“I have struggled with this feeling many times. It is as if there are two wolves inside me.”
A Cherokee Story
The complexity of the video for Max Changmin (TVXQ) and Ha Hyunwoo‘s (Guckkasten) “Hybrid” made me jump from one metaphor to another to best explain my interpretation; ultimately, the unparalleled explanation is a quote from the origin story of the “Inside You, There Are Two Wolves” meme.
Instead of a good wolf and a bad wolf, however, “Hybrid” explores the concept of the self through the idea of the Dream You versus the Real You. From the vocal delivery and instrumentals, to the lyrics, to the intriguing cult-like vibes in the MV, the idea of two selves is presented with a lot of grandioseness.
In the MV, Changmin is the subject, seemingly being chased by a cult and the cult-leader, Hyunwoo. Think of Hyunwoo as the catalyst of Changmin’s awakening. It is clear in the video that the entire MV occurs in the subconscious of Changmin’s mind: the MV ends with Changmin waking up from a dream, and starts with what is likely a recollection of the entire dream. The struggle shown is very much internal (reminds you of “Devil“, huh?). It’s also worth noting that from the beginning, the eye is given a lot of focus, indicating the importance of perception.
On one side, there is Changmin enjoying a cosy get-together with his friends. They’re company he enjoys; the living room is all decked out with vinyls, games, comfy throws, and more. On the other side, the same friends are then seemingly converted into a cult-like group led by Hyunwoo. They kidnap Changmin and deliver him to Hyunwoo. The friends are seen gossiping about Changmin, and Hyunwoo explicitly directs them to focus on Changmin.
Which is the dream? Which is the reality? Are his friends really his friends? They wear all white, just like Changmin, in solidarity. Or are they backstabbers out to get Changmin? Even though they’re decked out in white, they seem to follow Hyunwoo’s orders.
Now, everything’s suspicious,
I don’t know either — but let’s not stop
As the lyrics show, even the narrator (portrayed by Changmin) is confused. The line between reality and illusion is unknown to him. The answer, though, is simple. You are a mixture of both. You are both the reality you regard, and the dreams you illustrate.
Cause troubles to you
No, this is not a gibberish English line inserted for the sake of it. Instead, think of the You as an entity. Experience You — experience the concept of yourself. Your understanding of yourself is the reality, and that is the only thing that is certain in the entire MV.
You can think of Changmin’s friends as backstabbers. But if you look closer… are they really? Assuming that the colours of their outfits are significant, then Changmin’s friends are still his friends in the cult-like gathering. While Changmin distrusts them, they’re shown to be chasing Hyunwoo. Changmin thinks he’s being chased by them, but he’s actually running alone. So what is the truth? Is it that they really are unreliable? Or is it just that Changmin’s perception of them is causing the mistrust?
This is also further emphasised by both motion blur and blur around the edges of some of the frames in the video. Can those moments really be comprehended as the reality?
New-born, with an even louder cry,
throw out your pale, drained faith
with your own mysterious, strange colour.
oh yeah, change from right where you fell.
oh yeah, change from every single step you took
As Changmin and Hyunwoo belt out their vocals over a thumping, climatic, base-heavy rock-pop instrumental, they drive home the fact that you are an amalgamation of all your judgements. What you see is simply a matter of what you believe to be true.
Where Changmin believes that Hyunwoo is the representation of the opposite of what his reality is, Hyunwoo is actually the catalyst within him. This is depicted by various symbols, but the most striking one is the clear marble that Hyunwoo swallows. The clear marble is one of the most distinct motifs of wholeness and oneness. The circle shape is emphasised multiple times, which popularly represents the concept of self and completeness. As Hyunwoo ingests it, he is embodying the concept of oneness.
There is a scene in which Hyunwoo is seen pointing at and directing the crowd to Changmin. At first glance, it seems like he is asking his minions (Changmin’s friends) to attack him. However, there is this to ponder: is he not just directing them to push to Changmin to acknowledge the side of him he seems to be afraid of? As Hyunwoo hunts for Changmin amidst people dressed in white like him, his lines go, “Open your eyes, look who’s in front of you.”
It’s clear that Changmin is fearful of the side of him that seems to think his friends are gossiping about him, and that they are chasing him down. Only when one recognises and accepts the apprehension within themselves, can they work on it and start to change their perspective. Only when you shift your point of view are you a “new-born […], [who can] throw out [the] pale, drained faith” that you were determined to have.
When Changmin’s subconscious tries to drown Hyunwoo out by pushing him down into a curled-up crouch, Hyunwoo rises up to take yet another clear marble — a clear indication that he is there to catalyse Changmin’s complete awareness of his self.
This is why the title “Hybrid” makes sense, and it’s perhaps the final minute of the MV, with its wacky, frenzied animation, that reiterates the title. The imagery of two versions of one person is consistently highlighted. They are shown merging and separating multiple times, before finally joining as one and combusting as “a dazzling, bright, supernova thing” in which “the galaxy revolves around [them]”.
When Changmin finally accepts both sides of himself, only then he does he awaken. As the word “change” echoes in the song, his friends are pointing at him to really do so. He opens the door he was afraid of and sees the light that is on the other side, instead of the doom he thought awaited him. Hyunwoo is seen as running alongside Changmin’s friends, supposedly as someone who was always on Changmin’s side — just perceived wrongly.
Sometimes, inside you, there really are two wolves, and you’re both of them.
Oh, it’s called the limit.
Change your world
The only limit you have is the world you encompass yourself in. The final verse draws on the point that your limit is whatever you want it to be, as long as you are willing to adjust your perspective. The imagery of the phoenix, though not stated explicitly, is cohesive with parts of the song. The lyrics allude to the belief that the changed version of you can rise as a new-born, from a new flame, by stepping on the skin that you shed from your metamorphosis.
Turning to the musical elements of the track, Changmin and Hyunwoo deserve a shoutout for not only delivering impeccable vocals, but also penning captivating lyrics and executing an intriguing MV: all this despite it being their first time working together as a unit. Personally, I did expect a more melodramatic collision of vocals between the two powerhouse vocalists. In hindsight, having listened to this song on repeat, the unit strikes a unique balance between grandioseness and listenability. Despite boasting a rich instrumental paired with high notes, the understated production of “Hybrid” makes it impactful without overwhelming the audience.
Additionally, the alternative rock genre hasn’t been greatly explored in mainstream K-pop, and although “Hybrid” doesn’t exactly slip into mainstream K-pop, it is refreshing to see vocalists in the scene continuing to experiment outside of the labels of pop. Guckkasten is an indie rock band, and it’s heartening to see Changmin explore the rock genre with Hyunwoo, who specialises in that realm of music. Changmin’s own personal discography has shown an affinity for the rock genre, from 2008’s “Wild Soul” to 2022’s “Maniac,” and one can only hope he continues on this trajectory.
It is difficult to look away from the “Hybrid” MV during all five minutes of it, which is a feat to achieve in and of itself as attention spans and music videos grow shorter and shorter in the current musical landscape. One can only hope for more collaborations of this calibre in K-pop, from its musical prowess to its thoughtful storytelling.
(Academy for Professional Excellence, Know Your Meme, YouTube. Images via SM Entertainment.)