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.