“COME BACK HOME” and cool things

Disclaimer: This isn’t a thorough analysis or doesn’t come close to an analysis of the “COME BACK HOME” MV at all! Just a compilation of things I noticed and thought were cool, so it’ll be a little bit of this and that (but I hope not too disorganized to follow). Also, I’m not familiar with Seo Taiji, so I’m reading into this MV as it is, and have only watched Seo Taiji’s 15th Anniversary MV a couple of times. In other words, I’ve mostly decontextualized the MV during the observation process except towards the end when I shift my focus to BTS~

I. First frame

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The opening scene features a couple of film feels with a modern city background, which serve (at least) two purposes: 1, they evoke a sense of the past, foreshadowing the final message at the end of the MV “time:traveler” – in this case, the destination is the past, which also goes along with the title of the track that is to “come back home”; 2, the two film reels each symbolize Seo Taiji and BTS, placed side by side, insinuating an encounter of “past” and “present,” respectively, which further emphasizes the theme of time traveling/connection to the past.

II. Suffering boys

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Then we have Wandering Boy who, at first, seems to be lost in the woods – a popular symbol of the unknown/going astray, but as you see in this shot, there’s a clear, straight path on which he’s walking after confidently putting on his hood, which means he’s not lost at all, and actually knows his way out of the forest.

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He, in fact, walks out quite easily and into a wide open field of tall grass and nothingness, where he takes off his hood, perhaps because he has entered a new territory with which he isn’t familiar and once again needs to keep an eye on things to find his way, unlike in the forest, where he can walk with a hood on and still manage to get out.

After Wandering Boy, we have three (?) more frustrated male characters (or at least I think the man in the third picture is a different man from the other two). The Schoolboy has to stay after school for work he doesn’t understand, while the Young Graduate just can’t seem to have a successful interview anywhere, and the White Collar Worker is fed up with office work. They’re of different ages, with seemingly different predicaments, but if you boil it down, they both face the same struggle of not knowing the correct answer to an assignment, to interview questions, to the meaning of a boring, repetitive life.

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Interestingly, whereas Young Graduate chooses to burn his name tag to signify that he’s not doing this job hunting bull anymore, hinting at the possibility of looking for other opportunities, and White Collar Worker is simply a pissed off man alone in his cubicle, Wandering Boy and Schoolboy aren’t faring too well. Wandering Boy has made his way out of the field, but not really – he’s only made it to the other side of the fence, and is pouring out his anger on an inanimate object aka the fence in an incredibly aggressive and violent way. On the other hand, Schoolboy resorts to pills under immense stress from school. Although both boys are shown screaming out of probably unfathomable discontent, their solutions to their problems are different. One chooses projection, while the other relies on suppression, which, I think, reflects two common reactions among youth to oppression: they either put their anger on something else, or they keep it in and try to deal with it regardless of the extremes they have to go.

III. Lady Dancer

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Now, the Lady Dancer is of immense interest to me. On my first watch she was the one who captured my attention more than anyone/anything else. She’s shown stuck in a relatively restricted area with white walls and boxes, dancing in a most desperate way and as seen in the second picture above, apparently trying to find her way out of the confined space with all of the hand gestures reaching out to something. What’s really intriguing is that you can see that she isn’t that restricted – the walls aren’t too tall, there’s evidently a rooftop above that signifies she can stand up and leave the space anytime she wants. Why doesn’t she do that? Why does she keep dancing uncomfortably on her knees when literally freedom is right next to her? Doesn’t she notice this?

Notice that she’s the only female appearance in this MV, and looks the most flamboyant out of them all. Blond hair, tight and exposing clothes, bold makeup – you might think she’s dancing for an audience, she’s putting on a show even though she’s miserable, in a confined space, unable to see/reach the way out. Doesn’t this remind you of the oversexualization of women? I don’t think the MV is speaking directly to the K-Pop industry, but the K-Pop industry is nevertheless heavily guilty of this and contributes to the systemic objectification of women. Girl groups/female celebrities are often publicly sexualized, pressured to put on a glamorous look, and so on. Lady Dancer in this MV embodies all that. Furthermore, the fact that the exit is so close to yet seemingly so far away from her intensifies the suffocating invisibility of gender roles and social norms that hold women back from escaping the confined space they were put in.

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Another fascinating thing is that several cuts of Wandering Boy running in the underpass are shown in between Lady Dancer’s dancing sequences. They’re both young, lost, trying to find a way out in a restricted space, but Wandering Boy has more freedom to move around despite the narrow path. At least he’s wearing relatively casual clothes and can run off to somewhere, but Lady Dancer is merely trapped in the white space, all dolled up for an unseen audience. The way they’re both emotionally burdened clearly communicates that no, this MV isn’t saying it’s all fun and game for men. Instead, it’s telling us that everyone has it hard, but being a female in this economy really sucks on another level. Which, I think, is super cool. An incredibly charged scene, isn’t it?

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Skipping ahead a little, we have a Guy Dancer clad in all black, even his hair, who’s dancing in a totally open, dark environment and has all the space to move in. His is almost an inverted version of Lady Dancer’s situation. Once again, this constitutes another reason for me to believe that there’s some subliminal social commentary on sexism going on in this MV.

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Later on, the juxtaposition between Lady Dancer and Wandering Boy reappears. She has escaped from the confined space and achieved relative freedom in this dimly lit alley. However, mixed in with her scene is, once again, Wandering Boy, still wandering, but in a considerably more spacious tunnel, while she’s leaning on a shabby house in a narrow path that probably only three people can squeeze through at max. It’s almost like as soon as she manages to get into a space that’s relatively less restricting than the previous, so does Wandering Boy.  After the sequence in which she wipes her lips, which shortly follows this scene above, we don’t see her again anymore, while Wandering Boy eventually gets to the most open space in the entire MV, which is where the film reels are (or at least the angle gives off that kind of impression). He might be not totally free, but his freedom is exponentially greater than hers. The gendered gap doesn’t disappear at all. For every step she makes he will have gone two, three, seven steps further.

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The jarringly polar opposite in terms of the size of the space in which Wandering Boy walks vs. Lady Dancer dances.

I love, love, love the sequences featuring the lady dancer the most out of the entire MV; they speak volume and left me completely speechless after the first time watching.

IV. Hand symbolism?

Who likes obscure hand symbolism that might not actually be symbolic at all and is just actually Not That Deep? Me.

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Lady Dancer is staring at her own hands, with which she attempts to reach out to escape but eventually fails.
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Boxer Guy is passionately punching a punching bag.
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Black Dancer is doing complicated hand movements.
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Wandering Boy punches the fence/inflicts violence on inanimate objects to clear out his rage until his knuckles bleed.
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Boxer Guy’s knuckles suffer because of his aggressive punching.
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Boxer Guy is bandaging up the wound himself.
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Another dancer is performing complicated hand movements.

In my very humble and somewhat uncertain opinion, hands, in this MV, hold a lot of meanings. Lady Dancer tries to use her hands to escape, Wandering Boy punches things to vent his anger, Boxer Guy enjoys punching a bit too much, and they all end up being disappointed in their own hands. The in between cuts of obscure dancers with robotic hand movements add a heightened sense of poignancy to these three characters’ struggles. The movements are sharp, the dancers have perfect control over their bodies, their facial expressions are stone-cold, everything is very practiced, precise, structured, as if the dance is an artistic representation of the systematic cycle of hurting oneself and picking oneself back up that young people have trained themselves to reproduce day after day so well. The fact that everyone is alone highlights this helpless independence – they have no one, that’s why they have to rely on themselves.

My personal thoughts on hands: I associate hands with creation of things, a sense of organic-ness – e.g., handmade things suggest sincerity, or you say you do something “with bare hands” to emphasize the hard work you put into it. So, the hand symbolism not only speaks to me in the way expressed above, but also highlights just how hard young people have it and how hard they’re trying with all their might, regardless of what old people like to say about “those millennials.” As shown in the MV, all three young people seem relatively in good shape, and by that I mean they’re clothed and seem well fed. However, they struggle and suffer in their own ways, and there’s no one to help them at all. They end up unguided, damaging themselves, and have to learn how to heal themselves up again and again.

V. Youth, fire, and representation

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The cut from Guitar Girl to musical equipment on fire gave me chills. Guitar Girl is having the time of her life, playing her blue guitar, the scene colored in calming shades of blue, and then the next scene we have the guitar in flaming, angry red. In this instance, music is Guitar Girl’s escapism, her antidepressants, but then the instrument is shown being burned to the ground and by whom the MV doesn’t explicitly communicate.

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In another instance featuring fire, we see one of the burning books is a TOEIC prep book, which sheds a vastly dissimilar light on the meaning of fire. This fire is swallowing test prep books, and the fact that the TOEIC title is presented quite clearly to the audience accentuates the fact that tests are particularly a devastating bane of students’ existence – they’re unnecessarily stressful, useless, and inherently meaningless.

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Afterwards, we have a strange sequence in which a boy burns the graffiti he drew on the wall himself, with a torch, which I imagine as a continuation of the message from Guitar Girl’s scenes – having to burn down one’s own creation/art/means of escapism because society is against it. In this case, it’s because the law is against vandalism, without understanding that it’s one of youth’s artistic expressions.

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These are the pills we’ve seen in Schoolboy’s scenes, and the cigarette pack of the boy who was beaten (whom I didn’t discuss). The burning of these two objects are quite provoking. It signifies the act of giving up on things that calm the boys down, which either puts them in a perilous situation in which they have nothing to deal with their oppression with, or, on a more positive note, implies that they’ve decided to get rid of these unhealthy coping methods for something else, and hopefully, to turn their lives around because they’re sick and tired of suffering and healing on their own.

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The last (focused) fire scene.

The last (focused) fire scene (in the actual last fire scene, the fire is out of focus) immediately transitions to the appearance of a cassette tape with Seo Taiji’s and BTS’s names on it.

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The way the MV doesn’t merely show the tape, but demonstrates the formation of the tape instantly following the fire, as if the fire burns down everything important to youth – their oppression, their escapism, their heart, which then solidifies and transforms into this tape. In other words, Seo Taiji and BTS are created from the complications and perils of youth.

This sort of “creation story” once again plays into the theme of “come back home” and traveling back to the past, reminding artists, particularly Seo Taiji and BTS, where their muse is, what has kept them going, and how they came to be what they are now. It’s like a homage to all the things that inspire them, I’d say.

VI. BTS

Of course, as many have noticed, there are tons of allusions, whether intentional or not, to BTS’s old MVs in this video, for example:

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Similar to the upside down scene in Young Forever.
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Jimin’s throwing his paperwork away in Dope.
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Hobi’s pills throughout the HYYH and WINGS eras.
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Tae’s vandalism throughout the HYYH and WINGS era.

And so on. I’m pretty sure a lot of people have every single reference figured out and tie things together very nicely, so I’m going to stop listing here. My thoughts on the high frequency at which references are thrown in this MV are similar to what I’ve said in part IV. After breaking it down somewhat, I see this as quite a nostalgic MV, and the old references are further reminders for BTS never to forget where they came from and what they and their music stand for. On a broader note, this also shows that youth, despite coming from all backgrounds and having their own circumstances and predicaments, do share certain things in common and are in this fight together.

Another pretty cool thing before I end the post:

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It’s the new logo against a galaxy background, and I can’t help but think of this combined image of the pics used in the three covers that BTS prepared for FESTA 2017, in which they used ARMY bombs as stars. 

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This echoes the concept of BTS among a galaxy made of ARMY bombs – it’s like it’s their own special universe. Therefore, we have the references that tell us BTS won’t forget their roots, where they came from, but we also have this clear image that reassures us that BTS won’t forget ARMYs, who have been with them on their journey, either. Regardless of whether this is intentional or not, I still think it’s amazingly sweet and heart-warming~

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