K-Pop — Dreamcatcher Retrospective
Retrospective: Dreamcatcher’s “Apocalypse: Save Us” Promotions Establish Maturity And New Milestones
K-Pop’s resident rock/pop girl group achieved a lot for their 2nd full album, from the obvious to the subtle, as they sang about a world that was far from over for them.
In a successful K-Pop group’s trajectory, there are certain achievements or milestones made along the way that serve as markers for the group’s growth and evolution over time. Some of these are more obvious than others — sales markers, anniversaries, and the like — but others are a bit more subtle, such as composing credits, approach to music, and mentality. Even though they are a smaller group relative to the most popular and better-selling/streaming girl groups in the industry, this is no less true for Dreamcatcher. In fact, for them it’s even more significant for the group, considering their non-traditional concept and musical genre, as well as their story from their days as MINX to now.
When “Apocalypse: Save Us” was announced, albeit as the group’s intention to release a 2nd full album, by definition the group was already achieving a milestone. After all, full albums, which take more production time and involve a lot more preparation and music-making, are only occasional releases, typically happening once every two or three years. Dreamcatcher’s last full album, their 1st, called “Dystopia: The Tree of Language” came out in 2020 and ended up being one of the group’s most well-received albums, as well as shattering previously-held numbers that would lead to a surge in fans during the year and into 2021.
So it was that a lot of anticipation went into Dreamcatcher’s 2nd full album, especially after news dropped that it was not only the beginning of a new storyline series for the group (“Apocalypse”, appearing to be set in a world ruined by environmental neglect) but that solos for each member would be a part of it. Ironically, in the midst of singing a title track that talked about a world at the brink of its end, Dreamcatcher ended up forging new paths and creating new memories for their gradually growing fanbase. Here’s several thoughts on why “Apocalypse: Save Us” promotions ended up being one of the most important markers for the group yet.
Experimentation and trying new things were part of the name of the game for Dreamcatcher’s 2nd Full Album.
One thing that made these promotions memorable was the fact that Dreamcatcher and Dreamcatcher Company did a bit of tinkering with their tried and true formulae for their 2nd Full Album. With a new story espousing environmental awareness and a new full album chock full of Dreamcatcher-related content, the opportunity appeared to be taken to explore some new frontiers and try out some new things. One of the most obvious of these, for example, was the heavy use of green screen and CGI for both promotional pictures and for the “MAISON” music video itself.
With the challenge to produce a new worldview in an expansive, blasted cityscape and perhaps with an eye toward at-the-time surging COVID cases in South Korea, Dreamcatcher kept things safely indoors for shooting this time around, employing CG production company AGE Creative to partner with long-time video production partner Sunny Visual to create the end-of-the-world environment and divine temple elements that would be seen in the MV for “MAISON”. The challenge not only extended to the staff but to the members as well, with many of them citing that they needed to fire up some acting and imagination chops in order to properly convey their visual presentation for the video and promotional photos.
The experimentation extended into album design as well, perhaps also in part due to wanting to save on material consumption and space. The normal albums for this era were swapped to a more economical square size, with their thickness now equaling that of the limited version albums (which retained the traditional dimensions). A more modest inclusion of a cork coaster replaced some of the interesting non-picture-related bonuses of the past, with member-specific items replacing them (I especially liked the pseudo CD-style covers for each member). This also extended a bit into Dreamcatcher’s brand new official store opening, which ended up offering new “Apocalypse: Save Us” related merchandise (such as an eco bag and pins) and US-exclusive jewel-case versions of the album. Dreamcatcher Company even tried to get into the NFT game, partnering with vendor ENTC to add to the NFT collection “Remember Me”, featuring artist renditions of Dreamcatcher members for purchase via cryptocurrency.
Obviously, you can’t elicit some kind of experimentation or change without a bit of mixed feedback, and that’s exactly what Dreamcatcher Company fielded due to some of these decisions. The most prominent of these would be around the NFT partnership, even despite arguable underperformance of the project and a joint donation with ENTC to an environmental organization, in part due to the dissonance between a message of environmental awareness and the debate over the apparent environmental resource drain of NFTs. There would also be some criticism around the creation of album design inconsistency and the heavy use of CG creating what appeared to some fans to be a bit too obvious to the eye in pictures and even the final music video for “MAISON”. The way I see it, though, these are all things that Dreamcatcher Company expected when they thought to make a few changes and try something new for these promotions. By their very nature of taking a girl group lost in the sea of similar concepts, re-debuting them, and doing so with a non-traditional concept, as well as putting them on the touring road from year one, Dreamcatcher Company has always been one to boldly experiment and do something different. The changes they made in this regard for this comeback are pretty much on-brand for them. Some of this stuff sometimes tends not to stick (anyone remember DRC cryptocurrency?) but if anything, Dreamcatcher Company has listened to feedback and have made careful decisions (and adjustments) as needed. I’m personally willing to forgive a few growing pains for new things.
That said, there were some experiments and new shinies that were almost universally loved. There was, for example, the DC_FANSTAFF account with some fun social media engagement tweets, such as creating an attendance drawing space for members for each music show appearance and, with the return of offline fansigns to accompany online ones, fun ways of showing off member order for fan interaction. There was also the leveraging of the group’ made-in-2022 personal Instagram accounts, leading to plenty of casual (and sometimes funny) photos from the members. And the inclusion of a paid mini-concert to celebrate the release of the album was, when all was said and done, a great decision for the group and the company, in part because Dreamcatcher treated InSomnia to A)their first offline concert performance exclusively for their fans in years and B)complete performances including choreography and singing for all seven solo tracks, itself one of the most universally praised decisions for the opportunity it gave to each member of Dreamcatcher. This, of course, brings me to my next point about these promotions.
Every member in Dreamcatcher ended up owning this era.
In the last couple of comeback retrospectives I’ve done I chose a member that has tended to take a large degree of agency and ownership for the promotional period, but I’m happy and safe to say that this time around, every member of Dreamcatcher owned this era. This is in no small part to the decision by the Company and the members to have seven tracks of “Apocalypse: Save Me” be dedicated to a solo for each person in the group. As if that wasn’t enough, the credits and interviews with each member showed that there was heavy involvement from a composition and production standpoint for each of them, ensuring that there was plenty of input for the final product. Perhaps this was why we had such a long layoff between releases this time (nine months, all told) but based on the final product, I’d say it was worth it.
A new partnership with artist-focused media company Wonderwall offered a paid video package that confirmed this deep involvement, with 30–40 minute videos offering a look into each Dreamcatcher member’s process for coming up with their solo songs. If that wasn’t enough, individual performances during the group’s mini-concert as well as the clear difference in each member’s style and song genre choices made that obvious.
In the K-Pop industry, solo careers aren’t guaranteed for each member. In some of them, standouts tend to continue onward or break out from the group to be able to construct more content, sometimes beyond the group’s lifetime. That Dreamcatcher Company gave the opportunity to have each member have a solo (previously only Siyeon and Handong have released them, the latter in Chinese only) and show off their individual color, tone, and most importantly, their growth and maturity as musical artists, is one of the best decisions of this era, allowing each of them to show off individual talent to their fans but also to industry professionals who may be watching. It’s both a business and a personal decision that makes sense and is of great value to all of them.
From a variety level, every Dreamcatcher member got some opportunity to have a moment to shine individually, whether it was to send Handong to a televised variety/game show for foreigners in South Korea, Gahyeon resorting to every tactic possible to win a game in Weekly Idol (to shock and laughter), to Dami showing off Dreamcatcher’s signature robe and lightstick, SuA getting Moonbyul’s “Studio Moon Night” cameraman to give her a bit of fun filming visual shenanigans and more. On many levels, this was Dreamcatcher’s way of showing off not only how far they’ve come as a group, but also how much better and more mature they’ve become as individuals with distinct personalities and charms — and both the album and the activities displayed that in spades.
Dreamcatcher’s first (and second) music show win was only the very visible tip of the iceberg of milestone achievements for this comeback.
I’ve talked pretty extensively in a separate article detailing Dreamcatcher’s long, winding road to their first music show win, but I’d be terribly lax if I did not mention it as part of this retrospective. Through re-debut, and many near-misses, none of which were anyone’s fault, Dreamcatcher persevered and their resilience and reputation as “stair idols” (those that grow their popularity and reputation gradually rather than suddenly) finally netted them that elusive first (and later second) music show win. This was, not surprisingly, an emotional moment for the group, the fandom, and even many K-Pop fans outside of Dreamcatcher’s immediate circle of dedicated supporters. There’s no artist out there who gets into K-Pop that doesn’t dream of getting 1st on a music show, or some similar achievement, and getting one is such an emotional achievement in part due to the fact that those in the industry train long hours and spend significant portions of their youth just for the chance to debut, and then have to compete to stay sustainable and relevant in a highly competitive (and often harsh) industry. To get a music show trophy, even if the prospects of what comes after it are not guaranteed (less so these days, as groups have been winning as fast a week after debut) is nevertheless a big milestone for groups.
For Dreamcatcher in particular, the achievement has a bit of additional significance as a milestone. Because of multiple interviews and in segments where they talked about getting 1st, but made sure to tell fans not to worry about or be sorry about not being able to help them get there over the years, as well as the self-awareness of their non-traditional concept and relatively smaller domestic popularity to other groups, there was a sense that Dreamcatcher was managing their own expectations. I know I was — between the long years plus the angst and somewhat negative consequences from within the fandom about not getting this win I, like Dreamcatcher, had made peace with the fact that an industry highly based on critical mass and consumption might be less suited to giving a group that focused on “something different” (and thus less domestically popular) a music show win. That didn’t mean that I didn’t try my best to support the group into getting one, but it definitely made me be able to focus on more positive outcomes from comebacks rather than negative ones relating to the (lack of) wins.
As such, because of this and because of the fact that from their reaction, Dreamcatcher never even expected to win this comeback era (especially with juggernauts like BIGBANG and IVE on the same schedule), the win carries just a bit more significance, and to them, is likely the culmination of years of hard work and effort. Even now, Dreamcatcher never gave me the impression that they wanted the win so badly so as to worry about their continued sustainability if they didn’t have one (and thus justify some of the more toxic reactions in the fandom to not getting it), but they certainly were good at hiding their continued aspirations to get one so as not to worry fans. Their subsequent first win vLive revealed many of these feelings, and I’m not afraid to admit they had me fooled and underestimating the emotional impact it had, even if it was mostly checking off a box/milestone for their career they’d long wished to do. I was certainly wrong to a degree, but like everyone else, am fine with feeling that way given how amazing the actual moment of achievement has been. I’ve played them many times since they happened, just for the serotonin/emotional factor.
It was also pretty clear that Dreamcatcher’s first and second wins were something to celebrate, not just within the group, but throughout places in the industry. Many companies they’ve worked with, peers who interviewed or talked to them, and friends and family congratulated them and mentioned the fact that they’d finally climbed the music show win mountain. Holding the current record at 1,924 days after debut for a girl group to get one probably helps the historical significance, but I also would like to think a lot of it is a function and proof of how much respect Dreamcatcher possesses in the industry. That Show Champion staff were just as emotional as Dreamcatcher/Dreamcatcher Company staff over the win and that it has, at least in the short-term, followed them around as an achievement of note worth mentioning, shows that Dreamcatcher, despite their lower domestic popularity to the “big” groups, has garnered many supporters and appreciators. It’s unknown whether this leads anywhere else in terms of tangible benefits for the group beyond a topic of interest/mention, but either way, it is absolutely worth mentioning as a big marker of this era’s achievements.
That said, these wins were just the most prominent of achievements coming out of this era for Dreamcatcher. Some of the others worth mentioning include:
- A current count of 99, 718 copies of “Apocalypse: Save Us” sold as of this writing on Hanteo, with Gaon recording 126,654 copies for April, both new records by a respectable amount.
- Number 1 on the US iTunes chart for the first week of release, their first time doing so as well as an appearance on the cover of Apple Music’s A-List for K-Pop
- A digital cover and feature as one of Rolling Stone India’s artists for their special K-Music issue, leading the way in Rock.
- Appearance on the cover of Amazon Music’s K-Girls playlist
- A soon-to-be (as of this writing) uploaded interview with North American based radio outlet iHeartRadio and host Stacy Nam
- The return of Dreamcatcher to international travel/touring, and live audiences, with their KPOP.Flex appearance in Frankfurt, Germany.
and last, but not least…
- The announcement and subsequent pending release, of dedicated special clips for solo tracks, beginning with the recent, as-of-this-writing release of JiU’s “Cherry (Real Miracle)”, featuring her, an appropriate dressed set of backup dancers, and of course, JiU’s dog Cherry herself in her MV debut.
All of these achievements continue to build on Dreamcatcher’s legacy of music, talent, and sustainability, even as they’ve entered into the latter portion of their careers as a group. With the upcoming and since-announced appearance at Barcelona’s well-known “Primavera Sound” and the “Apocalypse: Save Us” World Tour (USA leg) in July, Dreamcatcher will certainly be busy well beyond their album promotions creating new memories and no doubt creating new milestones this summer. It’s great to see the group so busy, and still going strong, behind yet another successful comeback, and I look forward to seeing what more heights they can get to for the rest of 2022 and beyond. You can be sure to find content here every week keeping up with the group, so be sure to clap, subscribe, and signal boost this content if you like what you’re reading. See you for the next comeback, and certainly next week, for more Dreamcatcher news and thoughts!