[Review] IU goes city pop and delivers a deserving chart overlord with “LILAC”

IU doesn’t need any introduction, as her reputation within the Korean entertainment industry speaks for itself. So what I found interesting is her expressing a desire recently to effectively make a mainstream poppy album. While many artists fight tooth and nail against the robotic puppet stereotype, IU has had to fight internal debates about expectations people had from her to put out self-composed ballads she’s famous for. Thankfully, she’s decided to go full send with the upbeat pop that has led to some of her best work with ‘LILAC‘, and the resulting self-titled single doesn’t disappoint.

In retrospect, it’s a bit bizarre that IU and city pop never occurred to me. I never thought she’d do it and I didn’t think much about how her vocals might fit, but now that I hear the two come together on “LILAC” they just seem tailor-made for each other.

The type of vocal that works best with city pop is right in IU’s wheelhouse, an effortless combination of velvety and airy with a tinge of arrogance makes things sound so effortless. Yet there are also moments where she drops down to a lower register for power and a change of pace as well. The casual nature with which she lures the listener into the soundscape is borderline offensive when one considers how hard other artists have tried to make the city pop trend work for them. IU just comes along and does it for funsies, making it all feel completely natural immediately, and when combined with her songwriting it’s almost an unfair combination.

In general, it’s a song about parting ways with loved ones happily. Though when factoring in the music video as well, the intent of the lyrics is also likely about saying goodbye to your past self. It’s almost reminiscing on her life and going through a nostalgic phase (nice genre fit), before
coming to terms with the transition, parting ways with that past before moving on to your next phase in life.

Meanwhile, the track is impressive in itself and, with the mainstream pop attempt, is just as important to the success of “LILAC”. An array of synths and guitar strums providing a fresh and upbeat 80s foundation for IU to lay her vocals on. A lot of times, city pop borders between background noise and cruising music, which is honestly part of the appeal. Though I’m glad that IU does decide to give things an injection of energy and vocals, especially in a surging back half of the chorus that prevents “LILAC” from falling into any danger of monotony.

IU’s versatility is enviable. One of the reasons I enjoy her mainstream pop turns is because she rarely sacrifices much in terms of her ability as a singer/songwriter/composer when she goes down that road. Something like “Twenty Three” is every bit as meaningful as her ballads, and while it’s a tough needle to thread, she proves on efforts like “LILAC” she can incorporate her artistry into something fun and catchy seamlessly.

It’s pointless to talk about what this song means for her career because anything she releases would destroy the charts regardless, but for what it’s worth, this deserves the accolades it will get. “LILAC” is easy, fun, and endlessly repeatable, and I certainly wouldn’t complain at all if IU continues down the trendy blockbuster pop route going forward.

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