Essay / Riley Price / September 2018

Birth of a Loonaverse

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Written by Riley Price

Every now and then, an artist or group comes onto their music scene and kinda shakes up how it’s all done. For the K-Pop scene, one of the most recent culprits of this is Seoul-based Blockberry Creative’s girl group, Loona (officially stylized as LOOΠΔ). The pop group is made up of twelve girls, corresponding with the theme of their Korean name, 이달의 소녀, which literally translates to “Girl of the Month.” It’s pretty clear Blockberry was planning on taking advantage of this, as they based their release schedule around the whole idea, which made the build-up to Loona’s full debut all the more special.

Roughly two years ago, in October of 2016, Blockberry debuted the very first member of Loona, HeeJin, with a single entitled “ViViD.” The song saw decent reception, but nothing terribly notable. Two months later, the second member HyunJin was revealed, with a single of her own.. After that, each month saw the reveal of another member, finalizing with Olivia Hye’s reveal in March of 2018.

The full group is divided into 3 sub-units, referred to as Loona ⅓ ( HeeJin, HyunJin, HaSeul, and ViVi), Odd Eye Circle (JinSoul, Kim Lip, and Choerry), and finally yyxy (Yves, Chuu, Go Won, and Olivia Hye). Each group has had their own EP released, which all saw pretty favorable reviews and chart performances. In summer 2018, Loona released their first full-group singles, “Favorite” and “Hi High,” which led up to the group’s first full EP entitled ++ (Plus Plus), on August 20th. The six-track album received world-wide acclaim, reaching a solid #2 on multiple Korean charts, as well as #4 on the US World Albums chart. The day prior to ++’s release, Loona held their debut live performance, LOOΠΔbirth, in a packed venue, to great acclaim.

But what really sets the group apart from other recent successful K-Pop girl groups, like BLACKPINK and Twice? Most of it can be attributed to Loona’s 18-month build up, as well as the admittedly wild storyline they’ve built into their music and videos. If you use Twitter even a fair bit over the last two years, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a tweet with “Stan LOOΠΔ” in it. For those who aren’t familiar with the lingo, “stan” or “stanning” is basically just another way to say you’re a fan of something, probably to a more intense degree. And yeah, that last sentence was weirdly painful to write, I feel like a 47 year-old writer for Pitchfork trying to be in touch with “the youth” now, but I figured it might be kinda important to clarify.

Also, Loona stans are officially referred to as “Orbits,” which is pretty damn cute if I say so myself. Anyway, the phrase started appearing shortly after HeeJin’s reveal back in October of 2016, and snowballed in popularity ever since, being used both ironically and unironically all over social media. Usually whatever “Stan LOOΠΔ” was being posted on had almost nothing to do with K-Pop or music in general, effectively creating a viral marketing campaign for the group that Blockberry didn’t even have to pay for. Hell, people even started replying it to Trump’s tweets, saying “You’d be a better president if you stanned LOOΠΔ.” Understandably, this just made more people Google Loona, generating awareness for the up-and-coming group.

What’s also notable about the “Stan LOOΠΔ” phenomenon is how quickly and strongly it was taken on by the LGBT community, particularly on Twitter. If you were to look up the phrase on Urban Dictionary, it’s defined as “A popular phrase used by twitter gays under every popular tweet encouraging readers to stan Korean girl group Loona.” While it’s not really possible to pinpoint exactly when or why Loona started to grow popular in the LGBT community, many of the group’s songs and videos tend to have queer undertones. The first notable occurrence of this is probably Kim Lip’s debut single, “Eclipse”, which didn’t have the same feel as other Loona singles, and showcased the singer’s darker style of pop music. The song’s music video opted for a stronger focus on aesthetics rather than story (I’ll get into that part in a bit), and during the promotional period for the release, Kim Lip commonly sported an LGBT pride shirt. It’s weird that this song was the one to bridge the gap between the K-Pop and LGBT communities, since the song didn’t have the previously mentioned undertones. Regardless of that, it was pretty unanimously decide that “Eclipse is for the gays.”

More prominently, the single for Loona’s tenth member, Chuu, which was titled “Heart Attack,” really doubles down on the LGBT themes, especially in the music video. Throughout said video, Chuu is seen to have an intense crush on fellow Loona member Yves, which the songs lyrics directly reflect as well. Translated from Korean, a passage from the bop states, “The day we first met / Inside my quiet heart / As if a new world has opened / Even my hidden secrets that only I knew / That mood that I wanted to tell you all about.” Eventually, it’s revealed that Yves returns Chuu’s feelings, effectively giving the video a happy ending.

The video was quickly noted by western LGBT news sites, including Pride.com and NewNowNext, who heralded the song’s same-sex relationship positivity in the face of South Korea’s uneasy culture towards the subject. While homosexuality in the country is legal, same-sex marriage is still illegal, and the topic as a whole is still largely taboo in South Korean culture. Granted, I’m writing this as a bisexual white guy in America, so take that with a grain of salt. It’s important to keep in mind that “Heart Attack” could easily just be fanservice, or queerbaiting, pushed by Blockberry Creative to market the group to the LGBT community, meaning the representation was simply a shallow marketing ploy—which admittedly worked pretty well. Regardless, the video’s blatant showcase of women-loving-women was bold, and it struck a chord with Loona’s LGBT audience across the globe.

Another factor in Loona’s unique upstart in fame is the overarching storyline that’s featured throughout their songs and videos. I’ll try to give you the abridged version, but if you really want to delve into it, Reddit user “akitania” over on r/LOONA provided a pretty in-depth retelling of the story here. The story has a pretty heavily biblical theme to it, playing into the ideas of an Eden and forbidden fruits. There’s essentially multiple worlds, all part of one mobius-strip style universe, which can be distinguished to some degree by the different moons featured in the videos (seeing the obvious LOOΠΔ to Luna connection here, right?). For example, one world has three differently colored moons, while another has a single moon that sports three colors of its own, with the theme of threes here likely connecting to Loona’s three subgroups. Some of the girls seem to be able to travel between this Eden and other worlds, while others can’t, and there’s a sort of clique system throughout.

Members in the ‘normal’ world appear to have counterparts in the ‘Eden’ world, which they’re aware of to some degree. For whatever reason that hasn’t really been shown yet, ViVi is now an android, and it’s implied that she was killed by another member, Olivia. The overarching goal of the storyline appears to be to create a world where all twelve members are together, instead of being separated as they currently are. The girls with the ability to travel amongst the worlds, the members of Odd Eye Circle, seem to be the ones doing most of the work towards this goal. It’s kind of all over the place, I know, but I really do recommend reading that Reddit post if you care enough to. The story’s got a pretty solid hook to it, which is another reason why Loona garnered so much interest leading up to their full debut this year.

Loona certainly isn’t the first K-Pop group to change things up, and I doubt they’ll be the last. but their impact so early into their career is hard to ignore. I’ll admit that I’d never  listened to any K-Pop before I had Loona pushed on me by friends over Twitter, but I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t listen to ++ pretty much daily and that they weren’t one of my top artists of the year. Where exactly Loona goes from here, and especially where their wild storyline will go, is up for anyone’s best guess really, but it can’t be denied that it’s worth keeping an eye on them. As to whether or not they’ll keep up the LGBT themes in their content is also unclear, and we’ll have to wait and see if any of that representation is honest in the first place. At this point, all I feel like I know for sure about Loona is that their music is really, really fucking good.

Stan LOOΠΔ.

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