In what should be a pretty heavy review week, IU raises the bar pretty high for what’s to follow with “The Red Shoes”, a perfectly cheery showtune pop number which plays to IU’s strengths as a vocalist and allows her to grow up (somewhat) from Disney Princess to fairy tale queen.
Don’t believe the hype. There will be no IU equivalent of “Can’t Stop”. There will be no Nation’s Little Sister twerking (or thankfully, much dancing at all), and all the mascara and eyeliner in the world can’t mask the fact that IU works best when she’s allowed to be the impossibly adorable young woman seemingly cannon-shot from one of those nostalgic eras that old people wistfully remember which never existed. “The Red Shoes” may not deviate too much from where “You and I” and “Good Day” left off, but it does just enough to validate the idea of there being space for a grown up and sophisticated IU who is also still incredibly cute and bright as a flashbang.
First, the song. The good news is that “The Red Shoes” is as enjoyable as IU’s previous efforts. The slightly disappointing news is that it’s pretty much a lot like IU’s previous efforts. For those that were hyped from IU’s teaser images, this may seem a bit deflating. But “The Red Shoes” is damn near impossible to not enjoy. The cabaret sound is a genius use of IU’s classic sounding vocals. The horns blare at an appropriately jaunty level and the requisite orchestral notes and percussion all add an element of classic cinema to the production (the saxophone to end the song is freaking killer). The real star of the show, as usual, is IU though. She adds a perfect husky element to her delivery when necessary, but also knows when to kill it with crystal clear notes. If there is one thing that separates IU from most of her contemporaries, it’s her skill in changing up her range and style multiple times within one song without missing a beat, and “The Red Shoes” is an exhibition in IU’s talents as a vocalist. If one wonders why IU seemingly always comes back to this particular well of show-tunes and classic sounding pop music, it’s because there’s hardly anyone who can pull it off any better.
As for the video, it nudges IU towards a more mature direction without needlessly throwing “SEX” on the screen. Yes, there’s still the stubborn insistence on making IU stuck in some 1950s play. The lighting and use of yellows are great towards reinforcing this, as are the costumes which look straight up ripped from Chicago. Given what they were going for though, Loen Entertainment and IU really nailed the feel. The editing and direction is appropriately cinematic, and a welcomed reprieve from the dance-in-a-box direction that is employed by most music video directors (if an IU release guarantees anything, it’s at least not going to be an unimaginative dance-in-a-box video).
Yes, there’s still the nagging resistance towards showing IU as anything but the virginal princess of yesteryear. But there are at least some hints that IU has progressed since the mildly disappointing “Every End of Day”. She dances a bit (more than usual) and IU looks more confident and able a performer than she’s shown previously in both her dancing and her acting (her facial expressions throughout the video are the stealth MVPs of the entire thing). She also looks more refined, and her husky voice no longer seems transplanted into her tiny frame. Her styling is subtly more grown up. The make up is more noticeable than before, and her dresses show just enough more skin to be sexy, while not being daring in any meaningful way. In other words, the video, like the song, for “The Red Shoes” is a good compromise between the persona that IU has built for herself over her career and the inevitable maturing process that an act like IU’s eventually has to go through.
Is it enough to say that this release shows a more mature IU than before, given that the entire campaign leading up to “The Red Shoes” was essentially “IU CANZ SEXY NOW”. I would say yes. While some will find this to be too conservative an approach to take for IU, “The Red Shoes” is also probably much closer to being reflective of what maturation looks like: slow, subtle and with persistent nods to the past. “The Red Shoes” will fit right at home with some of IU’s other great singles, but it also represents a tiny step forward for The Nation’s Little Sister. IU is still growing up before our very eyes at her own pace and if getting happy little show-tunes like “The Red Shoes” is the price to pay, then that sounds like a great deal for everyone involved.
Rating: 5 Magical Kingdoms out of 5 Princess Palaces. Fans of IU will love this shit. If you were expecting IU to pop it and drop it, eh… at least you get to see some nice legs?