K-POP X VOGUE: RETRO REALNESS
"This Love" - Shinhwa
In the August of 2013, Shinhwa released ‘This Love’: a heavy backbeat that hangs in the air with wispy, daydreaming vocals delicately placed upon it. ‘This Love’ rhythmically builds to a big, energizing chorus, whilst supporting itself on some skillfully placed single piano notes and some unassuming but solid vocal solos from Eric, Minwoo, Andy, Jun Jin, Dongwan and Hyesung, and packed with beautiful, swirling lyrics: ‘Like a star that has seen the sun, I revolve around you… Like a bee that has seen a flower petal, I revolve around you… The firelight - the moment I’m trapped in your burning eyes.’ It is a composition meant for the background - it is wonderful, vibrant, enticing - but yet, doesn’t overpower Shinhwa’s centerpiece choreography. ‘This Love’ is one of those songs that just had to exist - it isn’t a surprising composition, it all plays out much as you might expect, but it plays out in near perfection.
The eye-catching, central focus of ‘This Love’ is the bold, intriguing, androgynous choreography.. Shinhwa gave good face for their take on Voguing. For anybody unfamiliar with the cultural context, Voguing began in Harlem, New York in the 1960s, in the ballrooms. Not waltzing-evening-gown-male-lead-dancing-with-the-stars ballrooms, though, if that’s what you were thinking. The ballrooms that birthed Voguing were LGBT collectives, mainly made up of people from African-American and Latino communities. If you were a gay or transgender immigrant in ’60s America, chances were you were poor, your life was difficult and you didn’t have much to enjoy, much that you felt truly made you happy. Chances were, you didn’t have many places where you could truly be you. Thankfully, in the America we know today, the pressure of LGBT life isn’t as great, but it isn’t non-existent either. Unfortunately, in the South Korea of today, the hardships faced by LGBT people can be intense. Voguing is about letting loose, being fierce - being who you are and feeling full of glamour and confidence because you are you are, not in spite of it. Influenced by the dramatic allure of fashion poses used in Vogue magazine shoots and on runways and by the glamorous Pharaohs and Queens depicted in Ancient Egyptian art, Voguing is intended to look defiant, defined, feminine and bold. To put it into a k-pop context, think male divas and girl group dance covers.
Shinhwa set out to ‘take the strengths of Voguing and change them to fit Shinhwa’. The main adaption that Shinhwa made was taking Voguing from a freestyle, dance battle setting to a sleek and neatly choreographed k-pop music video. Voguing is also more typically performed solo and Shinhwa performed it in a group, with backing dancers. Pretty much every other major aspect of Voguing stayed - Shinhwa went all out and it really payed off. Voguing is a striking and distinctive dance style and is pretty hard to suppress - the natural and elegant androgyny of the movements will always catch the eye and capture the imagination. Shinhwa took the most significant and archetypal movements of Vogue culture and linked them together seamlessly, forming a neat and memorable routine. There are a lot of candidates for the most iconic scene of ‘This Love’ - in my eyes though, it can only be the zoom-in at around 1:03. A fantastically imagined group fashion hunch, led by Minwoo, complete with fierce, challenging model facial expressions. The backing dancers also did a wonderful job. They interacted with Shinhwa effortlessly and sometimes even stole the show with their perfect moves - the fact that Shinhwa didn’t mind this happening was what made this so professional. Building an entire routine out of Voguing moves cannot have been an easy feat, but Shinhwa nailed it and created what I believe to be one of the finest male k-pop routines of all time.
Over the course of promotions, Shinhwa kept it simple, chic and mature in nicely tailored, monochrome suits in various decadent textures, like fine cotton and silk. They worked prints, but nothing too bright or popping: camouflage; paisley; patchworks of grays, blacks and creams. Shinhwa are one of the longest running k-idol groups and this was reflected well for this concept. Sophisticated pieces like collared shirts, blazers, waistcoats and ties made up the bulk of the wardrobe for ‘This Love’. The sheer quality and sumptuous fabric of these pieces kept them from looking like old men. Accessories like belts of metallic leather and chains; jet black, glossy ankle boots and stacked bracelets brought vibrancy, style and relevance. The subtlety of them, however, kept Shinhwa from looking like teenage boys.
'This Love' was a perfectly pitched concept, from every angle. Shinhwa are a vintage k-pop group. The biggest stars of today grew up with Shinhwa, and the most interesting thing about their career is the way it has changed with not only the Korean entertainment industry, but Korean society itself. Shinhwa have been growing and developing their aesthetic, their music and their public face since 1998. Retro realness, indeed.