Friday, November 13th, 2015

IU – Twenty-Three

And we finish this remarkable Friday with Korean disco pop…


Jessica Doyle: Don’t do what I did and read the translation before you hear the actual song. Or do, and be surprised that a story of self-understanding, of coming to terms with confusion — what do I want to be, what does the world want to be, why can’t I or the world settle on just one thing and be done with it — is also a straight-up jam.

Brad Shoup: I know it’s dangerous to rely on translations, but it would appear that IU understands the particular power of being young and not giving a shit. Even setting aside the fox that pretends to be a bear that pretends to be a fox, this is a hearty slab of disco-pop, with a sparkling organ cameo in one channel, string stabs cooked just right, and a droogish bridge where she rides the bell, weaving the weirdest harmonies in and out.

Madeleine Lee: IU’s been getting Taylor Swift comparisons from the beginning, when she was a sweet “nation’s little sister” type with a guitar and a horrifying lung capacity, offered as an authentic alternative to heavily processed idol groups: musically authentic, that is, but as always, it becomes conflated with personal authenticity (her breakthrough album was called Real, for goodness’ sake.) Now might be the best time for another comparison, when both artists are on the other side of scandals involving going on too many dates and misinterpreting someone else’s words, and the pure, earnest image of IU’s early days has long been replaced by dismissive assumptions that her every move is calculated (again: her breakthrough album was called Real, for goodness’ sake.) So “Twenty-Three” is IU’s “Shake It Off,” insofar as it’s a notice that she reads what you’ve been writing about her plus a syncopated-chanting breakdown. But more specifically, it’s an assertion that pretending to be something else is not a personality flaw but just a way to decide what one really is. “Ah, got it, I want to fall in love,” IU tells herself, like she’s just remembered what she walked into the room to do. But there’s a more mature-sounding voice somewhere that replies, “No, I’d rather make money.” The world assumes a dichotomy between the lovable bear girl and the sneaky fox woman, between the soaring string-backed chorus and the slinky electro-pop song. At 23, IU wants both, is both, and more.

Iain Mew: One of those occasions where, as a non-Korean speaker, the subtitled video is  essential. Without, it’s a jazz-tinged song which zips along but is only more than slight in the off-kilter bridge. With, it becomes clear that its lightness is deliberately performed as the starting point of unpicking itself as an act, IU taunting with a demonstration of how easy it is to put on the expected show while sitting layers behind. It’s a fascinating performance, and I welcome anything bringing a line like “Pretend to be a fox that pretends to be a bear that pretends to be a fox” into my life.

Alfred Soto: A souffle-light disco bounce complete with strings graces this Korean singer’s hit. Kudos for the stop-start dynamics too

Thomas Inskeep: Middling K-pop until it gets to the chorus, which bursts open in a rainbow of ’79 disco-pop. Hate the double-tracking on her voice, though.

Katherine St Asaph: An alternate universe in which all post-Pharrell neo-funk involved coquette vocals. And was made of Taylor Swift shoutouts.

Micha Cavaseno: It’s all in the drawls, those little downward sweeps that can sound like eye rolls or resignation depending on the angle. Far too many songs these days appear to be about charging into the future headlong, ready to break one’s skull against the problems they face. But these brutal pushes don’t mean anything if you could realistically fall and land on your face. “Twenty-Three” is enjoyable in how spiky it makes uncertainty, despite the disco-lite arrangement. While this dance-soul tinged number could easily become the territory of R&B-inflected flourishes, IU refuses to project brashness. She’s equally adept at sounding bluesy on those ascensions and nonsensical bits in the chorus. The result is a prismatic record, offering a dazzling choice of paths. Refusing to answer any challenges about who she is, the girl seems wiser.

Mo Kim: “Honestly, things are great right now,” goes the painful familiar refrain before IU undercuts it under her breath: No, in actuality, I want to fuck everything. This is the year after “22,” when breakfast at midnight gives way to overtime at 1 a.m. This is a house of mirth feigned, learning to pull off your best impression of #blessed hoping that the people speculating buy your act. I am 20, and every year I see my friends get older I’m less sure if the prospect of being 23 scares me or excites me: coming-of-age can feel like driving down a December road, the headlights around me the only source of light for miles. “Twenty-Three” is pain and vulnerability, but it is also joy, IU’s performance of young adulthood a kaleidoscope of voices riffing off one another before the swoop of the chorus spins confusion into something resembling delirious glee.

Will Adams: IU navigates the Pharrellian first verse (right down to the quarter-beat intro!) well enough, then proceeds to coast over the rest. I’ve been 23 for almost two months as of this writing, and I’m not sure it’s worth this fuss.

Reader average: [8.88] (26 votes)

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6 Responses to “IU – Twenty-Three”

  1. Highest-scoring single day ever? (Iain?)

  2. This was a good day. A+ everyone!

  3. I feel like there might be a day during an Amnesty Week with a higher average, but this is probably the highest I’ve seen for a regular day.

  4. Just did some searching and it looks like it’s the highest of any date.

    The closest I can find would have been December 4, 2009 with”Busy Signal – Da Style Deh”,””Shystie ft. DJ Deekline – Nu Style” and “Saint Etienne – Method of Modern Love”.

    December 10th, 2012 would have been another really strong date, with “Frank Ocean – Thinkin Bout You”, “Todd Terje – Inspector Norse”, and “Emilie Simon – Franky’s Princess”, except for the fact that “Jawga Boyz – Get Out My Way” was reviewed that day as well.

  5. I was all set to go “oho! I remember a high scoring non-Amnesty week” but then there was a 4th song on the same day we did “Love Done Gone”, “Video Games” and “Purple Swag” :(

  6. I enjoyed the video more than the song; the cake face-plant is a great summing-up of the exasperation of ‘I’m finally an adult! Wait – is this… it, then? For ever?‘ But more importantly there is ARCHERY. Can Jukeboxers who’ve watched more K-pop videos than me confirm whether Korea’s most medal-lucrative sport crops up at all regularly? What about speed skating?