IU has comeback with a gentle pop declaration of independence, “Palette, featuring G-Dragon as support to her playful statement of personal growth.

Palette is intended as a sequel to “Twenty Three” which explored themes of agency, societal expectations, and uncertainty. While the “Twenty Three MV used visuals in a challenging way to explore childishness and adulthood as well as sexuality; “Palette” takes a step back from the provocation of its predecessor and presents a self-assured message of validation. IU affirms knowledge of her identity and claims ownership of herself with more confidence.

Palette, to casual listeners, can seem superficial as many of the veiled references refer to IU’s own history but with the benefit of context and insight; a lot can be read between the lines. The mostly self-written and produced song is reflective fitting in with its official promotion as a coming-of-age moment for IU.

Palette‘s” lyrics may seem vapid in that listeners are only clued into changes about her likes and dislikes. The simplicity of the song is intentional and serves a symbolic purpose.

It’s strange but these days, I like what’s easy
But yet, I still like Corinne’s music
I prefer deep purple over hot pink
What else do I like?
Pyjamas with buttons, lipstick, and mischievous jokes

The first line is an explanation of the premise of the entire song. IU chooses to focus on the surface aspects of her life that can be interpreted to have deeper meaning by listeners without having to do the ‘hard work’ of making her intentions explicit. The constant repetition of the phrase “I like this”  in the chorus along with the declarative statements of her preferences also position the track as an assertion of individualism.

The list of relatively banal preferences is useful to allow listeners to project themselves onto the image that IU has presented to the public. Any woman in her mid-twenties could enjoy the music of Corinne Bailey Rae, prefer purple to pink or enjoy things of the past. “Palette is not a confessional song, despite having autobiographical details, it is a quiet claim to agency.

I prefer bobbed hair over long hair
But still
I did look beautiful when I sang Good Day
Why is it?
I like things that are out of style
I like colourful palettes over paintings, diaries, the times spent sleeping

Some of the interests that IU names — colours, clothing, and hairstyles–  all relate to imagery associated with her previous well-known performances. Hot pink, long hair and uncomfortable clothing are symbolic of her past — particularly her first breakout hit, Good Day — and stating her new preferences distances herself from that image.

The second line of the chorus alternates between IU saying “I know you like me” and “I know you hate me” hinting that she is still uncertain of her appeal. The uncertainty of the past and an awareness of societal pressures is still a feature from her “Twenty Three” days when she sang “I’m always anxious”. Visual cues in the MV like the disapproving eyes that watch her as she chooses purple over pink; the Instagram overlay and comments that hover over her face indicates that she is aware that she is still being watched and evaluated. The MV and song hint that while IU knows herself a bit better and is putting her own preferences before what is expected of her; she still desires approval and love.

G-Dragon‘s verse speaks to the rapper’s own discomfort with the process of aging. While IU focuses on her personal development, G-Dragon raps about the bloom of youth, and beauty. He reassures her that she will always be loved. He delivers this message in a more muted style than usual, matching the song’s sweet tone.

The production has some dream pop influences and aims for a ‘retro synth pop’ sound according to official interviews. This is significant as the song looks back on IU’s life while referencing a nostalgic sound. The layered, twinkling harmonies in the background bring a sense of whimsy to the jazzy keys. The understated synth effects don’t pigeonhole the song; allowing an accessible, commercial take on the genre.

Palette, being released as a mostly self-written and composed title track on an album that is also lyrically led by her, is a bold move demonstrating IU’s intention to take command of her career. The track walks a line between singer/songwriter candour and commercial appeal, showing that she’s not prepared to fade into obscurity while showing a more authentic side of herself. “Palette” is one more careful step towards IU establishing artistic control while retaining profitability and to that purpose, she has been successful.

MV: 3.5/5

(YouTube, Naver Entertainment, Billboard. Images via LOEN Entertainment)