Inside The Red Room: The Smart, Ugly Sexuality Of Stellar's 'Vibrato'
Consistency With Stellar's Previous SinglesFantastic Production That Nine Muses Would Kill ForSmart, Thoughtful, Provocative, Subversive
Where Are The G-Strings From The Teaser Photo?!
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There’s been a couple of girl groups that have pushed the sexy concept further than Stellar did with their bar-lowering “Marionette” era (Hello Venus and 4L, anyone?), but none have come close to having the kind of impact that the controversial quartet did.

When “Marionette” first dropped in February of last year, I talked about how self-loathing and ugly it was, and how it left me feeling more sad than aroused.

Now, eighteen months later, people are finally catching up to me.

Comments on netizen translation websites have changed from slut shaming shade towards Stellar to outright pity, which anybody that understands Stellar’s meta lyrics and concepts knows that you’re supposed to feel a little bad after watching their videos. It’s the whole point.

Every Stellar single since “Marionette” has used metaphors to address topics like the implications of the sexy concept, the struggle for fame in the Korean music industry, and the group’s unhealthy relationship with the public.

The last time we saw Stellar was in “Fool,” about a year after “Marionette” initially dropped. The controversy had died down by then and Stellar were beating themselves up out of guilt for craving a return to the spotlight, despite all the negativity that came along with it.

With that attitude, it’s no big shock that Stellar’s new single, “Vibrato,” has been touted as a return to the envelope-pushing shock tactics of “Marionette,” a song that owes its success both to its quality and its edgy publicity campaign.

“Vibrato,” once again produced by Sweetune’s former ‘b-team’ Hwang Hyun, G-high and Lee Joo Hyoung, is blistering nu-disco electronica that sounds like pre-“Drama” Nine Muses remixed by Humming Urban Stereo. It’s a wonder that the Muses never recorded this around the time of “Figaro” and “News,” or even “Glue.”

“Vibrato” also reminds me of Girls’ Generation’s “Mr.Mr.” in the way that both songs play their cards close to their chest until the home stretch, then they explode like disco balls filled with glitter for a glorious finale. (They also have those gorgeous disco strings in common, too!)

Lyrically, Stellar’s doing more of the same, this time detailing their spiral back into the puppet master’s clutches.

My heart is slipping, my head is dizzy / I’m not myself, what’s wrong with me? What do I do? I’m nervous,” they sing.

Like “Marionette,” Stellar’s sexuality is once again presented as something dark and ugly. The MV is filled with subtle-as-a-sledgehammer imagery, most of which is bound for K-pop meme status. We see Stellar trapped in boxes: one is clear glass as a dozen cameras film them from the outside, and the other is a mirrored box — at times they’re terrified of their own reflection, and other times they’re impressed and striking provocative poses in their “Marionette” outfits.

There’s also a lot of blood.

stellar cactus gif

We see the stuff dumped on a Barbie’s head in a nod to Carrie style public humiliation, and a prickly cactus –the only phallic symbol in the whole video– drenched in it.

However, that’s nothing compared to the overload of yonic imagery. The song’s final epic climax is ushered in at the 2:00 mark as the world’s most suggestive purse is slowly unzipped like a fishy Pandora’s box, and then the viewer is bombarded with Illuminati eyeballs and vaginas. Stellar literally invites you inside their sugar walls, represented by the red room in the video, which appears to be referencing August Strindberg’s The Red Room.

“The public does not want to have an opinion, it wants to satisfy its passions. If I praise your enemy you writhe like a worm and tell me that I have no judgment; if I praise your friend, you tell me that I have. Take that last piece of the Dramatic Theatre, Fatty, which has just been published in book form… It’s quite safe to say that there isn’t enough action in it: that’s a phrase the public knows well; laugh a little at the ‘beautiful language’; that’s good, old disparaging praise; then attack the management for having accepted such a play and point out that the moral teaching is doubtful—a very safe thing to say about most things.”

This time around, Stellar’s taking aim at the critics and the media who have repeatedly failed to dig deeper into the group’s message. Every Stellar comeback results in chatter about the group’s skin exposure and media play, but very few have bothered to give the group any credit for the smart social commentary and criticism in their concepts and lyrics, or for the quality of their music which easily rivals many of K-pop’s biggest stars.

Towards the end of the song, we see Stellar singing “I got trapped, got trapped!” as the purse’s lips open up to reveal the gateway to the red room. Are Stellar taking ownership of their own hypocrisy and revealing themselves to be prisoners of their own grotesque sexuality, or is the red room a positive thing? Is it where the smart and self-aware people go to complain about the bullshit of the outside world? Is Stellar inviting us inside with them?

I’m not quite sure, but either way I’m in. Lock me up and throw away the key.

  • William Love

    UGH when will the world’s untalented faves be as flawless as south korea’s number one I got drip-dols??? I really hope these ladies find some success with this comeback cause this is sexy done right

  • T-rollypoly

    Jacques, this article shows how much you appreciate Stellar. This is so well-written and very well thought out. I somehow feel that everything you said was from the heart. Didn’t sound bias at all, just giving credit when it’s due. One of your best.

  • lildarien

    What a wonderfully written and thought provoking piece. I might have been drawn to you by the bey-shade and the flopstanning, but I stay for these treasures.

  • BadB*tch

    totally obsessed

  • Julian Jung

    This is article is definitely you at your best, Jacques. I don’t think anyone could have written a better review of this comeback. Stellar has snatched every strand of hair off of my head with this track! Allkpop had one of it’s staff members review “Vibrato” and the whole point of the song and video just completely flew over his/her head. Clearly they have no credibility to be writing any kind of legitimate review. Anyways, the symbolism in the MV is the best I’ve seen since Gain made her comeback earlier this year. The retro sound is DEFINITELY reminiscent of the Nine Muses Figaro/News era, and I’m totally here for it, I’m so serious. Sweetune is really doing justice with the songs they give Stellar. My only actual dislike is the “eotteokhae eotteokhae eotteokhae” bit. The girls look amazing and the visuals leave nothing to the imagination which plays up to the whole point of the concept. I’m sick of all the negativity Stellar receives, or the fact that people keep slut shaming them and insisting they’re being forced to do this kind of thing. I believe if they wanted to stop, they would have. I can’t wait to see if this comeback takes them anywhere, because it really should. No other girl group would dare to push this envelope this much.

    • T-rollypoly

      The comments on the mv saying that they feel sorry for Stellar because their agency is forcing them to do this concept are so absurd & so judgmental. I am legitimately mad at those passive-aggressive pieces of shit who constantly drags Stellar to the ground while they feel so highly about themselves.

      • Julian Jung

        This EXACTLY. I am really surprised as well at how many supporters they’ve drawn as well, despite all of the criticism.

        • T-rollypoly

          It’s actually a sign of maturity and intelligence from a lot of international fans. A lot of the fans who supports Stellar are the ones who despise the idea of bandwagon mentality & of course slut shaming too. Stellar fans are one of the best kind of fans out there, although small in number, the level of intellect & rationality are unparalleled.

  • byoing~byoing.

    I love it when you write like this! I mean there’s always times and places for ‘YASSSSSSSSSSSS’, however; it’s just so amazing to see the difference in language when you analyse things from a non-stan point of view.

    The song itself is just next level fantastic. Even without the visual components of the song, the production is just jaw dropping. When I’m listening to it (and not understanding a word of Korean), I still feel as though I’m understanding every word they’re saying.

    If 9Muses came back with this song and a more toned down concept, I feel as though that could of pushed them up the K-Pop girl group food chain.

  • I always wanted a cam girl concept. Always thought it would be relevant to girl groups, and had the potential to be very smart and edgy. This comeback is all that. Of course, post 2:30 is freakin’ amazing.

  • Nicole Naeun

    Very very good and well-thought review.

    I love the song 5/5, it’s amazing, it really is my thing. It reminds me how I always pick Figaro as my 9M/Sweetune song out of all the arguably better songs from them: Both Figaro and Vibrato are modest and very very cohesive in terms of production. They’re both ambitious with the production; verses that catch your attention, bridges that draw you in, but still they hold in until the interlude comes in 2.00 and finish with a final explosive chorus.

    Having said that, a part of me as a MINE is kind of disappointed that this didn’t go to the Nine Muses, and it got me reminiscing the old Nine Muses/Sweetune combo that I loved so much and lived for. Anyway, STELLAR did a stellar job with Vibrato.

    As for the MV, I feel like this repeated the same mistake that SNSD did with Mr.Mr. The MV didn’t quite highlight the choreo which was supposed to be one of the selling-point of this era, it was too bits-n-pieces. And the choreo itself, I could imagine a much better version with Stellar toning it down a notch during the chorus, and just go for a fun free-spirited dance. I mean, the beat is killing, why would the only wiggle their butts slowly like that?

    Despite a few notes, it’s a 5/5 daebak comeback for me.

    • T-rollypoly

      I am still waiting up to this day for the long ass explanation of Star Empire as to why they dropped Sweetune. 9muses x Sweetune combination is too great to just end like that without any good reason.

      • Db

        I feel like this is the only group with whom they haven’t dropped the ball since parting with 9M. I hope they one day return to working together.

        • T-rollypoly

          Agreed. Yeah even just b-sides I would be contented.

    • totally agree with you about the choreography. it’s maybe because they’re not the best dancers out there, but this feel contrived when it could’ve been crazy hair flapping as exciting as the song makes you feel.

      however i’m all in love with this era. i just wish i had a full mini-album to get even more addicted.

  • well i gotta say that articles like this are why i stan you as a k-pop blogger/critic. you add context and imagination to it and even though you could easily go on the superficial and remain okay, you speak your mind and throw on us all these references that make popular culture [of any nationality] interesting in the first place.

    some bloggers should to study you more before daring to post some silly dumb opinion as a review.

  • Db

    Such a great and well written article.

    I feel like this time they own their sexuality. It may be ugly, but it doesn’t feel as uncomfortable or forced as in Marionette, which was well expressed through the choreography.

    Doesn’t this look uncomfortable to anyone else but me?

    http://arcadey.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/stellar-gif-02.gif

    • T-rollypoly

      I might be a delusional stan but wasn’t it meant to be uncomfortable for them & the viewers anyway? I may be over analyzing but the dead look in their eyes during Marionette was one of the selling points for me. The sad & regretful look in Mask is another one.

      • Yeah it was meant to be really miserable, coz the song is about a guy who keeps pulling a girl back in and treating her like a puppet and she hates herself for allowing it to happen, and tho the guy represented the public and Stellar was Stellar being pushed into doing this nasty sexy concept for attention and they hate themselves for doing it but they can’t resist.

      • Db

        It was, but now they’ve come full circle and they don’t look miserable or powerless in Vibrato.

  • shoopdoop

    a tear fell from my eyes when i listened to this song. god exists and sweetune x stellar has saved my soul from purgatory.

  • Apink butthole

    We also got the best rection video ever https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZZDIwb4NQ0

    • I despise reaction videos but he was so hot

  • Mieli

    Excellent review.

  • Nana’s Disco Stick

    this review deserves a Pulitzer for online literature. *slow claps* i kept saying YAAAAS every 30 seconds or so… *wipes tears of admiration*

    much as i am hurt with your distasteful remark on 9Muses Hurt Locker / Hurt Eardrums, i am still your stan Jacques! and this article proves why. I LOVE YOU!

    anyway, this is the only single this year that has a legit orgasm by the end of the song – which slays by the way. my ears ended up spewing sperm all over the place by the time the beat hit at 2:25

    also, Sweetune X The Empresses Of Vaginal Moisture (credits to whoever came up with this title) are the new soulmates up to par with T-ara X Tiger and the recently disbanded Sweetune X Muses

  • jizabel

    This is the song that has elevated them to Brown Eyed Girls-level heights of artistry, imo. Or at least cemented them as their heiresses apparent. Now all we need is for BEG to actually comeback and for Korea to recognize STELLAR as the only group this side of 2007 that has consistently delivered substantive lyrical content along with extremely well-done pop. Who else but the Empresses of Vaginal Moisture?

    • Nana’s Disco Stick

      ehhhhmeeeerrrrrgeeeerd, it was you! the genius who crowned Stellar that EVM title. thank you for doing the lordt’s work

      • jizabel

        lmao it was, tyvm! But no need to thank me, I’m just witnessing the gospel of the benevolent Empresses <3

        • Nana’s Disco Stick

          well, we all are basking in the benevolence and precum of our Empresses. long live our kweens!

  • Laurence Nope

    I feel so sorry for these poor helpless girls who clearly must have been coerced against their will into basically doing porn when all they ever wanted was to be singers. I mean I’m only 12 years old and I’ve never actually seen porn but I’m pretty sure it’s exactly like this music video right? They certainly must not actually want to do stuff like this. Who in their right mind would actually want to be part of one of the most conceptually solid string of singles in K-pop history? Surely if I’m too dumb to understand the meta implications of what they’ve been doing and how it sheds light on the misogyny of the culture that spawned them by bringing out packs of slut-shamers and slut-concern-trolls and actual, real-life, upvoted comments that say “if my daughter was in a group like this I’d shave her head…” If I’m too dumb to understand that, then surely Stellar, who as idols and especially female idols are merely mindless puppets who have no agency of their own and only do exactly what they’re told, surely they don’t understand it either… Right?

    • byoing~byoing.
    • Lmao!

      Btw please follow me on Twitter and send me J-pop recommendations. TY.

      • Laurence Nope

        I don’t have a twitter account but maybe I should finally give in and join just for you. Actually I have a new J-pop recommendation. It’s this AKB48-sized group whose new song sounds like Tokyo Girls Style disco. Stan them:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj63evE3wJ8

        • Thanks, will check this out. And please make a twitter ^_^

        • lildarien

          I dunno I feel like they set the bar pretty low for entry into these groups..

  • Sunny

    if we didn’t have you to analyze all this for us, alot of it would have went past some of the folks watching it (like me).

    Even i still have a hard time figuring out some of the symbolism in EXID’s up and down video lol

    The song is a return to form imo. Love this comeback.

  • MolkangMolkang

    Out of all your reviews, I enjoy your Stellar ones the most (T-ara a close second). I knew what the general comments were going to be as soon as I saw the first teaser.

    I enjoy the symbolism as always, some don’t think that Mask has any with one person claiming that it’s just where they act sexy but clearly it does as it follows the same pattern as Marionette, a criticism of the audience/the industry. I’ve seen complaints about Gayoung being naked but then CL has done the exact same thing and fans loved it. Sure it’s a little risqué at points but that’s the point and it’s not like anyone would listen to them otherwise. I like to think of Lady Godiva; the only way she could get people to listen to her was if she was naked.

    Onto the more musical and visual side, it’s probably not going to become my favourite of theirs. At the moment the chorus has me going into 9muses’ Figaro but it’s generally pretty good. The girls look amazing and not to mention Jeonyul, my bias since Study who didn’t seem to look as pretty as the others has gradually become the prettiest in my eyes. If you haven’t seen fancams of Jeonyul then you’re missing out, especially this one for Guilty because her gaze kills me. The best fanservice ever.

    Personally, even though I love all the past three songs equally, Fool makes me feel so happy? It’s such a feel good song and it’s so underrrated.

  • ADW

    After this post your clearly the nations musical critic. You’ve just signed a Soju CF, had a bath house scandal with 2pm and snatched Hani’s wig backstage at Music Core. Your writing style is effortless, fluid and hilarious.

    This era is life.
    + Ownership of the shade people throw and riding the wave and hopefully this time SOME recognition is involved that isn’t just conservative unnies hating. I’m not asking for a win, just something..weekly idol?!
    – Nothing negative on the song, visually those thrift shop granny senorita heels aren’t giving this the level of filth needed.

  • disqus_qnJiwqFrtW

    The quality of this review, though. Wow.

  • KingBeaArthur

    Great article for a great comeback!

  • Kanonno

    Really good article.

  • Vivienne Greatly Disapproves

    Stellar is more than just a kpop group. Stellar is a way of life, a global movement. While others crawl around in the dark, Stellar will lead the faithful with their intricate understanding of both sexuality and society’s view on it like a beacon. One day Stellar shad transcend this earthly plain but their legacy shall still be remembered and people all over the world will finally understand what sex means.
    Stellar is more than just a kpop group
    Stellar is art
    #Stellart

  • roelm

    Insightful review! Fantastic, very polished production as you said. The song is has a “News”-like vibe but wrapped in the stylings of “Figaro”. Very 80s intrumental flourishes especially in the synths during the chorus; somewhat like the synths of the intro to the Eurythmics’ “Here Comes the Rain Again”. It also has rock elements – guitars in this case, reportedly a specialty of Sweetune for the songs they gave to Kara. I find the string tabs at the start quite refreshing to my ear.

  • snailsong

    this song/mv was everything, i only wish they could have kept the gstring concept for the mv :’)

    also petition to rename this song “i’m art” now that hello venus have passed on what was easily the best idol girl group song title of all time

  • sosoome

    Don’t throw away the key before I get in there too. Leaving aside the video part of the MV, which I really like, the music takes things to a whole different level in Kpop. Mrjkpop breaks it down on YouTube really well.

  • gumdeo

    Great song.

  • NondescriptRG

    Excellent review that reflects many of the thoughts that I had after this comeback. It’s amazing how some people don’t see the dark self-referential humor when it’s literally thrown at them. The quality of the song – as usual with Stellar – is once again very solid. All in all, nice work.