In 2012, VIXX were just one of a multitude of new groups in Korea. The amount of group debuts that year was approximately double from 2011. Competition for attention and sales was fierce. Some groups had the backing of a big company, like EXO, and others used strange gimmicks, such as AOA’s half angel concept. However, most were forgotten as they had little marketing coming from a small company (Phantom, Skarf), were too generic to stand out (Tahiti) or were just not good enough (Two X). So how did a group from a relatively smaller company at the time, with a low-key debut end up with eight music show wins and upcoming solo concerts in Chicago and New York?
The answer to that is theme. Or rather VIXX’s use of themes in their songs. Most groups take a concept with each new release, like a sexy, aegyo, hip-hop or dark, and use it as their visual scheme. But very rarely does it influence the rest of their song. VIXX on the other hand, starting with On and On took a theme and expressed it in every aspect of their release. The music, lyrics, costumes, choreography, and delivery are all tied to one theme. This offers a thoroughly satisfying and cohesive song whereas we are used to snippets of a concept.
What they did was to take a dark fantasy concept and built upon themes based on this niche. This helped them first of all to stand out from the crowd of boy groups doing powerful concepts like Beast or hip-hop concepts like Big Bang, but it was the clarity of their themes which raised them above in terms of quality.
As soon as you start listening to the song it is compounded with a sample of the theme song from Phantom of the Opera which not only sets the tone but fits thematically with the lyrics. These are about a dangerous woman whom VIXX cannot stay away from. They are willing to become vampires just to be with her. This mirrors the story of the Phantom of the Opera as it also revolves around a dangerous relationship similar to On and On.
With nearly every one of the lyrics, they match the choreography along with it too. For example, Leo sings, ‘She pokes me again and runs away’ as an arm stabs through him. In one line of a performance, everything comes together: music, lyrics, visual. and choreography. This is well thought out pop music. This happens many more times in the one performance, like in the chorus when they sing the line ‘I’m on my knees and ready to get hurt,’ where all the members except Hongbin are on their knees while he mimics ripping his heart out, ready to be hurt. There is even some vampire imagery in the dance, the hands across their chest as if they are in a coffin and Leo going to bite Ken in the neck as the other members crowd around him. It is this consistency of theme which makes VIXX’s performances so satisfying to watch, but it may not be obvious all the time
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On and On brought VIXX into the eye of the public and was their biggest selling single at the time. It was an obvious choice to continue with this type of concept. What we expected was a lesser version of the same thing, but what we got was so much more.
Again, the theme is fitted onto every element. The visual is one of black and white, usually split half and half between the six members. The choreography right from the start is in line with the lyrics and concept. At one point, Leo sings,
There’s no way I said those words
There’s no way I said I’d leave you
He utters these words as he looks at his hands as if it is the first time he has seen them and moves his body as if something is trying to get out.
Throughout the whole performance the duality motif is kept up. Most of the dance moves are mirrored on both sides by the two opposing colors. This means that when some of the choreography does not fit the theme that there is something still there going on to connect to. It’s utterly satisfying for a viewer and is just as much a reason for the quality of their performances as their powerful movement. The attention to detail is masterful and elevates VIXX above their contemporaries.
For example, they reused a move from Hyde, where the members’ line up form a shadow like effect as they each move out a bit. In Hyde, this symbolizes VIXX’s change from the human Jekyll into the monster Hyde. In G.R.8.U, it is little more than a cool move. Also, unlike the previous two singles, the rest of the choreography does not back up any of the lyrics. This is by no means a requirement of every song, but it is somewhat disappointing considering what VIXX can achieve. If it was supposed to be a Jekyll version to Hyde, it also doesn’t work as there is no sense of darkness here.
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After that misstep, VIXX were back on thematic form with their preceding singles Voodoo Doll and Eternity. The theme of Voodoo Doll is obvious, but their use of a prop pin was the inspiration –before it was censored, of course. Their puppet-like dancing was perfect. On the other hand, Eternity was not as dark as the others, but stuck with a theme of time, and performed it excellently.
This time VIXX are cyborgs who are trying to forget a past love. Hongbin laments:
I was afraid that I’d get cut by your sharp, knife-like words
I just need to breathe and eat to endure through this
It is almost as if he wished they were actual cyborgs because it would make everything much easier. The choreography of this part smartly helps this idea, as Hongbin seems to be a robot booting up and Ravi sticks his arms through Hongbin’s as if they were a robots.
Like their previous singles, the robot motif sticks throughout the rest of the song and dance. It blends seamlessly with their choreography and, thankfully, never delves into cheesy robot dances.
These are rare complete performances from VIXX, tonally and thematically, as they hit the mark on every aspect of their song while connecting them all together. This type of craft is rare in pop music, let alone just K-Pop. Themes are so important to all forms of art. How a piece engages with a theme conveys to us what that piece really wants to say.
While pop music is not expected to be a politically striking, there should still be an engagement and commitment to themes. This is what VIXX has been doing; creating pieces of music which can be enjoyed on every level and the use themes to infuse each of these.
If any of you are lucky enough to see them in Chicago or New York, try taking some time to notice this. A lot of hard work has gone into it, and it’s a big reason why VIXX are standing on that stage.