STELLAR made their comeback about two weeks ago, although a lot of you probably don’t even know that. Their single, “Mask,” has failed to crack the top 100 of the Gaon chart, and promotions for the song are pretty much over already considering that the girls have been noticeably absent from most of the major music programs.
This sucks because “Mask” is a formidable follow-up to one of the best girl group songs of the year, “Marionette.” Both “Mask” and “Marionette” should be doing what “Miniskirt” and “Short Hair” did for AOA, but instead “Marionette” remains hugely misunderstood while “Mask” is a bigger flop than the little-known STELLAR gem, “UFO.”
Whereas “Marionette” was a meta-pop record that used K-pop relationship tropes to criticize the music-buying public for treating female idols like disposable sex objects, as well as taking aim at the idols that bow to their demands, “Mask” sees STELLAR perched in the confessional, ready to come clean after finally tiring of the fight.
You didn’t know me, you didn’t look at me
You never even glanced at me
In the mask that was made how you wanted it
I am not there, it’s just a lie
Here we see the girls acknowledging their pre-“Marionette” obscurity and revealing that their extreme makeover was just a reflection of the public’s wishes, rather than true expression of the girls themselves.
You know that I was alone
You didn’t even give me a glance
Now you look at me but I’m not there, I’m not there
They reiterate the same message here, but also shift some of the blame onto the general public and the music industry, just like in “Marionette.”
Did I look easy? Did I seem pathetic?
Was it wrong that I loved you?
At least there are no regrets
That was how desperate I was
STELLAR play the victim card again, as if they’re trying to guilt others for their “Marionette” transformation. But despite their lingering resentment at what they felt they were forced to do, they still don’t regret their actions, clinging to the belief that the end justifies the means.
It’s not just the lyrics that act as a sequel, or at least an extension of “Marionette.” The production, once again courtesy of Sweetune’s G-High and Lee Joo Hyung, is a more low-key, restrained take on the Sweetune-y synth-pop of “Marionette.” The frustration we heard in STELLAR’s voices has been replaced with a defeated vulnerability. There’s still an erotic charge to everything, but now it’s sensual, not sexual.
The song’s post-chorus, in which STELLAR breathlessly whisper over electronic red lights, is utterly mesmerizing. It’s the best non-chorus part of a pop song of this year — the entire time you’re listening to “Mask,” you’re really just waiting for it to arrive to that part so you can slowly gyrate your hips and drift off to STELLAR land.
The music video embodies everything I’ve said about the song so far, highlighting STELLAR’s elegant sensuality instead of their shocking sexuality. It’s really beautiful, and definitely one of the better examples to come out of this year’s sexy trend. To me, it shows that STELLAR has some real star power beyond just being some scandalous flop group that everybody ironically stans for (i.e. 4L, Bikiny). The members are pretty, but in a unique way, and the group has its own identity through their meta lyrics, the erotic melancholy of their concepts, and the remarkably good Sweetune leftovers they’ve been thrown.
If the “Mask” music video didn’t convince you of this, then just watch the following performance. STELLAR are barefoot, dancing in the rain, and it’s fucking magical. They may not be the best singers or dancers around, but unlike most K-pop acts, STELLAR are charismatic enough to own a stage without needing props and backup dancers — just them alone is enough to captivate.
Now the big question is: Why has “Mask” been such a flop? Besides the fact that it’s an incredibly subtle song, the definition of a grower, it’s also been promoted terribly in every possible way.
It came out of nowhere, with virtually zero pre-release promo or buzz to get anybody other than STELLAR stans excited. There was no media play like with “Marionette,” and truthfully, STELLAR still needs a little scandal to get people to pay attention. Everything has been handled so badly, which really surprises me after how perfectly STELLAR played the media with “Marionette.”
I mean, who can forget their iconic Facebook campaign?
If they had a better release strategy, I think “Mask” could’ve been the “Dolls” of 2014 — an unlikely dark horse of a hit. Not that “Mask” is on the level of “Dolls,” which is undoubtedly one of the best songs Sweetune’s ever produced, but it could’ve had a similar reception.
I really hope that STELLAR get another shot at stardom after this, because seriously, “Mask” is one of the biggest flop eras I’ve ever seen.