Brooklyn Pop Star Yaeji’s New Video Is a Love Letter to Korea

PTSD Mental health concept. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The depressed woman sitting alone on the floor and waving refusal to help from people in the dark room background. Film look. Soft focus.

Since she came onto the scene in 2017, Yaeji has consistently drawn on her creative community to shape her look and sound with references to her Korean roots that are sometimes subtle, sometimes more overt. In her music videos, which are almost always collaborations with her close friends, you can often see her pals dancing in the background. In her hybrid electronic pop and hip-hop compositions, the artist deftly switches between singing in English and in Korean.

In a similar manner, her new video for “What We Drew” is all at once a tribute to her hometown, her Korean friends, and an onion, of all things. In the visual, the Korean-born New York-based artist cherishes a little onion that she grows by her bedside, and in an extended dream sequence, her and her friends, all of whom are decked out in official Yaeji merchandise, dance around a massive onion shrine. They all end up at a Korean bathhouse at the end, where Yaeji wears a baby pink dress fashioned from pink hair towels that stylist Monica Kim (and Vogue alumna) found at the Korean discount chain store E-Mart the night before. Her friends, though, wear spa towels that are custom printed in Korean with the phrase: “Yaeji and Friends.”

Though the video was shot in Korea, mostly in Yaeji’s old hometown of Bundang, where she spent most of her childhood, the concept for it came a few weeks earlier when Yaeji was back home in New York hosting her friend from Seoul, Dasom Han. Han is a photographer and creative director of Korean collective Dadaism Club, and inspiration struck when she saw a huge leek with which Yaeji’s roommate was about to make soup. Inspired by this large leek, Han then created the storyline around an onion in collaboration with the video’s director Dawn Jung (who is credited as DQM). “My most precious memory from elementary school was an onion experiment we did in science class,” Han says. “It was a very pure and positive experience for young children, learning about the pygmalion effect—that if you desire something strongly enough it becomes reality.” When Han told her little onion that she loved it, it grew bigger, but when she told the onion she hated it, it died. It’s this sort of generous, world-building spirit that lends itself to Yaeji’s music, too. “The huge onion is actually the hope that we drew together,” Han says.

This sort of unifying spirit extends to the wardrobe in the video as well. Kim pulled a few pieces from Korean brands, like the huge puffer from Ader Error that Yaeji wears in the beginning of the visual as she walks down the Tancheon riverside with her grandpa. “We used to exercise and take walks there a lot,” Yaeji says of her childhood days spent with him. Kim says she chose the biggest puffer she could find as a nod to the type of coat a parent wraps around their child to keep them safe and warm in the winter. The rest of the styling of that look also bears influence from nostalgic memories of childhood. “The super baggy jeans also evoke the image of a child dressing up in their parent’s clothes,” Kim says. “We cuffed them way up because Yaeji’s grandpa didn’t like her wearing pants that dragged all around the ground.”

When they were shooting the video, Han says that she started to fantasize about the onion’s perspective on Yaeji, her friends, and her family. In the time since they shot the video (Yaeji’s scene with her grandpa takes on even more significance given the global health crisis), Han admits this world looks different. “2020 in front of my eyes is a bit bleak, sad, and complicated,” Han says. “It’s a bit different from what we drew, but if people can find peace in this world created through Dawn’s eyes and Yaeji’s music, and create memories and sweet dreams, that would be wonderful.”