Over the past few years, I think I’ve liked the idea of IU better than the reality itself. Once known for ornate, symphonic pop music, her oeuvre has devolved into wispy ballads and quirky coffeehouse fare. She remains intensely popular in Korea, and her pleasantly light vocal timbre and undeniable presence back up this success. But, her recent output has felt too understated for my taste.
With Above The Time (시간의 바깥), IU has returned to the lush theatricality of her peak. The song is still essentially a ballad, but with some unexpected twists that keep it interesting. The entire thing feels ripped from some imaginary musical, awash with grandiose strings and unabashed drama. The verses meld more traditional balladry with a quirky vocal delivery that compels interest. Above The Time’s chorus is suitably soaring, drawing out IU’s vocals to sentimental effect. You can practically imagine her as a Disney princess, belting out the melody from atop some fantasy tower.
And then, two thirds of the way through, Time morphs into a delightfully unexpected dance break. The tempo jumps as the instrumental brings in a rollicking mix of fiddle and operatic backing vocals. For me, there can never be too much of these over-the-top musical flourishes, and I wish they didn’t come and go so quickly. Still, this is a great nod to IU’s past, and amps up Time’s appeal just as the song is beginning to flag. Afterward this exciting break, the track reverts to its grandiose balladry, with added percussion and a final, stirring crescendo to round things out. Above The Time may not be as accessible as some of her hits, but its musical bombast is pretty thrilling.
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