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ILLIT's 'Super Real Me' From A Music Critic's Perspective

| A little strange, ILLIT's 'My World'

'How do you like the album?', '… .'. A long awkward silence passed. One day in March, those invited to ILLIT's music appreciation party for their debut album 'Super Real Me' couldn't keep their mouths shut. It was the same for me too. It was not easy to summarize my first impressions of the album, which had a total of four songs and went through in less than 10 minutes. Normally, a music appreciation party is not a place where there is a lot of talk. After a short viewing without prior information, the story that can be told is only a first impression, and it is not easy to tell a long story. Still, there is a certain level of immediate response, but that wasn't the case with ILLIT. It wasn't just because of whether or not they watched the JTBC audition program 'R U NEXT', which became the group's predecessor. Ambiguity, mystery, a bit of awkwardness, and even some unknown anticipation. Everyone was mulling over the music from a few tens of minutes ago in order to understand the imaginary world vividly unfolding among the five girls. I left the music appreciation venue with an ambiguous feeling and had a late meal with colleagues I met that day, and this thought suddenly occurred to me. If the first reaction from critics and officials is lukewarm or negative, it is bound to succeed. ILLIT, how successful are you planning to be?

As I thought that day, ILLIT is indeed doing well. Their title song 'Magnetic' made a smooth soft landing at the top of the charts of major domestic music streaming services. The same company's alumni boy group TWS, which debuted in 2024, is showing great power and is in the top 3, but it is rare for a new idol group to do well on the Korean streaming service chart, which has little change in rankings. It is also active on the global streaming service Spotify. ILLIT secured 1 million monthly listeners within 4 days of its debut, setting the shortest record in K-pop group history. 'Magnetic' also reached the top on the QQ Music chart, China's largest music streaming platform.

Looking around at the interest and positive reactions pouring in to ILLIT, I am relieved that the critic's guess(?) seems to have been correct. At the same time, I ponder why there was no clear response in that split second. Interestingly, even after listening to the four songs over and over again after the release of 'Super Real Me' and watching the performance of 'Magnetic', the mysterious feeling of the music appreciation day has not disappeared. 'This group is like this.' It is not easy to give a clear definition of the category. That's why ILLIT is both familiar and unfamiliar. As the lyrics of the song say, an unfamiliar experience calls for 'super attraction.'

The interpretation that easily condenses this series of three-dimensional interpretations is 'New Jeans-ness'. Comparisons to New Jeans are pouring in in many areas, from pre-debut teaser images to member composition and the nature of the music. At the debut showcase, so many people remembered New Jeans from ILLIT's member Minju had to use the keyword "overindulgence" to explain their differences. However, there is something to keep in mind. It is true that it is impossible to erase the influence of New Jeans in the girl groups that emerged after New Jeans. Upon debuting in 2022, New Jeans presented a new agenda for girl groups and occupied the space as the first, best, and alternative. Unless it appears with a completely different concept, comparisons with New Jeans are bound to continue. So now, rather than finding a sense of déjà vu in the afterimage of New Jeans, it has become important to accept the legacy of New Jeans from a certain perspective and come up with a new interpretation.

In that respect, let's check the differences between ILLIT and New Jeans. As mentioned in the column 'K-pop in 2023 was all about New Jeans' written in this magazine last year, the world of New Jeans is a fantasy set that is 'tightly woven into a centralized structure and completely controlled without a single speck.' The content created through the creation of musicians from Beasts & Natives (BANA), led by ADOR's Executive Producer Min Hee-jin, styles the alternative trends of overseas popular music and fashion in the style of K-pop, creating a seamless appearance with no seams to be found. It is the result of cutting. Of course, ILLIT cannot be the same as New Jeans. In the album credits, many names can seem familiar to fans of the HYBE label group, including HYBE's Chairman Bang Si-hyuk, Source Music's producer Noh Joo-hwan, and Big Hit Music's producer Slow Rabbit, centering around the BELIFT LAB label, appear. This point is interesting. ILLIT is divergent, not convergent. It appears that different interpretations have been put forward on the topics of 'teenagers that teenagers like' and 'overindulgence', and they have been put together.

The key to understanding the world of 'Super Real Me' and ILLIT is the 'Super Real Me' album concept teaser image produced at a location in Taiwan. It contains the aesthetics of East Asia, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea from the 1990s to the 2000s. The members, who freely reinterpret street fashion and school uniforms introduced to the public through numerous fashion magazines, hug each other, play, and talk at subway stations, residential areas, and ice cream shops. Symbolic trends beyond the concept of time, such as retro and Y2K, are captured and displayed. It is unique in that it applies and interprets New Jeans' sensibility to contemporary Asia. Heo Se-ryeon, who was well-received as the visual director of the visual creative team, showed off her skills as the creative director.

What stands out about music is also the choice. 'Super Real Me' encompasses the broad palette of K-pop. If New Jeans' music is fun in discovering overseas alternative R&B and electronic tendencies, ILLIT's music is reminiscent of the electronic music that was popular in Korea as well as Japan's Neo Shibuya Kei in the 2000s, as well as numerous K-pop music that used the concept of 'dreamy'. This is why people who first heard ILLIT's music call out the names of Oh My Girl, Loona, Japanese girl group Perfume, and Humming Urban Stereo, which went viral last year with 'Na Moon-hee's First Love'. But suddenly I get curious. The elements we've looked at so far actually appeal to the childhood tastes of those born in the 1990s more than those of ILLIT and her teenage peers. To what extent is ILLIT truly realizing what they aim for: 'teens that teenagers like', 'wild imagination' and 'overindulgence'?

The title song 'Magnetic' is a song where such concerns collide like bumper cars. The beat, which combines plug, R&B, a type of trap, and the Pluggnb genre, which emphasizes melody, and combines house, has a sense of speed, and the melody using the key of B flat major, similar to Jungkook's global hit song 'Seven', is sweet and bitter. The youthful sensibility of teenage female singer-songwriters, who were popular on TikTok in the early 2020s, and the choreography specialized for short-form content, with a particularly emphasized bass riff alternated with a high-pitched synth riff reminiscent of a magical girl animation, running at full speed.

If you look closely at the smoothly composed song, you can find many arguments. The idea of expressing mutual interest and interest by comparing it to a magnet is two-dimensional, but lyrics such as 'I'll admit it' and 'She's got guts' are vivid. I wonder what it would have been like if more ingenious ideas had been added to the concept of being immersed in the moment and running without much thought. You could title it 'Super Attraction'. The same goes for the music video directed by Dada Club's Daun Jeong (DQM). It is good that the song supports the goal of the song by showing an invitation to girls with extraordinary lives in their daily lives based on the Animecore mood. However, the point choreography aimed at short form is not properly emphasized, so the purpose is blurred and some scenes look too much like New Jeans' 'Attention'. The scene where Yunah suddenly breaks through the wall with her fist is the result of HYBE's common worldview spell, 'Magic that twists everyday life.'

Wild imagination stands out clearly in the songs. 'My World', which introduces the world of ILLIT with a funky bass riff, and 'Lucky Girl Syndrome', a TikTok pop song created by Stint, who has experience as a producer for Carly Rae Jepsen and MØ. '(Lucky Girl Syndrome)' conveys ILLIT's charm three dimensionally .

A song that is especially catchy is 'Midnight Fiction'. It was no coincidence that when I first saw the 'Super Real Me' concept photo of Iroha riding on a large blue rose-patterned horse doll, the poster for director Michel Gondry's film 'The Science of Sleep' immediately came to mind. At 2 a.m., when the line between her dreams and reality becomes blurred, ILLIT's fantasy of freely spreading the wings of her imagination and envisioning her teenage dreams is created with a synth riff and voice full of reverberation. Ariana Grande used 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' as the title of her seventh studio album and created a sad retro dance pop song 'we can't be friends (wait for your love)', while BELIFT LAB expressed the teenage sense that teenagers like.

The process of planning and delivering results through various demands and different orders is truly transparent K-pop. K-pop also has many interpretations, leading to overindulgence in many areas. ILLIT is a truly subtle newcomer. They do not easily show whether they are a teenager that teenagers like or a teenager that adults like. Even though they goes retro, they don't lose the sophisticated sense of styling. Rather than referring to a specific year or era, the reference point encompasses the broad collective memory of K-pop. As each of the planners' ideals of a girl group clash, we see reconciliation through the visuals and performances of the five members: Yunah, Minju, Moka, Wonhee, and Iroha. Now I think I know why everyone was looking at each other at the music party that day. No, I'm not really sure. For the time being, I plan to listen to more of ILLIT's music, which is a bit strange.

Kim Do-heon (Music Critic) / zener1218@gmail.com


<Translated by=Jisu Kim (Dispatch)>

※ Manuscripts written by external authors may not match the editorial direction of Dispatch.

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