How would I describe myself?
It’s the central question behind MAMAMOO’s summer single, Yes I Am. In fact, the phrase “Yes I Am” is a very apt description of the song itself. Repeated throughout the song, Yes I Am is a strong declaration of self-empowerment. As the song cheerfully exclaims, “I am a confident woman!”
Lyrically, Yes I Am values confidence over conformity. Whether it is light makeup, modest clothes or unique facial features, MAMAMOO rejects traditional standards of beauty and flaunts their quirks with pride. Style is all about swagger, and they intend to lead by example! Or as they sing in the chorus, “Follow me!”
If a K-pop group was going to sing about individuality, it would be MAMAMOO. Unlike other K-pop girl groups, which often range between four and nine active members, MAMAMOO has four members who are clearly distinct from one another. MAMAMOO fans (affectionally nicknamed MooMoos) are often dedicated admirers of a specific member. Whether you are a fan of the bubbly Solar, the cool Moonbyul, the girlish Wheein, or the seductive Hwasa, there is something for everyone.
But these attributes are all part of their performance. During interviews and on stage, the group generally likes to mess around and have fun. Fans love MAMAMOO for their contagious enthusiasm, not for their character designation. As a result, these four idols transcend their stock character archetypes to capture a bold personality unlike anything ever produced in K-pop.
Ever since their debut, MAMAMOO has been known for their musical blend of R&B and hip-hop. Structurally, their songs often consist of jazzy instrumentals and strong vocals, with one rap verse reserved for Moonbyul. Already, they depart from modern K-pop trends, like the heavy use of synthesizers and percussion.
With its pulsating beats and glitzy screeches, Yes I Am sounds more mainstream than their previous singles. One can argue that this has been a slow transition since last year’s Decalcomanie, but I think, in doing so, it has opened their music to a wider audience. And at the same time, through their music video, MAMAMOO has shown how contemporary K-pop can be done better.
Previously, I wrote a review on Red Velvet’s Russian Roulette music video. While I complimented Red Velvet for their editing, art direction and cinematography, I thought the dance scenes were an unnecessary addition to an otherwise visually captivating video.
With Yes I Am, MAMAMOO rectifies Russian Roulette’s shortcomings and even goes a step further. At a glance, the two music videos bare a handful of similarities: a sharp colour palette, an assortment of props and a different hair colour for each member. But beside substituting twee fashion for summery dresses, Yes I Am makes an important distinction by discarding the dance scenes endemic to all K-pop music videos.
Why is this important? Because while there are brief shots of dancing, there is only one main focus for the video: the music. Listen as the scene transitions line up with the beat. Look at how the video cuts during a dance move to enhance the flow. Watch as the editing manipulates symmetry and overlapping frames for visual flair.
We don’t just look and listen to Yes I Am. We sing and dance to it.
Compounded with their bluesy musical style, the visuals really compliment the retro aesthetic that MAMAMOO is known for. Kudos should be given to the variety of retro looks that MAMAMOO is capable of pulling off. For instance, Mr. Ambiguous wears the light pastels and checkerboard patterns of ’60s spy movies. Piano Man plays out like a sexy film noir. Meanwhile, Um Oh Ah Yeh possesses the upbeat energy of ’80s Motown funk.
What happened to music videos that revolved around the music? Of course, I’m not some old curmudgeon who pines for the days where music videos were just live recordings of a band’s performance. But during the 90s, young auteur directors like David Fincher and Spike Jonze began their careers by making artsy music videos. Ever since then, music videos have gradually gotten more cinematic, but usually at the cost of their musical function.
By comparison, Yes I Am is a breath of fresh air. It is a harmonious fusion between the old and new, a music video that mixes familiar pop star iconography with rhythmically dynamic editing.
What originally started out as a music video review has turned into a shameless rant where I openly praise my favourite K-pop girl group. Yes, I love everything about MAMAMOO. For years, I never really understood the appeal to K-pop idols. But in 2014, upon seeing MAMAMOO debut with “Mr. Ambiguous,” I was completely swept off my feet.
The biggest selling point was, and still is, their brazen self-assurance. It is both the soul of MAMAMOO, as well as the core message behind some of their best songs. Sure, songs about confidence have existed before in hits such as 2NE1’s “I Am the Best” and Twice’s “Like Ooh-Ahh,” but none quite have the empowering feel of MAMAMOO.
Last year, MAMAMOO released a music video for their song, “Girl Crush.” Like “Yes I Am,” “Girl Crush” is also a song about embracing who you are and ignoring those that tell you otherwise. In Korea, a “girl crush” is a woman that other girls admire and look up to. The Western equivalent would be something along the lines of “queen” or “bad bitch.”
During a time in which feminism is controversial and often misunderstood, I think it is important to take a step back from identity politics and look at the bigger picture. MAMAMOO’s brand of feminism is one of poise and positivity. While other K-pop songs boast about the way others perceive them, songs like “Yes I Am” and “Girl Crush” reflect on the importance of high self-esteem.
And in that sense, the K-pop idols of MAMAMOO are truly worth idolizing.