Monday, October 28, 2013

Artist Of The Day: IU

The best musicians are often storytellers, and one of my favorite storytellers is Korean pop star IU, known as Korea's darling little sister. Her poppy confections are tinged with a hint of fantasy, and over the past few years she's taken that concept in a number of interesting directions. First, there was 2010's smash hit "Good Day," on which she spun her innocent longing into a uplifting dance-pop ditty; on her follow-up "You And I," she took inspiration from The Invention Of Hugo Cabret in a moving tale of waiting for love. Though she's always showcased considerable skill as a songwriter (her early EPs and albums are both loaded with self-penned guitar ballads, some of which are devastating in their sparseness), her bread-and-butter has always been old-fashioned pop tunes with soaring choruses and theatrical flourishesthe oh-so-Shakespearean emotions of youth expanded onto an IMAX screen, big-hearted and romantic and affecting in ways very few of her contemporaries can touch. Come for the movie, stay for the music.

All the while, she's blossomed into a remarkable young voice. On her third LP Modern Times, she may take inspiration from the showtunes of days past, but the resulting sound is entirely her own. The dynamic instrumentation benefits from a nice balance between organic orchestration and much-improved production, and IU makes full use of her wispy, emotive voice. On the stunning "Bad Day," she quietly builds steam before pitching up a storm in the ballad's climax, and on "Everybody Has Secrets," she holds back as much as she gives.

The lead single, the bluesy, upbeat "The Red Shoes," which crams in a high school concert band's worth of horns, cocktail piano, soaring string melodies and a classic big-band beat into one jam, is a standout. IU's feelings have never been as complex as they are here (the song's lyrics, a wistful take on the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale, are open to interpretation), yet she's never sounded as at home as she does here, capturing nostalgia, whimsy, desire and resolve in one bravura performance. She finds joy in every corner: the song is utterly charming and undeniable proof that she's ready to be more than the girl next door.

Find more on IU over at Facebook.

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