A while back I was a huge stan of this cult TV show called Veronica Mars. I praised the show to high heavens, eagerly jumped into online discussions after each episode, and pimped it to anyone who would listen. After a stellar first season, the show returned for a markedly less-stellar second season, but I kept watching anyway, rationalizing, “Eh, it’s just a sophomore slump. It’ll get back to form eventually.” But then season three happened and you know, or if not can surely guess, how that ended up. Yet I still kept watching, because I’d stanned the show for two years and wasn’t ready to let go yet, and I was still invested enough to complain about it every week on livejournal.
This is kind of where I am with VIXX right now.
I don’t like “Dynamite.” Not because it’s a bad song. It’s not a bad song. It’s a competently-constructed, competently-executed song with a competently-constructed, competently-executed concept. But it isn’t VIXX.
I find it very telling that most of the effusive praise I’ve seen for this song and music video comes from people who inevitably follow up with “I
have shit taste never cared much for VIXX’s previous releases but I love this!” or “I love SHINee so I love this too!” or other frantic straw-grasping to polish this turd rather than admit their faves just took a giant flashing neon shit on their own fandom. Really, that should tell you all you need to know right there.
“You’re just pressed because it’s not another dark concept!”
Because fans tend to have difficulty with critical thinking, it’s time for me to break shit down. People seem really fixated on the dark concept thing even though VIXX has only done two true horror concepts, and that isn’t the reason people like them anyway. Starlights didn’t show up because we are a bunch of horror movie enthusiasts with a kink for corn syrup blood and x-treme eye makeup (well, maybe some of us are, but that’s not the reason we’re here). I really want to believe fans understand what made VIXX special, but judging by the frantic desperation to frame their latest bowel movement as “revolutionary” “bold” “game changing” etc. I’m having my doubts. But I’m going to talk about it anyway.
VIXX really came into their own when they ditched the “K-pop by numbers” sound/image that marked their early songs and released the sci-fi-flavored, high-concept “On and On.” Yes, it was campy and budget as fuck, but it was fun campy and budget as fuck, and it stood out from the other campy and budget as fuck rookie songs floating around at the time. This style became VIXX’s trademark and quickly vaulted them to fame. Their MVs felt almost like mini-movies in their imagination and scope, with songs and choreo to match. VIXX’s releases boasted a theatricality and commitment to concept that no other groups did at the time and still haven’t. This is not to say others have not tried. Rookie groups like The Legend and KNK have sprung up with similar aesthetics and sound, while groups such as BTOB, 100%, and History also tried to get in on the high-concept train. It’s clear that there is a market for this sort of thing.
Which makes it all the more confusing why Jellyfish seem so bound and determined to completely divorce VIXX from the sound and aesthetic that made them popular. At first, they just watered everything down in “Chained Up” which many fans saw as an attempt at being more “public friendly” (read: bland as hell). With “Dynamite,” it seems that Jellyfish are actively trying to evoke associations with other popular groups. You can’t throw a stone in any VIXX discussion without someone comparing “Dynamite” to SHINee and/or Exo. The construction of “Dynamite,” particularly the chorus, is quintessential SHINee (well, SHINee from a few years ago). As for the music video, VIXX used the same video director as Exo’s “Love Me Right” and it shows in the many signature “this is an SM video” elements right down to the white bars and Ken looking about ready to keel over. Maybe Jellyfish was trying to fool SM stans into thinking they were watching an SM group? Every creative decision behind this release is so baffling to me, I don’t know what to make of it.
“But that’s silly! Groups change and evolve all the time!”
Even though I know this is classic K-pop fan straw-grasping, I’m going to entertain this bullshit anyway, because I think there really are people out there who believe change for the sake of change is a good thing. I’m going to burst your bubble right now: no.
Change or evolution carries the implication of moving forward. Moving forward usually means an improvement or betterment, or at the very least, something that doesn’t sound like it was meant to be released by a different group two years ago. I’m going to use The Legend as a counter example. I name-checked them earlier as a group similar to VIXX in sound/visuals, and definitely appealing to the same audience—slightly older fans who cut their K-pop teeth on manly-metro groups like MBLAQ and 2PM and who aren’t comfortable fapping to the barely-legal likes of Seventeen, BTS, and other fetus up-and-comers. The Legend’s first 4 releases (5 if you count “Trace,” which was not promoted) tended toward Eurotrash pop or R&B-flavored ballads drenched in mainpain and sculpted pectorals. Their most recent single, the upbeat “Crush on U,” showcased a drastic change in style. Though vaguely similar to “Dynamite” in its colorful visuals and retro sound, “Crush on U” sounds fresh where the former sounds dated, and exhibits forward momentum where the former exhibits stagnation. Most importantly, “Crush on U” doesn’t immediately evoke comparisons to other groups.
Shit, I could even use VIXX themselves as a counter example—”G.R.8.U” showcased all the versatility and whatever other bullshit people are still spinning about “Dynamite,” and they did it years ago without metaphorically pissing on their established fanbase (though it seems most of the established fanbase are into musical golden showers) and without confusing fans as to what the fuck group they were watching. Nobody was asking why VIXX was cosplaying SHINee when they watched the “G.R.8.U” video. My issue is not that “Dynamite” is different. It’s that it just sucks.
“I love SHINee so I lo—”
So when it comes to pseudohistorical TV dramas, I really love Outlander and I really love Reign (hey, I didn’t say I had good taste in TV). One is a well-researched, well-written, and well-acted show run by competent people, and the other is CW teen soap shlock written and run by idiots. Both are enjoyable, but in entirely different ways. Now, say the writers of Outlander suddenly decided, “Hey, let’s do something totally different and make a season exactly like Reign even though our show is loved and critically acclaimed for what it is, because we want that demographic Reign targets, and since Reign is also a costume drama and our fans probably like other costume dramas, they’ll love the changes too!” And let’s temporarily ignore the fact that Outlander fans seem pretty discerning and will bitch freely if they feel an episode isn’t up to par, and pretend they’re like K-pop fans and will verbally fellate anything the writers throw at them as long it’s preceded by the Outlander credits. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m overjoyed that Outlander ditched everything that made it Outlander so it can be just like Reign, because I already watch Reign, so when I watch Outlander, I want to fucking watch Outlander.
“You’re just bitter/a hater!”
Well, shit, how can I argue in the face of such a compelling rebuttal?
Honestly, I figure Jellyfish is trying to target a more “mainstream” fanbase while being cognizant of the fact that most K-pop fans will convince themselves that a dung heap smells like a flower bed if you sprinkle enough perfume on it, so it’s probably good business. I have to say this is all terribly confusing to someone who comes from a cult TV fandom background, as our general M.O. there is to piss and moan on livejournal when our show waters down everything we loved about it in an attempt to court a more mainstream audience who inevitably doesn’t care, and the show ends up getting cancelled anyway. VIXX won’t get cancelled, and I know my opinion is in the vast minority, but I nonetheless entreat them: don’t serve us the musical equivalent of Veronica Mars S3. Granted, most K-pop fans probably deserve that, but you don’t, and someone here has to love themselves.