VIXX Comeback Review: “Shangri-La”

Concepts are very big in K-pop, but they can also be very tricky.  Rookie groups often struggle to find one that works, and veteran groups might consider them limiting. Vixx, however, has turned concepts into their greatest asset. Part of their popularity comes from their ability to bring their ideas to life. The concept is the foundation of their comeback, and because of that everything else falls perfectly into place. I always look forward to Vixx’s comebacks, and “Shangri-la” definitely doesn’t disappoint. It’s lush and gorgeous, showing off their stellar sense of aesthetics and penchant for visual storytelling.

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*WARNING!* This review assumes the reader has listened to the music and/or seen the music video!

Concept: Soompi calls it “East Asian Fantasy,” so I’m just going to go with that. From what I’ve read online, there are mixed opinions about whether Vixx is drawing from Chinese or Korean culture.  Personally, I don’t know enough to really say. So because I don’t want to offend anybody, I’m just going to refer to most things as “Asian” or “East Asian.”

Past Concept(s): Vixx is famous for their dark horror image, playing everything from human voodoo dolls to robots to “love slaves.”  They’ve shown recent signs of broadening their image – their most recent trilogy is loosely inspired by Greek mythology and experiments with different sounds.  But above all, their defining trait is a huge commitment to aesthetics and realizing a concept to its fullest.

SONG:

Music: Devine Channel (who also produced “Fantasy” and “The Closer”)

“Shangri-la” is a pleasant blend of older and newer styles of music.  It combines traditional Korean instruments like the gayageum with light synth and percussion, making a nice fusion.  There’s the grace and elegance associated with traditional Asian music, and there’s the sexiness of pop and light R&B. It’s a natural progression from “The Closer,” as both songs share the same kind of subtle sensuality.

I honestly love “Shangri-La.”  I find its mood and tone very sexy, and the smooth honey-like vocals are super appealing. It’s very catchy and easy to remember. I also like how it’s deceivingly simple. At first, it seems very basic in terms of melody and structure. But the more you listen, the more layers you discover.  There are lots of vocal ad-libs and small touches that really fill out the song.

SCORE: 19/20

LYRICS:

Lyrics: Jung Il-ri, Ravi

Although the English title of the song is “Shangri-La,” it’s based on the Chinese poem Tao Yuan Ming (“Peach Blossom Spring“). In this poem, a fisherman happens upon a utopian village of people who left society at the outbreak of war.   Isolated from the rest of the world, they have been living in peace since.  “Shangri-La” doesn’t really incorporate the story into the lyrics.  Like many K-pop songs, it’s a love song.  However, it makes references to this paradise by comparing it to the idyllic state of being in love:

“I fly, fly with you, within the fantasy smeared in the dream
You get closer, you bloom in my heart again
One thing, I only know you, you are the place that I wandered and searched for
When I open my eyes again, you will only get absorbed by me”

The lyrics of the song read like poetry.  I know that sounds a bit redundant, because all songs are technically poems.  What I mean is that they’re full of beautiful imagery and phrases.  I usually pull out lines as examples for my reviews, but in this case it’s so much better to look at the whole thing. Everything is so evocative, and there are many different references to the five senses. The lyrics give you enough to dream about without ever watching the music video. (But you should still definitely watch it – we’ll get to that later).  I also find it really interesting that the song is completely written in Korean. K-pop songs almost always have English words or phrases, so it’s a sign of their commitment to really emulate another time.

SCORE: 10/10

LINE DISTRIBUTION:

Vixx relies heavily on their vocals, so it’s no surprise that Ken and Leo carry most of the song.  Ken has a little bit more because he has more ad-libs, but Leo appears more in the dance and in the music video.  I think that the song suits Ken better and the aesthetic suits Leo better, so in my opinion it’s a good choice. N gets a good amount of lines, and I’m happy to see that Hyuk has around the same.  He’s been steadily improving, so it’s nice that he has a significant part here.  Ravi doesn’t appear much, but this make sense because the song doesn’t really call for that much rapping.  And although his low voice is very pleasant, it doesn’t match the other members who have higher voices.  I wish that Hongbin would get more lines, but I think this is a pretty logical line distribution.

SCORE: 9/10

CHOREOGRAPHY:

Individual-StyleUnlike many groups, Vixx doesn’t prioritize “knife-like choreography.” By that, I mean that they don’t look like perfect mirrors of each other when they dance. If you look closely at their dance practices, you’ll see that each member has a slightly different style and way of performing certain moves.  As a dancer, I naturally tend to prefer synchronicity. I generally like everything sharp and consistent, but I’ve come to enjoy Vixx’s way of doing things.  It gives the performance lots of nice little details we wouldn’t get otherwise.

The choreography for “Shangri-La” is an intriguing mix of movements: sharp and smooth, syncopated and on the beat, basic and complex.  Normally, you wouldn’t think that all of those things would go together and create a cohesive piece.  But it’s actually very interesting to watch, and it flows really smoothly.  It’s hard to pick out individual parts that I like, because it works so well as a whole. I’m not sure if there’s any traditional dance incorporated into this routine, but N in particular (who has studied classical dance like modern and ballet) seems to suit the choreography especially well.

FansUsing fans definitely fits in with the “East Asian fantasy concept.” It makes the dance more dynamic to watch, and it also adds a sense of elegance that we hear in the music. The choreographers were very smart about the fans – while they’re an integral part of the routine, they don’t dominate it.  I can personally confirm that dancing with props is difficult. Fans in particular are hard, especially when you’re flipping them open and closed with one hand.  So kudos to Vixx for pulling it off flawlessly.

SCORE: 18/20

CENTER AND FORMATIONS:

Staggered-MovementSix is a great number for a dance routine.  There are enough people to fill the stage and make interesting shapes. It’s also an even number of members, so you can play with symmetry.  And if you really want a center, you can easily make a V-shape and put one member in  the back.  Vixx makes use of all of these devices, and they also use staggered movements to create a nice effect.

EndingWhen it comes to the center, Vixx tends to favor its vocals over its dancers. So Leo and Ken get the most center time, with strong dancers like N and Ravi serving as support.  I think Leo in particular is a very good choice.  He’s very well known for his tsundere personality (someone who looks cold on the outside but is actually really soft on the inside).  While he doesn’t actually come across as cold here,  he does look very intense.  You can’t help but feel drawn in by him, which is a highly desirable quality in male idols.

SCORE: 9/10

MUSIC VIDEO:

MV-Hyuk-Drops-Peach“Shangri-La” is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s easily one of the prettiest music videos I’ve seen in recent memory. When it was first released, I  watched it maybe a dozen times in a row.  It depicts the members in beautiful and lush nature settings, evoking a sense of utopia or paradise.  Like the lyrics, there are some references to Tao Yuan Ming.  We see a peach blossom painted onto Ken’s back, and several members can be seen holding a golden peach throughout the video.

MV-LeoAll of the technical aspects of this music video are truly excellent: framing, contrast, focus, color correction, pacing, production design, etc. This shot of Leo is probably the most gorgeous thing I’ve seen all year.  The video is meant to be pleasing to the eye, and it certainly knows it. It wants you to drink in every single detail, which is why everything is so clear and in focus.

MV-RaviI love music videos with a lot of color, and that’s a big part of “Shangri-La.” There are a lot of different colors and shades, but each one is very vivid and pretty – almost unnaturally so. This helps with the idea that they’re in an otherworldly environment. Some images are majestic, like Ravi surrounded by royal shades of gold.  Some look romantic, like Hongbin surrounded by delicate flowers.  And some are mysterious, like N in shadow while the colors of the forest dance across his face.  But they’re all stunning because they have these intense shades of color that pop out and catch your eye.

MV-WaterThere’s a lot in the music video that’s luxurious and rich, but I love how it’s also deeply connected to nature.  There are so many references to the various elements. The members dance in water. Leo sits on a stone in the middle of the water.  N and Hongbin’s sets are the forest and flowers.  The wind blows petals around Ravi, and Hyuk encounters animals like peacocks and deer.  The poem talks about people living in harmony with nature and isolating themselves from mankind.  The music video in turn reminds us of how beautiful nature is and how we can flourish away from the hustles and bustles of society.

SCORE: 20/20

STYLING: I have no idea if the outfits they’re wearing are at all historically accurate, but it’s definitely reminiscent of another time. I like how the costume is a cross between what I think is traditional clothing and a more modern suit.  It’s a somewhat understated look compared to what they’ve done in the past, but I think that they look incredibly handsome.

STYLING MVP: Ken.  He seems so easygoing and goofy, so I’m always surprised by his on-camera/on-stage persona.

MV-Ken

SCORE: 10/10

FINAL TALLY:

Song -19

Lyrics – 10

Line Distribution – 9

Choreography – 18

Center and Formations – 9

Music Video – 20

Styling – 10

TOTAL: 95

CONCLUSION: Vixx is a stellar example of concepts done right. I get the sense that a lot of agencies see concepts as a marketing ploy rather than an artistic opportunity.  Vixx is so successful because the concept they choose permeates everything that they do.  They’re not lazy about any detail, and they’ve consistently shown that uniting the key aspects of a comeback – music, choreography, and aesthetic – creates something distinctive and memorable.

I’m not going to lie, I really enjoyed Vixx’s dark concepts.  Last year’s “Fantasy” was somewhat dark, but “Shangri-La” makes me wonder if they’re ever going back to that or if they’re moving on.  Though I’d love to see another horror-themed comeback, I’m happy to see that Vixx is capable of other music and other images.  Though they’re pretty popular, I consider them a bit niche for K-pop – and K-pop is pretty niche itself.  So I’m glad that their creativity and commitment to concepts is really helping them rather than limiting them.

Sources: Youtube, Jellyfish Entertainment, Wikipedia, Soompi

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