HIGHGRND, an independent sub-label under YG Entertainment headed by Tablo of Epik High, consistently puts out great albums and visuals, enabling their eclectic mix of indie rock and electronica signees to express their unique artistic identities, diversifying a Korean music industry mostly focused on the KPop machine. Recently, one of their newly acquired talents, The Black Skirts (AKA one-man indie rock band founded by American singer-songwriter Bryan Cho), released TEAM BABY, a mellow singer-songwriter-folk album that dabbles in contemporary electronica elements commonly found in the western indie rock scene. It’s a satisfying mix of Simon & Garfunkel and The 1975, simultaneously quirky and nostalgic, and a great addition to HIGHGRND’s growing list of associated works.
Although I did like the album, what I found especially impressive was the visual that accompanied one of the lead singles, “Who Do You Love”. Directed by Yun Kim, the music video follows a young couple who appear to be very much in love but also struggling to get by. Their story is shot quite intimately–so much so that I sometimes felt as if I was invading their privacy–and it is both the well-paced camerawork and naturalistic acting which portray a sort of sunny and sweet relationship between the two as they meander slowly through their seemingly normal lives, lazy days sliding into cool summer nights.
Cinematically, “Who Do You Love” successfully portrayed the tale of these two lovers through the use of colors and filters. The shots in color, most of them in muted pastel-hued nostalgia, focus on the relationship of the two and the authentic simplicity of their interactions. And even when flashes of bright blues and purples come across the screen in times of turbulence and frustration, such as shots in the karaoke bar, the scenes always mellow out, one shot slowly shifting and blending into the next before settling for a soft and barely illuminated darkness, capturing a different sort of intimacy than the warmth of the daytime shots. Dispersed among these varied images of young love are stark scenes of black and white, reflecting the more unsettling story of a heist gone awry. As the heist–and the dearth of color–come to an abrupt conclusion, the video ends with grand, aerial shots of earthy greens and gold, a shining warmth that only adds to the established atmosphere of the more muted tones that came before. But the sunny shots no longer have the same carefree intimacy as before as we suddenly find ourselves cramped in a get-away car, jarred and claustrophobic, the repressed emotionality of the black and white scenes finding a visual voice in the vulnerability of the two young lovers, marring their otherwise beautiful world with a heretofore untouched negativity and desperate sadness. A mess of money lays splayed out and forgotten, an image that makes you wonder if it was all worth it, suddenly overwhelming you with a sense of bittersweetness. Bryan Cho croons, “You told me lightly / You can die or kill for me / I know, I can do the same thing, baby / Maybe we’ll be together forever”, and one wonders if they can ever truly go back to the happiness we’ve unwittingly absorbed in the short span of the music video, if the golden light will from now on always be twinged with a regret of things that once were.