Violence in Kpop: The Violent Homage

Troublemaker mimics the Joker in Kpop music video.

For a country with very little violent crime, Korean pop artists seem preoccupied with the concept. Through our tireless research and analysis, we bring you the first of many looks into the sometimes surprising world of violence in Kpop. First up: The Violent Homage!

Secret - "Poison"

In “Poison,” the members of Secret implement and pull off a heist while eluding a suspicious detective. Secret takes a lot from the noirs of old but what’s even more telling is the video’s use of violence, which can be seen as either a dramatic misinterpretation of the American-born genre or a nonchalant reevaluation of its expectations. Leader Jun Hyoseong depicts a femme fatale beautifully here - but also fulfills the role of protagonist, which, for a noir, is odd (but not unheard of). She not only leads the members of Secret to steal a precious diamond, but also guns down the male gangsters they steal from. But besides the killing itself, Secret is really doing something interesting here by subverting the femme fatale characters of old, who are often victimized or manipulative, or both, but rarely participate directly with the violence that surrounds them. These women kill unmercifully, by gun, by poison, to get what they want. I’m not sure what judgment they’re making re: the role of women in a violent world. I doubt this pop video is that sophisticated. But, to me, the message is clear, if unintentional: using violence, women can create their own destinies.

Brown Eyed Girls - "Kill Bill"

Brown Eyed Girls is no stranger to violence. Most of their videos lead to the death of most, if not all, of their members. But what’s different here is that this video is a direct homage to Kill Bill - the popular Quentin Tarantino epic. Which is funny because Kill Bill was essentially an homage to East Asian cinema. So, what we have here is an eastern homage to a western film that was, itself, an eastern homage. See what it’s doing here? The violence in this video, like Tarantino's best, is ridiculous. While most of Brown Eyed Girls’ videos use violence with an adult intensity, here the girls have fun beating and killing each other inexplicably - with shotguns, poisonous spiders, swords, etc. It’s interesting that Brown Eyed Girls, a veteran group, would tackle this film so directly, and, for them, so lightly. The violence here is slapstick, a reversal from their more serious material. For the first time, Brown Eyed Girls is using violence for fun.

Block B - "Nillili Mambo"

The seven-member group, Block B, is well-versed in the violent homage. In fact their name, Block B, is an abbreviation of the term “Blockbuster,” as cinema seems to be where they draw their inspiration from. Block B does not create violence so much as mimic it. Violence, for Block B, seems to function as a kind of muse.

“Nillili Mambo” follows a collection of small-time crooks all punching above their weight to steal a massive diamond. The best description of this video is that it feels like an homage to a Guy Ritchie film, specifically, the 2000 cult hit, Snatch. The music video is grungy, and it is funny. The characters are constantly up against the walls, passing the diamond off on one another as they attempt to avoid the deadly fallout. But, as with most things, the most interesting part of this homage is in its deviation from the original. Instead of following Guy Ritchie’s dark humor to it’s inevitable end, the viewer gets one final scene of Block B opening up a briefcase to reveal—NO DIAMOND! They have opened the wrong briefcase (if you watch closely enough, you might see the Lothario, U-Kwon, holding the correct briefcase). The video is then sped up until the members sound like chipmunks while chasing each other around with loaded guns. It’s a different kind of humor than the previous four minutes. This is slapstick instead of dark. At the end, Block B inverts Guy Ritchie, and the result is closer to Keystone Cops.

Block B - "Very Good"

And then there’s “Very Good.” If you’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, then this music video should seem eerily familiar. A bunch of robbers wearing clown masks break their van through the wall of a bank and begin a heist (yes, another heist!). Though none of them specifically wear the mask of the Joker, that character haunts the film like a specter. The viewer watches all seven members take turns in a surrealist play on morals, as if they are trying to represent everything that conservative society fears. Guns, metal-rockers, leather daddies, and men boxing with women. Because the Joker is, at his core, a perversion of the moral system. His goal is to force the moral hero into becoming a twisted caricature of himself, to turn his conscience upside down. And that’s what Block B does in this video, they turn our conscience upside down, all the while singing that they are very, very good.

Trouble Maker - "Now"

Block B aren’t the only group inspired by the Joker character. Trouble Maker, the co-ed sub-unit consisting of HyunA and Hyunseung, also recreate some of the Joker’s violent mixed morals in their recent video, “Now.” Hyungseung’s character is a hitman for hire, and HyunA is his happiness. Though they fight over the morality and dangers of his job, the couple is only happy when they are together. When apart, Hyungseung smokes, drinks, sleeps with random women, and goes into frequent violent rages where he imagines himself turning into the Joker. HyunA, alone, looks even more drugged out than usual. This is violence mixed with sex, which, everyone will tell you, never turns out well. “Now” pays homage not only to the Joker character, but to the rash of recent cinema and TV that attempts to depict characters who are, at the core, good people, but who are forced into terrible situations. Can you feel empathy for the criminal, for the murderer, for the drug addict? Can you feel HyunA’s pain as she sits on the stoop of her trailer, knowing that Hyungseung’s failure to return can mean only that he has been killed? This is the question that the duo, Trouble Maker, has been asking us from the beginning. Even though we make these mistakes, can you feel empathy for us?


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