TOP recently penned a heartfelt letter to Bigbang’s loyal VIPs, posting it on Instagram on April 5. In it, he thanks his fans and describes finding himself at another turning point in his life.
“Thank you all for the last 16 years. It means a lot to me. I’m thinking I might be going through another turning point in my life at the moment,” the rapper wrote. “I look forward to the day when I’m able to come back as a man of inspiration in the near future.”
ICYMI, Bigbang finally made their big, emotional comeback last April 4 with their single “Still Life.” It’s their first single since their farewell single “Flower Road” in 2018, released as each member departed for their military enlistment. During their hiatus, the Burning Sun nightclub scandal made headlines in 2019, which involved former member Seungri. Less seriously, TOP left YG Entertainment this year, and while he’s still a member of the group, he’s also focusing on his own thing now.
A lot has happened to the boys in the years since, and the track is reflective of that. It’s about seasons passing, and remembering days gone by while looking towards the future. It’s pensive, sentimental, and a little bit bittersweet. “Goodbye now to my beloved young days,” Daesung sings in his first verse. You see him entering a room where he sees a former version of himself with his straight long bangs from a previous era. Later, you see him walking away from vision of himself.
“Burying all the trauma from past nights,” TOP raps in his verse about striving to become a better person.
“I keep remembering those glorious and loving days,” G-Dragon sings in front of a film set. In the background, text emblazoned into a wall reads “Happier times are now gone.”
The song makes many references to historical artworks and musical pieces. There’s Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Taeyang’s verse, and Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky in G-Dragon’s. I can even spot a few references to The Beatles. G-Dragon’s teal outfit is reminiscent of the military uniforms in “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and the refrain starts with a sample of George Harrison’s guitar riff from “Here Comes The Sun.” In some way or another, the referenced pieces all discuss the passing of a season.
The title of the single refers to a piece of artwork where the subject matter is an inanimate object, “anything that does not move or is dead,” according to the Tate. By fixing their gaze on an ordinary item, the artist imbues the mundane with some magical meaning. “Still life can be a celebration of material pleasures such as food and wine, or often a warning of the ephemerality of these pleasures and of the brevity of human life,” says the art institution. But in essence, a still life is a record in time, permanently fixing the object in history so generations after can marvel at a piece of cut fruit. But it also means it’ll be left behind. In 2017, Jon Pareles explained for The New York Times that “Sgt. Pepper’s,” because of its place as a ’60s relic, “speaks of an irretrievable past.”
That’s what I think about when I listen to “Still Life” and read TOP’s letter. We’re a long way from 2006, when the group debuted. In the nearly 16 years they’ve been active, they’ve reached dizzying highs—they helped usher in the second Hallyu Wave—and epic lows. They’ve been dubbed the “Kings of K-pop,” and they’ve been involved in scandals that, even now, seem a little unfair. (Minus the Burning Sun scandal, of course. I stan jail time for predators and all those who condone them!) For instance, in 2017, TOP received a 10-month suspended jail sentence after being caught smoking marijuana.
TOP shared his thoughts about the incident, which he called “the worst moment” of his life in an interview this year. “This is the first time I’ve spoken this publicly, but I did try to commit suicide about five years ago. I realized later how much hurt and painful memories I gave to the people around me, my family, and fans out there.”
It’s not surprising that for their first time back, the group is taking stock of all that’s happened, and maybe even of their legacy. 2022 is a different time, a completely different musical climate from 2018. I think they might be feeling a little like old giants compared to the new kids of the third and even fourth generation, and I think they understand what that role means.
I also won’t be surprised if “Still Life” is the beginning of the last era for Bigbang. TOP’s letter is giving that energy, right? Like a preparation for a goodbye? We don’t even see all the members in the same frame in the music video—just four empty chairs representing them—and it ends with them leaving their own respective sets. Well, whatever the case is, I hope he and the rest of the band know that their fans are just as grateful for the 16 years.
Photo screengrabbed from the “Still Life” music video