What (G)I-DLE’s I love Represents
How this (G)I-DLE era builds on the foundation of the last one
(G)I-DLE’s new album, I love, builds on the topics covered in their last album, I NEVER DIE, by taking the critical lens from I NEVER DIE and turning it outwards. I NEVER DIE focuses on self-interrogation, and I love applies that same level of scrutiny to society overall. Below are some of the many examples of how, through the “Nxde” music video and I love song lyrics, (G)I-DLE build on the themes from I NEVER DIE, subvert expectations, critically evaluate the world around them, and enter their most insightful era yet with this comeback.
What They Mean by “Nude”
The “Nxde” music video shows what (G)I-DLE’s definition of the word “nude” is, and it pokes fun at the “rude” people whose minds immediately go to literal nudity instead. They show a desire to “bare it all” when it comes to the appearances and expressions that feel the most authentic to them. When audience members seek literal “nudes,” they intentionally misinterpret what is asked for and feign surprise upon spectators’ disappointment. Their faux-confusion is expressed through these lyrics: “Excuse me, to all of you who are sitting here / If you were expecting some rated-R show / Oh, I’m sorry, but that’s not what we’re showing.” In other words, “Is this not what you asked for?! Me nude? Me as my most stripped-down self? Me at my most authentic? If that is not what you meant, you are the problem, not me.” This statement expresses their refusal to feel responsible for the crowds’ reactions when those reactions are selfish; they will not put on a show that pleases the crowd in a way that removes their own comfort and enjoyment. In other words, if people want a literally nude show instead of a metaphorically nude one, too bad!
Throughout the video, (G)I-DLE pose and smile for the cameras and crowds but never put on a literally nude show. They make clear their version of a “nude show” refers to one where they show their most unfiltered selves. One moment that especially drives home this message is when YUQI rocks a sparkly, black ensemble in front of a Marilyn Monroe image. Later, she cosplays as Monroe, showing that she has nothing against Monroe but will simply pay homage to her when she wants to, not when others insist upon it. YUQI plays dress-up for a minute but makes it nothing more than a tease, spending the majority of the video dressed in outfits that better match her personal style. Much like how SOYEON is willing to pose in a glass box for art museum attendees and MIYEON is willing to appear at a press conference, (G)I-DLE decide to play along with expectations, as long as they can do so on their own terms. They are willing to play the game, as long as they can decide what kind of players they are in it.
The Message Sent Through Their Wardrobe
The outfit choices in “Nxde” speak volumes for the balance they strike between the demure and the daring. In a scene where SOYEON is on display in a glass case, she wears a long, elaborate gown, but it is sleeveless. MINNIE’s hot pink dress is short but long-sleeved. The wardrobe in other scenes includes both crop tops and long skirts and/or long sleeves. These are just a few examples of how (G)I-DLE’s outfits are somewhat skin-baring, but only to a point. They only go as “nude” as they are comfortable with going.
The Banksy Reference
The “Nxde” music video draws inspiration from Banksy, an artist with a long history of making compelling work full of social commentary. Specifically, “Nxde” pays homage to Love is in the Bin, which, to shock and awe, was partially shredded at the end of the bidding war by a secret shredder in its picture frame. The piece, which was originally valued at $1.4 million, was sold for $25.4 million after the stunt that shredded half of it. This situation says something about both the concept of art itself and the art customers. The fact that auction participants consider a piece from a famous artist to be much more valuable after being partially destroyed raises questions about how much name recognition ensures financial success no matter what, as well as how much owners of famous art truly value the work itself and not just the love and attention it brings them. Similarly, the partial-shredding of a cartoon image of a nude woman in the “Nxde” music video makes a statement about destroying sexualized assumptions about how female performers “should” be and, simultaneously, a statement about what it means for art to maintain attention regardless of what happens to it. Damaged or not, Banksy’s work has stayed in high demand, and if anything, straying from the public’s expectations has only increased the perceived value of his work. Likewise, (G)I-DLE’s public spectacles in “Nxde” might not match the public’s expectations - they might just surpass them! In an interesting paradox, by chastising shallow viewers as much as the viewers chastise (G)I-DLE, (G)I-DLE still have the upper hand; whether bitter or grateful, the audience still shows up, and all eyes stay on the group. If anything, the desire to attend a (G)I-DLE show increases as a result of them generating buzz by breaking stereotypical assumptions about what their shows have to offer.
Both the “Nxde” song and music video are thought-provoking for the ways they speak to the concept of ownership. Audiences ultimately want a sense of ownership over what they see and get. Whether it’s a picture or a live performance, people revel in feeling like they have obtained something personalized, a memory and/or a tangible item that is theirs to interpret and remember. It doesn’t matter if what is “theirs” is partially destroyed; that only makes it more unique and therefore more desirable to them. It also doesn’t matter if it strays from what they anticipated getting, because although they might protest what they see, they likely will still go see it again. (G)I-DLE are able to keep such a “sorry-not-sorry” attitude throughout I love because they understand this. They know they have power over the crowds and win regardless of whether or not the buzz their shows generate is positive or negative. (G)I-DLE choose to define “nude shows” as being shows where they are their most metaphorically stripped selves, and their refusal to cater to the literal interpretation irritates those who think that is what they are owed. (G)I-DLE insist they don’t owe the audience anything, except entertainment, and they encourage viewers to “think outside the box” and broaden what they define as entertainment to not be “so rude.” (G)I-DLE maintain control over the situation, ensuring viewers’ memories are what they want them to be, not someone’s sexualized fantasies.
Connecting I NEVER DIE to I love
I NEVER DIE and I love share many themes, especially confidence - or at least the appearance of it - and an insatiable desire to prevent a single person from casting them as anyone but the protagonists in their own life stories. The main difference is not in their themes so much as their approaches to addressing them: I NEVER DIE strikes a more introspective tone, and I love approaches topics with an external focus. Both albums contain messages like “I am not the problem, you are,” but I NEVER DIE emphasizes the “I am not the problem” part, and I love focuses on the “you are” part. I NEVER DIE and I love are complementary albums, the former stating their goal of no longer conforming to others’ ideals and the latter lamenting how hard external forces make it to achieve that goal.
A Key “Nxde” Lyric: “Rating is Just the Inverse of Bliss”
In I NEVER DIE, (G)I-DLE go back and forth between succumbing to the urge to embody whoever their loved ones want them to be and refusing to be anyone other than who they truly are. They reference having dyed their hair blonde in the past to please a loved one in “LIAR,” but they insist on never doing that again in “TOMBOY”: “Do you want a blonde Barbie doll? / It’s not here, I’m not a doll.” Post-breakup, they proudly wear the “red lip / And the smoky [eye makeup a past lover] hated.” However, on a song from I love, “Sculpture,” they return into the comforting arms of conformity: “I’ll become whatever you want me to be;” “While I am shaving myself in pain for you / It’s okay, I’m your sculpture;” “I’ll smile when you tighten my dress again.” This is not the about-face it first appears to be: in both “LIAR” and “Sculpture,” (G)I-DLE admit to knowing their conformity cannot end well. “I’m losing myself so bad / Like a doll without emotions,” they confess in “LIAR.” “I want to be loved like crazy,” they admit in “Sculpture.” With the latter lyric, they repeat their underlying dissatisfaction with conforming to others’ beauty standards and end up revealing why they still conform in the process. They express a desperate desire to be loved, even if they know deep down that this love is “crazy” in more ways than one.
(G)I-DLE’s narrative might sound like a hypocritical one, but it is anything but: it is not a simple story of going back on their word and returning to abiding by societal beauty standards. Rather, it is a story about the desire to resist this social pressure while admitting it is an ongoing struggle. (G)I-DLE say “Do as I say, not as I do,” struggling at times to follow their own advice. By sometimes brushing aside others’ expectations and other times following them to the letter, (G)I-DLE demonstrate the hard truth: even the most confident of women face an uphill battle when it comes to cutting ties with the toxic narratives they are fed throughout their lives.
Another Key “Nxde” Lyric: “Twisted Lorelei that Don’t Need No Man”
Lorelei is both the name of a rock in Germany that is famous for the echo it generates and the name of a siren in German mythology. One retelling of the myth is as follows: Lorelei lures men into lethal traps, and as she is escorted to her punishment for doing so, she asks to stop and look at the view one last time from a specific rock. She falls to her death upon climbing this rock, and the remaining echo in that area is thought to be her spirit. Her character shares similarities with the sirens in Greek mythology, who lure sailors to their deaths by distracting them with their beauty and lovely voices. What leaves the “sailors” mesmerized in (G)I-DLE’s story are not looks but smarts, as stated in “Nxde”: “A bookworm obsessed with philosophy, a self-made woman… The audience booed and shouted / ‘You tricked me, you’re a liar.’” In this metaphor, (G)I-DLE are the sirens, the “tricked” audience members are the sailors, and the cause of the sailing trip’s derailment is more painful than it would have been if the sailors had been thrown no curveballs. The sailors could anticipate and prepare for the expected threat posed by beautiful sirens, but dealing with an unanticipated and more substantive threat leaves them embarrassed at best and at a higher risk of doom at worst.
People who expect (G)I-DLE to be nothing more than attractive, sultry performers feel shocked and betrayed at their focus on labeling brains as sexy as beauty. But just as the sailors ultimately cannot resist the sirens’ songs, people will still show up for (G)I-DLE’s shows. No matter how often they are tricked, they will be fooled again, reiterating how (G)I-DLE maintain the upper hand in the celebrity-audience relationship.
A Key Lyric from “Sculpture”: “It’s Easier to Lose Me than to Lose You”
This stirring lyric is about how the mental stamina to be oneself in a world pressuring people to be anything but is greater than the amount required to just give in to those social pressures. It can be seen as less vulnerable and therefore more manageable to just do whatever it takes to not be left alone. “I want to be madly loved… Even in the pain,” they admit. “Sculpture” describes how the need for love can change people’s actions and get in the way of pursuing autonomy.
Moments when (G)I-DLE comply with harmful social expectations and beauty standards might seem hypocritical, but they are actually moments when they are the most real. Showing one’s “nude” self to the world means not being afraid to show off one’s multitudes. (G)I-DLE can enjoy certain behaviors stereotyped as desirable for female artists - reveling in being someone’s muse, showing some skin - and be critical of those stereotypes. An empowering narrative does not come from a complete elimination of anything deemed “feminine;” it comes from women being the ones who decide how much they want to or do not want to do “feminine” things. It is not going back on their word for (G)I-DLE to act sensual, like in the lust-themed “DARK (X-file);” it just reiterates how they refuse to think in black and white. They are not archetypes; they are nuanced individuals, and to truly “bare all” in this musical era, it is important that they show their layered personalities and desires.
With I NEVER DIE, (G)I-DLE seemed to have fully stepped into their protagonist roles, embracing their authentic selves and refusing to let anyone else narrate their own lives. However, I love complicates the perceived moral of I NEVER DIE. (G)I-DLE show up as their determined, take-charge selves, but I love acknowledges the obstacles that keep the maintenance of this attitude challenging. In I NEVER DIE, (G)I-DLE discover who they really are, and in I love, they continue to do so but with the added variable of scrutinizing the society that made that self-discovery so difficult in the first place. They now express resentment towards the culture that required them to struggle on the road to self-love. If I NEVER DIE is about becoming a heroine, I love is about condemning those who kept them self-identifying as villains first. I NEVER DIE focuses on making peace with their own roles in their fates, while I love critiques the roles others play in them. To put it one more way, I love expands on the lessons learned in I NEVER DIE to challenge society-wide viewpoints instead of just self-talk.
Overall, I love is an impressive body of work that compounds (G)I-DLE’s three-dimensionality, adding depth and nuance to their tales of self-love and social pressures. It is both an indictment of society and a pledge to stay true to themselves within a stereotype-driven world, no matter how difficult that task remains.
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