MV of the Month: IU's 'Twenty-Three'

IU Twenty-Three baby

October was filled with killer music videos that will probably end up on our favorites of the year - but one stood out above the rest. We're talking IU's "Twenty-Three." Here's Zander Stachniak and Timothy Moore, discussing why IU gets the MV of the Month for October!

Zander: Well, Tim, I think we're in full agreement here that IU's "Twenty-Three" takes the prize this month. For me, that has everything to do with the way her lyrics, music, and visuals combine perfectly together to create a cohesive product. And even though this is an award for MV of the month, I just can't talk about "Twenty-Three" without talking about all three of those things. The lyrics demonstrate a playful uncertainty about what it means to grow up. I referred to that uncertainty as "inscrutability" in my review of the album, where almost every song intentionally mixes genres to create something that can't quite be categorized. And then there's the music video that, for me, perfectly matches that concept.

IU Twenty-Three Hair Dry

Tim: Yeah, there were some great videos in October - Twice's debut and f(x)'s 4 Walls being on the top of my list - but there was just something about IU's "Twenty-Three" that rose above the rest. I think your point about the cohesive product is a good one - I definitely love how the video matches the concept here. For me, I was thrilled to see IU in a new, surprisingly personal way. We've gotten IU, the young, lovelorn pop star, and in recent years we've gotten an IU that takes herself far more seriously - with her remake album and beautiful collaboration with Seo Taiji. So seeing a release so personal and so self-aware was a welcome change. 

Instead of looking for a love or looking to the past, IU looks inward - and the results are unbelievably charming. Just look at some of these lyrics: "...I want to be in love/No I rather make money" she sings, or, Zander, how about, "At first I never wrote/even a single line of lies," or "Even if I act rudely/People are always kind to me." She's singing about herself, her absurd life as a young pop idol, and the video perfectly conveys this quizzical outlook on her life. 

IU Twenty-Three happy

Zander: I would add Taeyeon's "I" to the list of strong October videos, but none of them come close to matching IU. There's definitely a sense of honesty about this release, but even that is couched within a fairly puzzling music video. 

IU is inhabiting the world of Alice in Wonderland, and that concept is anything but straightforward. The viewer follows IU down the proverbial rabbit hole, and the resulting imagery is duplicitous and kaleidoscopic. Is IU a bear or a fox? A woman or a young girl? Even the standard Kpop box is more reminiscent of an Escher drawing than regular geometry, and by the end of the MV we're firmly in acid trip territory. 

IU Twenty-Three Wonderland

So I think that it would be unfair to only notice IU's seeming honesty in writing lyrics that apply to herself. Because even as she earns our trust, a wink and a Cheshire cat grin calls everything we think we know into question. To me, that is an incredibly powerful, but subtle, form of artistry. Again, without a strong sense of cohesion, I think this concept might not work. But it does, and I dig it!

Tim: I'd argue that this mischievousness is an essential part of her personality which is why she earns my trust, but I don't want to split hairs, or even hares (no one wants to see that!). You've nailed it by bringing up the acid-trip nature of the video. Just about every video that IU' has released this side "Marshmallow" is a cinematic treat - plucked from an imaginary movie screen. You watch "You & I" and it's like you've stumbled onto a convoluted children's fantasy. Heck, I'd pay to see that movie! 

And sometimes they take it a bit too far - like with "Every End of the Day," which is a video that makes another grab at authenticity but, unlike "Twenty-Three," feels short. The faux interview segments feel staged and we linger with IU in photo shoots, eating breakfast, drying her hair, for oh I don't know seventeen freaking minutes until we finally get a song, with a segment that involves IU spending her day with her unseen companion (hint: it's supposed to be you). I find this segment a bit creepy, but that's besides the point - the point is that it takes twenty-seven minutes of fake documentary work to paint a picture of IU - and while the video is beautiful, it falls short of doing so. 

IU Boobs Twenty-Three

Which brings me to my last point - "Twenty-Three" is just under four minutes long and it keeps that cinematic quality (it's a beautiful video - with stark blues and blacks), but with the crazy animation, costumes, and props that bring to life this song, this feels 1,000% more authentic. It's true to itself as a cohesive release, and, even with the contradictions (and, for me, because of them), it's true to IU. 


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