Stellar is a group that has had more than their fair share of criticism in the past. Their “Marionette” MV caused a big stir amongst media and fans alike. Some criticized the members for being too sexy for K-pop while others also pointed to the artistic choices in the video for not doing Stellar any favors in showing them in the best light.
While Stellar’s last single “Fool” wasn’t as brazen with suggestive videos and dance, it was also grossly overlooked. The song’s jazzy production and thought provoking MV failed to make much of an impression on the charts, and despite shying away from an overtly sexual MV or dance, the public and media didn’t really talk about them and sort of disregarded their comeback.
Now, Stellar has returned to pushing the public’s comfort level with female sexuality with their latest single “Vibrato.” Monotree is at the helm of the production of the song, which is being dubbed a nu disco style track. Also, Digipedi directed the MV for “Vibrato.” Digipedi is widely known for productions that often provide layers of symbolism and vivid imagery. To give you a sense of their style, in case you aren’t familiar with them, some of the MVs that they’ve done in the past year include Infinite‘s “Bad,” Mamamoo and Esna‘s “Ahh Oop” and Lizzy‘s “Not an Easy Girl.”
Right off the bat, “Vibrato” blasts you with its disco beat. The synths are gloriously punctuated with horns and a funky bassline. The song continues with the girls questioning themselves in the lyrics for their changes in behavior. Junyool, the maknae, along with Gayoung, the leader, tackle the rap verses right from the get-go, which helps to add a quick rhythm to the song. Things move along with Minhee also contributing her vocals to the verses. While the vocal color isn’t outstanding, the song continues with a catchy chorus until the song undergoes a shift about two minutes in. The beat starts to reverberate, and the bridge slows things up to a sensual groove before the production pick up again. Hyoeun shines with her range working well with the build up at the end.
Lyrically, the girls tell a story of having their emotions shaken up after falling for someone. The lyrics express how they are usually self-assured, but this unexpected rush of feelings has thrown them a bit. They ask:
“This isn’t narcissism but wouldn’t you fall for me?
It’s been long since I got sick of all the guys begging being dumped by me.
You didn’t stare at me and say a typical line.
It was a new and different conversation, you seemed intriguing.”
After meeting this person, they couldn’t operate as their cool usual selves. Instead, they have been losing sleep and feeling out of sorts. However, the girls reinforce their autonomy over their actions. Despite being stirred by this person, they pursue their passion and seek to create some sort of relationship with this person.
The MV for “Vibrato” is another beast in itself. The MV is rated 19+ and has incited a significant reaction from people — even after their photo teasers were revealed. The great thing about this video is that it maintains that similar sense of self-awareness that was in “Fool.” This time — instead of targeting hateful comments — Stellar push forth with their sexuality and question the double standards they face as well as the harsh stigma on female sexuality. Digipedi were quite smart in their choices of shots and also in symbolic props. They alternate wide and full shots to draw attention to what the audience is actively viewing. This isn’t just a passive voyeur but one that is cued to realize what they are focusing on.
Also, the first half of the MV prior to the two-minute mark focused a lot on the Barbie doll props. Barbie dolls are often considered a beauty standard that young girls have as they grow up. It’s this representation of the ideal type of girl that people should strive to be, and that becomes something that surreptitiously subjugates women to unfair body perception images. As the girls of Stellar are represented by the four dolls, there were key moments that pointed to their hyper critical focus by the media. They are trapped in these boxes that are surrounded by cameras that keep their lens aimed at them. The media follow them 24/7 and yet have this one-sided depiction of them.
One especially poignant moment was the pouring of red paint (or blood) over the Barbie Doll on the television — alluding to the pivotal moment in Carrie, the Stephen King novel and movie, in which the main character is a victim of a cruel prank. She gets voted prom queen and then is ridiculed in front of all of the attendees after being cruelly drenched with pig’s blood. Stellar are represented by this Barbie doll acting out this scene from Carrie. They are essentially berated for being women that dare to be outside the societal norms. By expressing themselves and showing their sexuality, they get labeled as ‘sluts’ and shamed in the public purview.
Another intriguing bit involved a heap of Barbie dolls. This seemed to give off this message of being ridiculed, sexualized and then tossed aside — highlighting a nasty societal construct that hails women as objects for the male gaze, but at the same time shames them and renders their being as disposable.
The video takes a turn with the change of beat. The image of a bag unzipping, hands interlocked and opening up, fingers opening up blinds, lips being pursed, and a watermelon that has been split in the middle as well as the emphasis on the color red both accompany the shifting beat of the song to symbolize female genitalia; the red is also likely a symbol of losing one’s virginity and sexual agency. It is innuendo at its core and perhaps a big “fuck you” to the haters — showing that they’ll continue expressing themselves in whatever way they want.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how well put together this release from Stellar was. Despite not having the strongest vocalists, Stellar continue to release extremely catchy songs. Paired with a self-aware MV chock full of symbolism and innuendo, “Vibrato” is perhaps their best effort yet.
How did you feel about Stellar’s “Vibrato?” What do you consider ‘too sexy’ for male idols and ‘too sexy’ for female idols?