After a slew of “innocent” teasers that seemed to hint at some sort of lurid aegyo-sexual fetish comeback, Stellar returned this week with “Sting” and it is thankfully not what the teasers promised at all (the teaser images may work as pictures designed to pique curiosity but they probably would have made for a boring MV). Promisingly, “Sting” continues Stellar’s recent streak of great songs and smartly crafted videos through a mixture of gratifyingly buoyant music and bright, concise visuals.
While the song may not be as energetically charged as “Vibrato” or as sensual as “Mask,” “Sting” demonstrates that Stellar’s music deserves at least as much attention as their visual concepts seem to garner. Not overly sexual in the least, “Sting” sounds like the sort of song that one could easily blast during the early days of spring. The bouncy, light electronic riff marries nicely with the (maybe a touch too) subtle horns to create a cheery and inviting atmosphere which gives “Sting” a warmness and comfort that enjoyably plays against Stellar’s reputation for sexy concepts. Thankfully, although the song does differ from Stellar’s past few singles, “Sting” retains the characteristics that has made the group’s last few singles work – namely a solid beat that one can easily dance along to, a decent hook and enjoyable vocals that don’t sound like they were tampered with too much in the studio. “Sting” doesn’t have the instant aural impact of “Vibrato” but its casual upbeat sound makes Stellar’s latest comeback one that has a ton of replayability.
As they have shown over their past few music videos, Stellar exhibits a winking self-awareness of its own objectification in “Sting” that keeps the clip from being Just Another Sexy K-Pop Video. Junyool’s initial bubblegum sighting gives “Sting” a perfectly apt way of foreshadowing how Stellar plays with expectations in “Sting.” The prominent use of pastels in the group’s wardrobe, lighting and sets help brighten up Stellar’s comeback, making the video appear softer and less aggressive compared to some of the group’s previous efforts efforts that utilized hard florescent lighting (“Vibrato”) and softcore white lighting (“Marionette”). The subject of sexual objectification that has been the focus of Stellar comebacks over the past few years is very much a part of “Sting” but, as the group has done since “Marionette,” the topic is acknowledged in ways that seem to celebrate and critique it. On the one hand, there are plenty of shots of disembodied legs, feet, and hands that strongly hint at objectification. On the other hand, “Sting” frequently “breaks the fourth wall” of its own objectification/fantasy whether that be through showing a photoshoot (literally shot by a gazing, anonymous male photographer), the white walled catwalk that looks a hell of a lot like a fashion show, or (my personal favorite) the use of mouse pointers – a clever modern nod to the way that the male gaze and clickbait often go hand in hand.
While simple acknowledgement of objectification doesn’t excuse it, the use of the group’s reputation, combined with the subversive tameness of the music, the innocently bright color palette of the video and the smart framing of Stellar themselves within the project, demonstrates a deft touch that successfully navigates the tricky waters between sexy and exploitative. Hopefully, one day the group’s current string of successful comebacks will be reflected on the charts.