Review: IU – “Twenty-Three” Is A Righteously Groovy Trip

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Despite (or perhaps because of) her immense talent and obvious popularity, IU has always struck me as being an anomaly within K-Pop. Her songs and her image have always seemed to be something consistently stuck out of time, not dated per se but well outside the usual immediate gratification of pop music. On the one hand, it’s hard to fault IU for sticking with what has worked for her for so long, especially when she is so unique as a performer. On the other hand, one would hope that the Nation’s Little Sister could experiment with her sound a little. Now, after well over a year since her last proper comeback, IU has finally returned to grace the world with her album CHAT-SHIRE and her music video for “Twenty-Three.” While it may not entirely suit her strengths as a singer, “Twenty-Three” is a wildly fun music video that demonstrates that IU can grow as an artist without sacrificing her remarkable ability to stand out in a crowded sea of K-Pop releases.

“Twenty-Three” is certainly different from the typical IU fare. While her tracks can usually be categorized as either Disney soundtrack material or boutique coffee house music, “Twenty-Three” employs a much livelier disco dance sound. The quicker dance tempo doesn’t allow IU to showcase her vocal strengths as much as her previous works. As a singer, few can match IU’s ability to switch gears between whispering alongside an acoustic guitar to going toe to toe with an orchestra but “Twenty-Three” requires IU to be more of a stabilizing force than the motor of the song. She pulls it off because she’s freakin’ IU but this may be the first single of hers since “Marshmallow” that doesn’t sound like it’s specifically crafted for her. Thankfully, the instrumental track is a winner on its own. A funky bass line, sharp snares and sweeping strings set to a disco tempo will almost always make for a good time and IU doesn’t have to do much more than keep things going with her perfectly measured light and high voice.

The track for “Twenty-Three” may be well above average but the video is spectacular. Considering that IU won’t be promoting her album on any music shows, it certainly helps that “Twenty-Three” is as visually interesting as it is smartly made. IU looks unsurprisingly flawless but it’s everything around her that really shines. Taking cues from Alice in Wonderland, the sets, special effects and props do a fantastic job of subtly making each scene more surreal than the last.

The song opens with IU in her completely furnished room.

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And slowly but surely descending into stranger and stranger places.

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Until things culminate in what I assume is an acid trip.

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As beautifully insane as that last shot is, it only works because of the groundwork that the rest of the video laid out before it. It’s one thing to have a bunch of random crazy shit in a video (Hi G-Dragon). It’s quite another to have a logical consistency to that insanity and “Twenty-Three” succeeds in getting from Point Normal to Point Cray because of its beautiful artistic direction – from the gradual transition from rich dark purples and blues of the more grounded scenes to the surreal reds, yellows and greens of Wonderland – and its fearlessness in committing to its hallucinogenic leanings.

Add in IU’s pitch perfect facial expressions and her crucial ability to sell the absurd with a straight face and you have one of the better music videos of the year.

“Twenty-Three” may not look or sound much like an old IU music video, but it’s as successful as any of her previous works. The dance tempo may not suit her greatest strengths but IU is more than talented enough to keep the proceedings moving and she is an underrated force in a visual feast of a video. When comebacks are as good as this, it’s no wonder why IU doesn’t feel the need to promote her singles on music shows. “Twenty-Three” speaks for itself.

I will be traveling for a wedding, so I am not sure if I’ll be posting tomorrow or this weekend. If I have time, I’ll post a thing or two but if not, have a wonderful weekend y’all.

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6 comments

  1. This is the first IU song that I have been instantly addicted too. More proof that Kpop still has the power to thrill me with a new release. Great song, great review.

    1. Same here. First time through really liked this track. Strange for an IU song. Actually don’t like her music at all. This song is really catchy. Have to admit this reminded me of the PMS song.

  2. clrfcation · · Reply

    Glorious awesomeness everywhere.

    I know that was a weak disguise for my real question, but it’s true! And then…are the rest of EXID WW worthy?

    1. Yes, yes they are.

  3. I was so pleasantly surprised to find out she wrote her own lyrics, composed the music and also produced a huge majority of the album. 23 is great, clever and a hilarious mv, and the whole album is great and beautifully put together.

    1. IU is so damn solid when it comes to music.

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