Oh, MBLAQ. What am I going to do with you?
I really wanted to like this MV. Judging by the teasers, it had all the elements necessary for me to love it–black leather, phallic-shaped weapons, lots of guyliner, beautiful men crying. So what went wrong?
I feel like this MV was a cruel, cruel joke, like one of those “make a deal with the devil” movies in which all the protagonists’ wishes come true, but in a horrific perversion of what they imagined. Take my wish list for this MBLAQ comeback: more Joon, a great song, and a MV with a storyline.
If this isn’t a warning to be careful what you wish for, I don’t know what is.
But to be fair, it ain’t all bad. The song is good, although at this point, it’s been completely overshadowed by the MV. It’s got that uber-dramatic strings-driven flair reminiscent of SS501’s “Love Ya,” which is one of my favorite K-pop songs. “It’s War” is definitely more of a stock “K-Pop” sound than their previous singles, but it capitalizes on one of MLAQ’s strongest points–angst and emotion. It seems like they were trying to channel the drama-angst of “Cry” into something more upbeat and I think the song was pretty successful at that. I am concerned, however, about it seeming generic. While it’s true that nothing in K-Pop is wholly original, a really great K-pop song should still feel fresh and distinct enough to stand out and be memorable. “It’s War” feels a bit too much like MBLAQ by numbers. However, it’s still early on, so perhaps after seeing a live performance and listening to it a few more times it will grow on me. It’s certainly having success on the charts, and maybe that’s the important thing.
As for the rest of the MV, I really liked the dance sequences, and… well, pretty much everything except the “storyline” (and I use this term very loosely). The guys look really hot and the styling was (mostly) kind to them (the “mostly” is prompted by Seungo and G.O’s hairstyles, which are thoroughly atrocious. Mir’s weird mohawk thing actually seemed to work with the concept, and Joon is positively delicious with the red hair, but let’s be real, when is he not?). I really liked the whole “postapocalyptic wasteland” thing they had going with the set for the dance sequences, and I’m looking forward to seeing a dance version of the MV. The costumes weren’t even that terrible, compared to the hot mess that was the album concept photos. In fact, if it weren’t for the wretched “storyline” I think this could’ve been a really great MV.
Well, that and one more thing. The teasers featured a Malcom X quote, and I was kind of hoping that was the last I’d see (hear?) of it. But there it was again at the start of the MV. I honestly don’t know why it’s even there. It might’ve worked out better if the MV didn’t have the storyline it did (or any storyline for that matter), but things as they are, it comes off as a kind of cheap ploy to add drama, sort of like a Harry Potter fanfiction author prefacing their Harry/Draco slash story with a MLK quote. Actually, I amend that statement. I wouldn’t have worked out ever. Come on, K-Pop. You’ve got to to better than that.
Moving on, let us talk about the storyline (oh God, do I have to?). Sweet Seungrisus, the storyline.
Generally speaking I’m not one to nitpick on K-pop MV storylines not making sense, because it’s a MV, not Citizen Kane. The storyline is there to enhance the song or to illustrate a concept. It’s not the main attraction. It’s like, do people go to the opera and the ballet or watch porn for the story? However, I expect MV storylines to at least keep up a consistent look and tone. And this is where I think “It’s War” failed the most. I felt like I was watching several different MVs mashed together. The storyline had nothing to do with the whole postapocalyptic war zone thing the dance sequences had going, and was full of drastic tonal shifts from a slick Bourne-esque spy drama to overwrought tearjerker k-drama to bizarre Matrix-esque magic realism (I have also seen a lot of comparisons to the movie Wanted, but having never seen that movie, I can neither confirm nor deny these comparisons).
I’m not going to recap the plotline of the MV in detail, since it’s too long and too stupid and would just end up being a laundry list of plot holes and WTF moments with occasional respites to mock Thunder’s acting and Joon’s facial expressions. Let’s just say it was “Y” on LSD and leave it at that. I honestly had trouble discerning if this MV was going for all-out farce or if it was actually attempting to take itself seriously. It’s kind of reminiscent of Big Bang’s “Haru Haru” in that respect. Joon was definitely having a ball with all the melodrama, and went full retard in his performance (and before anyone here busts an artery, I’m quoting Tropic Thunder). Speaking of Thunder, he seemed to be the only one who was really trying, bless his heart. Then we have Seungho with his glycerine tears and Joon’s perfect single tear rolling down his perfect cheek and Mir growling and sneering through his rap and G.O wailing out the most dramatic adlibs since Soohyun in “Tick Tack.” Speaking of which, I now have a beautiful mental picture of G.O and Joon in a homoerotic adlib-off and am weeping for what could’ve been.
I guess the worst part to me is that the storyline felt like a whole lot of pandering. It seems like JTC were so desperate to secure a long-overdue and much-deserved win for MBLAQ that they just mashed together all the hottest trends in K-pop MVs right now, along with aspects of fan favorite songs/MVs from MBLAQ’s past. I already talked about the plotline being a rehash of “Y.” And then we have Thunder. I can honestly say I do not understand the creative decision behind his character or his plotline at all. The whole lovable-hobo shtick and his scenes with the girl are so discordant with the rest of the storyline, like they wandered in from another cutesy MV by a group like B1A4. I cannot help but see them as fanservice for Thunder fangirls. And don’t any of you fuckheads comment with something like, “But the storyline matches the lyrics! It’s about best friends at war over a girl!” Like I said before, this is a MV, not Citizen Kane. We’re not talking about crafting a story, we’re talking about setting a mood and evoking a certain feeling. The raw, aggressive imagery of the music and the lyrics is far more suited for the kind of testosterone-fueled alpha-male showdown we saw in “Y” between Joon and Seungho. Pitting Joon’s spy character against Thunder’s lovable hobo is like watching Daniel Craig’s James Bond take on Jesse Eisenberg’s… well, any character he’s ever played. Just no.
The MV also seems to be cashing in on a recent trend of long storyline-heavy MVs that feel more like mini-movies. The guns/spies/gangsters motif is super hot right now, as seen in DBSK’s “Before U Go” and T-ara’s “Cry Cry” and “Lovey Dovey.” I personally am not fond of these types of MV, as they tend to be overdramatic and overly long to the point of feeling tedious. Was there really any reason for “Lovey Dovey” MV to be 20 minutes long? (Granted 5 of those minutes were credits, but still). Furthermore, they’re still MVs, not actual movies, so the storylines still make about as much sense as MV storylines usually do. Rather than using the extra running time to develop the characters or craft a good story, the MV directors just keep shoving more melodramatic crap in there until all you’re left with is a noisy, overwrought, incoherent mess. Did Michael Bay get a side gig directing K-pop MVs? Now I ain’t saying there aren’t any well-done “storyline” MVs–IU’s “You and I” and Brown-Eyed Girls’ “Cleansing Cream” come to mind–but I think at this point the trend has reached saturation point.
I want to believe that this MV was kind of a satirical take on this trend, what with the ridiculous storyline and hammy overacting. But I fear that might be giving it too much credit. Still, reading it as farce makes more sense than the alternative, so that’s what I’m going to do. Yes, I know this is probably a beautiful delusion. But you know how I love my beautiful delusions. Let me hold onto this one a bit longer.