I’ve been gone for a while, I know. It is really time I dusted off this blog, and wouldn’t you know that the thing to root me out of my seclusion would be a VIXX comeback?
Sadly, it isn’t the one I was hoping for.
This is not to say “Chained Up” is bad. But it doesn’t live up to the extremely high bar that VIXX have set for themselves. If anything, “Chained Up” reminds me of the kind of a song a rookie group would put out and get moderate amounts of attention for as it demonstrates basic competence in not sucking, but VIXX are past this by now. “Error” was just so flawless on every possible level that my wig is being retroactively snatched by it as I type. As you can see by my recaps of “Hyde” and “Voodoo Doll,” I’ve got nothing but lavish praise
and perversion for VIXX. “Chained Up” just feels like a giant step backwards.
But I’ll get to that later. First, let’s recap this MV.
We open with a distant shot of VIXX standing on some vaguely ominous-looking concrete compound. This evokes the imagery of my “Eternity” poster, in which they stand on a concrete staircase in front of a broken clock.
There’s some shots of a beautiful woman that the guys are apparently following into the compound. They go inside, and then the beat drops. I admit, the beat sounds pretty hot at first. So promising. Actually, everything is so promising. Let me just live in this moment for a little while and imagine a super-awesome MV is coming.
OK, I’m done.
We get some flashes of the dance choreo which, as always with VIXX choreo, is tight and impeccably performed. The white suits and backdrop are evocative of U-KISS’s “Shut Up,” which is not a bad thing since I really love that song and MV, but that is where the similarities end, seeing as LR apparently reached VIXX’s quota of shirtlessness and homoeroticism. In “Chained Up,” however, our choreographers manage to slip in some faux-whipping:
Next we have each member in their own weird room a la “Voodoo Doll”; unlike the former, there’s no real theme holding these rooms together. Ken is in some kind of terrarium thing with flowers; N is in a chamber with flappy curtains that kind of remind me of a car wash; Ravi walks toward a room enclosed in shower curtains; Leo is surrounded by a billion gold chains; Hongbin is in a decrepit-looking room lying next to a bed in a shallow pool of water (the compound clearly has very poor plumbing); and Hyuk is on a staircase to nowhere. I’m getting some U-KISS vibes again (namely, the staircase to nowhere in “A Shared Dream” though I’m sure other groups have used that same visual; I seem to recall Winner doing something like that too), but before anyone accuses me of making copying accusations, I’m mostly commenting on the derivative nature of K-pop MVs. There’s nothing wrong with derivative if a MV can make it seem fresh but unfortunately, that isn’t the case here.
We are also introduced to a theme running throughout the song and MV (at least one thing is consistent?) and that’s the chokers/collars the group members wear.
The first verse starts with Hongbin uttering more lines than he’s had in most of their previous songs, so yay for more even line distribution, I guess. And then N comes in with his smooth-as-honey vocals and his signature “sexy lip rub and camera eye-fuck” move and then feels himself up while dancing, and all is right with the world. He’s also getting quite brazen by showing us an entire bare shoulder. Excuse me, I’m getting the vapors here.
Also let me just add that his “yeaah yeaahh”s are a transcendent experience.
Ravi, who we haven’t seen much of yet, bursts into the shower curtain room all dramatic like, but he’s still fully dressed and there’s no actual shower in there, so don’t get your hopes up too much.
We move into the chorus and Leo is ho-ing it up with an open blazer, perhaps as a distraction from the terrible bleach job on his head and the blahness this song is so far. I’m actually kind of impressed by how simultaneously strange yet unremarkable this song is.Though the verses sound vaguely ominous, the chorus sounds almost peppy in comparison particularly given the subject matter. It’s a very strange juxtaposition. I give it credit for managing a smooth transition unlike the aural/tonal whiplash in clusterfucks like Big Bang’s “Bang Bang Bang,” but all I’m getting from this song so far is competence. As I mentioned above, I’ve come to expect more than just competence from VIXX.
Ken takes up the second half of the chorus, complete with provocative flower-stroking and writhing in his terrarium. The choreo remains understated, much like the song itself. Ironically, I actually have no bones to pick with this choreo, because as a dance nerd, I don’t particularly require flashy feats of athleticism to be impressed. Groups with sufficient skill and expressiveness can elevate otherwise simple choreo; in fact, I actually prefer that to choreo that seems centered around stunts and gimmicks (coughTonyTestacough). Now that I type this, I realize the only really “extreme” choreo VIXX ever did was with “Hyde” and “Voodoo Doll;” are those the only concepts non-VIXX fans know? People are always talking about VIXX as a horror concept group but those two are actually their only true horror concepts; “On and On” and “Error” were scifi while their other songs were either cute concepts or standard boy band fare.
Anyway, the “Chained Up” choreo features titillation aplenty via body rolls and (even more) suggestive choreo, this time emulating handcuffs:
I’m vaguely reminded of Purfles’ “A Bad Thing” choreo, which also had a handcuff move, complete with really cool magnetic bracelets that broke away when the members had to actually move their hands. And no, these are not “copying” accusations, either, just a stray observation. Though I think someone with more skill than I could make a pretty awesome mash-up of the videos.
Going into the second verse, Hongbin tugs at his collar and seductively growls his way through his lines, while the MV alternates between shots of him draped on the bed and crawling around on the floor in his white suit. I’m starting to warm up to this MV a lot.
Hyuk shows up next to put us all on some kind of watch list, and of all the members he’s probably the one going hardest (no, that was not a pun, the fuck outta here with that, you perverts). He gets the most provocative dance move thus far, and i’m just going to call it “showing us the goods” and leave it at that.
We also get a bunch of neck porn and the obligatory collar tug.
Ravi continues dramatically throwing around plastic curtains, and then we hit the chorus. Here we catch our first glimpse of the black suits, which are my favorite outfit from this MV. We have a sort of extended bridge in which Ravi’s rap is split up by sung lines, and it’s the first real point of interest in this song (at least as far as I am concerned). We have Ken and N lifting Hongbin over Ravi in a callback to the “Voodoo Doll” choreo when they all lift Ken. We also have more fabulously subtle choreo emulating leashes, reminiscent of Hyuna’s “Roll Deep” video.
The action in the final chorus is similar to “Voodoo Doll” in the sense that the guys all appear to escape into the forest with the woman giving chase; unlike “Voodoo Doll,” it just sort of ends there. In fact, the song also ends pretty abruptly, without any real buildup or anything like that. It just… ends. I should note here that the woman in the MV is hardly present at all, hence why I haven’t really mentioned her much till now. Unlike “Voodoo Doll,” in which the woman interacts with her prisoners at length, here she only shows up briefly in quick cuts, just enough to establish the “not-gays” but without disrupting the fangirl fantasy.
Here is where the “Chained Up” MV’s lack of cohesiveness becomes most apparent; while it initially seemed like the narrative was building up to something, it ultimately just goes nowhere. This escape doesn’t feel hard-earned the way the escape in “Voodoo Doll” does, and the MV is too oblique to make into text the subtext of the guys enjoying their imprisonment, which would’ve actually made this MV interesting. Things as they are, the MV shows no indication of the push/pull depicted by the song lyrics; it’s just a series of loosely-connected images with no real emotional core. In other words, there’s nothing to set this MV apart from any other K-pop boy band MV, nothing that makes it uniquely VIXX. Perhaps K-pop is not ready yet for a full-on BDSM MV, but if there’s any group that could’ve made it work, it’s VIXX. They could have, but they didn’t. This is why “Chained Up” is so frustrating to me.
Like the MV, the song also plays it safe, trying to bring some of the dark twistiness we’ve come to associate with VIXX but packaging it in a more radio-friendly sound (so to speak). As a result, everything here just feels like VIXX lite–fangirl bait on its most basic level, mildly titillating but ultimately very polished, very pretty, and very safe. It lacks in the rawness and theatricality that gave previous VIXX concepts their bite; part of VIXX’s charm was that they never played it safe. But this MV and song play it so safe, I’m surprised there wasn’t a PSA at the end about safe words followed by a condom ad.
I can only hazard a few guesses as to why this comeback turned out the way it did. Maybe VIXX are trying to be more “public friendly.” Or maybe with their packed individual schedules, there simply wasn’t the time or resources for anything more involved. Whatever the reason, the most significant way “Chained Up” is lacking is any kind of creative spark. I could forgive a lot of things if they at least seem like there’s some kind of genuine inspiration behind them, but this all just felt very boy-band-by-numbers.
Since the video dropped, I’ve noticed a growing split in VIXX ifandom between fans who loved the song/MV and fans who were disappointed, and this split is growing increasingly acrimonious, par for the course with K-pop fans. This is my first critical VIXX review, and I’m going to try to pre-emptively address the shit I know I’m going to get here. Y’all know I’m a VIXX fan and I love them probably more than is healthy, but I’ve also never been an “unconditional love” type of fan either (at least, not musically). If a group lets me down, it’s only because I know they’re capable of much greater things, and I get frustrated. Like a tiger-fanmom, in a way. Also, if I’m critical of something, that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. But I’m not going to bullshit like I think something is perfect when I don’t. Critical analysis of popular media is a hobby of mine, and my goal here is not to be a negative nancy and harsh people’s squee–it’s to, you know, engage media critically. I may have been all gushing compliments toward VIXX in the past, because, in my opinion, those songs and MVs deserved it. This one does not.
That being said, I’m going to leave you with a maxim that best describes this VIXX era, at least as far as I am concerned: “VIXX is like pizza–even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.”