• Joel Dwek

SOUTH KOREA: Modern Times? Epilogue - IU

Updated: Jan 20

K-Pop has taken the world by storm, and IU is a good showcase for why that is

K-Pop is a world unto itself, but not necessarily one that is the most accessible to all. Sure, everyone knows about PSY and Gangnam Style, but K-Pop can be an acquired taste, and it is a genre that both Danny and I were apprehensive about dipping into. It needed to be done, of course, but we were concerned about doing justice to such an unusual, yet wildly popular form of music. Would two out of touch white guys from Britain, probably not K-Pop’s intended target audience it must be said, be the right ones to give their take on the genre? A wonderfully satirical line in The Simpsons springs to my mind sometimes when writing these reviews, especially when writing a review in a vast genre where we have little knowledge, and it is from the scene where Lisa complains no-one listens to her because she is a child, Grampa Simpson complains no-one listens to him because he’s old, and then Homer Simpson chimes in with “I’m a white male, aged 18 to 49, everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are!” before picking up a jar of ‘Nuts and Gum: Together at Last!” Who am I to review this album, by K-Pop sensation IU, when I am as yet uninitiated into the world of K-Pop? Furthermore, I was apprehensive that the genre was just not for me. That said, taking a pinch of Homer Simpson courage, I shall dip my feet into those waters.

“IU is one woman, and she manages to suit all the styles, loud and quiet, soft and fast, with equal aplomb.”

I did do some research for this review before I started writing it, and that consisted partly of watching the Explained documentary on it, which I would recommend to anyone wanting to get a bit of background on the topic. K-Pop is a highly manufactured pop world that creates stars out of its singers, known as idols, and controls many aspects of their image, their style, and their music, and the reason they have initials as stage names or band names is so that they are easily memorable and translatable across the world. The music tends to span many styles – sometimes in one song! – in an attempt to appeal to many types of music listener. It really is well thought out and delightfully devilish in its devious commercialism, and it has been incredibly successful. That doesn’t always mean good, but there must be something that resonates in this music, and some manufactured pop from the West is excellent, namely the Spice Girls.

This particular album, Modern Times (not the Chaplin film) is quite possibly the perfect introduction to the world of K-Pop, as it is easy on the ears, it lacks some of the crazier excesses that some people would associate with it. That said, the album does span many, many, many genres, from swing, jazz, rock, folk, bossa nova, electronica, Latin pop… it’s a busy album. That’s not to say it’s good or bad, but it is a fact that has to be acknowledged about it. What is nice, however, is that the songs themselves have a through line and don’t mish-mash genres together, but it does mean that as a piece, I found it a bit incoherent. All the individual pieces, however, are very fun in a bubblegum kind of way, and despite the many genres, it doesn’t feel like an experimental album as such, rather that the producers and IU wanted to get across as much of her talent and versatility across. That is another thing I found impressive about the album. IU is one woman, and she manages to suit all the styles, loud and quiet, soft and fast, with equal aplomb. It does its job, which is to entertain, and damn the fogeys like me who want a bit of a linking thread in the music. For what it is, it is good, listenable pop on its own terms, and I have to acknowledge that, while it might not really speak to my sensibilities, it’s got verve.