“Fantastic Baby” (2012)
2011 was not BIGBANG’s best year. G-Dragon smoked a blunt—I know, the least surprising news about a rapper, but a significant scandal in South Korea, which has stringent anti-marijuana laws. And in a far more devastating event, Daesung was in a car crash that resulted in the death of a motorcyclist. Though cleared of all charges, the event was a blight on the group’s reputation.
“Fantastic Baby” is essentially their fantastic rebirth. The video takes place in some kind of post-apocalyptic universe where music has been banned and a wire fence separates a mob of people in white gas masks from another mob in black riot gear.
But even amongst the conflict and wreckage, each band member looks fabulous. In the end, the people in white gas masks succumb to the irresistible “boom-shaka-lakas,” take off their masks and join BIGBANG’s dance party. An iconic image of the members donning crowns and sitting on thrones concludes the video.
With this video, BIGBANG announced that they were back and better than ever. They marked their comeback with a new look and a new sound that kept their crowns firmly in place. Daesung is first seen in chains and then belting it out in front of a wrecked car, but later he’s falling into the arms of the same mob that dances with the group at the end of the video. It’s a nice thank you to fans for supporting them during a rough time in their careers and enabling them to bounce back.
However, BIGBANG wasn’t just recovering from personal mistakes; they reinvented an entire genre in their call for a K-pop revolution. G-Dragon and YG producer Teddy began to blend genres and experiment heavily with EDM in G-Dragon’s first solo outing and his work with T.O.P., but this song marks an official transformation in BIGBANG’s sound. Its mix of EDM, hip hop, soaring pop vocals and even some old-school funk music characterizes the remainder of the Alive album and has taken over K-pop. Older groups like the now disbanded 2NE1 and newer ones like BLACKPINK and Winner have all employed this frenetic sound.
The music video also served as a dramatic departure from the group’s original aesthetic of basic street clothes and mostly mundane settings such as grocery stores and apartments. “Fantastic Baby” is over-the-top in the way we expect K-pop to be: crazy hair, fake tattoos, heavy make-up, bright clothes and elaborate set designs.
Still, we can extend the song’s message beyond the scope of BIGBANG’s career and K-pop into more provocative territory. In my analysis of “Doom Dada,” I cited high-brow fine art and cinema as T.O.P.’s inspiration, but that song was perhaps his own warped variation of “Fantastic Baby.” Both offer visions of destruction and resurrection.
However, T.O.P. takes a darker approach, imagining himself as the antichrist appearing as humanity is about to end. “Fantastic Baby” is set at a different moment: the world has ended, and G-Dragon announces that “the real” has appeared to begin a new age. The group is giving the world a second big bang as the “ground is shaking,” the “atmosphere is overheated” and an unstoppable party is setting the earth on fire. T.O.P. may have been the antichrist in “Doom Dada,” but “Fantastic Baby” establishes the group as the second coming. They’re not just kings of K-pop but kings of all men, and as it’s said in the Bible, the Lord returns when “the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). The band is definitely delivering some loud noise and fiery imagery to mark their comeback.
Furthering their representation as supreme beings, G-Dragon playfully controls time and the elements. The video opens with G-Dragon’s long, red wig which resembles flames. Corresponding with that image, he then raps, “catch me on fire.” But he makes a switch by repeating “ice, ice, ice” while wearing a white outfit. He also shifts from urgency to patience, telling us that “three minutes is not enough for this race” but then instructing us to wait. We experience an even more sudden swing when it gets to Daesung’s part. The energy builds as Daesung hits a high note, but the music halts. The only noise is G-Dragon’s “wow, fantastic baby.” G-Dragon characterizes BIGBANG as ruling the universe through music. They use music to control time and the elements and transfix listeners according to their whims. One moment their music is a fireball blazing across the dancefloor; the next second it freezes time.
But this power is used for good. BIGBANG orders listeners to “open your hearts, empty your minds” and “jump at the sound of your heartbeat.” Remember how “Doom Dada” is T.O.P.’s attempt to creep into our subconscious? “Fantastic Baby” also positions music as something that gets deep inside us. When we let go of the prejudice and conflicts of our conscious mind, we can surrender to the rhythm of music and let it pull us together.
Ultimately, BIGBANG’s positioning themselves as kings is far more than a statement about their status within K-pop. BIGBANG wishes to redeem mankind in the best possible way: a dance party. The energetic chorus of “I wanna dance, dance, dance, dance, dance” as well as G-Dragon’s opening and closing calls for everyone to come together advocates for peace through music and celebration. “Fantastic Baby” evokes disaster imagery not as a sign of impending doom but as a sign of the end of a war-torn world. When the mob takes off their gas masks and stops fighting their enemies, they do so to take part in BIGBANG’s wild party and Matrix dancing. The boyband strives to rule over us by using the force of music to encourage everyone to come together for some crazy dancing.
Let’s not get carried away though. Not everyone is at this party. BIGBANG is definitely giving us some cocky, youthful defiance. Their “youth is a different dimension,” and they’re “always ahead” and “faster than others.” BIGBANG is going to “go crazy and rave” whether people like it or not, and the people clad in black riot gear on the other side of the fence are not having it. There seems to be a realization that there’s always going to be conflict. From anti-fans to brutal regimes that ban music from other countries, there will always be those who fail to get along with everyone and just celebrate.
Having said that, music has served as a small stepping stone for peace between the two Koreas. I mentioned in the series introduction that music is serving as a unifying force in the Korean peninsula during the Olympic games with North Korea sending a delegation of musicians to areas of South Korea. The opening ceremony continued to use music to convey a goal for peace. During a performance of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” people holding candles joined to form the shape of a dove. Though almost painfully cliché, perhaps the performance shows that the message of “Fantastic Baby” is gaining a little headway. The “sky is blue enough” at least to let music knock down barriers during the games.
Featured image credit: Even doing the Matrix furthers BIGBANG’s theme of salvation, since The Matrix is a Christian allegory about a savior bringing mankind out of darkness through love and connection. It’s also one of the few dance moves T.O.P. can do.
Screenshots from music video