I've listed the videos not in order of preference but in the order they were released this year. However, several of my favorite songs from 2015 have ended up on this list, which makes sense: if I hate a song, I'm not inclined to watch the video more than once, and a single viewing doesn't usually allow me to take note of interesting makeup.
1. Nine Muses, "Drama"
Every k-pop comeback is an elaborate affair: the eager public gets a slew of teaser images and videos before the actual music video ever drops. Nine Muses hyped their January comeback, "Drama," with images of the eight (yes, eight) muses in pastel makeup with contrasting short wigs. But the pastel wigs and faces never made it into the official MV, because it emerged that the stylist had ripped off a W Korea editorial from March 2012, and W Korea denied that they had given permission for the "homage." Here's an image from the original shoot:
And here are Nine Muses posing for the jacket photo of their album (from this video):
Yes, the wigs and tulle draperies are blatant copy-paste jobs, but the makeup is actually very different. W Korea's makeup features heavy contouring and bold, jarring color contrasts: a turquoise wig with orange eyeshadow and purple lipstick, or a lime-green wig with emerald eyeshadow and red lipstick. The Nine Muses members, on the other hand, wear smoky brown eye makeup and matching pastels (pink, lavender, coral) on lips and cheeks. It's a softer, more wearable look, and it's a shame that the stylist couldn't have kept the makeup and come up with something more original for the hair. But this sort of imbroglio is par for the course with k-pop, and the real wonder is not that Nine Muses' agency copied a fashion editorial but that more agencies aren't caught copying fashion editorials.
Don't be sad, Sungah, you look great.
By contrast, the solo debut of Lizzy, a singer from girl group After School and its much more popular subunit Orange Caramel, couldn't have been more impressive in its originality. MV wizards Digipedi green-screened Lizzy into the 1961 film Seong Chunhyang, a retelling of the 17th-century story Chunhyangga. Lizzy plays a lowborn but virtuous young woman who falls in love with a district magistrate. They marry secretly, but he has to leave for Seoul, and in his absence she must resist the advances of another magistrate. The corrupt magistrate sentences her to death, but her husband arrives just in time to save her life. It's rare to see k-pop videos exploring traditional Korean culture, which "Not an Easy Girl" does not only visually but also musically, with a modern spin on the 20th-century trot genre. Lizzy's makeup is also modernized: I doubt that women in the Joseon Dynasty wore smoked-out eyeliner, glossy coral lipstick, or sparkly nail polish, but the look works well with the vivid colors in the original film.
I don't think Joseon women had multiple ear piercings, either:
But you know what? I love the shameless (and obviously deliberate) anachronism. Lizzy is singing about designer bags and reminding her suitors that "love is not a supermarket," so why shouldn't she be wearing coral lipstick with her hanbok? Anyway, the song and video are both fantastic and deserve so much more attention than they've received. Definitely one of my top three songs of the year.
3. Red Velvet, "Ice Cream Cake"
You'd think a music video featuring a creepy abandoned diner, a giant white cat, and light-up furry jackets would also offer some distinctive makeup looks, but that's not the case with "Ice Cream Cake." The makeup here is kept fairly light and natural, the better to highlight the decidedly unnatural effect of the girls' strawberry-blonde dye jobs and blue contact lenses. Of more interest to me are the confectionery-inspired manicures:
I'm not a 19-year-old k-pop idol, but I still want to paint each of my nails a different color. This is a dangerous and unprofessional impulse.
4. Stellar, "Vibrato"
The thing about "Vibrato" is, it's not really sexy; it's a reductio ad absurdum of the "sexy concept." Every other shot features vaginal imagery or blood. The video cuts rapidly between close-ups of disembodied limbs. The singers perform in a panopticon-like configuration of glass boxes with cameras everywhere. My favorite take on the "Vibrato" issue comes from blogger Arcadey, who argues that "anybody that understands Stellar’s meta lyrics and concepts knows that you’re supposed to feel a little bad after watching their videos. It’s the whole point."
I'm probably also supposed to feel bad about ignoring the debate in order to screencap the Stellar members' makeup: watercolor washes of bright pink and orange over the eyelids and out to the temples, with a flick of black eyeliner to set off the colors. The rest of their makeup is fairly understated: soft pink lips, lots of highlighter, no blush to speak of, and those straight eyebrows that are still trendy in Korea for some reason.
The manicures are pretty great, too. I like that the little eyes have eyebrows, and the eyebrows are different from the actual human eyebrows we see in the video.
Oh, and there's a song by veteran k-pop producers Sweetune, and it's fantastic. I'm a sucker for disco-influenced k-pop, and Sweetune always delivers (see also Nine Muses' "Figaro").
Speaking of retro-influenced pop, the Wonder Girls' "Reboot" album was unquestionably the high point of k-pop in 2015. Yes, that's just my opinion, but this is also my blog, so whatever. After several years out of the spotlight, faded superstars Wonder Girls returned with their "Reboot" album, a fantasia of '80s-inspired synthpop. The opening screen of "I Feel You" even places the video in 1987, my birth year, so I'm going to go ahead and assume that the song is a personal gift from producer JYP to me. Thanks, man.
The makeup is very '80s as well, and more Western than Korean: heavy contour and bronzer, smoky eyes, and bright coral lips.
The Wonder Girls returned with a "band concept," which in this video translates into playing instruments in one-piece swimsuits and heels. The neon lights below remind me of the laser-beam backgrounds for school photos in the early '90s (the fancy backgrounds cost extra, of course, and I usually ended up with the basic gray).
A closer look at the eyes:
The purple lipstick that Jiyoon of 4Minute wore for "Crazy" promotions
The "Crazy" music video is in black and white, but for 4Minute's live performances on music shows, Jiyoon (left) wore a bright pink-purple matte lipstick that reminded me of MAC Heroine or Urban Decay Bittersweet. I think I might need Bittersweet for spring.
The Karlie Kloss lookalike in royal-blue lipstick in GD&TOP's "Zutter" MV
EXID's "Hot Pink" MV
I don't care for the song (with the exception of the line "I like the way you pink it"), but the fuchsia eyeshadow is cool.
Girls' Generation's photoshoot for The Celebrity magazine
Each member played a role of her choice (e.g. surfer, film director, ballerina); you can see a behind-the-scenes video here. My favorite is Taeyeon's "rebellious teen" look, though her explanation for it makes me sad. Now 26, she reflects that she spent her teenage years training for an idol career and never had a chance to rebel: "I honestly don’t feel old even now. I feel like a teen. I don’t think I experienced adolescence either." (Read all the interviews here.)
Finally, some trends I noticed throughout k-pop in 2015:
- monochrome pastels: the same color on eyes, lips, and/or cheeks
- bright coral lips—Korea has yet to jump on the mauve/greige/taupe/brown lipstick bandwagon
- colored contact lenses, usually blue or green (why)
- smoked-out cat eyes
- strobing! lots of highlighting, not much contouring
- green hair (as seen above on Jiyoon of 4Minute and Hani of EXID)