 to work on his own. While there are evident similarities between Oui Kim’s work and that of Lumpens, he has developed a distinct visual aesthetic which marks him out as an auteur. The utilisation of colour filters, canted camera angles and extreme close-up shots, make up a cinematic aesthetic wherein the visual style matches the emotions of the singer with colour, heightening the viewer’s emotional connection. As such, Oui Kim’s work tends to eschew the type of narrative storytelling which is aligned to the centrality of concepts that K-pop is known for. His cinematic chromesthesia can be best understood as a form of musical anthropomorphism which links sounds and behaviour.
“Like Crazy” is loosely based on the 2011 film of the same name which documents the difficulties of a long-distance relationship, and indeed the main theme of the video is emotional distance reconfigured as physical distance, which has particular resonance given that the album was written during the enforced isolation of the pandemic. And as much as it might be about an intimate relationship, it could as easily be about Jimin’s fears of BTS’s fans, known as ARMY, deserting the group and moving onto other ones. An alternative reading might be that the song and music video address Jimin’s own fears of losing himself as a consequence of the 24-hour surveillance technologies which accompany his every move as a member of the most globally successful boy group. While lyrics are important in conveying information to the audience, it is only through performance and the staging of that performance whereby this information gains emotional resonance, allowing the audience to engage with the song at both a visual and visceral level. The MV is composed of four disconnected but paradoxically interconnected spaces: an apartment room, a club, a corridor and a bathroom: it begins and ends in the apartment room within a circular logic of time. The influence of Parr is evident here in the incongruity of spatial composition in which spaces collapse and fold into each other and is largely surrealist in its conception and execution. Surrealism aims to subvert the dominant ideology by refusing to acknowledge an objective reality which is uncontaminated by subjective states of being. Influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis, surrealism emerged from France in the 1920s as a way of challenging and confronting authority.
The video starts with a medium shot of Jimin. He is positioned in the background and centre of the frame. On either side are dancers, who begin to move backwards out of the frame, leaving the camera to pan in on Jimin, moving from medium to close-up and then to extreme close-up. Here the bodies of the dancers are used to mimic a frame within a frame, a cinematic technique which asks the viewer to think about the composition of the shot. If we take distance as the main theme of “Like Crazy” then this opening shot sequence can be read as a visualisation of distance, understood here in emotional terms. This is shown by the soft-spoken intro which accompanies the sequence and takes the form of a conversation between Jimin and an unknown woman: “I think we could last forever (woman) / I’m afraid that everything will disappear (Jimin) / Just trust me (woman)”. Distance (emotional/physical) is further emphasised through the use of a green filter; while vibrant green can represent healing and health, the drab green overtone here can be understood as signifying the mundaneness of everyday life during the pandemic.
The colour scheme shifts for the first verse; an extreme canted close-up of Jimin’s eye provides a mechanism of transitioning from interiority to exteriority: the green filter is removed as the camera pulls back, and Jimin is revealed sitting at a table in a room on his own as yellow light flickers bathing the artist in the artificial sun. However, the flickering light also reveals a dark floor, the earthy tone and texture incongruous with the setting. The lyrics stress the importance of embracing the moment, and not worrying about tomorrow as Jimin recounts the woman asking him to “stay with her until today”.
A hand grabs Jimin’s wrist, hallucinatory colours flashing, indicating perhaps that we are inside a subjective space as he is dragged through a doorway into a club full of people. In the club scene, the colour scheme continuously flickers between blue and yellow tones. While the dance floor is bathed in blue light, the bar in the background is lit with yellow light. As Jimin dances, the lyrics move from celebratory to depressive, from ensuring that the morning never comes, to mediating on what happens when it does: “As the loud music plays / I’m fading away / A cliched story like a drama / I’m getting used to it / Did I come too far to find the me you used to know”.
The action moves from the club to a corridor for the chorus. Here Jimin is running towards the camera, pushing past people who line the corridor on either side and who do not seem to acknowledge his existence. He runs towards the camera only to cover the lens and prevent its unwanted surveillance of his every move. The MV cuts to the bathroom, but even here there is no escape, as we might be able to escape others but not ourselves; the brackish liquid which pours from under and above the stalls threatens to consume the self in its watery embrace.
The remainder of the music video features a return to each space, with Jimin ending up back in the apartment room as dawn is breaking. However, each scene is rendered unfamiliar or uncanny through the collapse of space and time in which space is rendered malleable rather than fixed. In the club, Jimin is no longer embraced or embraces the group with the camera, making evident Jimin’s emotional separation from the crowd despite physical proximity. Oui Kim uses parallelism here to draw a line of continuity between Jimin and an unnamed woman, both of who are at the club but may not be there at the same time as they are not depicted together in a shot. Instead the MV cuts between the woman walking from right to left across the dance floor and Jimin walking in the opposite direction from left to right. While it is possible to see the woman as a representation of the unnamed woman whose voice we hear at the beginning of the track, it is also possible to see her as representing the female side of Jimin if we read her as his anima (Jung’s female archetype which is present in the male subconscious). In fact, we can see this as a repetition of the metaphor of the mirror which is present throughout the MV as well as in the song’s lyrics.
In the repetition of the scene in the bathroom, Jimin this time looks directly in the mirror: “My reflection within the mirror / I’m going endlessly crazy / I’m feelin’ so alive, wasting time / I’d rather be lost in the lights”. At this point, the diegetic world begins to collapse, and the walls of the bathroom disappear into the distance, leaving Jimin alone on a stage which has no fixity or definition. The MV then returns Jimin to the club, but again it is a repetition with a difference; Jimin floats across the screen, no longer anchored to reality, with the dancers in the club appearing as oversized figments of his imagination. This collapse of space and time is reminiscent of Dali’s revision of one of the most famous pieces of surrealist art “The Persistence of Memory” (1932) with “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1952-1954). In this revision, water covers the landscape and the stone floor is broken into blocks. This repetition of scenes in “Like Crazy” can be seen in a similar light, water washes away time and history, reconfiguring the landscape, leaving madness in its place.
“Like Crazy” is one of those music videos which benefits from repeated viewings, Oui Kim’s creativity and vision find perfect form through Jimin’s lyrics and his performance. The director uses chromesthesia to give colour to Jimin’s emotions and those that underlie the song. I was left wondering whether what I had watched was actually a nightmare and not a dream. There is little doubt that the pandemic brought even young people face to face with their own mortality and perhaps changed their perceptions of time and the future forever. As much as “Like Crazy” can be understood as about Jimin’s anxiety that physical absence will lead to being forgotten; it might also be about the fact that in time all of us will be forgotten, or as Ridley Scott puts it in Blade Runner: “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain…” (1982).
Written by Dr Colette Balmain
View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, and art, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop / K-music, and Asian music in general, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, music, and arts, worldwide.