Song Review: IU – Lilac

Earlier this year, IU teased the release of her fifth full-length album, dropping digital single Celebrity as a taste of what was to come. She’s since spoken about how the album is meant to sound bigger than most of the coffee shop-friendly singles she’s delivered over the past few years. And with retro influences dominating K-pop’s current climate, she’s found a home in the 80’s sub-genre city pop.

This style fits IU like a glove, and she explores it fully on new single Lilac (라일락). Truthfully, I’ve always wanted to enjoy city pop more than I actually do. I love its sounds and textures, but too often I find it to be so relentlessly smooth, lacking the kind of dynamics I crave in a pop song. I tend to prefer when artists take the genre’s influences and contrast them with a more powerful performance, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed Sunmi’s Pporappippam so much last year. Unsurprisingly, my favorite parts of Lilac occur when IU attacks the song with gusto.

I love Lilac’s groovy instrumental. It’s the perfect blend of rhythm guitar, disco strings and bright synth accents. It has a hazy weightlessness, but never fades into the background. And when the brass comes in to nudge the track forward, the production really flourishes. IU makes an equally beguiling protagonist, and offers a diverse set of tones within her performance. I’m not a huge fan of the wispiness during the chorus (see: “relentlessly smooth” from earlier), but she immediately follows this with a pair of resounding notes that lend the track real power. This refrain boasts a wonderful blend of melodic structures — almost a nesting doll of sonic goodies that reveals itself more with each listen. Lilac is my favorite IU title track in many years, and I can see it growing even more impressive as time goes on.

 Hooks 9
 Production 9
 Longevity 9
 Bias 8
 RATING 8.75


27 thoughts on “Song Review: IU – Lilac

  1. Do we have the full set yet of leading ladies doing this retro disco slash 80’s style? I think we are getting close. Good, because after the first one or two I was already over this trend. Its not a bad trend, it is just not interesting or compelling to me. Is there really such a demand for this, or is this like how everyone popped an awkward rap verse somewhere into a song in the early 80’s because that was what everyone was doing that year? (qv Blondie “Rapture”, the man from Mars was eating cars.)

    IU does a good job at doing her turn for the retro movement. It still sounds like IU, embedded in a fairly typical leading lady song. It will be a hit.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. As for “relentlessly smooth”, there is a few notes in the chorus where she abandons her usual trademark half breath girly timbre and actually supports her voice with a full tone. Its right around 1:07-1:08, and again when that section repeats, which are striking because she doesn’t do it so often. It really did make me pick my head up and go whoa.

    She also hits that F5 at 1:09 way way better than ever before, mostly because she transitions to her head voice and sings like a bell-voiced choir girl. For comparison, the classic IU “three high notes” are E5 F5 F#5 are usually still sung in her mixed voice so it would get a bit screamy and pitchy, and were a bit hit or miss live. ‘

    Also compare the bell like sound here at 1:09 to the I-land theme which has a high G5 in the chorus at 0:58, and that note is not good. ‘

    But then whoosh, 5 seconds later back to IU trademark sound. Well at least we have a few fleeting moments.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. It suits IU very well indeed. This style compliments the vocal style she usually goes for. That said, this trend is not for me and I probably won’t listen to this song a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m a fan of city pop, so this is a knock-out song for me. That said, I’ve never really associated city pop with spring, but she managed to make it work! In that sense, I think the wispiness of the song works, and actually matches the lyrics.

    Liked by 3 people

      • 100% Agreed. I always skipped Celebrity when I played her “Lilac” album. Cause for some reason it really felt kinda out of place. Still love the lyrics though.


  5. Well, LILAC is fun and I agree it’s one of her best title tracks from recent years. But, have you listened to the album? You got to give it a listen!

    For me, Coin is the real gem and I’d love to see the full video she teased for the song.


  6. Ugh. IU resorting to chasing trends when she used to be one of the best kpop artists doing orchestral pop. Sad how far she fell off but I guess you live to see yourself become the villain


  7. I feel like a lot of kpop artists that make city pop inspired songs really just skim the top and opt for lighter, wispier, synthier(and the synths are more bubbly) songs that don’t have the weight and impact of actual songs from the era have. I think I’d chalk it up to female city pop artists having much deeper and stronger voices than most female kpop idols. This is especially the case with IU as someone mentioned in another comment. I’ve been going back and forth between Lilac and my City Pop playlist and Lilac just doesn’t have the same umph, it’s so much flimsier. It’s kind of like a coffeehouse version of City Pop which is very IU. I can see it growing on me but it’s not one of those songs that can hold on it’s own, like it makes a better background song to do an activity to than to take time to just listen to it.


    • Also the lack of actual instruments especially BRASS instruments is very noticeable in modern renditions of city pop. Like it’s not city pop without that sax.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I really feel this comment. I have often opined about the 80’s retro trend here, and, well now I just sigh and move on.

      … but really, what is the point of doing an homage to an old sound while leaving The Main Elements of that sound, like for example a real hot brass section on fire with a fat wahhh wahhhh sax solo. First she teases us with a single trumpet wail, once, and there is a bare hint of a sax buried under some dozen synth lines at the very end, and that is it. Cmon, IU, you can pull off full on theatrical better than anyone else on the entire planet. *sigh* a missed opportunity. Not just IU, to be fair, but a lot of the current retro homages in the east and west.


      • Most city pop is just 80s disco and funk with a glossy sheet of paint over it. I’d rather listen to some Luther Vandross or Donna Summer than another by-the-numbers kpop act try to replicate Plastic Love. Yukika and Brave Girls got it right with the vocal production and melodies, at least


        • Yes, with extra sequins. I haven’t listened to much city pop, but the ones I have sound as if Lionel RIchie were covered by a smooth jazz ensemble in Asia. With a female singer (usually). (Actually DeBarge, but more people know Lionel Richie than DeBarge ‘

          I never thought I would miss old school R&B so much as the past year. Maybe it was the year, but this year I have listened to a lot of songs that in my youth would have made me reach very quickly for the radio dial.

          Such as this gem. Here HERE is a sax solo – sing off. This is about as cornball as it gets, but right now its aiiiight with me.


      • I think I have a slightly different take on this trend. I don’t really see it as an homage. I feel like it’s drawing inspiration from the 80’s but filtering it through modern production, with a modern audience in mind and a nostalgic sheen that plays more like interpolation. Korea likes to slap the catchy term “newtro” on this music, and I think that’s pretty apt. I don’t know that the songs are even interested in re-creation or replication of the 80’s (which is fine… there’s enough epic 80’s music out there to last a lifetime). It’s more that they’re unlocking a sonic toolkit and fusing it to the sounds that are already popular.

        Having been born in the early-80’s, I’ve got a weird perspective on the whole thing. I don’t feel super close to the music of that decade in the way that I would if I’d directly experienced it as a teen or young adult, yet at the same time the 80’s really formed my entire musical backbone. It’s fused into my DNA.

        I think the music that surrounds you during those initial, formative years of life really does determine your taste going forward. So while I’m not a stickler for what might (or might not) sound “authentically” 80’s, the general palette of sounds used across the decade resonate pretty intensely with me and evoke a sort of innate nostalgia. Plus, I feel like this trend is allowing for more melodic choruses in K-pop, which is always a plus!

        Also, if you want some killer brass in a pop song, be sure to check out Sexy Zone’s newly-released Let’s Music 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I enjoy elements in this song, but really musically, it feels like the producer succumbed to trends. I love city pop, but this is far and away one of the more commercial city pop offerings I have heard. Maybe it will grow on me? At least the lyrics are pretty good.


  9. It’s nice. Not in my top ten city pop, but it’s an IU release, so it goes in the playlist by default.

    Off Topic: At first, I thought IU had Botox’ed her lips but on a closeup I noticed she (or her stylist) tried to reshape her lips by coloring outside the lines (i.e., apply lipstick outside the natural edges of her actual lips). I’ve been noticing this trend quite a bit with several other recent releases. Clowns do that crap and it creeps me out. YOU”RE NOT FOOLING ANYONE, IU! Sorry.. ..another peeve.


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