MONSTA X’s Search for Happiness as The Clan
One of the biggest trends in K-Pop music videos has always been the cryptic, story-based series. It’s especially popular for boy groups, whose large, dedicated fandoms are always looking for something to analyze. Most of these series last for only three or four comebacks, usually spanning a year’s worth of a group’s promotions. They’re a project, for sure, but they can be extremely effective ways of introducing new styles to fans.
MONSTA X was one of the latest groups to try out the series, releasing segments of The Clan from May 2016 to June 2017. The three main title tracks—“All In,” “Fighter,” and “Beautiful”—helped expose the general public to the group’s more pop-ish side after their debut year’s releases solidified their powerful hip-hop base.
The Story of The Clan
From the beginning, MONSTA X made it clear that The Clan was going to be a rags-to-riches story with an interesting twist. “All In” showed the seven members hanging out in the streets of a seemingly quiet town littered with police brutality. The video shows the boys standing up against the power imbalance, while also showing the reasons behind some of the members’ rebellious behavior. Hyungwon’s the son of a man who punishes him for acting out through physical abuse, while Shownu is enticed by the prospect of stealing money to help pay for his father’s medical expenses. After finding Hyungwon in an abandoned building following a beating by his father, Minhyuk—along with the help of Wonho and I.M.—burn down Hyungwon’s father’s house. The group bonds through their struggles, working together to help one another and relying on the aid of a mysterious blue flower, which they cook and concentrate into a liquid.
In the last minute of the video, we see a combination of scenes, all showcasing ultimate despair—Shownu burning the money he stole with Jooheon for his now dead father’s treatment, Minhyuk finding Hyungwon’s lifeless body in a tub full of water—followed by shots of the members using the blue liquid. Shownu drinks it while he watches the money burn, while Minhyuk pours it into the tub. The whole thing ends with the group collecting around a pulsing blue blob in the sky.
“Fighter” picks up the story in a slightly different way, changing up the comeback’s individual concept while still sticking to the story that they set up in “All In.” While the first entry in the series was the origin story, of sorts, “Fighter” is all about the struggle of continuing the rebellion against society that they started. Split up at the beginning, the group’s members are in various stages of confusion, seemingly trapped or lost on their own. The only exception is Jooheon, who seems more like an orchestrator in getting the group back together than someone who’s struggling. He encourages Shownu and saves Minhyuk and Hyungwon, all while pouring a huge jug of the blue liquid into a generator that powers a large game machine, which seemingly sparks the rebellious fire back into the group.
Not a whole lot happens in this middle installment, which makes it a little underwhelming in comparison to the other two videos. However, just like any part of a series, it’s crucial to the story’s development. Without it, the jump between the anger and despair-induced angsty rebellion in “All In” and the trapped-in-our-pleasures feelings of “Beautiful” would seem jarring. “Fighter” shows that while the boys’ individual efforts to fight for a better life usually don’t result in much, together they can accomplish anything. Talk about a story of friendship.
The third and final installment of the series only confirms Jooheon’s role as a puppeteer of sorts through the entire series. While the other six members are trapped in individual rooms throughout most of “Beautiful,” Jooheon is free to roam, coming in and out of the hallway connecting the rooms whenever he wants. Each of the remaining members, however, are stuck in a room with a view of their most desired luxury. More accurately, though, they’re stuck in a room full of the one thing that is trapping them in their unhappiness. The members being in suits suggests that they’ve seemingly achieved success, no longer the rebellious teenagers they were earlier in the series.
Minhyuk is in a room filled with pendulums, and he stares at a pocket watch, showing he’s trapped by his personal concept of time. Shownu is in a nature-filled room with a pedestal showcasing the mysterious blue flower in the center, making his weakness the perceived invulnerability the flower gives him. I.M. is in a room of physical riches—gold and cash aplenty—suggesting he’s trapped by his desire for wealth. Wonho is in a room of safe deposit boxes, meaning he’s obsessed with collecting the secrets of others, while Hyungwon is in a room filled with reflective surfaces, making his weakness his own appearance. Kihyun’s is the most difficult to figure out, as the inside of his room is only shown for a second. It’s fairly empty, except for a few metallic strips and a sword on a pedestal. Complete with a red background and the assassin backstory he got in “Fighter,” it seems like Kihyun’s personal trap is his reliance on death and murder.
The only way the six members can escape these rooms is for them to overcome their personal shortcomings and limitations. Jooheon helps some of them by giving them various items—a mirror for Hyungwon, an anvil and hammer for Kihyun, and a pen and ink for Wonho—while others manage to overcome their shortcomings on their own. The members overcoming their personal obstacles represents the final stage in their rags-to-riches style story of finding ultimate happiness. The first step was to overcome oppression, the second was realization that they needed each other, and the final was beating their own personal weaknesses.
Blooming in the Center
The main thread between all three videos in the series is the mysterious blue flower and, in turn, blue liquid. While there’s no explanation as to where these flowers came from, their importance to the boys is clear. At first, it seemed like it was a drug of some sort, due to the cult-ish scenes in “All In” and the blue and purple gummy bears in “Fighter.” Not to mention Minhyuk feeds Hyungwon the flowers when he’s weak toward the end of “All In.”
However, the way the blue liquid is used throughout the three videos also suggests that it’s something more metaphorical. The flower, whether in its solid or liquid concentrate form, is shown being used, eaten, or drank whenever a change is about to happen. Minhyuk pours it in the tub water with Hyungwon’s body, Shownu drinks it after burning the money, and Jooheon gives it to Minhyuk and Hyungwon when he comes to help them in the psychiatric ward.
Looking at how it’s used throughout the series, the flower represents hope. Whenever things seem really bad or inescapable, the members hope for a better future, which helps them move on to the next thing. As cheesy as it sounds, it fits throughout the series. Even in the case of Shownu’s trap in “Beautiful,” you could say that his reliance on hope is actually making him unhappy. He hopes so much that he doesn’t learn to cope when things don’t go the best way, which just gets him hoping that things will get better later, like a sad cycle.
A Special Addition?
While “Shine Forever” was technically released as a single for the repackaged album in The Clan series, it doesn’t show any connection to the storyline. The blue flower and liquid that were the connectors between all three parts of the story are noticeably absent, and even the friendly closeness between Minhyuk and Hyungwon has disappeared. “Shine Forever” features plenty of elements that could fit into its own story if analyzed, but they aren’t elements that display any correlation with the storyline for The Clan.