Lee Ji-eun, more commonly known as IU, is no stranger in South Korea. She debuted in 2008 with her single “Lost Child” at the age of fifteen and is recognized for her soft but powerful, unique voice and sincerity. She has also gained popularity as an actress, starring in hit dramas such as “Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo” (2016) and “Hotel Del Luna” (2019). Though she is a veteran in the K-pop realm with thirteen years of experience, IU’s songs are always at the forefront of discussions when they are released, and she never disappoints her fans.
After four long years of hard work, IU released her fifth album titled Lilac on March 25 of this year. In her self-interview on her Youtube channel (IU’s Palette), IU mentioned that Lilac signifies “Memories of the Youth”. Lilac consists of two album versions: Hilac and Bylac. Hilac, characterized by bright and cheerful colors, signifies her way of greeting her 30s; Bylac, characterized by dark and muted colors, signifies her sending off her 20s. However, this isn’t the first time IU has released these coming-of-age songs. From “Every End of the Day” (2012) to “Twenty-three” (2015) to “Palette” (2017) to “Lilac” (2021), IU has been transparent about her thoughts and struggles while encountering adulthood through her heartfelt and relatable lyrics.
Lilac contains ten songs, each with distinct musicality. IU switches up her usual singing performances by experimenting with different genres of music, singing styles, and “blockbuster film” music videos so that “there is no time to be bored”, as she puts in her self-interview.
“Lilac” encompasses the anticipation of spring as IU experiences the warmth, beauty, and happiness that unfolds. Pure happiness is transmitted through her airy voice and soft music. The music video begins with IU arriving at a sun-lit train station and boarding a train followed by scenes of a party, a fight, and an animation with alternating choreography interspersed between them. South Korean composer and singer Jung Jae-hyung even makes a special cameo as the train conductor. After the music ends, a dazed IU is seen at a dark-lit train station waving to the leaving train before another train, symbolizing the next chapter of her life, approaches the station.
“Flu” is the album’s first teaser video, which comprised only thirty-five seconds. The video shows IU in a pale, sick state rising from a bed and dancing to the chorus before falling onto the floor. Despite IU’s portrayal of having the flu, the catchy, upbeat rhythm of the song sparked widespread interest from viewers. Some believe that the song was in reference to COVID-19, but others say that the timing just happened to align with the pandemic since IU began to work on the album pre-pandemic. However, IU did reveal that “Flu” stands for “Forever Love UAENA” (her fandom name).
“Coin” is another choreographed song that portrays the fun, daring side of IU, displayed by its retro connotations. IU also briefly rapped, which was something she has never included in her songs before. The opening of the music video shows IU gambling in a casino. Apart from a few dancing clips, she is seen winning all card games until she meets actor Kim Yoon-seok, who appears as his iconic gambling character from the movie Tazza. The ending shows her depositing the coin that Kim Yoon-seok gave her. When asked about how she felt about the song, IU stated that the song “made her go through hard times [in terms of recording and filming process], but it’s also her fondly loved song”.
4. Hi Spring Bye
“Hi Spring Bye” is a ballad that presents the calmness of spring, as shown in its slower tempo. Strong nostalgic undertones of the past resonate deeply with IU in every line she sings. After greeting the unchanging spring, IU softly sings the last word of the song, “Bye”, in response to her grateful experiences.
“Celebrity” was released earlier than the rest of the album. IU has stated that she wrote the song about a close friend who was frowned upon for being different compared to societal expectations. She wants to remind everyone that being different is not something to be ashamed of or to receive shame for. The music video shows IU as the celebrity wearing various outfits in different scenes, with a short dance break, and follows her as she learns to reconcile with herself.
6. Troll (Feat. DEAN)
“Troll” is sung in collaboration with DEAN, a South Korean alternative R&B singer and songwriter. The lyrics are about a standstill, on-and-off relationship between a pair of lovers, which can be inferred from the repetition of certain phrases and music motifs. DEAN had previously expressed interest in working with IU, even appearing as a special guest on IU’s Palette tour. IU returned the favor by covering his hit song “Instagram”.
7. Empty Cup
“Empty Cup” contains indie tones since it is composed by South Korean hip-hop and R&B producer Woogie and South Korean R&B singer and rapper Penomeco. Musically, IU stays within a localized, lower vocal range, exemplifying the boredom felt by one lover of the relationship. Hence, the title refers to the lack of love as the excitement of a relationship dulls and becomes stale.
8. My Sea
“My Sea” describes a longing for the boundless hope and excitement IU felt when she was younger but has now been reduced to faint traces. When she is lost in life, she strives to retrieve those same feelings by reflecting on how far she has come. The message can be mirrored by the way she sings: her mellow voice builds up to the climax as the song progresses. IU revealed in her self-interview that when recording her highest note, she felt as if her veins would pop, but being the professional singer she is, the note was recorded in one take.
9. Ah puh
“Ah puh” is written by brother-sister duo AKMU’s Lee Chan-hyuk. The song is an evolved version of “Fried Egg”, which was an unreleased song that Chan-hyuk wrote for IU. To elaborate on the meaning, IU explained that she wanted to express personal endurance (balancing on the waves of life) while wishing someone good luck. The use of onomatopoeia added an interesting and attractive dimension to the overall song.
“Epilogue” acts as a summary of all the songs in the album, reiterating her reflection of the youthful past. She sings long notes with a soulful voice that conveys how life passes by like a dream. The music video follows IU as she dances in a fog-covered room, disappearing as she walks into another room.
From Lilac, it is evident that IU not only seeks to improve herself as a singer but also shares meaningful messages that we often brush past in her songs, bringing the arrival of spring to every listener. Just as we expect the return of spring, we can also expect the return of IU’s iconic performances that will showcase her creativity as an artist and her truthful reflections as an adult.