STELLAR have been unfairly boxed in by many as a one-dimensional ‘sexy’ group, but they’re more diverse than people give them credit for. If you go right back to their debut with “Rocket Girl,” they’ve really done a lot of sounds and concepts. They’ve also been quick to get in on burgeoning trends; “Marionette” came pretty early in the sexy concept craze of 2014, and “Sting” served trop-house a year-and-a-half ago.
For their new crowd-funded comeback album, Stellar into the World, the girls are pushing the envelope again, but in a totally different way than we’ve ever seen before. Lead single “Archangels of the Sephiroth” not only has one of the most unique song titles in K-pop history, it also sounds like nothing else on the charts right now. With hypnotic sitars and cinematic drums, Swedish producers Samuel Waermö (BoA, Arashi) and Jon Hällgren (SHINee, Girls’ Generation) weave an exotic music tapestry inspired by the Middle East and India. The chorus, a fist-pumping cry of “Gimme your – love!,” is incredibly potent, while the lyrics have a new-agey, tantric quality to them.
STELLAR step further outside the box for the music video, which has a fresh fantasy concept with an elaborate good and evil narrative. It feels a bit like a ploy to appeal to nerds, which I think it smart. The video also marks the debut of STELLAR’s new member, Soyoung, who I’m not convinced was a necessary addition yet. She doesn’t do anything that the other members couldn’t do, and it’s not like she’s from Produce 101 or some other high-profile platform where she can bring new fans to the group.
For the rest of Stellar into the World, the girls take a safer approach. There’s not one but TWO trop-house b-sides, both produced by Gr8moon (who just did “Cactus” for rookies A.C.E). The best of the pair is “Why Me,” which has a gorgeous tropical chorus sung by my girl Minhee. They should’ve stopped there, but they continue the sound on “The Wave,” which is closer to the tired trop sound that we’re all sick of at this point. The only people really stanning this track are going to be K-pop fans that love anything dancey and non-cute.
The album wraps up with “Twinkle,” which is one of those limp ballads for the fans that almost every K-pop group has. While it’s a definite skip for me, I can appreciate the sentiment considering how STELLAR’s fanbase have literally kept the group alive through crowd-funding for over a year. And bonus points to Gayoung for writing and co-producing it.
Overall, this is a decent enough K-pop album, but with STELLAR it’s always about the title track. After playing it safe with last year’s “Crying,” it’s nice to see the girls back to their daring selves again. Their presence is even more important in 2017 where most groups are doing identical cute concepts and copying each other both musically and visually. “Archangels Of The Sephiroth” is predictably flopping on Melon, but with their small-but-loyal fanbase and record-breaking success, hopefully STELLAR will be around for a long time to come.