IU Rebirths Into Spring in 5th Album “LILAC” — In Depth Review
“Love me only ’til this spring”
The sun has come out for longer, birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and the most beautiful flower, the fifth album “LILAC” by the beloved Kpop soloist IU has arrived. “LILAC”, which was released on March 25th, 2021, came at the perfect time. The title alone tells you everything, but IU encapsulates every aspect about spring, from the anticipation of fun times, refreshing sounds and feelings, to the birth of something new on this album. “LILAC” takes you through a very personal yet universal journey of learning how to truly feel alive again, with IU using her usual clever pop music tactics.
The title track “LILAC” could not have been a better opener for this album. Not only does it set the perfect tone for the rest of the album, it stands oh so strongly on its own. The song is a fun and bright 80s retro track, with hints of Japanese city pop. While following the extremely popular 80s trend, it differs itself by being not a club banger, but as refreshing as a sparkling lemonade. The pulsating bass, a funky guitar riff, light descending synths, and IU’s refreshing airy voice is a spring dream. The slight brass and specifically saxophone near the end is also very much appreciated but it just makes me crave it in the song more. Both sonically and lyrically, it’s pure joy. Even though it is a break up song, there is not an ounce of sadness, anger, or regret. “LILAC” is a pure celebration song to celebrate the beauty a relationship was and everything that the future holds from now on, which can be felt especially strongly at the end of the chorus where she joyfully exclaims “How glorious is this?”
“Flu” is a fun, cute, and quirky take on the idea of lovesickness. As expected, the lyrics are IU describing the physical pain she’s in caused by the feelings from a crush. The melodies and rhyming on top of the light percussion instrumental are the main highlight, from the way she rhymes ‘very embarrassed’ and ‘virus’ to the infectious chorus of “Flu-hu-hu-hu-hu”. The bridge is another highlight as beautiful light background vocals encompass the laid back vibe. The faint sound of chirping birds also add to the lightness of the song. This easy to listen bouncy track is the first of a few other playful earworm songs on the album, such as “Troll” ft. Dean and “Ah Puh”.
“Coin” is the most upbeat and exciting song on the album with its persistent bass, guitar, and brass. IU uses the mood of high confidence while gambling in a casino as a metaphor for the high confidence of putting your all into a relationship, as best displayed with the repeated chorus line of “I can’t die, I’m all in”. IU displays herself as a master of the craft — the craft being relationships; The opening lyrics “Going stronger against the strong, I love gamble / The more aggressive it gets, the more of a new world is on my table…So it’s pretty damn fun” show how she’s fearlessly playing the game with nothing to lose. The jazz-like lower tone of her voice in this song is new territory, especially with the rap-singing in the second verse, but it perfectly portrays the lyrics that are dripping in cockiness.
“Hi Spring Bye” is a soft and gorgeous throwback ballad. Despite being the longest song on the album at 5:24 minutes, it never feels like it’s dragging at all. The feelings due to the structure of the song perfectly mirrors the situation described in the lyrics. In this ballad, IU reminisces on an enchanting time she spent with a person that she relates directly to spring, after they briefly come across each other again. Now that they have met again, she admits that she doesn’t want their time together to be over again. As she reminisces over every flashback of their beautiful moments, she savors that small moment in the present day of calmly greeting each other. The song also does not rush anything and lets you fully savor the moment and get lost in feelings, just like the narrator. This song allows you to hear every word IU sings, every note, and fully ruminate in the feelings it gives you.
The next track “Celebrity” was a pre-release for the album and came out back in January. When this song was first released, I was somewhat disappointed. While I thought the lyrics were really touching and the instrumental generally accompanied the sweetness, the voice distortion as the post chorus drop ruined the mood for me. The drop just felt so basic, overdone, and just something IU could do better than. However, listening in the context of the album actually makes the drop seem not as disorienting. It’s easier to concentrate on the warm message of viewing someone you love as special as a celebrity.
“Troll” ft. Korean R&B artist Dean is the first sign of the relationship described so far wearing down. This song is a really fun casual listen that was made to be stuck in your head; The lyrics even nod to the song’s own catchiness, stating “In my head, I’m only streaming one melody all day long”. Like many other songs, this song also directly parallels the subject to the actual song. The first lines in the chorus, “We’re lost in a circle / The boring spinning troll / We’re going back to back, so it can never end” best represent how the two people in this situationship keep going back to each other even though they have technically ended things; Dean even directly states “But I’m your ex boyfriend (ex boyfriend) / I admit that I crossed the line”. The endless loop of their current situation getting them nowhere new is like the endless loop this song plays in your head. Although, shoutout to the adorable “Rolly-rolly-rolly-roll” in the chorus especially that has delightfully stuck in my head like glue ever since I first played the song.
Reaching a conclusion about the relationship, in “Empty Cup”, IU finally admits that what little is left of the relationship at this point is not doing anything for her. As this song is only 2:19 minutes, it’s clear that along with the lack of love left in the relationship, she doesn’t have much words to say about it either. The chorus repeats the notion of her being so over it, singing “I’m sick of your love…sick of your all” and “Too fed up with us…Fed up with all” along the simple electric guitar line cruising through the song. Although it’s a somewhat simple song, it entrances with its bluntness and simplicity.
The following track called “My Sea” is a complete 180 to the previous song, but not in a jarring or bad way. “My Sea” is the most powerful song on the album as a breathtaking and inspiring piano power ballad. Now that the previous relationship is finally done once and for all, this track gorgeously takes the listener on the same journey the narrator went on to find true peace. Everything about this track screams strength, from the lyrics to the fact that it sounds like it’s straight out of a modern day Disney soundtrack (however not in a cheesy way whatsoever). The song starts out with IU feeling lost with herself due to all that she’s endured to feeling hopeless and like she has disappointed the child she used to be, with lines such as “Has the child gotten sick of me for so long? / As the days pile up, we get further away / I don’t think I can reconcile with myself / I don’t think it’s gonna get any better”. The sea that she keeps referring to throughout the song is the metaphor for all the dreams and desires she had as a child. Wanting to return to that optimistic state of being, she slowly reconnects with her inner child and embraces it fully. Once she reaches that point, her confidence is unwavering while singing “The world comes to me at every moment / And it becomes a dazzling gift / I have a big number of doubts / But I think I can find the answer to them”. While the whole song is dramatically cinematic, towards the last chorus, IU kicks it up all the way when a chorus of people sing briefly for a moment and she fully belts out powerful lines such as “Even if I get swept away and get lost, I’m free / I don’t close my eyes to the darkness that locks me up anymore”, then lets the string filled instrumental take over before closing with soft piano. While this song is as powerful as it is, I can only imagine how glorious it would be live.
“Ah Puh” is the sweetest treat that comes after; A bouncy bubblegum song that is hands down the catchiest earworm of the whole album. Keeping the sea/wave theme, “Ah Puh” is IU lightly singing about the pure fun of playing in the waves and encouraging skeptical others to join her; Of course, continuing the metaphor in “My Sea” of reaching that peaceful state of mind and encouraging others to follow in her footsteps. The light guitar and actual ocean wave sounds in the track make it the ultimate summer song. The undeniable highlight that makes this song stand out is the repeated syllables primarily during the chorus, which goes something like “ah ah ah puh puh puh tto huh huh ooh ooh ooh juk..” Trust me, just listen to it and it will click immediately.
The final track titled “Epilogue” is a very fitting ending for the story presented through the album. The lyrical content of the mid-tempo closer is IU fully reflecting back on the beautiful relationship she had and how she is ready to move on. During the verses she asks questions about if the other person still cherishes the beautiful memories they spent together, such as “Are the old songs I would sing for us still comforting?…Do the long memories with me make you laugh even a bit? / Are you still proud that we were together at some point in life?” She comes to the conclusion that she is fully satisfied with their time together and will move on with those lovely moments still in her heart. The plucked guitar and vocal distortion throughout the song give the feeling a slightly creepy feeling, like a ghost that’s lingering between the real world and the afterlife; A great metaphor for IU moving onto a new part of her life.
From the start to the end, IU beautifully frames how a relationship can still have a happy ending without staying together. IU makes sure every song is full of love either for the other person, herself, or both. “LILAC” as an album is so whole, that it can be looped ending with “Epilogue” into (song) “LILAC” and make perfect sense thematically. Everything experienced in this album is something people go through multiple times throughout life, and “Epilogue” ending with acceptance and becoming joy once again with “LILAC” allows for a new cycle of events to happen. However, something IU lets the listener know very well, is that at the end of every cold winter, lilacs will bloom again.
“LILAC” — 10/10
“Flu” — 8/10
“Coin” — 9/10
“Hi Spring Bye” — 10/10
“Celebrity” — 7/10
“Troll” ft. Dean — 8.5/10
“Empty Cup” — 10/10
“My Sea” — 10/10
“Ah Puh” — 10/10
“Epilogue” — 8/10