Lee Ji-Eun (stage named IU) has seen all phases of life before making it to the top of the K-Pop World and earning the title of “Nation’s sweetheart”. From living a rough indigent early life to being rejected in as far as 20 auditions, IU’s path to the spotlight has been an arduous one – one which since her debut on September 18, 2008, at the mere age of 15 has evolved into a source of warmth and inspiration for the world in the 12 years that have followed it.
Carrying the dream combination of ‘I and YOU’ symbolized by her stage name IU, artist IU’s music has always been a distinct portrayal of her own self, brought forth through her impeccable penmanship and elite vocalization skills. Hence, being renowned for her sweet soft discography and her songwriting and composition abilities, it is a surprise to encounter in her latest 5th studio album titled “LILAC”, influences of different genres and different collaborators working together with her.
The 10-tracked album was released on 25th March 2021 and is said to be an “insa” – a farewell to her youthful 20s as she turns 29 (Korean age) and a greeting to her upcoming 30s. The album which promises a new side of IU’s artistry is also a showcase of great gratitude for all her fans (the Uaenas) who have been by her side through this sprightly phase of her life.
“In the language of flowers, ‘Lilac’ means ‘memories of youth’…I wanted to include a farewell with the message ‘I’m now going onward to my next chapter’ while also greeting my upcoming 30s at the same time.” – IU to W Korea
“Spring is short. But it comes again.”
Kick-starting her journey towards her 30s, the title track ‘LILAC’ carries the nostalgic flair of reliving the beautiful memories of the youthful 20s that shines through the pleasant, refreshing sonics of the track. Mixing the elements of 80s-90s Disco and funky City-pop, with its vibrant brass and synths, IU’s melodic vocals resonate with a wispy lightness as she sings, “Take good care of our last moment in the page/ Could this last goodbye be any more perfect?/ Love me only till this spring.” The downtempo-ed Bridge and the explosive eargasmic musical hues of the Chorus and Post-chorus that follows it, also make ‘LILAC’ the perfect Anthem for the Youth bidding farewell to their spring days alongside IU.
The music video is also an apt visual representation of this last reminiscent journey of the 20s that starts with boarding a train (the ticket showing seat number 29) and a nervous, shy IU who soon matures into a true fighter (depicted by the fight scene) and buys a time capsule to save the memories of her youth. The music video ends with IU’s little teary-eyed but hopeful smile as the next train of her 30s approaches; an ending which is quite reassuring for Uaenas to see, as it contrasts the previous album’s questioning of how long IU could continue on in the K-Pop world.
The next track to pick up where ‘LILAC’ left is the easy-flowing track, ‘FLU’ whose romantic lyrical theme with its “lovesick flu” motifs and the catchy rhythmic House beat elevated by the accompanying welcoming soprano tones, make this track a soothing listen.
The subtle smile of IU at the end of ‘LILAC’ music video is lyricised as “I take the liberty of slipping a subtle smile on my lips/ Hold on a sec/ Oh damn, I got a bad flu”, maintaining the consistent flow of the theme of the album. The simple yet alluring Post-chorus refrain in IU’s honeyed vocal notes also enhances the addictive quality of this soft song.
Upping the easy-on-the-ears tempo of ‘FLU’, the second title track ‘COIN’ declares IU’s battle in the K-Pop World as not yet over despite the typical thinking of ‘the female idol’s end when they enter their 30s’. IU, a ‘born Gambler’ blazons in confident dulcet notes, “I can’t die/ I’m all in”, calling the whole game of show business as a gamble where she can “rake it all in even with the worst hand”. The music video that features one of the greatest intense actors, Kim Yun-Seok betting opposite of IU, represents this unyielding spirit of IU whose vocals resolutely ring, “Since it’s the final round/ I’ll go hard and have no regrets” as she makes her last betting (before the supposed ending).
The accompanying symphony of brassy retro sonics, breezy funky melodies, and percussion-driven playful instrumentation, along with the attractive surprise of IU rapping in the second verse, also add much-needed ‘flavor’ to the catchy title track.
Hi Spring Bye
Much like the double entendre of “insa” (the theme of the album), the next B-side track ‘Hi Spring Bye’ carries the double meaning of “annyeong” which is used for both ‘Hi’ and ‘Bye’ in Korean. Staying true to the emotional Ballad genre that many of IU’s previous tracks have shone under, ‘Hi Spring Bye’ blends the soft orchestration, sweet and wispy but heavy with meaning vocals of IU and her expressive, poetic lyrical diction, to deliver the poignant emotions of bidding goodbye to the Spring season.
IU’s vocals, as she sings in a subdued tone, “I guess this is a friendly goodbye/ I won’t not know you/ I’ll acknowledge you first, like this/ Hi,”, bring forth a heartwarming empathic sentiment in the listeners; attuning their feelings to IU’s bittersweet ones. The generous sprinkle of composer and singer-songwriter, Naul’s vocals in various places also seems to be a secret-ingredient mixed in by the creators of the track.
“A flower can bloom/ Between the frozen cracks/ Can’t you see how beautiful/ Tomorrow’s spring is to be?”
Gently nudging the listeners to the next part of IU’s reminiscing journey is the self-written pre-release single ‘Celebrity’. Incorporating the mainstream Electro-Pop upbeat synths, ‘Celebrity’ retains the light “IU-Esque” musicality in its merger of the weightless airy vocals and the uplifting dainty techno sonics. Delivering a message of self-acceptance and self-love, this “bygone love poem” is a reminder to her fans and her close ones to embrace their flaws: “Don’t forget among the cloudy dark/ You’re a star painted with a left hand/Can’t you see how beautiful/ A true uniqueness can be?/ You’re my celebrity.” The heartwarming melodies and sonics, and the inspiring message of the lyrics enliven the track, and through it, the listeners’ moods as well.
Troll (ft. DEAN)
In a first-time collaboration of these two renowned artists who have previously shown love for each other’s artistry, ‘Troll’ features the mellifluous delicacy of IU and R&B Artist, DEAN’s unique vocals. The track which is co-composed by the stellar combo – DEAN, Park Woo Sang, and JUNNY, boasts of a euphonious, playful synth-pop blend (belonging to the Reggae and Bossa Nova style) that brings out the soft richness of the IU-DEAN duo, unblemished (maybe, even more refined).
Singing in a conversational-tone, the duo portrays a lover pair’s conflicting emotions as they seem to be stuck in a never-ending cycle even though they’re “circling around the worst zone”. The duo’s vocal harmony in the bridge and chorus part as the track (with its repetitive melody) nears its end, is the ‘cherry on top’ as the song truly delivers what it enunciates: “Without giving it much thought/ We keep doing this/ All day, in my head, only one song is streaming.”
Manifesting the breaking up of a monotonous love gone cold, hinted on in the previous track with DEAN, IU’s ‘Empty Cup’ is a delectable euphony composed with the elite skills of Hit-Producer WOOGIE and Rapper/singer-songwriter, PENOMECO. The tight layering of the musical melodies, the enchanting freshness of the guitar strumming, and the blending of IU’s sweet-toned soprano vocals with the background instrumentation, is what makes the track holistically an extremely enamoring listen.
The intricate lyrical sensibility of IU as she sings, “I’m sick of your love/ Sick of your love/ Sick of your all/ I hate this boredom that is swallowing us” among other poetic lines, and the impeccable high notes that weave through the Outro, only enhance this superior listening experience of the flawless composition.
Tugging at the listeners’ heartstrings with an emotional Power Ballad yet again, IU’s next track, ‘My Sea’ showcases the intense desire to reconcile with her own selves of the phases already passed, and to go back to the blissful innocence a child enjoys: “I go back to being against the waves/ In the place where the sea inside me was born.” The beautiful piano melody, the appearance of the voices on an angelic choir, and the explosion of emotions through IU’s powerful vocals, clothe the track in an almost Elysian ethereal atmosphere.
Showing her lyrical prowess, the emotional ballad resonates with IU’s intense sentiments as she sings, “When I was young, there was an endless sea in my heart/ That I was never able to hide/Now in the faintest places, only traces remain.” Ending on a serene hopeful note that hints at the successful reconciliation with her own self, the track also promises the unrelenting burning of IU’s wilful fire of forging ahead, despite the obstacles that await her in the future.
Next in line is a cheery, playful rollercoaster ride titled ‘Ah puh’, planned wittily by IU in cahoots with AKMU’s Lee Chan Hyuk and Composer PEEJAY to give Uaenas an uplifting hand as Spring nears its end. Playing with the addictive melody and riding like a real ‘surfer’, the dainty rhythm, IU’s vast vocal spectrum is revealed as she hits even the most difficult high notes in an almost effortlessly lush manner.
Aside from the deeply ingrained metaphoric message in the lyrics, the vocal inflections and refrains as IU, the “bubble maker of K-Pop industry” sings sweetly but firmly, “I’m such a good surfer, I don’t get swept away/ Dizzy D- Dizzy and the throw up/ even if I throw up, I can’t stand losing.”, add a special texture to the track which makes it sound delightful and fresh.
Finally, the epilogue of IU’s bittersweet reminiscing and hopeful foresight is here with a track titled ‘Epilogue’ that gives the listeners a perfect ending for their satisfying listening journey.
Starting off with a welcoming acoustic guitar melody, the song employs IU’s dulcet high vocal notes to give life to beautiful lyrical writing that speaks directly to her fans (and lover if we take the romantic undertones into account): “Do the long memories with me make you laugh even a bit?/ Are you still proud that we were together at some point in life?/ If you answer ‘yes’ to all of these embarrassing questions/ That is everything I need in my life.” The highlighting element, however, of the track lies in the eccentric layering of IU’s background vocals in the Interlude part which give the sonics an 80s old-time movie feel.
The track ends with IU’s optimistic perspective – “If we keep on with our lives, we’ll see each other again/ I believe we will” and a sweet ending question posed to the listeners, that promises an equally beautiful interaction in the future as well: “I don’t have any regrets about this night/ I fall in a deep sleep/ If I go to you and tell you what I dreamed, will you listen?”
IU’s 5th Studio Album ‘LILAC’, an album that nostalgically bids farewell to her spring season (the 20s) where she had first started producing songs and carving her own niche in the K-Pop industry, also marks the beginning of her 30s with fresh, lively hope for the next chapter of her life, portrayed through the new experimental sounds and genres incorporated in this album. Working with an amazing team of composers like Ryan S. Jhun, WOOGIE, PENOMECO, JUNNY, Poptime, etc., the “insa” to her memories of youth and the gratitude to those who stayed by her side through this period of her life, shines through the album in the most genuine, pleasing and satisfying way.
The passionate zeal to live life to the fullest is also an inspiring and heartwarming sentiment running through ‘LILAC’ which IU elaborates as, “While I reflect on my 20s, part of me wants to take it easy during the last moments of it, but I also think, ‘I have to live even more intensely than ever.’”
Hence, with such an intricate weaving of moving emotions brought to life by the velvety, rich vocals of IU and the innovative team of collaborators, IU’s ‘LILAC’ is an album where each track means something and adds value to the overarching theme and listening experience of album ‘LILAC’ as a whole.