20150313_seoulbeats_stellar1If you missed the controversy stirred up by Stellar last year, count yourself lucky. Their video for “Marionette” garnered attention, though much of it wasn’t positive.

Some thought the video and choreography was way too sexy, called the girls “sluts,” and lamented the growing trend of sexy concepts for girl groups. Others enjoyed the provocative dance and camera angles, though even this reaction was often harmful as well — the same people who liked the MV were often the quickest to write the women off as sexual objects.

The ladies of Stellar became symbols for the increasing tendency of girl groups to push the envelope in regards to suggestive videos and dances, and the debate they created revealed a nasty side of the K-pop fandom. Double standards about females in the industry were brought to the surface, but the airing of the fandom’s dirty laundry didn’t do much to solve the problem. Stellar gained a scandalous reputation and were quickly tossed to the side after being criticized for daring to show sex appeal, while the fans who enjoyed “Marionette” weren’t very active in trying to defend the girls’ image or reputation. The group attempted to ride the wave of controversy with their following single “Mask,” but even with a tone-downed level of sexiness, they failed to make a big impression.

Although my stance on Stellar is somewhat unpopular, I found myself liking the group and their songs quite a lot. Regardless of the objectifying nature of the videography in their MVs, I appreciated their complete ownership of their sex appeal and their perseverance despite the backlash against them. The announcement of their comeback with “Fool” raised questions about the sort of image they would present, and in a somewhat shocking decision, the ladies have returned with a much more innocent concept.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pv9R-dhmYPk]

The innocent concept in “Fool” does not come with a complete rejection of Stellar’s sexy image, however. Quite the contrary, the video begins with members Ga-young and Hyo-eun looking at internet comments for “Marionette.” Hyo-eun sheds a tear, and for good reason: among other things, the comments call the group a failure and criticize the girls for being sluts. Thus, the MV starts out with a potent message, reminding viewers that the girls of Stellar have feelings, too. It might be naive to expect anyone to change their behavior as a result, but the choice to openly address the issue is admirable.

20150313_seoulbeats_stellar2These comments don’t keep the ladies down for long, though; the rest of the video is a story of perseverance. The girls get to practicing and writing music, doing laundry, and sleeping — things that regular girls do, emphasizing their humanity once again. All the while, a friendly gorilla watches them through the window. At first, this seems somewhat creepy, and despite the gorilla’s good intentions, this creepiness never really wears off. It plays the role of a fairy god-gorilla, helping to lift Stellar’s spirits by arranging a concert for them. The gesture is nice, but it’s a bit unsettling to see the girls so happy after an unknown person has broken into their home and left strangely-colored bananas.

If you can ignore the gorilla’s shady methods, it becomes the hero of the MV. Stellar are ecstatic about the concert and promptly begin practicing for their performance. When a video of their dance rehearsals draw more harsh comments, criticizing the girls for being “desperate” and accusing them of taking off clothes to gain success, the gorilla once again comes to the rescue. Now the relationship between the gorilla and the ladies turns into a personal one, and the gorilla helps in preparing for the concert itself. Finally, the big day comes, and we get to see both Stellar and the gorilla happy with the results. The MV ends on an adorably sweet note.

20150313_seoulbeats_stellar3As far as the gorilla goes, it seems to be a symbol for Stellar’s fans. On the one hand, the message is quite positive: the members are thankful for the support of their fans, and the fans are shown to have true power in helping the group the succeed. On the other, the gorilla’s stalker-like behavior could encourage some fans to partake in the unhealthy sasaeng life through its portrayal of the girls overjoyed at the prospect of a stranger watching them, breaking into their house, and staging an elaborate event all for them.

Ultimately, though, the MV puts the idols and the fans in their proper places — Stellar is on stage while the gorilla simply watches the ladies perform. No other relationship is suggested, which seems to indicate that fans should just be content watching their idols succeed.

20150313_seoulbeats_minheeIn terms of overt sexiness, “Fool” is pretty tame. The only gratuitous camera angles you will find are during the dance practice scene, when the camera zooms right up onto Minhee‘s pelvic area. An argument could possibly be made that this shot is needed more for plot purposes than anything else, since it becomes the cause for the second round of mean comments.

Either way, such provocative shots are quite rare in “Fool” when compared to “Marionette,” which should please people who found that MV too shocking. There is also a bit of emphasis on Minhee’s cleavage when the girls and their gorilla friend are putting together outfits for the concert, but even this isn’t anything close to the in-your-face sexiness of “Marionette.”

Likewise, the dance for “Fool” is tamer than their past provocative choreography. The ladies do not become aegyo queens, and the dance is still quite sexy, but in a subtler way. It depends much more on the charisma of the members to turn their swaying and arm movements into something alluring to watch. However, the dance doesn’t get much emphasis in the video at all, and you won’t even see it until about the last minute of the MV. The plot and message of “Fool” are the focus here.

20150313_seoulbeats_foolThe song is also a departure from Stellar’s other singles. Instead of the electronic-based pop songs we’ve heard from group, “Fool” is a slow jam, complete with soulful trumpets and a ballad-style tempo. It’s a song that invites listeners to sway and snap to the beat, and the jazzy music and singing prevent it from becoming an unremarkable ballad.

While the girls sing well, the vocal performances aren’t anything spectacular, resulting in a single that is relatively low-key and unassuming. Rest assured that it will grow on you more and more during repeated listens.

Stellar’s comeback with “Fool” is quite stellar (I apologize for the bad pun). Without being sickeningly sweet, the ladies present a more innocent concept, but at the same time, they embrace their sexy image and take a stand against those who criticize them for daring to show off their sexuality. It’s encouraging to see women push back against the double standards females face in the K-pop industry. Their actions are made all the more satisfying becomes they come with a cute MV and an enjoyable song. Overall, this comeback shows Stellar taking power and asserting themselves as unashamed of their past, which makes me want to be confident in their future.

Overall rating: 4/5

(YouTube [1][2][3], Images via Top Class Entertainment)