Mamamoo’s 2018 single “Wind Flower” is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, and its corresponding video is a nice surprise, a Hong Kong-set mood piece with echoes of Wong Kar-wai. Although, my second thought watching the video was, “Is that true, or is it just the blue fluorescent in the noodle shop?” Maybe for Hong Kongers, Wong doesn’t solely define the city, but nevertheless, the four members of this group do their part in staring sadly across wide spaces and dancing in private. As this is the first real mention of Mamamoo on this site, I’ll introduce each member as they come and try to give you a sense of the group.
Starting off, we have a difficult shot to properly freeze-frame, as Hwasa here begins looking off in space and then closes her eyes. This shot is important however because as she’s closing her eyes, she’s singing “heunhadiheunhan,” which has a quite beautiful sound. Mamamoo comes from a smaller agency than something like SM, for example, so they have an underdog quality — criticized for their “visual appearance” early on (I have no idea), my understanding is that their primary strength is vocals. While I’d rather not think about one existing at the absence of the other, I agree that all four members are outstanding vocalists. “Wind Flower” is an excellent showcase, jumping us right into the power.
I’m still early in my Mamamoo scholarship, so I’m not sure which quick Hwasa facts are the most relevant or illustrative, but a Wikipedia search gives you an immediate impression — she’s an incredible talent both within Mamamoo and without. She’s the maknae of the group, though the hierarchy is a little different here. The leader Solar is a 1991 birth, making her 30 at the time of this writing. Moonbyul is 28, a late 1992 birth, and they compose the “unnie line.” The maknae line is then Wheein and Hwasa, but they’re both 1995 births. It’s always interesting when that happens, like Bomi and Eunji or Seulgi and Wendy, and there isn’t the usual honorific between them.
Anyway, the thing I have picked up about Hwasa that I really like is her mellowness. She reminds me of Apink’s Naeun, but just as mischievous as everyone else. If Moonbyul tries to scare her with a big toy spider, her reaction is subdued. She never really raises her voice, and yet the other three live on the opposite end of the spectrum, so they’re flitting about all around her still form. But Hwasa is very much apiece, and as one quickly discovers, the bond between these four is very strong, and battle-tested.
Next we get into the video’s stylistic tendencies. I wish I could tell you who directed this video, but that information seems to elude the official video and most contemporary press releases, so I imagine it doesn’t exist. Maybe it was Wong Kar-wai!
This is Wheein gazing at the fishes, wondering, perhaps, what that life must be like. As for the themes of the song/video, Hwasa had this to say, “In the music video, we represent the different emotions a person feels after a breakup, and the four of us each represent regretting, reminiscing, feeling conflicted, and overcoming.” So actually, Wheein might not be thinking of anything, just addled with the pain of love, and indeed the stare is pretty blank. She just looks so sad.
Wheein made headlines recently for leaving the agency, RBW, but she’s staying on with Mamamoo for the time being. And since she’s no longer with the agency, suddenly she can follow people on Instagram. That’s my impression at least, as I know the other three follow zero people each. I always thought that was a power move, but I’m sure in reality it’s just inconvenient.
We move into the first chorus, and the tempo picks up. Hwasa starts dancing in this salon, and when she tilts her head back, it’s slow-motion. Wild but graceful.
Solar swipes her lipstick into an accidental Chelsea grin, and in a subtle and remarkable bit of acting, she looks up at the mirror and expresses a sudden shock that instantly dissolves into resigned dread. As Solar had told Chorong in an interview (between them), she had done some acting training years ago, but maybe it didn’t stick. Music video acting and K-drama acting is surely different, but as we go on, we’ll see just how much of a performance Solar puts on each time, no matter the occasion.
Finally, we have Moonbyul in the noodle shop. We’ve exited the chorus and have a rap verse. To break down the roles of each member per the chyrons on “Um Oh Ah Yeh,” Solar is “leader and vocal,” Moonbyul is “rapper and performance,” Wheein is “vocal and performance,” and Hwasa is “vocal and rapper.” I assume “performance” means dance, but honestly, these titles are negligible aside from leader and rapper. They all do pretty much everything, though rapping is where Hwasa and Moonbyul come in. In addition — this is mostly a first for me — all four are lyricists, and “Wind Flower” was cowritten by Moonbyul.
Moonbyul was the first Mamamoo member I knew of, because of her connection to Red Velvet via Seulgi. They had met in roughly 2014, when both groups debuted (Irene will tell you Red Velvet debuted in 2015, with Yeri’s delayed inclusion). I guess they just hit it off, and eventually both appeared in Idol Drama Operation Team, a show where seven girl group members came together to write and act in a drama series. When it came time for Moonbyul’s solo debut, she collaborated with Seulgi, producing “Selfish,” which has the cutest video ever.
Isn’t this a great shot? Here we have
Kristen Bell Wheein riding an escalator and looking back over her shoulder. I’m not sure if there’s something going on with the camera lens, but this image really pops. There’s an almost kind of Old Hollywood glamor to it, I don’t know.
There’s definitely a fish-eye for this one, with Hwasa donning all black for a daylight stroll. I guess she’s looking for hackers inside the Matrix.
I have to emphasize again that Hwasa is cool as a cucumber. It’s a tough subject, but part of her story — one she’s presented publicly — is struggles with self-image, specifically her body. I don’t know that it comes up in “Wind Flower,” but she is curvier than the average idol, and if imperceptibly tan skin causes you problems in Korea, I suppose hips can, too. But Hwasa is steadfast in encouraging girls to accept themselves for who they are, and we see this in action with Wheein.
On a 2020 VLive, Wheein talked about her recent weight gains, saying she probably weighs the most in Mamamoo, and Hwasa told her, “Make the clothes fit you. Don’t let yourself fit the clothes.”
Hwasa and Wheein are very, very close friends, somehow having known each other since middle school. I’m not sure how they both ended up in the same group, but maybe there’s a less vigorous process at RBW for selection. My mind boggles when I try to think about that process, generally, because the talent is chosen at such a young age — who knows who they’ll be after the growth spurt. It took a few years for people to realize that Eunji had the voice of Eunji, leaving early Apink vocally uniform (not better or worse, just different). Better to keep friends together, and Hwasa and Wheein have been getting up to no good ever since.
Alright, that’s a lot of Hwasa in a row, but come on. Here she’s blowing out a flower she lit on fire.
Directly after Fire Flower, we have colder hues for Solar, and another great part of the song. Solar’s voice is unreal, and in this slow-motion shot, she looks super cool. She’s bearing kind of a pissed-off face, so look out. Very recently, Solar’s Instagram photos caused a stir because they showed off her abs. A reminder, if you need it, that your favorite idol can beat you up.
But somehow, I don’t think you have to worry…
Similarly, I just love how angry Wheein looks here. This is before she smashes a bouquet of flowers against the chain-link.
Moonbyul walks along a footbridge overlooking a busy street. I love the colors here, the neon and the sharp contrast. I say I’d love to visit Hong Kong, but I’m sure I’d find it overwhelming. I just moved back home from Los Angeles, so I couldn’t even handle a make-believe city.
Moonbyul is the definition of “girl crush” which means she’s very popular among female fans. According to a 2021 poll, she placed at number four, just behind Seulgi, on a list of the “Most Popular Female Idols Among Korean Lesbians and Bisexuals.” (Irene is number one, Wheein is number six, Wendy is number eight). Moonbyul talks about how fans consider her a “handsome” idol, meaning she takes on more boyish qualities, and this outfit is a good example. She’s also known to be a conservative dresser, rarely showing skin and even pulling down her members’ skirts. But more importantly, she’s also renowned as a tremendous flirt, and you can find plenty of fan videos online of her and “her girls,” like number one Mamamoo fan Lee Da-hee, or that time she guest-starred on Level Up Project with a Red Velvet trio and teased Irene the whole time, or the legendary MoonSun…
In addition to lesbians, count me as a fan, too.
Gosh, isn’t Solar so sexy? Surely, that’s her primary attribute…
Without doing specific research, only going off various fan commentary, I’m not sure Mamamoo has a designated “visual center,” because they’re all beautiful — but that’s the case with every group. Generally speaking, do we really need the “visual”? Red Velvet fans grow weary of people constantly commenting on Irene’s beauty, because it tends to come at the expense of her other qualities — between “Be Natural” and “Naughty,” we know she’s an extraordinary dancer, and I think her vocals are underrated. Let’s just agree that this whole “visual” concept in K-pop only exists to celebrate Yoona, arguably the progenitor of the term, with the implicit understanding that everyone is SNSD is a knockout.
As far as this shot of Solar goes, it’s also got a kind of Old Hollywood vibe, though, honestly, I don’t know what “Old Hollywood” means. But it sounded like I did.
This is one of the best shots, and its appeal is obvious to any long-time Mamamoo fan (MooMoo). Or a recent convert, or even a layperson — I was aware of MoonSun long before I heard my first Mamamoo song.
For reference, In the Mood for Love (dir. Wong Kar-wai)
To keep it brief, shippers have a field day with Solar and Moonbyul, and to be honest, after seeing video of their various interactions, I wouldn’t be surprised either way. Post-Mamamoo, or whenever such things might tumble out, if MoonSun is like, “Yeah, we were dating the whole time,” I’d say sure, and if they said, “No, we’re just friends,” I’d also say sure, because they have more chemistry than most romantic couples I’ve witnessed. Shipping doesn’t even cut it. But here we have Solar laying her head on Moonbyul’s shoulder as they cruise along, and the expression on Solar’s face is probably laughter about to burst forth. They laugh a lot. But this leads us to…
Moonbyul cranes to poke her head out the window and we match-cut to Wheein doing the same, and we see why her nickname is Wheepup.
The song “ends,” and then there’s way too many narrative beats in total silence. The music starts up again and the girls are smiling and dancing through the streets. They end up in an empty bar, and though this isn’t a great shot composition-wise, I like it for some reason. Hwasa is pouring a drink and she has a toothpick.
The song cuts out again for our second false ending, and then we come back to this image. And after everything, with this image of the girls having a laugh in front of the golden arches as the music swells, suddenly our mood piece turns into an ad. Is this just me? A student of semiotics might explain I’ve internalized the “language” of logos, and seeing them anywhere suddenly rewrites their context. And now I’m hungry.
After all the false endings, we have the final ending, wherein the crew paints each other with vanilla ice cream. They stare into the camera, like you’re breaking in on their good time, and Solar looks particularly embarrassed. But there’s also something else. It’s this shot that inspired me to do a reappraisal, having only seen Solar secondhand, bursting in on Byulie and Seulgi filming “Selfish” or interviewing Chorong. Not enough to get an impression of her personality — and there was a lot to learn.
Solar’s YouTube channel is Solarsido, or “Solar’s New Challenge,” in which she takes on a new challenge each time, from learning to surf or cooking a new recipe. The very first video is her throwing a surprise birthday party — for herself. The above image is how Solar introduces herself, with a little jingle. This is someone who has her own catchphrase: “Leggo.”
The thing with Solar is that she comes off as enthusiastic about everything, and she goes at it full-force. After watching even a handful of Solarsido episodes, as well as various livestreams and behind-the-scenes, Solar shot right up to the top of my idol hall-of-fame (Solar or Bomi, I just don’t know). And there are theories behind her appeal. She debuted at the age of 24, so K-pop for her hasn’t been an all-consuming monster that occupied her childhood development. Instead, it’s an opportunity to express herself artistically, and Solar in particular is known for pushing the envelope. Maybe it’s the unibrow for the “AYA” music video or the bald head for her own debut, or the pole dance on stage. She’s a wild child — seems like taking on new challenges is a symptom of her lifestyle. Her staff and even her fellow members question these various creative decisions, but she plows right ahead, leaving everyone speechless.
But I can’t get over the enthusiasm part. It’s so compelling, how even when she’s speaking into the camera, you can tell she’s buzzing with excitement for whatever comes next. And she appears so earnest, too, the kind of genuine soul who is somehow still friends with Moonbyul, whose chief prerogative is “annoy Solar.” Understanding their relationship is pretty key — watching Moonbyul remark that Solar’s nostrils are small and proceeding to poke her fingers into the nostrils to demonstrate — because it helps me laugh with Solar and laugh at Solar.
From what I see, her comedy comes from putting herself into situations where the probability of looking like an idiot is high. She knows how to roll with all punches — even seems to invite pratfalls — and returns with that shining smile. A great example is “solar’s surprise video!!” which is a nice triptych of “pranks,” starting with dressing up like the Ghost from Spirited Away and beating 30 fans at rocks, paper, scissors in Taiwan. At the end of the segment, she does laps in the hall as the video itself contradicts her wonderment — “Will fans recognize me?” (They did). Later, she sits down and tries cold-calling people, the challenge being “Tell someone ‘I love you’ and get it in return.” She eventually connects with her manager, the RBW CEO, and he’s delighted to hear from her but a bit flummoxed by the constant “I love you’s.” He asks her how she’s been and how she’s enjoying her career so far — it’s a surprisingly touching scene.
But the real money is the last segment, as you can see below, where Solar can hardly contain her excitement for a prank on Moonbyul.
After showing the camera her new props, some realistic-looking plastic centipedes, she walks in on a sleeping Moonbyul in their hotel room and throws them at her. No reaction. Moonbyul rolls over and places them on the armrest. While she gets her later with the big fuzzy spider (and then gets Hwasa and Wheein), Moonbyul gets her revenge that night.
To have a prank backfire that badly, it’s a beautiful thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this video. Come for the mischief, but especially stay for Solar’s laugh after they get Wheein with the centipede.
But maybe the greatest I’ve seen is “What happened at the Korean Folk Village,” in which typically excited Solar (“I stayed up late looking up activities on the Internet”) visits what’s apparently a favorite of hers, the Korean folk village, and finds that everything’s closed.
To start, she dresses up in a specific uniform — though I can’t discern what it is — in order to get a discount, and at the ticket booth, she has to be reminded by her staff to ask for the discount. Then she wants to go ice fishing, but the lake is melted. She wants to play “ding-dong ditch,” but they don’t do it that day. And nobody else dressed up. “At least I can eat,” she says, and just look at her waiting for food at the end of the day:
I mean, this is straight-up a plotline in Azumanga Daioh, only instead of getting sick, she just faces constant “failure.”
Another thing I’m beginning to see with Solar is that she’s shyer than you’d expect, but definitely wants to have some K-pop friends (like with Moonbyul and Seulgi). In the above image, she’s hosting a mukbang with Chobom, and in a different video, tries to call both Bomi and Chorong as part of a “say Happy New Year’s to people” challenge. (They didn’t answer — she’s always calling people and they never pick up). And I just get this sense that she wants to befriend Irene, but… how do you do that?
Solar is such a shift in what I’ve seen from idol group leaders, with Taeyeon but Irene and Chorong especially. Those two are the “scary” leaders, with Eunji nicknaming Chorong “Gangster Park” for the death glares and no-nonsense attitude. Of course, Chorong has a soft heart, but true enough, she has a famously cold demeanor. And then Irene? Forget about it. Just watch her grip the back of Yeri’s neck on Yeri’s own show, or flick her forehead. I’m sure Solar is a well-respected leader, but her method is so profoundly different, and it’s interesting.
Also, she eats strawberries with the leaves on.