Two Years Later Sewol Ferry Accident Still Resonates in K-Pop Memory

Sewol Wendy Red Velvet

April 16 marks the second anniversary of the Sewol Ferry catastrophe that resulted in the death of 304 people and sparked introspection of South Korea’s socio-political society. While two years have passed since the sinking, the pain is still raw and many South Koreans continue to demand recognition for what is perceived as an avoidable accident that took the lives of hundreds, many of whom were students at Danwan High School. The effect of any tragedy on art is profound but it’s particularly striking that fans are looking towards K-pop, a musical style that is often perceived as artistically shallow, to find some connection to the youth who passed away during the Sewol ferry’s sinking.

Just as media often reflects current events, K-pop and the general Korean entertainment industry are also still recoiling from the haunting event. While K-pop took a break once to remember those lost, now many Korean songs are being interpreted as memorials dedicated to the Sewol Ferry victims. As K-pop continues to develop into a more mature brand, audiences seek to find a deeper meaning in the musical releases of Korean pop culture. Red Velvet, INFINITE’s Kim Sungkyu, and Block B’s Zico are just a few of the K-pop acts who have been connected to the sinking.

Back in 2014, the entire South Korean entertainment world came to a halt following the tragedy. South Korea’s confucian, communal heritage came to light internationally for the first time in several years during the situation as the entire country came together to commemorate the accident. For more than a month, the Korean pop culture world creeped along trying not to break the tense situation nationwide with what would be deemed inappropriate during a time of mourning. The industry came to a stand still, with few television stations running their normal programming and other forms of entertainment putting off plans; between Block B’s release of “Jackpot” on April 14 and EXO reawakening K-pop on May 7 with “Overdose,” there was no mainstream K-pop music put out because the industry had come to a halt out of respect to the victims and their mourners.

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After life returned to relative normality in South Korea and as the country demanded answers to difficult questions, Korean pop culture still retained its connection to the tragedy. As one of the most defining events in the past few years of South Korean history and an incident that particularly struck young adults, the Sewol accident appears to be rearing its head in a variety of places. While some instances of commemoration were intentional, other instances appear to be coincidences that were discovered by South Koreans still struggling with the horror of what happened on April 14, 2014 as they look for meaning in the art.

Red Velvet “One Of These Nights”

With recurrent water motifs, Red Velvet’s latest concept demands a further look. The song, ostensibly about lovers separation and longing, features a music video that shows the five members of Red Velvet in a variety of scenes that fans thought were meant to symbolize the Sewol Ferry’s sinking and the ones they left behind. Fans drew together a variety of ideas relating the music video concept to Sewol, beginning with the concept pictures which featured paper boats, similar to ones used to commemorate the deceased.

Throughout the music video, the members are seen in a variety of scenes surrounded by water; Joy is perceived as a survivor as she alone climbs away, up a ladder. Wendy, soaking wet, climbs under a table as a representation of the children stuck on the boat who crawled. There are also scenes filmed in a hallway that appears similar to that of those on boats, and a sign with the words “AIS on 15-16.” The AIS, or the Automatic Identification System that helps track ships, aboard the Sewol ferry is suspected of not having functioned properly on April 15 and 16.

To further the idea, Joy is the sole member who wears yellow, the color of the ribbons that memorialize the Sewol Ferry victims, while the other members wear white hooded outfits. In traditional Korean culture, white represents death. Joy sings the haunting line, “It’s okay if I see you in my dreams, so let’s meet again” as the rest of the members disappear into darkness.

Neither Red Velvet nor SM Entertainment, the group’s company, commented on the perceived connections, but the abundance of imagery (especially the AIS sign) makes it very plausible that “One of These Nights” was purposely a memorial to Sewol’s victims.

Sungkyu “Kontrol”

The plot of the music video for “Kontrol” features Sungkyu searching for his younger sister and remembering how they lived happily together while creating a home in an alleyway. Yellow ribbons and life jackets also appear in the short video, leading to fan speculation that that video was somehow related to those who who perished aboard the Sewol ferry.

Like “One of These Nights,” there is an ample amount of water imagery, but “Kontrol” also features the passing of first the girl and then Sungkyu followed by the two of them finding one another in heaven while she is soaking wet, alluding to drowning. Throughout the music video, Sungkyu remembers the pair’s happier times together while wandering alone before presumably walking in front of a car. At the end, Sungkyu gives his sister a small plastic house in a toy to symbolize the home that they, and the students aboard the ferry, once had no longer return to.

Some interpreted the song’s title as condemnation towards the crewmembers and adults who were in charge who took control improperly of the sinking, leading to unnecessary loss of life.

Although Red Velvet have remained quiet about the alleged connection, Sungkyu publicly revealed that the deeper meaning had not been intended but that there are different ways to interpret any sort of art.

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The Ark “The Light

Like the aforementioned songs, the debut song of (reportedly disbanded) The Ark was released only a few days before the first anniversary of the Sewol disaster. The heart wrenching music video features the loving relationship of a mother and a daughter, and the tragic moment when the mother discovers through a news report that her daughter died in an accident. Although the music video featured a bus accident as the cause of death, the timing of the video’s release and the depiction of a parent sending her daughter on a school trip draws on the emotions connected with Sewol.

Zico “Tough Cookie” & “Well Done” feat. Ja Mezz

Block B, the only K-pop group to release a song the day of the tragic event, has a particular connection to the sinking and Zico took the event and immortalized it with these songs. While the previous songs mentioned in this piece all require speculation to make a connection between Sewol and the music or music videos, Zico made it extremely clear that his songs “Well Done” and “Tough Cookie” were dedicated to Sewol’s victims. Both songs have run times of four minutes and 16 seconds, symbolizing April 16. Prior to the release of both, Zico tweeted about the time codes so that fans were aware of his song’s created as memorials.

Zico also commemorated a Block B fan lost at Sewol by attending her funeral and dedicating a rap to her at a concert she had planned to attend prior to her passing.

Are there any other references to the Sewol Ferry you know of? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Artist Spotlight: THE ARK

the ark kpop bio profile

By Sana Parvayz

If you’re sick of cute/sexy girl concept and those girly dance moves, which every other K-pop girl group does, then you need to dig out THE ARK. They are a rookie girl group under the management of Music K Entertainment who debuted on April 2015 with their single “The Light.” The concept and innovative logo of the group are inspired by the famous French heroine Joan Of Arc, who was a warrior and a military leader. Another term for an arc is a bow, so, ‘The ARK’ means the bow which would set a new direction in K-pop and would overcome hardships with ease.

THE ARK is a multicolor group which consists of five members and focuses on portraying various images of society.They are trying to depict what it is like to be a new icon which is not only independent, strong, and active, but also have a hidden delicate side to them. The group consists of Jeon Minju, Kim Yuna, Jung Yujin, Lee Halla, and Jane (Cheon Jaein). Before the formation of THE ARK, Minju was on “KpopStar season 2” and Yuna was on “Superstar K season 3.” Jane also auditioned for “The Voice Kids.” Later on, the entertainment company recruited them.

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Their debut single “The Light” is a contemporary R&B song with lyrical guitar riff that adds a groovy rhythm and hip-hop feel and was composed by Kim Tae Sung, who also composed “The Boys” by Girls’ Generation. This song expresses the strength for the loved ones and supports them in their difficult times. “The Light” shows the uniqueness of THE ARK as a group and their strong rapping, vocal, and performance abilities. Being a rookie group, they rapidly gained the attention of the audience. Their music video gained nearly two million views by the end of 2015.

During their pre-debut years, THE ARK covered the songs and dance choreography by various international and K-pop artists. One of the covers includes “Love The Way You Lie” by Rihanna and Eminem. This cover further proves their great singing abilities, as Yuna and Jane are good in English. So, they amazingly covered this song.

They have done various dance covers of EXO and BTS songs. Being five members, it is pretty hard to choreograph and cover those boy groups with fewer members. But they have done a great job and their dance covers were on pointe. Even, BTS complimented them on their dance cover of “Boy in Love.” This is one of their famous dance covers and got 1.7 million views on Youtube.

However, it was hard for the group to cover boy group dances and they often got ill during practice. But, they are really happy to show their charismatic side to the audience. Can you hear those fanchants?

Imagine a girl group with swag. Oh, there is no need to imagine it because The ARK has already got that and they are confidently portraying themselves as a different girl group. The powerful “INTRO” by the group really amazed the viewers and the elegant choreography for their song “The Light” perfectly shows the promising future for THE ARK.

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I love the concept and the whole persona of THE ARK. Hence, I am a huge fan and I wish them success for the future. I am definitely rooting for their upcoming projects. Ending this post on a happy note, here’s a wonderful live performance by The ARK.

So, what are your views about this new rookie group? Did you like the concept and the whole attire of the group? Do you think girl groups should stick with the cute/sexy concept only? Or they should do something out of the box.
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