Nothing was more striking for music in South Korea in 2018 than the jarring visuals. I’m not talking about sharp cheekbones and the ageless (read: undead) beauty of someone like Kim Jaejoong, for whom the “visual shock” label was coined. No. I’m talking music videos that really went after the throat. Images that challenged the norms of, shall we say, music video etiquette. Some of the MVs this year were almost gruesome in their portrayal of touchy subject matter (depression, fear of being inadequate).
However, there were some that took a deliberate and unapologetic approach to shaking the tables. Perhaps none was more fearlessly controversial than the MV for rapper/singer Tenny‘s “159cm.”
The video’s visuals speak for themselves. While it got mixed reviews from many, I couldn’t help but adore the landscape. Yes, this is a man who chose to star a lesbian couple (played by model/actresses Park Bo-yeon and Song Do-won) in his music video. However, look at the narrative. This isn’t forced lesbian interaction for a male gaze. This is cute, albeit hidden, love. Our two female leads explore the innocence of new romance (meanwhile, the older priest has no compunction whatsoever in flirting semi-consensually with an older woman in complete view of anyone who should walk by). The unfortunate circumstances of living in a society that 1) has an aversion to anything not cis-heteronormative and b) has a penchant for removing agency from the female body means the two young ladies’ relationship is complicated. When they’re eventually found out (which … “found out” as if they’re doing something inherently evil :commence eye roll:) the repercussions begin swiftly. But the brilliance of this video, beyond the fact that the romance between these two is completely natural and devoid of unnecessary sexualization, is that our heroine takes matters into her own hands and dares anyone to stop her from loving who she wants.
I could go on and on about the significance of this MV in the wake of debuts from both HOLLAND and MRSHLL, whose videos and open personalities have made them such trailblazers in Korean entertainment. For a lesbian relationship to be showcased so honestly and without the hypersexual gaze of men looking for something to get off on is a daring statement in and of itself. These two young ladies are saying, No, my sexuality and who I love is not for your spank bank. I am valid. I am real. I am here. One of my favorite MVs of 2018.