Friday, March 14th, 2014

Stellar – Marionette

We have our limits.


Megan Harrington: There’s nothing about “Marionette” that immediately presents itself as unforgettable, but I, too, miss En Vogue. A great thing about En Vogue was that they were all grown women who sang with great authority. Stellar present what strikes me as a niche sexiness (those leotards with bra holes are an acid flashback to Regina George) that might be more convincing without their reliance on breathy sweetness. 

Alfred Soto: The stutter beats and guitar runs scream anything but “marionette,” and the harmonized vocals’ becoming thickness projects a welcome solidarity.

Patrick St. Michel: A fair share of contemporary K-Pop has put as much stock in its visuals as it has the music. It worked – back in the glory days of the K-Pop trend story, a heavy emphasis was placed on music videos and fashion. It wasn’t a top K-Pop songs list…it was a top videos countdown. The clips, in particular, went viral and drew media attention for being over the top, “Gangnam Style” being the peak moment. The problem since has been, in an effort to get attention, K-Pop acts have been attracting all the wrong type of talk. The past year saw a bunch of videos getting called out as racist (or at least race appropriating) and here’s the latest controversy stoker, “Marionette,” thanks to being overtly sexy. It has been called out quite a bit by liberal-leaning international K-Pop fans, and its all because K-Pop has really been built around images. The song though…pretty darn good. It’s a smooth, disco-tinged slither that manages a far more complex, sad sexiness than the video. Yet that has been overlooked for the most part, but the powers that be should understand that by now.

Brad Shoup: The drums are too much. If there were transitions — or even a guitar melody — they’ve been beaten away. On top, it’s practically a sea shanty, but it’s too late: I’m turning green.

Jessica Doyle: There have already been so many witty ’80s-retakes in K-pop recently (see “Big Baby Baby“) that this one has no case to make. Unless a drag cover version is in the works. (BTS? Please? Please please please?)

Sonya Nicholson: If it hadn’t been such a slow week in Kpop when this turned up I doubt we’d have chosen to review it. Dull song, dull (and kind of gross) video, although competent enough.  The correct song to round out today’s Korean chart battle would have been CNBlue’s Can’t Stop (listen here), which only appears to be boring, but in fact has a kind of anesthetized madness to it.  When I was sick all last week with a bad cold and couldn’t get hyped up Can’t Stop sounded better to me than anything off 2NE1’s album.  

Madeleine Lee: I like Sweetune; I hate exploitative marketing practices. Where was this song when Infinite needed it?

Anthony Easton: Mid ’90s Eurovision was not a good time for anyone, and I would appreciate a trigger warning before someone tries to revive it. 

Scott Mildenhall: A couple of years ago Antonia came out with a really quite horrible ballad bearing the same title as this. “We’ve become some poor excuse for love”, go the lyrics, and therefore “I wanna be in your control… as close to love as we’ll ever get”. All of that, prefaced by two words: “she says”. Her agency reduced to having her story told for her, and no-one can offer any explanation as to why she feels like she does. Stellar tell their own story, and yet they offer absolutely no reasons either – even Sandie Shaw had “all the fun of the fair” sometimes – so does that make this, despite the vigour, even darker?

Iain Mew: “Let Me Fail to Blow Ya Mind”

Reader average: [8.25] (12 votes)

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8 Responses to “Stellar – Marionette”

  1. What, exactly, makes the video so gross? I have a few ideas myself, but I’d love to hear what each reviewer found gross in particular about it.

  2. For me it’s the way the video relentlessly focuses on body parts with their heads cut out of the frame, coupled with the doll-under-your-control lyrics. It’s very dehumanizing in a very stunted way, well into moe-otaku territory. I do think the leotards are sexy though.

  3. I *AM* the critical consensus!

  4. I find the video pretty Male Gaze 101 but it’s the context that makes it gross for me – I couldn’t get over the Facebook likes thing, to the point where I tried to find a link that had the partially blurred image because I was so shocked by it.

  5. Disappointed to see the negative reception to STELLAR’s masterpiece. I demand the song be reassessed.

    When I reviewed this on my own website, I took the lyrics about a bad boyfriend playing games with STELLAR’s heart as a metaphor for the Korean entertainment industry. The girls feel like they’re being pulled around like performing puppets by an entity that treats them as nothing more than toys to play with. They hate themselves for letting it happen, but while they despise the powers that be, they’re so desperate to be stars and to be accepted that they’ll willingly turn themselves into mindless sex dolls if it means that they’ll get some fame from it. No matter how much they themselves hate it, they’re going to give us what we want, whatever it may be. (This year in K-pop, it’s a sexy concept).

    The whole song is full of self-loathing, and I love that they went so explicit with the visual. It’s STELLAR saying, “If this is what you want, then here it is,” and then delivering it in the cheapest and most disturbing way possible. Like Sonya pointed out, it’s completely dehumanizing, but that’s intentional.

    “Marionette” became STELLAR’s highest-charting song ever by miles, so what they did worked and actually proved the point they were making in the song.

    As for the song, how can you hate it? Sweetune is usually always brilliant, and this one of their best in a long time. It’s so miserably sexy, and the pre-chorus and chorus is one of Sweetune’s best since Nine Muses’ “News.”

    I don’t like you, I hate you
    You haven’t changed at all, I haven’t changed either
    When you touch me, I accept it
    Tell me, am I a joke to you?

    Look at me, a sad doll tied under string
    Look, I’m still being dragged around by you
    These tough feelings are hard to cut off
    I’m still in your hands, I’m that that that that that that that that doll

  6. Arcadey: Doesn’t your argument only hold by assuming that the members of Stellar had any say in the composition of the song and/or choreography? Otherwise “self-loathing” becomes “loathing” and the whole enterprise becomes all the squickier.

  7. No, not at all. The girls still had to agree to do it at the end of the day. It’s a pretty extreme video by K-pop standards, so there must have come a point where the agency presented them with the concept and they agreed to go along with it. I don’t think it really matters who wrote or produced the song; it’s that STELLAR actually agreed to take part in it. They’ve since come out and addressed the criticism and said that they don’t care if people are talking about them negatively as long as people are talking and know who they are. Becoming stars seems to be very important to them.

  8. You got me to listen to/watch it again, but I’m still not loving the song — it still feels like a bunch of parts assembled without much life. As for the STELLAR-owning-the-concept part… eh. I’ve heard too many rants about K-pop stars having no agency.