A semi-weekly or biannual reco, straight from the playlists of yours truly…
My God, I’ve only been listening to this song for three days and I already feel nostalgic about it. It’s just got that power, so I can’t imagine how it is for longtime Girls’ Generation fans who grew up with “Into the New World,” looking back at the full lives suggested in the video, now lived, through triumph and heartbreak (and probably less plane-flying, but given the nature of Korean variety shows, you never fucking know).
This is the Girls’ Generation debut single, and it’s a powerful opening statement that resonated across the country — in 2016, students at Ewha Womans University sang the song during a protest, facing down more than a thousand police, in today’s edition of “Thanks, Wikipedia.” Ewha is one of the most prestigious universities in South Korea, and that protest was subsumed by a massive scandal that led to the ousting and conviction of the university president. The scandal? College admittance fraud. Anyone familiar with K-dramas or what happened in the States not too long ago can appreciate that.
And while I can’t exactly say I feel the same feminist sweep welling up within me while watching the MV, I do feel the pull of something. This is the closest a K-pop song has come to making me cry, and I have never even thought to look up what the lyrics mean. Maybe it’s the way Hyoyeon is stretching alone on the stairs before a dance routine, like in so many movies and TV shows about passionate people, or it’s that shot of Jessica at 3:29 — a look of “Did we really do that?” upon observing graffiti artwork. While I’m still flummoxed by the actual video quality — was this filmed for broadcast on C-SPAN? — what’s clearer to me is the excellence in the MV’s formal elements, the acting and directing in moments like these, and the dreamlike quality of the image, with a smart deployment of slow-motion that flows with the rhythm, with cross-fades, and a color grading that casts hopeful light over the action.
If speaking about formal elements, however, I have to mention the dance bits. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, probably beginning with Red Velvet’s “Peek-a-boo,” because the dance inserts felt so jarring in the midst of an actual narrative. I decided that it sort of helps the zaniness (these girls are practicing a murder ritual and also doing practiced choreo in the same space), but I needed that resolution because I’m approaching these MVs from a place of film-going, where the MVs were of course constructed from a place where singing and dancing are natural. And that’s my contention — singing and dancing are natural, but not when it’s nine girls (clarification of terms: they’re about 16-17 here) doing very complex moves in perfect harmony.
This isn’t a real criticism, just an observation that for me, it’s an odd sight to behold, and one I have yet to fully reconcile. Maybe it’s the shame — boy bands and Britney Spears constitute my earliest memories of music, and they went out of style hard in the States, and so I tend to associate this style of dance with something that went out of style. It wasn’t until I saw Seulgi dancing by herself to a hip-hop song that I was even able to appreciate dance as an art form — a compelling art form. The way she does it, and the way Hyoyeon does it in the MV, it’s a far cry from my primary point of reference, which is Dance Moms. For the record, I watch Dance Moms for my job, and to be fair, those dancers are students — children. So much to say, a song like this and its corresponding video is helping me appreciate new things, confront biases both gendered (“Dance isn’t a real art form!”) and so old their shape is hardly discernible.
The choreography is also just great, anyway. That kick move towards the end is a real winner, and I’m easily imagining Sooyoung landing a stray shot in Yuri’s back during rehearsal at some point. The last piece of choreography which closes the song is also incredible, but didn’t factor into the original stage performance. And speaking of stage performances, Girls’ Generation’s successors Red Velvet, GFRIEND, TWICE, and I.O.I collaborated on a cover of “Into the New World at the 2016 KBS Song Festival, after being introduced one at a time with snippets of their own hits. One of those magical K-pop moments I’m only starting to develop an ability to really appreciate. When a moment like that happens, sure it’s all manufactured, but there’s a lot of history and emotion going on. And I’m gonna go cry now.