Korean pop isn’t merely a genre of music, but a multifaceted art form that embodies inexplicable sounds, powerhouse choreography, and high-concept narratives and visuals. And as any fan knows, the videos are just as important as the songs they’re made for. Since the form relies on performance as much as it does ear candy, creators have to constantly innovate, seeking new filmmaking techniques and experimentation. With K-pop now deep into its heavily saturated third generation, there are literally thousands of these videos out there. If you’re a new fan, or merely curious, this can be intimidating. To get you started, here are five iconic videos that helped define how we view K-pop today.
“Gee” by Girls’ Generation (2009)
This is the song of K-pop, and its accompanying video is legendary. From Tiffany Young whispering “Listen boy, my first love story” to the candy-colored jeans that started a fashion craze, this is an explosion of mischievous fun. The track would take the group straight into record books, holding the top spot on the KBS TV program Music Bank for a record nine weeks.
Every fan remembers the first time they saw each member transform from a posed window mannequin into an energetic real woman. The video is an after-hours department store fairy tale, the choreography capturing the hearts of everyone from toddlers to senior citizens with its easy-to-learn fist bouncing. With “Gee,” Girls’ Generation set the standard for infectious bubblegum bliss.
“I Am the Best” by 2NE1 (2011)
2NE1 might not have invented the intimidating tough-as-nails girl crush concept, but they’re one of the few groups to truly harness its full potential. One of K-pop’s biggest acts, they built themselves up by exuding confidence and power. “I Am the Best” is a calling card that can stop anyone in their tracks.
The video uses elegant minimalism to speak volumes. Featuring dominatrix catsuits, spiked leather jackets, and devil-horned hair, the sparse, high-contrast black and white convey grandeur, class, and charisma — 2NE1’s indelible presence. It literally ends with guns blazing. Rebellion never looked so good.
“Fantastic Baby” by Big Bang (2012)
Calling “Fantastic Baby” one of K-pop’s biggest songs is an understatement. Rolling Stone named it one of the greatest boy band songs of all time. Big Bang was already, well, big when the track debuted, but it sent them into the global spotlight. The video is a post-apocalyptic dystopian fever dream of powerful fashion, futuristic helmets, and outrageous hair. The band members are locked in battle with masked oppressors, culminating in an epic dance party that ends with each one on their own throne. The aesthetics of this glammed-out dystopia are pure bombast — a sensibility that’s been replicated many times since.
“TT” by Twice (2016)
As power rookies, Twice quickly established a reputation for irresistibly catchy songs. “Ooh Ahh” and “Cheer Up” showcased their penchant for memorable choreography and parody theatrics, but “TT” took all of these elements to the next level. Working off the song’s playfully forlorn feelings of cruel love, the video expands the lyrics’ emoji imagery (which is also the source of its name) into a Halloween theme, conjuring a costume party you’d never want to leave. It amps up each member’s personality, turning romantic misfortune into colorful rumination with sharp hooks. No one else can make crying look this cute.
“Spring Day” by BTS (2017)
Before becoming the behemoth that they are today, BTS dropped this “little” song. It singlehandedly shaped the group’s success, and still returns to the charts every time the group releases a new song. It showcases BTS’s power and sincerity, featuring profound emotion and lyrical poetry, comparing the seasons of the year with fleeting friendship and nostalgia. Though the band’s catalog continues to grow, “Spring Day” will have a special place in many fans’ hearts.
The video supplements the track with piercing symbolism around life and grief, conveying the cyclical nature of relationships and the power of endurance. Set in a harsh winter, the boys are stuck on fast-moving trains, each trying to track down their past. It ultimately posits that neither the cold nor longing have to last forever. Some commentators have even claimed the video alludes to the 2014 Sewol Ferry tragedy, with imagery that echoes the memorial to the event. Whether true or not, it certainly adds a layer of melancholy to the already sentimental song.