The Black Skirts, a Korean indie rock band with singer-songwriter Hyu-il Jo as its only member, came back on February 12 with a new album, THIRSTY. As the second part to the artist’s “love trilogy”, which aims to explore the different aspects of what one may define as love, the 12 songs focus on the “shameless and grotesque” side of affection. Through his unique and somewhat adventurous style, Hyu-il Jo brings about an exclusive musical experience — and a few things to be discussed.
Team Baby, the first part of the trilogy, was highly acclaimed by the media. Its charming lyrics illustrating the kind of love that would typically be considered pure and devoted were dedicated to “you who are in love, and the person by your side”. This is probably why THIRSTY came as a shock to many with its contrasting theme, especially when Team Baby had definitely been the artist’s most successful album. The fame has led to a large part of the public defining the artist rather one-dimensionally, based on the distinct impression the first part had left. Henceforth, it is understandable that those who have been deeply touched by the sincerity of Jo’s previous album would have been struck with a sense of betrayal.
Nevertheless, even with this perception aside, some of the songs in THIRSTY would doubtlessly have been subject to controversy and criticism anyway. They were not only “shameless and grotesque”, but explicitly immoral and incomprehensible. The lyrics to “Mad Dog Diary” and “Holiday” were mainly targeted. The speaker’s irresistible attraction to a “shallow chick” and the diminishing of a sex partner he feels no emotional affection towards suggest prostitution, or an affair at the very least.
The controversy has been labeled as “Misogyny of The Black Skirts”, but the term seems to be a little misleading, because the main argument of the controversy is the artist’s approval of this kind of love, not hatred towards women. In his album, Jo writes, “They all sound like songs about love that cannot be helped.” But what we must recognize is that he was not expecting understanding or empathy. “Mad Dog Diary”, for instance, is narrated by a customer of prostitution. At a first glance, the narrator seems to be comparing his partner to a dog, telling her to “become human”.
However, an ordinary diary would be written from the perspective of the writer, and thus the “mad dog”, is in fact, referring to the speaker himself. The artist definitely recognizes the wrong in the content, but he wishes to explore all kinds of temptations humans feel in relation to sex and affection — immoral yet irresistible, lured so strongly that “it cannot be helped”. It almost seems as though Jo had not been able to resist his curiosity for such tabooed emotions and could not keep himself from singing about the things no one dares to talk about.
It is easy to misunderstand that the contents of poetry, including lyrics of songs, directly coincide with the artist’s personal experience and philosophy. This is presumably because they tend to focus more on delivering emotions, as they must be densely concentrated in concise lines and in a limited amount of time. However, like any other form of literary artwork, we must not disregard the possibility that they may, too, simply wish to tell a story. We do not expect for a novelist who writes the greatest murder mysteries from a first person perspective to be a psychopath. The more realistically a character’s mind is described in a novel, the greater the admiration its creator would receive for their ability to imaginatively empathize with and speak for the character.
THIRSTY taps on the desperate and filthy desires we all have to an extent as humans — the upsetting side of ourselves we do not want to admit or discuss. Particularly, we witness these desires shamelessly run down to their extreme, with sexual favors being prevalent; this has been revealed to us at an especially greater depth through the recent incidents including the “Burning Sun Scandal”, where celebrities have been illegally filming and sharing sex videos. The things Jo sings about are meant to be disturbing. The fact that the controversy has risen indicates that they indeed were. Accordingly, despite the criticism and disapproval The Black Skirts has received, by making the audience feel what he had intended for us to feel, the album — from an artistic perspective — has been a success.