Did the gods conspire to bring 8NSD Tiffany and former SNSD Jessica head-to-head with their solo debuts, with videos both filmed in California, and reportedly sharing a backup dancer? Is so much synchronicity in the cosmic cards, or did the K-pop industry (or even the girls themselves) quietly whisper to bring about this state of events?
Whatever the explanation, SNSD’s two California girls have improbably (or else with their eyes on a supposed future “global market”) gone back to their chronological, rather than genetic, roots for their solo debuts, with an Americanized sound, setting, and a very “American” chorus of backup girls to propel their solo singles.
For those of us still aggrieved over Jessica’s peremptory dismissal from SNSD, Jessica is our obvious champion; and while I don’t really wish Tiffany ill in all this, I think it’s reasonable to say that Jessica grabbed the better end of the California stick.
Tiffany’s “I Just Wanna Dance” is considered, even by some of her fans, an improbable exercise since she was never considered (comparatively speaking) all that great of a dancer. The video for her song basically indulges in some polite hipster-girl posturing, grooving in the desert and all that.
Jessica’s “Fly” shows off some sort of loftier aspirations, even though their exact nature is a little vague. We know Jessica Jung took the events of September 2014 to heart, and it’s understandable that this debut means a bit more for her: she’s got something to prove, and perhaps even something to get off her chest.
But it’s difficult to say, based upon “Fly”‘s kitsch Americana, what that might be. Two visual motifs stand out prominently: first, the dream of snow, which is obviously meant to be the big, overt thematic concept of the video (Jessica stuck in the heat, dreaming of a wintry wonderland); and second, the hard-to-miss references to Jesus, both on Jess’s mailbox–that is, from one side!– and blown up to landscape-spanning size, which may or may not be some sort of personal affirmation on her part. Because of all the other low-rent Americana on display (the whole fantastical trailer-park décor and whatnot) all this could be merely an indifferent whim of the production designer. But these nods in a religious direction do seem to add up. Notice that in the enthusiasm of her wishful winter-wardrobe makeover she strings Christmas lights over her cactus. It’s a subtle, quirky touch, and affirms that perhaps she’s thinking of more than just a ski vacation (you could take one of those in February).
So what does the snow motif really mean? We get a CGI transformation of a vast overhead shot into a snowclad pine forest, which is obviously just a “dream”. But we also get the wisps of snowflakes along the desert highway, a suggestive hint of the miraculous, of the just-maybe possibilities in life. “If Summer comes, can Winter be far behind?”, if you will! But if the Jessica portrayed in her mv is lost in blistering California, dreaming of ice, does that mean she’s dreaming of Korea? Of course, Jessica isn’t truly an exile from what I will call her real homeland– but does she feel like one? Does alienation from her Korean fanbase (who are still widely presumed to side with Tiffany rather than her) feel to her like a spiritual isolation?
A less flattering interpretation, of course, is that Jessica sees herself as a martyr and a “hero” over events which, though obviously rude and deplorable, didn’t exactly damage her chic living style or her stature as a trans-Pacific celebrity. With a gazillionaire boyfriend, her own line of designer goods, and even a famous little sister to boot, Jessica Jung enjoys a lifestyle of luxury, fame, and early accomplishment most can only dream about. Nobody would begrudge Jessica a bit of, “Oh boy! Do you believe the situation?” over what went down, but she hasn’t died or gone to prison. If Jessica is trying to send the signal that Jesus has been her only friend through all of this, well, clearly that’s an exaggeration. And the unwelcome, nondescript rap verse, which is musically unnecessary, culturally incompatible, and full of bland positive-thinking, unhappily suggests that Jessica’s spiritual conceptions (if those are what she’s trying to communicate) are a bit New Age-y, at least in the penchant for self-affirmation. If Jessica truly believes she’s a “sinner”, as her mailbox argues from one side, then maybe she needs to write a good heartfelt ballad about all that– and stop scaring us with pregnancy rumors with Tyler and just put a ring on it already instead!
Both Tiffany and Jessica, like T-ara’s Hyomin to name a third, have adopted a distinctly more “Westernized” sound for their 2016 solos. Speaking as one who affirms the inordinate superiority of Shinsadong Tiger, Duble Sidekick, and even poor Brave Brothers over anything that’s going on in Hollywood’s version of popular music, I’m disappointed. And I’m particularly irked by the choice of backup dancers, who frankly are an eyesore. But while Jessica flanked by some American-African flygirl (who, by the way, cannot do aegyo and really shouldn’t be asked to try–and the same goes for the white chick at Jessica’s right) is distracting, at least Jessica’s girls all seem to be ethnically distinct, which is better than the weird mystery meats backing Tiffany. SM Ent has enough to answer for, before they start buying in to the Ill*m*n*tt* agenda of de rigeur “multiculturalism”. Either girl could’ve afforded to bring a troupe of dancers in from Korea. You might argue that this defeats the purpose of filming in California, but Red Velvet didn’t try to overtly Westernize “Ice Cream Cake”. Jessica in particular, having her high-pitched cuteness an international legend, is ill served by hoochie dancers who clearly can’t nail the K-pop presentation style. You might argue this serves the purpose of Jessica’s isolation in “Fly”s scenario, but frankly that’s just too “meta”. They’re trying to be cute but they can’t cut it.
As a slice of Nylon-reader whimsy, the “Fly” mv is a clever visual exercise. The camerawork is expressive, the imagery is quaint, and the overall sensibility is fashionable, with hints of perhaps something deeper. Yet Jessica feels to me a bit out of place through it all. We know this isn’t a girl who really lounges around all day in an outdoor bathtub, waiting to greet the mailman. This is the “dolphin” who sang “My Unique Lifestyle”: a quirky princess, yes, but not one who would ever be left to herself in some obscure Southwestern exile.Though Jessica and Tiffany both may feel in their hearts that they’re trying to reaffirm a part of their identities, I feel like this is a melancholy exercise. Even white people in America today feel little connection to the trashheap California has become, and how can two decorous, highly accomplished Korean girls who have made their fame among their Asian people feel a connection to an economically declining, desiccated and deracinated West Coast? Face it girls: Korea is your home, as it should be. Musically, “Fly” and even “I Just Wanna Dance” could be worse, but in happier days these two together were part of a canon of songs of vastly greater reach. Jessica alone still “won’t lose”(even if Tiffany were to outperform her on the charts), but the closer she returns to her musical and cultural roots, the bigger she will win. Fly home, Jessica!