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.
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.