MV Breakdown is back, finally, with a look at Lumpens. After Heroine’s release I came to realise how much I enjoy their music videos. They’ve been behind IU‘s Twenty Three, Sunmi‘s Heroine and Gashina, Hyuna‘s Lip And Hip, and so many more incredibly well produced videos. Whereas with VM Project I aimed on deconstructing all of the traits that were consistent within their work, this time it’s harder to do that. Lumpens has a diverse portfolio of music videos that regularly change in style, and this makes it harder to find consistent themes that would help a viewer distinguish a Lumpens music video from someone else’s. However, their best work has been when they’ve worked with female idols. There they find a place to explore sexuality, identity, and expression in a stylistic way. And that’s what I aim to look at in this article!
Where did they begin?
There’s a lack of information online, in English, for Lumpens and how they started. From what I can gather on social media and their website, they began in 2010 making art films, 80s style music videos, and things for Onstyle. Eventually, they went on to work with K-Hip Hop artists, and notably BTS, where they honed in their style. Strong lighting, mute tones, and dark moods are all present in their work with those clients. For those who aren’t aware of which music videos Lumpens has directed specifically, Blood, Sweat, and Tears is probably their best known music video, with DNA racking up the most views.
Whereas VM Project are notorious for working with a lot of groups, Lumpens has a small but consistent client base. Having such a small group of people they’ve worked with allows them to understand and explore their identities as directors. They know what to expect from the performers, so it’s down to their own abilities to produce an excellent music video.
Something that is a reoccurring theme in a Lumpens music video is the throwback to previous decades and eras. Wonder Girls’ final two comebacks were time traveling music videos to the 70s and 80s, using either recognisable tropes or cultural items.
Why So Lonely
In Why So Lonely the costumes are clearly modernised versions of what we’d see in the 70s, with wide bell bottoms, circular sunglasses, and those – uhm – incredible crocheted and knitted dresses. However, it’s the kaleidoscopic effect that makes Why So Lonely a lot more than just a set and clothes of the era. We associate the effect with the toy: the shifting colours, the joy, and the way it feels trippy, as if we’re having visions. It all feels very 70s; and in small, complex ways.
It would be very obvious to discuss the phallic nature (sorry, kids!) of the music video, analyzing how Sunmi holds a match and lights it, or the cactus, and the balloon popping on top of it. It’s not really the point of the music video to make them look sexy. Rather, the girls are displayed as dangerous and aggressive.
Within this frame, these actions and shots are more representative of violence towards a man. It compliments the scenes featuring the Wonder Girls getting back at an abusive and emotionally vacant boyfriend. Through the replication of a 70s set they can hark back to the time and the rise of second wave feminism, female lead rock groups, and the new age of freedom with your own sexuality. It empowers the story. The mannequin boyfriend is the villain of the story. He hits, cheats, and clearly emotionally destroys the Wonder Girls, and in turn we support their actions.
It would be ignorant to slide past the most obvious reason for the concept: Reggae. Bob Marley is the most famous reggae musician in history. During his career his prime was during the 60s and 70s. The song is a modernised pop version of reggae, much like how their concept is a 2016 version of hippy and rock styles, so it’s not surprising that the reference was made and the concept chosen. Especially considering that their previous release, I Feel You, already made the same connections between song and concept as Why So Lonely.
I Feel You
In their 2015 single, I Feel You, the sexuality of the Wonder Girls was much more pronounced. This is the era of glamorous supermodels, and the first episode of Baywatch, after all. The girls are suited tightly as they strut around in heels. The music video is set to appear as if it’s filmed in the 80s to compliment the song’s sound. Tropes and codes are galore (even the dastardly MTV logo is shown in the corner, pixelated until we’re tugged into HD glory), so that they can maintain a modernised sexy 80s image for the girls themselves.
Where’s the Farrah Fawcett hair? The leather jackets? Or the terrifying neon tutu/leggings combo? At the risk of making them look tragic the fashion codes of the 80s are distilled down to simple looks. Instead, it is largely pushed onto the set and props. We haven’t seen the instruments regularly since the 90s, and the lighting set up reminds me of Europe.
Despite this they did manage to effectively stop Wonder Girls from sticking out like a sore thumb. This is an era of glamorous supermodels, and the fit of the swimsuits replicates this very well. Sunmi had to gain weight to fit this, but it’s hard to congratulate only the other three girls on how good they look. The swimsuits elongate their legs, make their cleavage look more impressive. It replicates the “healthy” body images of 80s supermodels like Cindy Crawford, and Elle McPherson. Though it’s a very sexualised image, it does represent an aggressive form of sexuality. This is in great contrast to coy “cute-sexy” girl groups like Gee-era Girls’ Generation.
Wonder Girls are only one of a handful of groups and soloists who get to experience Lumpens‘ retro direction. Two of Spica‘s early music videos – Tonight and You Don’t Love Me – are a couple of my favourites, but for reasons other than the concept.
Lumpens has so much variety in the way they produce. Next time, I’ll be delving deeper into deconstructing their editing and directing. Specifically, looking at Hyuna, IU, and Sunmi‘s images and their imagined sexuality. I hope you enjoyed reading this, and to see you next week!
Up next: The Women, Sexuality, and Shots