(Quite an overdue post so it seems, but if anybody deserves a second wind, it’s Stellar)
Perhaps I could say that I have followed the K-Pop music industry long enough that it is easy for me to identify the things about this movement that fascinate me. For starters, I’d be bold enough to say that the genre is somehow a more “flexible” version of pop music from the East (take note of how I emphasize pop music here – I’m pertaining to the Top 40 music serviced on the radio if you still don’t get it). Releases from the Hallyu industry tend to be more extensive and experimental in terms of genre and are more open to playing around with concepts regardless if it is in reverse with the mainstream, global trend. Top acts in the West aren’t as campy and edgy (at the same time) as how Hallyu idols are. #fact
The other reason took some time for me to discern but the epiphany made it all worth it. (Ew!)
K-Pop fearlessly accepts and lives within its structured nature. If you think that your bias is an antithesis to the quintessential pop star because he/she writes her own material, you probably are wrong. Not to discredit them because that is a good thing (and is probably a result of rigid years of training) but at the end of the day, they are still under the stricter (compared to a global scale) clauses of the contracts that their agencies made them sign weeks after they got casted. They are products, they are brands, they are items being sold to thirsty fandoms – and they know it. This artificiality somehow reeks an ironic yet tangible amount of sincerity which is pretty astounding if you think of it.
With this kind of environment comes immense repercussions as well. These companies (especially the smaller ones) are willing to go beyond their means to push their business forward. They intentionally exploit their acts with promotions that can elicit gossip and ruffle feathers from the vicious fandoms of South Korean pop music.
Some acts like Stellar.
NOTE: Let me reiterate how well aware are these companies in terms of their nature as a business and how they function because it is an important factor to help drive the point of Stellar’s stellar releases. There. Okay, let’s go.
Stellar is probably one of the best acts to illustrate the machination that we all know as K-pop and all the dirty emissions that come with it. This all started when the group went for a 180-degree shift concept-wise with 2014’s “Marionette”. The intention was clear as day – they wanted buzz so seeing these innocent girls gyrate in the most NSFW fashion was the way to go. It did what it was supposed to do, Marionette was critically panned and the girls were slandered to the core. Their promotion cycle created waves but not enough to flood their name all over the highly populated industry.
The good thing about Stellar’s releases though is that no matter how infamous they seem to be, you can never question them for their quality. It was a good call to stick with a solid production team, particularly MonoTree and Digipedi/ZanyBros (I think) which helped them craft a sound and a visual that is both chic and sonic. Since 2014, anything that you have seen and heard from Stellar are intertwined but they all drive to one story – the struggle for fame.
Let us take their latest release “Sting” for example as it marks the pinnacle of their metapop goodness. This song has perfectly demonstrated Stellar’s struggle as a K-pop act and we can see it trickled down to their overall production. They have done this before with Marionette, Mask, Fool, and Vibrato (which highlighted specific aspects in their career) but it is in this release where it had the right mix of everything that they wanted to talk about.
Lyrically, Sting is veiled in the premise of a relationship that is about to fall apart and by this, the quartet is alluding to how they have fared in the eyes of the public. Despite the numerous attempts to stir controversy, Stellar’s songs never really took off. They have repeatedly transitioned from the shock tactics of Marionette down to the subtlety of Mask then to the polished Fool and back to the provocative Vibrato – but no daebak still. Stellar laments on this harsh reality as they sing:
“Are you tired of our relationship?
You can’t hide. You show always.
Does my word make you feel something?
Do you have a guilty conscience?
Are you trying to break my heart?”
Things take a more interesting approach once the sounds of Sting is married to its sights.
I love how the video establishes the idea that the girls are being observed from a distance in a voyeuristic fashion (peeping from the slightly opened door, keyhole etc.). This could be compared to netizens react to Stellar online.
Straight inside the room, you can see the Stellar drawing out their life as celebrities like being blinded in the lights of celebrity life and enduring the responses from salty netizens. The criticisms are perfectly paired with metaphors like mouse cursors pointing at their sugar walls, being pricked by rose thorns, and being stung by bugs. These visuals displays the dynamic relationship between them and the people that they are trying to please.
A jab on how the netizens only see what Stellar presents on the surface. To be fair, you can’t expect general K-pop fans to be critical.
Right after the midsection breakdown of the song (which Monotree has been very good at producing, think Vibrato’s mini Vagina Monolugues montage), you can see the girls finally catching the voyeur that has been silently peeping all this time.
They slowly approach to that opening…
…only to discover that the person looking…
This takes the content of the song to another perspective – and a more introspective one on top of that. Sting has now transformed to a soliloquy of some sorts. A K-Pop video hasn’t been this in touch with the reality that they are living in. They know what’s up, they are aware of what they are doing. And this is what they wanted to tell people. Remember that time during the Vibrato promotions when they said that their company wanted them to wear thongs during live performances? That was all part of the plan – and they’re a part of it. Anything for the attention, anything for that single flicker of fame to go their way.
Despite this, Stellar also reveals that they are as human as we are. Sure, they all played in to the tactics probably dictated by their company but sometimes, they question themselves if it’s all worth it. They wonder if drawing every card that they know despite exploiting every single core of their humanity could still get them somewhere.
“Is this battle still worth fighting?”, Gayoung asks herself.
Minhee apologizing for the person that she has become is Sting’s most poignant moment.
Despite this, Sting closes with a brave statement from the girls. They’ve been through a lot of shit, they went miles and miles beyond just to make a mark and nothing’s working out for them…yet (you see, Sting never really charted high). However, they still decide to stand up and strut ahead like the true queens that they are. They’re in this rot so might as well continue and fight for it, no matter how much it stings.
This song particularly becomes extra meaningful especially after rumors of disbandment started coming up recently. And congratulations on your first concert!!
K-pop videos that shed light on the face of the industry we don’t normally see (eg. Midnight Circus), although factual, hasn’t dived into an extremely up close and personal level like how Sting did. And the most interesting thing about this? It probably is a marketing ploy from the Stellar team. This is where we go back to the notion that K-pop is indeed a dirty business and there is a group such as Stellar who is unapologetic enough to tackle this head on and skin deep. But then again, they were never discreet about this and that’s what makes K-Pop amazing.