Before we talk about IU’s ‘Strawberry Moon’, we have to talk about its predecessor, ‘LILAC’. From what Hollywood has told us, we should dread the onset of the big three-oh. We should despair about the loss of our best years, and get ready to tackle “adult” issues with “adult” mindsets, yada yada yada.
What is it about our 30s that gaping into this looming, decade-long chasm makes us seize up with disappointment? Is it the fact that soon, the things we all know and are familiar with are going to get old, or the fact that age will subconsciously become part of considering every new venture and inadvertently suck the joy out of it?
On the aforementioned ‘LILAC’, IU takes a different perspective. Released as the singer herself prepares to step through the gates and towards the third decade of her life, the album was less a musical offering and more personal diary, documenting all she learnt during the last decade of her life. And while rewinding the “orgel box” of memories can be sad, nostalgic and even overwhelming for us, for IU, it came with a sense of reassurance and renewed confidence.
Growing out of one skin and into another inevitably comes with leaving some parts of yourself behind, but that’s only because they’ve served their purpose well. IU doesn’t know what’s going to happen and doesn’t pretend to, but she trusts in herself and the process to take her forward. As she parted with her 20s with an “ivory coloured spring climax”, we got the feeling that in this moment, looking at this version of IU, in this setting, we were also saying goodbye to her.
Which brings us to ‘Strawberry Moon’, her first release after she proverbially turned the page on the last chapter of her 20s. And what a revelation it is. As she balances out the buoyant excitement of love with the serenity of faith, you get the feeling that despite looking at the same face, this IU is far wiser and steadier.
While the blazing fire of young love might balk at the thought of long-term commitment, IU’s joy translates into a delightful lightness of being. As the Strawberry Moon – an annual cosmic occurrence where the moon appears slightly redder than usual – casts an enchanting pink glow over the world, a different kind of magic takes over IU’s life, that of love.
This lightness of being, in fact, becomes a visual, sonic and lyrical theme throughout the track. As she is “feeling like floating up / Through the tense darkness / We won’t be afraid”, the playful piano segues into atmospheric beats on the pre-chorus, augmented by the reverberating effects put on her voice, as if with every word, she defies gravity and reaches a little higher – she quite literally does in the rose-tinted music video. As IU and her partner (played by actor Lee Jong-won) quite literally drive up and away, she welcomes their “journey in the air” with soaring vocals, unafraid even if she “may stumble in this gigantic weightlessness”.
Here lies the genius of IU as one of the most cohesive and expressive songwriters of her generation. ‘Strawberry Moon’ depicts the kind of easy, mature love that is unaffected by the whimsies of the heart or life, or even power dynamics. The relationship here is that of a seamless give and take – as she takes her partner’s hand, IU offers to care for and carry him. When she said goodbye to her 20s in ‘LILAC’, it seems she also adapted a new way with which to approach love, where both stand as equals.
The approach to love might be mature, but the feeling itself certainly is not. She still feels the same giddiness, the same exhilaration – blood still rushes to her cheeks and warms her insides as she looks into his eyes. It goes to show that no matter how old you grow, some things never change – they only become easier and more comfortable with the right person.