‘Celebrity’ is a delectable synth-pop taster of IU’s upcoming fifth studio album, the much-anticipated follow-up to 2017’s ‘Palette’. On the surface, the single is far removed from the singer’s usual offerings of minimalist pop gems and theatrical ballads. Instead, it’s a conventional K-pop track, featuring a glossy house-inspired melody and dancey post-chorus drop. But peel back those layers and you’ll find a rather delicate and bittersweet centre.
At the heart of every IU song, there is always a message. ‘BBIBBI’ is about setting personal boundaries, while ‘eight’ – her soaring collaboration with SUGA of BTS – is a hymn to youth and taking life slow. On ‘Celebrity’, IU encourages fans to embrace their flaws: “A flower can bloom / Between the frozen cracks / Can’t you see how beautiful / Tomorrow’s spring is to be?”
In an introductory note, IU (real name Lee Ji-Eun) explains that ‘Celebrity’ is inspired by a friend – the song’s “troubled outsider” – whose eccentricity has made them a pariah. It also draws inspiration from her own experience as a pop star; as someone who has spent half of her life in the limelight, IU knows what it’s like to be constantly judged.
But instead of turning ‘Celebrity’ into yet another autobiographical tune, IU flips the script and puts the listener in the spotlight instead. Here, IU is the fan and we’re the stars. “Can’t you see how beautiful / A true uniqueness can be? / You’re my celebrity.”
The track, which IU co-composed with a team led by hitmaker Ryan S. Jhun, is another demonstration of the singer’s lyrical prowess. IU skilfully plies metaphor and metonym to wrought her message about celebrating differences. “Through the earphones the music of my playlist is all minor,” she coos before reminding “You’re a star painted with a left hand.”
But ‘Celebrity’ only becomes a distinctive IU track when the upbeat melody finally melts into a cinematic synthy slow-mo that ushers in the sentimental bridge. “An autograph written in steps / A drawing sketched in sullen steps / The path to meet you solely / The path along the dotted line,” she whispers.
It’s no coincidence that the song arrived during a period when most people are desperately searching for a sense of belonging, acceptance and reassurance. With the pandemic forcing people further apart, the timing of ‘Celebrity’ is impeccable, like a much-needed hug from a loved one. “Written for you / A bygone love poem,” IU beams. “It’s fine to scowl but I wish you could smile, at last.”
It’s easy to forget that sometimes we are the protagonists of our own stories, but here’s ‘Celebrity’ to gently remind us of that.