Amongst the onslaught of girl group releases this summer, there is still a shimmering hope that 2015 will regain its title as “Year of the Boyband.” With only the smallest hint of bias, I would like to turn your attention the newly released Infinite music video, “Bad.” In an increasingly popular Kpop-marketing strategy, Woollim released two versions of the MV. I know what you're thinking, “so a dance version and a story version?” Not quite. Instead, what Woollim has done is introduce the world to the first ever Kpop music video filmed with 360 degree Virtual Reality technology.
But before we wow you with that, let's take a look at the boring, regular, non-360 VR music video for “Bad” so that you can truly appreciate just how deep into the wormhole the VR version goes.
The first sequence of the video sees Sunggyu running from a figure dressed identical to himself, which we can assume is his duplicate since the rest of the video is full of mirrors and reflections. This leads us into the great symbolism of “duplicity,” rather than “duality.”
Duality is the concept of “doubleness,” or two contrasts between one subject, i.e two sides of one coin where neither has a value greater or less than the other. Duplicity is inherently deceitful, and the lyrics (and title itself) heavily reflect this, as the members sing into a broken mirror, again, illustrating that the “perfect reflection” is shattered, and broken:
“Your eyes have grown cold again/Your sharp tongue digs/into me, please stop/I can’t take it anymore.”
The video then cuts to Woohyun, singing into the camera, which pans out to reveal he is actually singing into a mirror, which draws the question of which reality is the “real” one. Is the real Woohyun the one inside the mirror, or outside of it? But there are so many other mirrors, too, so where are the Woohyuns inside the other mirrors? Why is only one of them reflecting back?
This symbolism continues throughout, especially when the viewer sees only the arms or the reflection of whoever is in the mirror, leading to the question of what, exactly is on the other side or whether or not we are on the side of the real world. This trope of the world behind the mirror is a popular one, as it creates a feeling of discomfort and curiosity. Mirrors are often used as portals for entirely different dimensions, where the other side may look completely the same, totally different except for only the reflection, or eerily similar with slight differences. This is especially evident when Sunggyu finally catches up to himself and watches his reflection turn away. Given the theme of duplicity, it’s not a stretch to believe that only one of the reflections is the “true” and “good” one, and the other must be evil or “wrong.” But these differences are subjective, depending on which side of the mirror we look through.
This concept is what makes the VR version of “Bad” so riveting. The whole point of this type of video is to click and drag (or use the ASWD and +, - keys) in order to see the entire 360 degrees of the scene that you're watching, putting yourself inside of the video. Its this immersion that brings you, as the casual observer into the role of the active participant. Initially, the effect can be dizzying as the scenes cut very quickly, and it's hard to focus on what to watch, but eventually the use of this technology adds another complex layer of symbolism into the media itself, which in this case, is the music video.
360 VR Version
There are some scenes missing from the VR version, simply because they would not fit the filming style, and because the message possibly wouldn't translate accurately. Because the concept of the video is rather commonplace, the introduction of the 360 degree perspective allows us to actually see what is on the other side of the mirror and symbolically travel into that “different” reality. Every cut will lead to a different frame depending on where you stop while watching the previous frame. Each viewing will be completely unique, perhaps in the same way that each view through a mirror will be. If you watch the entire video from the perspective facing downwards, you will notice that the two scenes on either side of the mirror are, in fact, different. Mind-blowing, right? You can watch the trailer as well, which illustrates this a little bit more clearly. Of course, you'll have to watch the MV multiple times to really notice all the minute differences in scenery and choreography.
In the 360 VR version of “Bad”, the viewer is now the mirror that was heavily featured in the non-VR version into which the group was singing, both the literal broken mirror, and then again as a figurative mirror in the hallway shots. In this way, the viewer becomes the subject and maintains control of all these “realities.” Now we can decide which reality we want to watch, and in a way, can also decide which one is good, and which is bad.
My favourite scenes are the pink hallway ones, where different members are in 4 different hallways, and by the action initiated, there are hidden images and thus a greater sense of depth. Another is the split second scene where a hand appears on all the mirrors and frames inside the blue room, except for the mirror on the floor, which reflects empty mirrors. Could this be a technical limitation? Most likely, but it completely works within the context.
Aside from being symbolically dense, the VR video also gives fans a unique experience each time they watch the video, meaning viewers will return time and time again to see what other hidden nuances are visible from different angles. Of course this is great for companies, as it increases viewership and therefore, popularity. There's also the potential to focus solely on a single member, during group scenes, providing a new type of fan service that is less intimidating (and sexually aggressive) than the “eye contact” video.
Hopefully more groups will adopt the concept of a VR MV, letting fans feel like they belong to the world of Kpop, rather than just ingesting its media. It would even be exciting to see this type of video done for concerts (Beck already proved this was possible with "Sound and Vision"), especially when international fans have difficulty getting to them. Could this open up an entirely new market and revenue stream? Potentially yes! Girl group Bambino also used the 360 VR technology in several of their dance practice videos, but the intent in those videos is, obviously, much different and perhaps saved for a different conversation. I can only hope that companies embrace the new potentials of storytelling that this technology provides and release more concepts that fully embrace 360 VR technology. In other words: this is so dang cool!
'L' lives in Ontario, Canada. She is a pop culture and media junkie and has helped organize kpop parties and events across Ontario. Her biases are BTS, Block B, M.I.B and Infinite.