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Lilac Verónica A. Bastardo , April 28th, 2021 08:18

IU's fifth album, Lilac, shows an artist far too inventive and eclectic to be constrained by a term like k-pop, finds Verónica A. Bastardo

Lilac is a voyage through IU’s past decade. A goodbye to her 20s, summarising old loves and losses, her growth as a woman, and looking back to those years when struggles were overcome and loving fans welcomed her music. Debuting thirteen years ago with a girl-next-door style, IU has explored almost every music style you can think of. From jazzy rag piano craziness in her version of the Korean classic ‘Pierrot Laughs At Us’, lovely mellow ballads like ‘Lullaby’, and more ironic and disruptive hip-hop/pop tracks like ‘Bbibbi’. So it’s only natural that the closure of a part of her life recounts her vast range, serving as easter eggs for her fans and as a surprisingly diverse tracklist for new listeners – without sacrificing her usual dreamlike musical touch.

‘Lilac’ is a farewell type of song. Under the tones of funky guitar riffs, glimmers Japanese city pop nostalgia synths and the all-out fun of a classic 80s saxophone. With the metaphor of ‘new beginnings’ represented by blooming flowers in spring, she ends a relationship (we might guess, with herself) on good terms, celebrating and treasuring the memories in her “secret music box”, she’ll “rewind it forever”.

Recurrent themes of self-love and self-acceptance (like her old song ‘Love Poem’) have always been a key part of IU’s songs. ‘Celebrity’ and ‘My Sea’ have that well covered here. The former is a mid-tempo EDM track with dancehall breaks, much like a party anthem, while the second of the pair, ‘My Sea’, is more of an orchestral ballad in the style of a movie soundtrack. It opens with the quiet uncertainty of exposing yourself, a person that lacks self-love, before growing in intensity into a full string section, a choir of voices harmonising with her, while she, like the sea, makes peace with the unexpected flow her relationship with herself has become. The high-pitched voice and the overflowing orchestration feel like a firework display and ends with the same eerie quietness after the explosions have died down.

Lilac’s narrative follows IU through ten years of her personal life, yet she keeps it as relatable as any slice-of-life fiction out there. You will hear the diary of a woman arriving in her 30s and celebrating her past with grace, embracing her mistakes, and being grateful towards the ones that had been by her side. It’s also an example of how the “k-pop” label falls short for some artists. IU’s sound here is a chameleon of creative decisions that travel from trendy funk pop songs (like ‘Coin’) to old style Disney movie-like music (‘Epilogue’) and more, indulging herself to be honest while having fun offering comfort – both to herself and her listeners.