Article Kang Ilkwon (Music Critic)
Photo CreditDPR IAN Instagram
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Bipolar disorder, often taboo in society, can be a source of inspiration for artists. They don’t try to avoid or hide their problems but rather bring them into the center of their artistic pursuits. When I listen to the excellent resulting work, I feel both a sense of pity for the pain the artist had to endure and a thrill for a great piece of music. It’s truly a contradictory feeling. This is the case with DPR IAN’s creations. 

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager, DPR IAN’s struggle has taken an unusual approach to understanding and overcoming the disorder: personifying depression and creating an alter ego. The fallen angel MITO is a reflection of IAN’s past and present, based on whom IAN released a series of works throughout 2021 and 2022. MITO’s experiencing mood swings caused by bipolar disorder is the motif of Moodswings In This Order. In MITO's journey, which is documented through music and video, mental disorder is reimagined as a very special talent, like a superpower.

Another alter ego was presented in his latest album released last October, Dear Insanity: Mr. Insanity, who is the polar opposite of MITO. For the first time, a character other than MITO was at the center of the narrative. The two seem to typify each side of IAN’s bipolar disorder. Visually, MITO, filled with pain and sadness, is represented in black and white, while Mr. Insanity is represented in a variety of colors to highlight his brighter side. IAN sets up his two alter egos as opposites, but also as projections of each other, just like Batman and the Joker.

It’s not just about the narrative and concept. IAN’s colorful productions, which blend genres like chamber pop, electronica, alternative R&B, house, and Britpop, and alternate between orchestral arrangements and electronic drops, also represent what he’s trying to say with his work. The artistic world that he created is sophisticated, exciting, and free-spirited. Many artists are willing to be vulnerable and express themselves as they are, but few can turn it into something so awe-inspiring.

IAN's talent as a music video director has also helped him become the internationally acclaimed artist he is today. He’s an excellent singer-songwriter and visual director. His position in the DPR crew, which brought new tension to the Korean hip-hop and R&B scene, was also in the visual arts. Although he debuted as a member of the K-pop group C-Clown, visuals are as much a part of his artistic world for DPR IAN as music.

In terms of career history, the two fields are of a similar proportion. In addition to his own and other DPR members’ music videos, he has done outside work. The videos of his iconic songs like “No Blueberries,” “Don’t Go Insane,” “Peanut Butter & Tears,” “So I Danced,” and “Limbo,” as well as the videos for his fellow DPR member Hong Dabin (aka DPR Live)’s “Jasmine,” “Yellow Cab,” and “Legacy,” BOBBY’s “Holup! (2016),” MINO’s “Body (2016),” and TAEYANG’s “Wake Me Up (2017)” are some examples.

Most of his productions are unique and creative. Given the level of visual perfection of his work, many people expect him to have the backing of a major investor or label. However, all of his work has been done independently. Nevertheless, such assumption becomes not unreasonable once you watch the video of “Peanut Butter & Tears,” for example.

The transitions from childhood to adulthood and from present to past, the sensuous editing of the otherworldly overlaps, the lo-fi and unique CGI that pops in dream sequences that make you feel like you're in the middle of a dystopia, and the brilliant colors that change to match the background make it a truly immersive experience. Each intense and ecstatic sequence is interspersed with metaphorical references to IAN's struggle to understand his bipolar disorder. As such, DPR IAN doesn't just focus on the visuals but also tries to convey the narrative woven into the music through the visuals.

As a result, his music videos are often dramatic, short, intense, and cinematic. Take IU's recently released music video for “Shopper” for example. It’s like a musical caper. Set in a special shop that sells magical items, it's filled with colorful sequences of which some are reminiscent of the style of directors like Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Baz Luhrmann. IAN is the narrator who announces the beginning of the play, the facilitator of IU who steals the items and runs away, and the mastermind behind it all.

DPR IAN’s world of work is all-encompassing and sometimes avant-garde. Rather than trying to keep up with fast-moving trends, he does what he wants to do within his worldview. It's also a way of understanding and comforting his bipolar disorder. In the midst of it all, IAN is constantly asking questions: Who is the villain and who is the superhero? What is positive and what is negative? IAN doesn't give clear answers. Perhaps these are the questions that we have to keep facing as we encounter his work and people will seep into his music while unknowingly joining in the search for the answers.

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