Tuesday, August 13, 2019

"Winter Bear" by Kim Taehyung: A Moon Bear in hibernation.

I awaken I think. Marshlights

reappear, geese

come trailing again up the flyway.

--Taken from The Bear by Galway Kinnell.

Moon Bears no longer roam free in South Korea, although their range once spanned far and wide across the entire Asian continent. But there are Moon Bears. They live in cages, waiting to be killed for their bile ducts or, worse, live in cages while the bile is drained from their living bodies. I recommend caution in looking up photos, although I do recommend looking up photos because Moon Bears are quite lovely to look at, their rich brown coloring broken only by a v-shaped crescent moon of white on their chests.

Moon Bears hibernate in the winter. Like other bears their heart rate and breathing slow and they enter a state of prolonged slumber. A winter bear is a bear in a state of suspended animation, dreaming away long cold months while he waits for spring.

I’ve seen a number of interpretations of Kim Taehyung aka V aka Vante’s new song “Winter Bear” and the accompanying video floating around and I’m going to tell you right now that I don’t know what this song means to Kim Taehyung nor do I feel it is my place to make any assumptions about his relationships or his inner mental state. What I can talk about instead is art and the meaning to be pulled from this beautiful song.

The video opens with a shot of birds flying freely in the open sky. A classic image of freedom. But then we hear the click of a shutter and the camera pulls back. And as we cut to Taehyung sitting in the backseat of a car, taking photos through the window, we understand that we weren’t flying free among the birds in the sky but merely viewing them through the lens of camera, trapped helplessly in a car, behind glass. Taehyung puts the camera down and, without a word, the car begins to drive forward. Taehyung doesn’t make eye contact with the camera but continues to watch the world pass by outside as the strum of a guitar gently eases us into the song.

“Winter Bear” is a gentle waltz anchored by a simple acoustic guitar riff and Taehyung’s warm, warm vocals. It’s right in the wheelhouse of one of my favorite genres of music, something I like to call the Children of Nick Drake. Wistful, beautiful, maudlin songs rooted in the sounds of British folk music. Listen to something like The Cello Song for a taste of the great Nick Drake.

Taehyung begins “Winter Bear” in his rumbly, breathy chest voice. The lyrics (in English) play over shots of American and European landscapes shot from behind car windows (echoing Jungkook’s G.C.F. in USA) and of Taehyung behind his camera.

“She looks like a blue parrot

Would you come fly to me

I want some good day good day good day

Good day good day”

The lyrics bring up the image of the bird flying free echoing the opening shots of the song and the feeling it evokes--the feeling of those endless landscapes passing by as we helplessly watch--is of a yearning for freedom.

”Looks like a winter bear

You sleep so happily

I wish you a good night good night good night

Good night good night”

The next verse continues the same way but instead of calling after a bird flying, the singer speaks of a bear settling in for a winter hibernation. Has he become the parrot, speaking to the bear?

Imagine your face say hello to me

Then all the bad days are nothing to me

With you

Winter bear

Sleep like a winter bear

Sleep like a winter bear

For the next section of the lyrics, Taehyung jumps to his falsetto voice, double tracked, giving a sense of building anticipation, making your stomach drop and skin prickle… the images no longer show scenery passing by but Taehyung existing alone in a foreign cityscape. At one point we see him hold up a photo of his beloved dog Yeontan on his phone. “Imagine your face say hello to me.”

Is he singing to the Winter Bear, resting in gentle slumber, or is he the Winter Bear, biding his time until he can be reunited with his loved ones? Or both? Are we hibernating? Waiting for something to wake us up?

With the last sung lines--“Sleep like a Winter Bear”--come the drums. Breaking the soft flow with a determined forward movement. Now it’s night and Taehyung is no longer behind glass, behind his camera. He walks forward down an empty street.

We see a point of view shot of his feet. Left, right, forward into the night.

His back is to us but he turns to glance behind, perhaps to see if we’re still following.

And as his last breathy vocals fade away, we’re dropped into a black and white fantasy world. No longer in foreign cities full of faceless people, Taehyung wanders black and white fields. He bends down to greet a small dog, his only interaction with another living thing in this entire short film.

Black and white geese move backwards, pulled back to earth even as they try to fly away.

Black and white Taehyung moves backwards.

Black and white people on the street pass by backwards.

Black and white Taehyung holds up a bird feather in the black and white sunlight and smiles.

We go back to the empty night street and Taehyung’s feet are moving backwards. He is walking away from us, away from the camera as an electric guitar riff plays.

A “Strawberry Fields Forever” sounding mellatron patch fades in as Taehyung turns his back to us for the final time and walks off alone.

“Winter Bear” feels heartbreakingly lonely. The images of the birds unable to fly away as haunting as they are beautiful. Knowing much of this footage had to have been filmed on tour while Taehyung was surrounded by people and unable to really wander too freely adds an extra layer of wistfulness…

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