Many music videos are released every month in Japan to promote the latest single or album coming out. Though we often talk about the music videos that accompany the music we review, some PVs slip through the cracks. This week we task our lovely writer with the difficult job of reviewing some of the recent vids to make their way all the way from Japan to our computer screens in the US.
When I first saw this PV, I was happy with it but not overly impressed. The PV features several really great dancers and people-who-do-things-that-look-like-dance-but-aren’t (a soccer player, a gymnast, a kickboxer) doing their thing in the center of the screen while Jasmine occasionally pops up in a black-and-white-crazy-patterned outfit with matching background. Visually pretty, but kind of boring. On subsequent viewings, however, layers of meaning began to float to the surface. The entire video is statically shot - the camera doesn’t move, framing each person in a box with a fixed background. The scenery is generic cityscapes that appear random, but on closer inspection are specifically selected to make it easier for the dancer to fade into that background. The costume design adds to this effect: although it’s not precisely hard to see the dancers, they’re also not wearing clothes that differentiate them from their surroundings. They are lit from behind so that it’s easiest to see a silhouette, and hard to pick out individual features. Other than the lighting, these elements are also used in the shots of Jasmine. This starts to sound like a series of poor artistic choices until you listen to the lyrics. (Sadly, that means that most Western fans are missing the last piece of the puzzle.) They’re all about wanting to stand out from the crowd and do something different, and the difficulty that comes with that. “Just one style - there isn't anyone else [like me] / Just one mind - I want to leave something behind / Just one life - And because I live here / It's just one time!!” In this context, it’s clear that the artistic choices made in the PV underline the concept of the song, showing these spectacular performers who can’t quite make themselves stand out - Jasmine also being one of those performers in danger of disappearing. The song itself is also really great - pop hop with solid bass and some yummy electronic elements. The PV is nearly flawless, and will probably prove to be one of my favorites of the year - definitely worth a watch.
This PV is your average “couple montage” video: boy and girl meet, hook up, have a fight, make up, get married. It’s been done a hundred times, but the difference in “You & I” is the subtle artistry of the shots. On the surface, you see the two lovers separated by a black line, their lives compared and contrasted as they go through the motions required by the plot. But if you look more closely, you see smart directing decisions that make each shot work its hardest. For example, at the beginning the boy and girl are shown in separate color palettes, but over time as they grow closer their color palettes come to more closely match. Throughout the PV they are united by similar actions performed simultaneously, and by the way that they are framed in the shot to face or move toward the other person’s part of the screen when they’re not facing the camera. At one point the black line disappears and they occupy the same space, but still they don’t violate the other’s part of the screen - although close, their bodies never overlap. The black line returns for the obligatory fight scene, and for about a minute their “groove” is off - they perform different actions, they face away from the other person’s part of the screen. Then, slowly, they come back into sync until they finally meet again, sans black line, but still not moving into the other person’s portion of the screen. Finally at the end, we see the girl in a wedding dress and the boy walks in wearing a tux; their respective color schemes finally match perfectly. He moves into her part of the screen for the first time, then puts his hands on her shoulders and they smile. Each visual element gently highlights the connection that they share and adds a romantic touch to even the most mundane actions. The song is good too - I’m not a big fan of R&B, but like the video the song is soft, bright, and subtle - and they work beautifully together.
This is going to be hard to admit, so I’ll just come out and say it: I’d never heard a song by Tohoshinki until I saw this PV. Crazy, right? I’d heard a lot about them - how can you be into J-music and not? - but I’d been avoiding their music. It just seemed like they weren’t my genre at all, and I didn’t like all the crap surrounding the fracture of the group and the formation of JYJ and all the crazy fangirls “keeping the faith”... Just too much drama for me. So I didn’t think I’d like them in the least and didn’t listen to them. But I was pleasantly surprised. The dancing and choreography in this video are flawless and beautiful, and the music is good. Although there’s not really any story to speak of in this PV, what tiny scrap of theme there is seems to revolve around Changmin being a lightening god and Yunho being a fire god, and the two of them having a friendly rivalry that includes a lot of dancing and constantly ordering their minions to keep their heads down. There’s a visually enthralling martial arts theme throughout that helps give the PV continuity - I especially liked the “nunchuck” dancing at the very beginning and the Mortal Combat level towards the end - and the sets are intriguing, if rather clearly CGed. Sadly, some elements of the video are just not okay: the weird brown outfits, for one - did they kill and entire forest of owls to make those ugly things? - and their rapping voices are just gross, for another. Okay, so it’s pretty far from being a work of art, but it does what it sets out to do: it gives you a good song, and pushes it with good dancing and interesting visuals. I’m sure there are plenty of fangirls out there who either FREAKING LOVED IT BECAUSE JYJ SHOULD NEVER HAVE LEFT, and I’m sure there are plenty of fangirls out there who FREAKING HATED IT BECAUSE TVXQ IS INSULTING JYJ BY STILL CALLING THEMSELVES TVXQ, but as a person who is - thank god - not embroiled in the controversy, I thought it did a reasonable job achieving it’s goal.
They say that for every rule there is an exception. The rule: all “watch the band play the song” PVs are bad. The exception: “Diver.” Easily over 95% of this PV is either shots of the singer singing, the drummer drumming, or the guitarist guitaring. It should be terrible and boring. But instead it’s gorgeous - visually stimulating with imagery that suits the feel of the song, energy pouring out of every frame. The band plays in tiny little rooms with images projected all over the walls, bright and flashing, and occasionally we see the singer floating in a box of water. At first the imagery is soft and subtle, white lines moving up a black screen, like we’re slowly descending, but little by little the music and imagery become more frantic: bubbles, primary colors, more bubbles, mixed flashing colors, water, harsh pixelized color, more bubbles, more water... more and more water. Little by little, the singer fights harder to get out of the water in his box. By the song’s bridge the images are almost nothing but colors and the camera is flashing quickly between shots and moving to new angles. The sense of being underwater and not having enough air in this video is palpable - I find myself holding my breath while I watch it, and I wondered the first time I saw it whether the crazy images are what your brain begins to see as you lose oxygen and drown. You don’t need to hear the lyrics for this - the imagery of the video compliments the sound of the music to clearly convey the sense of losing air. The music is perfect, with a solid bassline and great riffs, the composition becoming more panicked and desperate with each moment. The energy pouring out of the band as they play is just as frantic, and the crazy expressions on the singer’s face make it seem almost like he really is madly fighting for air. From this day forward, I stand corrected: it is no longer “all PVs of the band playing the song are bad,” it’s “pretty much all PVs of the band playing the song are bad.” Seriously, watch this one.
Finally, the bad PV! (You didn’t seriously expect me to go through and entire PVPlay without trash-talking a video, did you?) “Gemini” is a perfect contrast to “Diver,” a video that proves my (new) rule: it’s a “band playing the song” PV that isn’t fun, or visually stimulating, or suited to the music. In a word: typical. Far from fan-servicey, the video feels self-servicey. It’s like Alice Nine got together and said, “You know what would be sweet? Hanging out in a big Baroque palace. Ooh! Let’s shoot a PV there so we can pay for it with band funds!” I can hear them now as they wandered around looking for places to shoot, like a bunch of nerds with their retainers in: “Ooh, sthweet library! Look at all the booksth!” “You guysth, check out this awesthome sthcrollwork!” “Thisth placthe isth perfectly sthuited to our visthual kei sthtyle!” Admittedly there are some non-band related elements, like the girl and her “twin,” but if they thought her scant presence was enough to prevent me from noticing that there’s nothing happening in this PV, they are grievously mistaken. No plot, no special effects, no fun visual elements. The music at least is good - very good! The riffs are solid, the singing is great, and the drumming is so good that I feel the need to comment on it. It’s a shame that such a good song is tied to such a lame PV. Unfortunately, insulting this PV is like beating up a kid in a wheelchair: just too easy, and makes me feel bad. So let’s see, what is there good to say about it? Um... The members are cute. And... The lighting is nice. It has a nice Baroque quality that fits with the sets. And... Uh... The color palette is very... gothic? Yeah, I’ve got nothing. Don’t worry about this PV. It’s not worth it. But do listen to the song. You definitely shouldn’t miss that.