And just like that, another year of great music has come and gone. I have no idea how many of you guys care about these posts but I love going back over all the K-pop music videos that came out every year to pick my favorites.
1. “ICY” by Itzy
2019 has been a great year for rookie groups, and Itzy is at the top of the list. This is actually their second big hit of the year; they may be rookies but they have become known for their catchy, self-confident songs, energetic choreography, and great live performances.
And as cool as this video is, it doesn’t even have the best bit of the song’s choreography (frankly, my favorite bit of choreo I’ve seen anywhere, all year). Feast your eyes on the “neck snap:”
2. “Breakthrough” by TWICE
TWICE had a landmark year, morphing from their original, cute image to a more mature concept. (It reminds me of when Girls’ Generation released “Run Devil Run.”) This is one of their Japanese releases, probably lesser-known, but the song is catchy, the video has great atmosphere, and TWICE is always good in Japanese (they have three Japanese members).
3. “+I Quit 180327+” by CL
The leader of the former group 2NE1 is finally back with solo songs, releasing an EP herself after leaving her company. The numbers in the titles are the dates the songs were written, showing that she’s been doing work all along, her company just wasn’t releasing them or promoting her. “I Quit” is one of the better songs on the album (though the rap section is sub-par), and the video takes it to another level with colorful sign language that almost morphs into interpretive dance. CL does not appear in the video at all, which is an interesting choice considering her natural charisma, but the video is art anyways.
4. “Lovedrunk” by Epik High ft. Crush
You wanted a wuxia movie to go with your K-pop? Okay, then! This beautiful cinematic MV features a fraught relationship between two martial artists, one played by K-pop idol IU. The black and white cinematography goes perfectly with the haunting song from one of my favorite hip hop groups.
5. “Kill this Love” by Blackpink
Blackpink is back in your area with another killer hit. There’s so much to love in this one; it just blows you away from the first trumpet notes. The production value is incredible, and I love Rosé and Jisoo’s acting, as well as Lisa and Jennie’s interaction in the rap part.
I also had a lot of fun watching dance practice videos this year! I love seeing the full choreography in a more informal setting. Here’s two that I thought were particularly good.
Plus, if you enjoyed the League of Legions promotional video “POP/STARS” by K/DA last year, I think you will also enjoy this gem featuring Soyeon of (G)I-dle.
We had lots of videos from some heavy hitters this year, plus one surprise League of Legends crossover.
1. “POP/STARS” by K/DA
This one is a little complicated, but just watch the video and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
K/DA is a virtual band whose members are the League of Legends game characters Ahri, Evelynn, Akali, and Kai’Sa. But the vocals are provided by real singers, including two K-pop idols of the group (G)I-dle, Soyeon (rapper/Akali) and Miyeon (vocalist/Ahri). Basically, Riot Games wanted to promote some new skins for LoL characters and ended up creating the most awesome music video of the year.
Soyeon is one of the fastest rising stars in K-pop right now; she’s a great rapper, has amazing stage presence, and is a wonderful leader for her rookie group (G)I-dle, which had two hits this year.
I’ve been thrilled to see Hyoyeon, the main dancer of Girls Generation, putting out more solo stuff. This video just makes me want to dance around the house every time I watch it. Also, I appreciate the diversity and body-positive visuals.
3. “Idol” by BTS
You knew BTS had to be on this list somewhere. I love this video for its spunk and energy, its Korean cultural influences, and its drawings of leader RM with kitty ears. This video was so good it got a Bad Lip Reading treatment.
4. “Egotistic” by Mamamoo
K-pop follows US music trends, so it’s no surprise that many singles this year featured Latin music influences; Mamamoo is one group that did it very well and will have you yelling “bicho malo” right along with them. They are such a wonderful mix of talent and confidence, and their live performances are some of the best in K-pop.
5. “Ddu-du Ddu-du” by BLACKPINK
Another killer hit by one of my favorite girl groups, BLACKPINK. I don’t know what else to say about this except that it has all the swag you’d expect, including a glittery tank, and that Lisa is about the only person alive who could make those green gloves look cool. Rapper Jennie also released a solo with a great MV this year.
I’ve been watching more live performances from music shows and awards shows this year, so here are a few that I thought were really special.
“Woman” by BoA on KBS Music Bank. The legendary BoA makes her entrance by walking upside-down, then flipping over and performing the whole song live with the energy of idols half her age.
“Latata” by (G)I-dle on SBS Inkigayo. Can you believe these girls are rookies?? I can’t! I think I watched every single stage promotion of this, their debut song.
“Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” by Key on You Hee-yeol’s Sketchbook. SHINee’s triple threat Key had a solo debut this year, and while promoting his song he also performed this lovely Coldplay cover.
Reading the wonderful and wild Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore a few months ago got me thinking about alternate dimensions–specifically, about their use in stories. The concept appears across a range of speculative fiction, including both sci-fi and fantasy stories, and across a variety of media. It can be an interesting way to explore the age-old question “What if?” as well as the idea that even the smallest events or decisions can change the course of lives.
So here’s my list of some favorite parallel universes in fiction. I wanted to tend more towards the idea of multiverses, so I haven’t included any stories where there are only two dimensions, such as Star Trek’s mirror universe, the world of Fauxlivia and Walternate in Fringe, and the Light/Dark worlds of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
The Flash (CW)
After scientist Barry Allen was gifted with super speed during an accident with Central City’s particle accelerator, he became the superhero known as the Flash. Barry can do some pretty crazy stuff with his speed powers, including traveling through time and opening portals into other dimensions. The breaches between dimensions weren’t originally intentional, more of a side effect of Barry trying to fix something else he’d done unintentionally. (This kind of stuff happens to Barry a lot.)
The Flash probably comes the closest on my list to a true multiverse idea. Barry Allen’s world is Earth One, the centerpoint or juncture of the multiverse. There are theoretically an infinite number of worlds comprising every possible existence (though about 50 are known in the show), each vibrating at a different frequency so they don’t normally interact.
Accordingly, some worlds have “doppelgangers” of our main characters; the Barry Allen of Earth Two, for example, is also a scientist but is not a meta-human and has no powers. There are also worlds where there is no Barry Allen.
This TV show was originally a spin-off of Arrow, and later crossed over with Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow as well. Together, the Arrowverse has been able to do some really fun stuff with dimensional travel, including an obligatory visit to a dimension where the Nazis won WWII.
A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab
I wrote in praise of this series a little while back, and one of the things I liked about it is the world building. The main character, Kell, is a magician who can travel between worlds: there are four total, and each has a version of London (Black, White, Red, and Grey). In fact, each has a specific tavern in a specific spot in the city, which serves as a kind centerpoint, but that’s about where the similarity between the worlds ends. Our world is ostensibly that of “Grey” London, the home of Lila Bard, which is ruled by the Prince Regent (later George IV) and has no magic. Black London, however, was basically destroyed by magic, and White London still feels the effects of this, struggling to hold onto what power they can, which manifests in major societal and political upheavals.
Red London, Kell’s London, does still have magic, and Kell is their ambassador to White and Grey, being one of the ancient line of Antari, who can do blood magic to cross worlds. Antari are few and far between, and are distinguished by a single black-filled eye (the color black is closely associated with magic in general in this series). They draw magic seals with their blood, speak a phrase in the language of magic, and use a token from the other world to cross over (leaving us to wonder how the first Antari got their tokens, but that’s really not important to the story). They can also travel between two points in the same world, but when crossing worlds always travel to the same geographic point they left in the last world.
These four worlds are parallel in time, but not civilizations or events. Because so few people are able to travel between worlds, and transporting objects is forbidden, even the cultural exchange is extremely limited. There are no doppelgangers here, and while a world may die like Black London, there is no evidence that new ones are ever created.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
This series, sometimes thought of as the “anti-Narnia,” begins with hints of alternate dimensions in The Golden Compass, but it’s not until the second book, The Subtle Knife, that the idea begins to really be explored. This cosmos is also theoretically a multiverse, which concept the characters refer to as the Barnard-Stokes Theorem. Just as in ADSoM, the two main characters, Lyra and Will, come from two different universes.
There are several ways of crossing between universes, the most prominent being the titular Subtle Knife. Will becomes the owner of this double-edged blade, one side of which can cut a window between worlds. However, this power is not without price: the children eventually discover that each piece of inter-dimensional fabric that is cut off becomes a Spectre that menaces adults (kids are safe).
Several worlds are visited in the course of the story. Will’s world appears to be our world, and Lyra’s is relatively similar (they both even have an Oxford University). Some are completely different, such as the world of the mulefa, animals that have evolved to use wheels, or the land of the dead. The story does not present any doppelgangers, either because they don’t exist or because the chances of actually meeting one in the multiverse would be slim.
The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny
Nine Princes in Amber has one of my favorite openings of any novel ever: our protagonist wakes in a medical facility (presumably in our world) with no memory of who he is or how he came to be there, only the vague sense that he was injured and is now being kept incapacitated. He eventually remembers that he is Corwin, Prince of Amber, the one true world; all other worlds are simply shadows of Amber.
The royal family of Amber can manipulate the Shadows, essentially creating whole worlds where they can live like kings, or disappear into obscurity. They speak of “adding” and “subtracting” things as they travel through various realities on the way to Amber. With such mathematical language, it make sense that Amber turns out to be only one anchoring pole of reality, that of order; the world of Chaos is its opposite pole, with the Shadows existing between them. The royals also have a special set of cards, trumps with their own portraits, that allow them to communicate across worlds.
The parallel universes are the backdrop for a grand political struggle among the royal family, taking place over generations. Corwin in particular has spent a lot of time in the Shadows, but eventually makes his way back to Amber to fight for the crown. One interesting detail is that different universes can apparently have different laws of physics; some have different color skies, for example. Also, gunpowder does not ignite in Amber, which results in a lot of sword fighting in the books.
My favorite authors of Japanese manga are a group of 4 women collectively known as CLAMP. Over their prolific career they have produced dozens of stories, most of which crossover to form a loose universe. Nowhere is that so evident than in the two series XXXholic and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle (which directly crossover, but can be read separately). In the CLAMPverse, crossing between dimensions requires such great magical power that only few can do such a thing; one of these is Yuuko the Dimensional Witch, who runs a magical store where wishes can be granted for a price. A group of travelers comes to her asking to be given the power to journey between dimensions, not just once but many times (they all have their own reasons for this quest), and she gives them white Mokona.
What is Mokona exactly? “Mokona is Mokona!” the creature helpfully cries. Mokona (a version of character originally created for Magic Knight Rayearth) has the power to take the group between dimensions by kind of sucking them into a giant whirlwind in its mouth. It’s catchphrase when traveling is “Mokona Modoki mo doki doki!” which loosely means “Mokona is getting excited, too!”
The number of dimensions in the CLAMPverse is unknown, but it seems to be many, if not infinite. We see several dozen of the throughout the course of the story. We also meet versions of many, many characters found in CLAMP’s other works, most importantly Cardcaptor Sakura (my all-time favorite manga). Each version of the character we meet is different, living in under different circumstances, but they each have the same soul and therefore have many things in common, often having similar personalities, characteristics, preferences, and mannerisms. For example, Tomoyo (first seen as a schoolgirl in CCS), is a princess in one world and the president of a toy company in another, but is always polite and caring.
Honorable Mention: Sliders
I would include this 1990s TV show on my list, except that I haven’t seen enough of it to really count myself a fan. It follows the adventures of a group of travelers “sliding” between universes to try to get to back to their home dimension. The show also has a multiverse concept; because some universes are more technologically advanced than others, it also lets the show occasionally explore time travel-type scenarios as well.
I actually made a playlist of K-pop music on Spotify to take to the hospital with me while I was giving birth. I suspect that may have been a first for the Labor and Delivery unit. It’s been another wonderful year of K-pop music videos; here are some of my favorites.
1. “Yes I Am” by Mamamoo
There is so much to love about this song, this video, and this group. The song is so catchy and has the most body-positive and self-confident lyrics I’ve ever heard in a K-pop song. The video itself is colorful and cute, and they did the choreography themselves. But I can’t say enough about these four ladies as performers, because in my opinion they give the best live performances in all of K-pop. Their vocals are flawless and their stage presence is magnetic. They are known for changing their lyrics on stage and doing little ad libs. If you really want to see them at their best, check out some live performances of this song, like this one.
2. “MIC Drop (Steve Aoki Remix)” by BTS
BTS had another huge year, breaking further into the American audience with appearances at the AMAs and on Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen. I loved their first single “DNA,” but I was really struck by the video for their remix of “MIC Drop,” a song I already liked from the first time I saw it performed live. The remix version is what they’ve been performing recently, and while I like this new version of the song fine (it has more English lyrics), the video just blew me away with its visuals.
3. “Hobgoblin” by CLC
I love finding new, young groups, and CLC is one that came on my radar this year with their badass video for “Hobgoblin.” Hyuna apparently worked with them on this, and you can really feel the 4Minute vibe, which is very welcome since the disbandment of that group. Most young girl groups have a cutesy concept, which is not my thing, so it’s great to find a next generation capable of taking on the swag of groups like 4Minute and 2NE1.
4. “Rollin'” by Brave Girls
Here’s another group that came across my radar this year with a catchy song and great choreography. I normally don’t go for concepts that are “sexy,” but this one is on the classy side (I know the title says “Clean Version,” but all that was removed was a few clips of the girls lying in a pile. I dunno.) I absolutely love the use of the stools in the choreography. And in those high heels, too! Very impressive.
5. “Peek-a-Boo” by Red Velvet
I’ve been a fan of Red Velvet and their catchy songs for years, and they sure had a great year with two big hits. This is the most recent video on my list, but I’ve already played it on repeat so many times. It is such a bizarre concept: a cult of girls who lure pizza delivery guys to their house to kill them. Wearing shiny rainbow dresses. Or something. Somehow involving Jell-O. But Red Velvet pulls it off just like anything else.
“Move” by Taemin—The maknae of SHINee once again turns out a killer video–actually three videos, but this one is my favorite. His style blends so well with Japanese choreographer Koharu Sugawara; they are just poetry in motion together. It has such an emotional and sensual feel in a very gender neutral way, without being overtly sexy. Beautiful.
“Ninano” by Minzy—Speaking of great dancing, my bias from my favorite K-pop group 2NE1, made her solo debut, and Minzy is such a good dancer it was fun to see her collaborate with Marquese Scott in this video. It incorporates some of the original video choreography with freestyling.
“Hola Hola” by KARD—This co-ed group is consistently churning out tropical house-style hits with awesome choreography. This video adds some beautiful scenery and a chance to display some personality of the members.
“Love” by PSY feat. Taeyang—Though this song is by the K-pop idol most famous here in the US, he doesn’t appear in this video at all. Instead, we are treated to awesome dancing by Parris Goebel and her ReQuest Dance Crew (you may recognize them from Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” video).
I had so much fun looking at my favorite versions of Beauty and the Beasta few months ago, I thought I would do the same with another favorite fairy tale, Cinderella. This one was way harder, because I have read and seen so many more versions of this tale, and some of them rank among my favorite fairy tale retellings of all time. I managed to narrow it down to five…plus a few honorable mentions.
This Disney live-action version by Kenneth Branagh, building off the classic animated version, was a pleasant surprise for me when I saw it at the drive-in theater. First of all, it is visually gorgeous in its costumes, sets, and cinematography. The actors are uniformly engaging; Cate Blanchett in particular is a treat as the Evil Stepmother.
But the best thing about it is the way it improves on the original Disney movie. The original Cinderella is one of those pretty princesses without much agency, and the plot relies heavily on insta-love. This version condenses the themes of Cinderella stories nicely with its mantra of “Have courage and be kind.” It’s the kind of moral I would be happy to see a daughter of mine glean from a fairy tale. We also see a much more developed relationship between Cinderella and the Prince.
The romance is slow and sweet; how can you not love Prince Kai? I also liked that there is not really one specific Fairy Godmother in this story; Cinder makes it to the ball with her own willpower (and a little help from darling Iko the android).
Cinder is only the first book in the Lunar Chronicles series, and as such it does not have a happy ending. Instead, it spins nicely into the other stories without being saccharine. I also really liked how the series goes on to feature other great female characters from fairy tales, ending in an awesome team-up.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997)
My family had recorded this on VHS when it was on TV in 1997, and I can’t remember how many times we watched it as kids. Brandy plus Whitney Houston is just a magical 90s combination.
This version, like the previous two mentioned above, also uses the idea of the Prince and Cinderella meeting once prior to the ball, which I always thought made more sense.
The songs may not be on par with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best, but they do the job, and the cast really breathes life into them. My personal favorite is “Ten Minutes Ago,” sung by Cinderella and the Prince at the ball. The dancing scenes are also fun, and the actors play up the comedy throughout nicely.
Speaking of the cast, I love the racial diversity here. We have black, white, and Asian characters, sometimes all in the same family. Of course, the story does not address this fact in any way, but visually it’s nice to see that representation.
Before Disney’s big screen, live action version a few years ago, the Cinderella movie crown was unquestionably held by Ever After, which is apparently appropriately subtitled “A Cinderella Story.” This version grounds itself in real life by taking place in Renaissance France, with a framing story about the Grimm Brothers collecting European fairy tales.
Our main character Danielle has dreams, but she also has nerve and ambition. She is one of the boldest Cinderellas I can think of, pretending to be a courtier as well as standing up to gypsies. She is also very well-read thanks to her father, being able to quote Utopia. I think my favorite part of this version is that Leonardo da Vinci serves the role of fairy godmother in helping Danielle get to the ball.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
For me, this is the book that started my entire love of fairy tale retellings. I still re-read it, even now, most often going back to my favorite part: the letters that Char and Ella write to each other while he is away in Ayortha.
In this version, Ella is not obedient of her own accord; no, she has been cursed to be obedient (the fairy who bestowed this trait called it a gift!). Ella must do anything that anyone commands her to do. This, of course, nearly ruins her life, and the lives of her friends, so she sets out to break her curse and is able to overcome it in the end. The story actually has a lot to say about autonomy and free will, which is pretty deep stuff for a children’s book; I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so beloved.
Even as it adds to the original tale, it stays close to its origins, using devices like Ella’s fairy godmother, the glass slippers, pumpkin carriage, and three nights of balls. Plus, this book has everything you could want from a children’s fairy tale: magic curses, fantasy creatures like fairies, elves, ogres, and centaurs, made-up languages, and an adorable main couple.
There is also a movie version of Ella Enchanted, starring Anne Hathaway, that is delightful, but aside from the basic premise does not have that much in common with the novel.
I couldn’t let it go with just five this time, so here are some Honorable Mentions:
Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George
This story is the sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball, itself a retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” The main character is Princess Poppy of Westfalin, who is just awesome, with so much humor and spunk. But she is not really the Cinderella character; though Poppy does stand in for her once, the real Cinderella, Eleanora, is a side character and the Cinderella story is really more of a side plot. I liked that it is a bit darker; for example, the fairy godmother is not good, and the molten glass is poured on the girls’ feet to make the slippers.
Another Cinderella Story
I will be honest: this is objectively not a great movie. But I just love it anyways! I guess I am just a sucker for dance movies. Selena Gomez stars as an aspiring dancer who falls for a famous teen pop star after they dance together incognito. The dance numbers are awesome, and the songs are stupidly catchy. And how can you not love Jane Lynch? She is hilarious as a has-been pop star in the evil stepmother role. I like it way better than the first movie in the series with Hilary Duff, and the two movies after it get progressively worse.
Did you know there is a ballet version of Cinderella? I danced in it when I was younger, as a “court lady,” aka part of the corps de ballet. (My costume was a long maroon dress…maroon is a terrible color for redheads.) The score by Prokofiev is very nice, though not as memorable as, say, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. There are several versions of choreography (I don’t know which my company did), but the story is very classic.
What is your favorite version of Cinderella? One of these, or a similar story from another culture?