Retrospective: Dreamcatcher Does Different With Intriguing "VillainS" Promotions

Dreamcatcher's 9th mini album comeback "VillainS" had a ton of new and interesting going on with it, leaving behind a memorable late 2023 whirlwind of activity.

Retrospective: Dreamcatcher Does Different With Intriguing "VillainS" Promotions
Dreamcatcher takes a group photo at SBS Inkigayo during "OOTD" era. Source: kpop_sbs (X/Twitter)

First off, welcome to the new Low Key Geek! For why I'm here on Ghost, you can catch my final Substack post. It seems the timing is pretty funny, as my move happens right at the tail end of Dreamcatcher's newest storyline, and their own new shift to what I think is a different direction with "VillainS" and "OOTD" era. As always, I like to take a look back to see how things went and point out a few areas of interest that I observed, so without further ado, let's get to it!

An unlisted YouTube video about the disapperance of office worker Shasha caps off the mystery for Dreamcatcher's new story. Source: Dreamcatcher official (YouTube)

Dreamcatcher took storyline-building and promotions to another level.

Veteran fans of Dreamcatcher are used to the idea that the group and company have always created plenty of intrigue with their Mystery Codes, mini-puzzles which help reveal the title track, date of comeback, and concept. Generally, the expected time with such Codes lasts about a week or so. This time, however, with the opportunity to kick off a new Dreamcatcher storyline/world-building initiative, they went into overdrive.

Kicking things off with a cryptic and odd text message that served as the comeback's mystery code, Dreamcatcher engaged in a full-on Alternate Reality Game (ARG) to build story around the new arc. There were QR codes at offline fansigns that led to videos with hidden messages, a limited edition item, and of course, the character of "ymenehcra99", who took fans through a story of finding a weird letter that kicked off strange events of memory loss, attitude change, and eventually, disappearance. The resulting discussion and buzz, though there were ebbs and flows, was one of the most interesting yet and ramped up speculation about the concept. I've played a couple ARGs myself so watching people get sucked down the rabbit hole trying to play the one that Dreamcatcher Company had put together was fun to watch and participate in.

The best part? They're not even done yet, even now. Local Dreamcatcher fans in South Korea have been treated to some of the wildest occurrences yet from the ARG, such as mostly-silent character 9mynameis1 hand-delivering a suitcase full of lore and clues to fans, and strange audio stored on USB flash drives you could only get by solving a puzzle and ordering something specific at a cafe. ARGs have always been slow burns, and this one has yet to finish, making it one of the most memorable storylines yet.


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♬ OOTD - Dreamcatcher

Promotions during the comeback were also kicked up a notch, with tons of "OOTD" challenges being served up on TikTok and YouTube and, more importantly, proof that the respect afforded to Dreamcatcher and their network of fellow artists ran far and wide. Whether it was work with local influencers and channels or with globally-known names like Solji from EXID, Umji and Eunha from VIVIZ, TWICE's Dahyun, and more, Dreamcatcher's peers were out there helping promote the new album's title track, adding to its earworm-like catchiness while drawing in fandoms from other artists. It seemed to be a win-win all around, and contributed to the large overall effort this comeback had from a marketing perspective.

Dreamcatcher did mostly new things for variety and show appearances, making content on this front feel fresh.

K-Pop promotions are expected to carry a certain amount of standard stuff, from radio appearances to being on a standard set of shows. There was plenty of that this comeback, from the regular Weekly Idol pop-in to plenty of radio work with places such as Idol Radio and Kiss the Radio. But for a lot of these compressed promotions, there was new and interesting done. The above video, Dreamcatcher's return to hello82 after 4 years, put them through a fun 2nd/3rd generation complete-the-lyrics exercise, while new music show/variety hybrid Naver NPOP had the group play a modified version of the Mafia game that fit their concept while also giving them another performance stage to showcase their skills (a boon considering this era had many shows on holiday hiatus).

There were also a couple fun subunit variety things as well. I'd probably not have put JiU (along with SuA and Gahyeon) messing around with basketball both in real life and in gaming via NBA 2k24 on my comeback bingo card, but the result was something fresh and funny at the same time. These new variety schedules provided some nice surprises this comeback as Dreamcatcher continued to extend their network of small-to-medium YouTube channels out even further in some nice (and mutually beneficial) arrangements. I certainly hadn't heard of ARTBEAT couple skit channel Sugar before this comeback and now I'm subscribed to them after seeing SuA and Handong do some pretty humorous acting shorts with the channel owners.

While ultimately we overall saw less variety for "VillainS" promotions, what I did see was entertaining, fun, and made up for in small numbers with things I hadn't seen Dreamcatcher do.

"OOTD" signaled a next, much-debated step in Dreamcatcher's music evolution.

I won't re-hash all of what I put down in my detailed album review for "VillainS", except to say that insofar as different goes, this comeback obviously embodied in the musical direction. As I said in the review, it felt like we were due for a change since the group and company's decision in 2019's "Deja Vu" era to begin hybridizing their core rock sound with other pop genres. Helmed by the somewhat unexpected and subverting sound of title track "OOTD", that's exactly what Dreamcatcher did.

There's been a ton of discourse in the fandom and outside of it about how the group's examination of narcissism and fourth-wall-breaking fakery in "OOTD" has been received. Some obviously found the sound amazing and visually stunning, as regular Dreamcatcher reactors Differently Alike did in their marathon one hour, twenty-two minute examination, while there were others who, on the merits of the music alone, feel like it was a miss or an attempt to imitate trendy 4th generation sound while wrapping it in a satirical shell. Either opinion is valid and as long as things remain constructive and respectful I have had no issues with what people thought of "OOTD" or "VillainS" as a whole.

I wouldn't go so far as some have to say that the song's reception has been divisive or polarizing - if that were the case, I'd probably be far more busy in the Dreamcatcher Discord I help shepherd or in trading points back and forth on the /r/dreamcatcher subreddit. But I will say that it's certainly made people who follow Dreamcatcher, either casually or in the more hardcore sense, think quite a bit about the group's music - and I don't think that's a bad thing, necessarily.

It does help that there were some unexpected surprises this comeback for the album, such as the distinct lack of a standard ballad or the presentation afforded by B-side "Shatter", which came with its own choreography, dance video special clip, and live performances. Along with more "Dreamcatcher comfy wheelhouse" tracks like the rock metal stylings of "Rising", what we have is a pretty diverse album in and of itself, and one that I think signals more of the same in the future.

Whether or not that is a good or a bad thing to fans is something that will likely play out in the next few months or even in 2024, as Dreamcatcher continues past the "seven year curse". As a sneak preview to my upcoming 2023 year-end retrospective, what we're seeing, in my opinion, with the musical experimentation and the focus on individual activities is preparation for the next stage of Dreamcatcher's career, and perhaps even beyond the group's active life (however long that may be). Until then, in terms of a strictly by-the-numbers analysis, the jury is still out but pacing seems to put things a slight bit behind last comeback's "Apocalypse: From Us" and its well-received title track "BONVOYAGE" (last measurements as of a week ago seem to place this about 4,000 album sales back of that era, 89k vs. 85k, with the music video views 29 million vs. 25 million. It will likely be February or March to see if it holds pat with previous numbers.

Some of the more critical folks might point to the above as well as the inflation of the number of album versions not leading to more sales as an negative indicator. And while that might be an understandable opinion, I also think that it doesn't take into account the whole picture of the status of Dreamcatcher, which has been playing out, especially, in 2022 and 2023 as they've entered the latter part of their careers. They are, as they have always been, a group that has not only challenged norms but has become sustainable despite them, a "stair idol" group that has kept on grinding and collecting milestones, such as becoming one of the few groups (and certainly one of the only ones not backed by the money and resources of the "big 4" companies) to have sold 1 million albums lifetime via the Circle chart. They're also a well-respected, yet niche group, especially domestically, and have at minimum maintained their core fanbase despite some pretty tough competition from 4th generation's amazingly popular (and deeper-pocketed) girl groups. There are a ton of less popular K-Pop groups that would probably kill for Dreamcatcher's current place in the industry.

And that's really what it's about - success on "hard mode" in K-Pop. Where groups frequently die on the vine shortly after debut, or fall into obscurity due to lack of funding, company support, or opportunity, Dreamcatcher continues to endure. They have, and continue to push boundaries and make music their own way, and were they to end today, they would have still made their mark on a volatile industry. In this sense, while I think they still have room to grow, or may have even peaked, as long as they remain sustainable and they're happy with what they're doing, I'll feel fine no matter where they end up on the K-Pop popularity spectrum. From what we can see in interviews, "OOTD" has been new, fun, filled with things they've never done or tried before, and still quintessentially Dreamcatcher. I'm looking forward to what they do next.

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