And now for something completely different…Get ready to learn more than you ever knew there was to know about South Korean pop music!!! Katharina Faller, @kategoesmuseum on Instagram, is a museum professional in Germany. She has an eye towards all things international art and museums, especially as it pertains to queer history. Recently, Katharina and a cohort of like-minded folks have also launched @Kunstladies. They just released in March of 2023 and already have nearly as many Instagram posts as the Museum Drip Instagram. (Insert sheepish emoji here!) If you’re a fan of @womensartwednesday, you’ll LOVE @Kunstladies.

I’ve really enjoyed building what I like to call an “Internet Friendship” with Katharina over the past several years as we’ve discovered how aligned we are on crafting accessible communities for art appreciation. This absolutely includes, although is not limited to, pop culture referencing art history and museums. Where I seek out museum representation in movies, Katharina has been digging deep into art historical references in music videos. I loved learning new things from this post and more than anything, love learning about how about how each new generation capitalizes on our existing shared history of human creative expression to further more creative expression! Enjoy!

Did you catch these art history references in K-pop music videos?

Screenshot fromStray Kids “Back Door” music video (2020). All rights belong to JYP Entertainment, image source:
Michelangelo Buonarrotti, The Creation of Adam, ca. 1508-1512. Public domain, image source:

Hey there! This is Katharina. I’m a passionate traveler, art lover and museum professional. My niche is seeking traces of queer history in arts and cultures, and exploring intersections between art history and pop culture in every shape and form.

Like many others, I was swept off my feet by the waves of South Korean pop culture imports a few years ago. Since then; I have collected my own kind of precious treasures brought to the surface by these tides: moments where art history motifs and audiovisual media from the K-pop universe merge into something more than the sum of their parts. I want to share some of my finds with you here.

Imagine millions of young people all around the world lose their sh*t about “Dionysus”

These moments of intersection between so-called fine art and pop culture are so precious to me because these music videos have millions of viewers from all over the globe, among them a large portion of kids, teens and young adults. Knowing how art museums are struggling to engage younger audiences, this is of interest to every arts institution: Among these millions of viewers, a few art-loving fans will always find the visual references and post info about them online. It’s a way of connecting audiovisual pop culture with so-called high culture that holds a huge potential of attracting the attention of young people all around the world – a huge potential which art institutions haven’t yet tapped into, with a few exceptions.

How it all started: When Marina and ULAY reincarnate as Bangchan and I.N

Imagine my surprise when I watched South Korean band Stray Kids‘ music video for “거미줄(VENOM)” last year and suddenly saw on my phone screen how one band member, I.N, pulled the string of a bow with an arrow directed at another band member, Bangchan, standing right in front of him and holding onto the bow. It looked like these two were re-enacting the famous arrow pulling performance “Rest Energy” (1980) by Marina Abramović and her then-partner in crime, ULAY. Immediately, I was intrigued. A question popped up in my head: Why would the directors of a 2022 South Korean pop music video choose to have two band members perform this move from a 1980 art performance?

The lyrics of “거미줄(VENOM)” describe a person being in a state of toxic dependence from another person and the overall feeling of the song is that of being trapped, caught up in someone’s influence. In contrast, Abramović described “Rest Energy” as being about „complete and total trust“ (1). Maybe the art directors of the music video added a dark twist of co-dependence and toxicity to the artist’s original idea of absolute trust.

Screenshot of “거미줄(VENOM)” music video (2022), all rights belong to JYP entertainment, image source:
Marina Abramović and ULAY, Rest Energy, 1980. All rights belong to MoMA, image source:
See for yourself how Stray Kids played with the arrow pulling motif from Abramović’s performance:

Diana, what are you doing here? Discovering art history references in K-pop music videos

My curiosity was sparked and my hyperfocus kicked into gear. I knew I had to investigate and get to the bottom of this. Detective mode was on! Here’s what I found: Turns out it’s quite common for „K-pop“ music videos or simply, popular music videos from South Korea (2), to incorporate visual references from the history of arts and cultures. The Last Supper, Dionysus, The Creation of Adam, you name it: you will discover reinterpretations of well-known art motifs in music videos left and right if your eye is trained to recognize the references. From the „classical“ „Western“ (3) canon of art history and mythologies, over images rooted in traditional Korean culture and Chinese cultural influences to references from contemporary art: It’s all there and it’s creating a fascinating synergy. Let’s feast our eyeballs on a few gorgeous examples.

Screenshot from BTS’ – “Dionysus” performance at SBS Gayo Daejeon Music festival 2019. All rights belong to SBS, image source:
Antinous holding the thyrsus while posed as Dionysus (Museo Pio-Clementino). All rights belong to Carole Raddato, image source:

„Thyrsus (grippin‘), Grape (eatin‘): BTS – “Dionysus”

When the party hymn pays homage to the God of ecstasy himself: The costumes and stage design in BTS’ performances of their song “Dionysus” are clearly inspired by antique Greek temple architecture, fashion and mythology. At the center of it all, and alluded to in the song lyrics and title: Dionysus, deity of wine and fertility, represented by grapes, grape vines and the Thyrsus, his signature wooden stick.

Double the fun: Somehow the art directors managed to also squeeze in a nod to Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper (1495-1498) when coming up with the idea of having the members all sit next to one another at a long dining table for a part of the choreography. It’s clearly referencing the long table where according to the Christian tradition, Jesus supposedly dined with his disciples.

Screenshot from BTS – “Dionysus” performance at Music Core show 2019. All rights belong to Music Core, image source:
Leonardo da Vinci,L’ultima Cena (The Last Supper), 1494-98. Public domain, image source:

See how it all plays out in BTS’ performance of “Dionysus at the SBS Gayo Daejeon Music Festival 2019.

The man in the moon? No, it’s a bunny in the moon!

BTS – Idol (2018), screenshot. All rights belong to HYBE, image source:
🙂 The Jade Rabbit. An artist from the Qing emperors’ court – An 18th-century embroidered Chinese emperor’s robe. screenshot. image source: Reproduced in: Anthony Christie, “Chinese Mythology”, 1983, p. 63,

Interestingly, the song that catapulted K-pop superstars BTS into previously unimaginable heights of international fame, was a piece heavily inspired by elements of traditional Korean culture: „IDOL“ (2018). Fans around the globe marveled about the meaning of a particular appearance in the „IDOL“ music video: the bunny in the moon. Culture-savvy internet users quickly took to their keyboards to explain that the bunny in the moon was a reference to traditional Chinese culture that made its way into Korean customs (such as here and here). The bunny in the moon represents the „Jade Rabbit“, pet of the moon goddess Chang‘e, a figure from Chinese mythology. Her tales are quite captivating, I recommend looking them up. It is possible that the bunny in the moon, along with the other elements of Korean traditions in the music video, is a visualization of the band’s re-rooting of their identity in their homeland as they had begun to rise to global pop stars since 2017.

Can you spot the bunny in the music video?

Into The Abyss: When contemporary art by Anish Kapoor inspires illustration for a sad love song

다시는 사랑한다 말하지 마 Don’t ever say love me” by Colde 콜드 – (Feat. RM of BTS), screenshot. All rights belong to Colde 콜드. Image source:
Anish Kapoor, Descension (2014-2017), screenshot. All rights belong to Anish Kapoor.  Image source:

We have (probably) all been there: a sad love story, a bad break up, a romantic relationship that lies in ruins. That’s the underlying vibe of the song “ 다시는 사랑한다 말하지 마 Don’t ever say love me” by Colde 콜드 – (Feat. RM of BTS). The heartbreaking lyrics tell us of a love that is almost gone and of trust betrayed: „There’s nothing more / I don’t know where the end is / Falling / It’s falling“. And what could better visualize this feeling of falling into an endless void than a manifestation of a dark hole in the ground with an angry maelstrom raging in it? Sounds familiar? Well, it’s an accurate description of Anish Kapoor‘s installation „Descension“ (2014-2017). The installation consists of a pool filled with water and black dye that is moving in an endless downward spiral and is collapsing into an abyss in the center of the basin. Interpret that as you will: Looking into that artificial abyss could be watching a force of destruction unravel, or imagining the hole as a portal to other chrono-spatial realms.

Quick side note on RM (Kim Namjoon): The rapper and musician is not only leader of the world-famous band BTS but also South Korea’s most well-known museum influencer and art collector – at the tender age of 28 years. Join his 44 million followers on Instagram to virtually tag along on his art adventures.

See for yourself how similar the visuals are from Kapoor‘s installation are to its adaption in the music video:

What is a 2000 year-old myth doing in a 2020s music video?

Most pop music videos from South Korea are artfully filmed and edited, creating a fresh signature visual style for each new release. With more than 120 new bands „debuting“ in the South Korean music industry this year alone[1], art directors need to come up with new “concepts” that will capture the audience’s attention. A concept is a sort of a gesamtkunstwerk with new music and visuals, as well as a captivating story arc or lore for every „comeback“ of a band.

Now are these art motifs sprinkled into the mix just a fancy illustration for a band’s new concept? Is it supposed to elevate the whole package and add value by leaning onto well-known and respected images? Or is the inclusion of these visual references a way for South Korean musicians to weasel their way into the hearts of “Western” audiences who might easily recognize them, namely the huge US American music market? These questions, if pursued properly, could fill a PhD thesis. What do you think? Please let me know in the comments.

Zooming out of the frame: South Korea’s arts and museum boom

The frequent incorporation of art history motifs in recent K-pop music videos ties into an off-screen, real-world development in South Korea in the past few years: the establishment of the country, and notably its capital Seoul, as a new global art hub with a museum boom that has just started taking off. Major Central European and US American art galleries have recently opened dependances in Seoul such as White Cube, Lehmann Maupin, Thaddeus Ropac, Perrotin, Peres Projects, König Galerie and Esther Schipper. The art world moves wherever the money is and South Korea is currently establishing itself as a new player on the global art market. Another tell-tale sign of that shift: The first Seoul-based edition of the originally Londonian commercial fine art fair Frieze, a pillar of the international art trade, took place in September 2022. Keep your eyes peeled on the South Korean art market because it’s growing and it’s growing fast.

For the deep divers: Resources for further exploring

Check out these Kpop music videos and catch the art history references in them:

BTS – “Blood, Sweat & Tears” (2017), BTS – “Singularity” (2018), MISAMO – “Do Not Touch” (2023), Red Velvet – “Feel My Rhythm” (2022), Le Sserafim – “Eve, Psyche and the Bluebeard’s Wife” (2023), New Jeans – “Cool with you” (2023).

For anything art (history) and (k-)pop culture follow @kategoesmuseum, @artwithbangtanhk, @btsartcollection and Beatrice Levine @culturequota on Instagram.

End notes

  2. The term “K-pop” is controversially debated. This video essay by Elliot from the bby gang mag Youtube channel gives a good overview over the pros and cons of using it.
  3. Also controversially debated: the idea of a division of the world into “The West and the Rest”, coined by Stuart Hall’s namesake essay which you can read here.

Author’s notes

  1. Many of the references shown above were brought to my attention by my dear friends Beatrice, Moon, Preksha and This post would have been impossible to compile without your help. You are the best, thank you!

2. This post is written from a white Central European person’s perspective and is mainly informed by English-speaking media since my Korean language skills are not sufficient to read complex texts. I invite everyone who’s interested, especially people with biographical ties to South Korea, to share their opinion on this topic in the comments.


Posted by:museumdrip

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