I suppose titling the song “Subtle” would be disingenuous.

Well, if the goal of Stellar’s company was to get people talking, they succeeded.

Stellar remain best known for their attention-seeking “Marionette” video, which sparked controversy after featuring cliché sexy imagery and choreography dialed up to the point of farce and played completely straight. The members have expressed discomfort with the concept, but when their follow-up single “Fool”—a clap back at critics of “Marionette”—failed to garner the same level of attention, their company was back to their old tricks. “Vibrato” takes their “Marionette” concept a step further by hinting at self-awareness (and by “hinting” I mean “throwing sexual imagery at viewers with all the subtlety of a Mack truck”) and then ultimately playing the same farcical “sexy” tropes completely straight.

What do you mean, sexual imagery? It's just a purse!
What do you mean, sexual imagery? It’s just a purse!

I’m going to discuss the song and music video separately since, as with “Marionette,” the song and music video feel like completely separate entities.

I’m going to be the combo-breaker here in the general atmosphere of praise for the song, because it just did not work for me. It’s getting a lot of praise for taking risks and being unique-sounding etc. but ultimately, those things don’t mean much to me if I don’t find the end result aurally pleasing. Sure, “Vibrato” isn’t a clusterfuck like “I Got a Boy” or “Bang Bang Bang” or one of those trendy Kpop songs that sound like 3 songs mashed into one, but for such an innovative song it’s still very dull and forgettable. The chorus isn’t earwormy enough and the “OTTOKE OTTOKE OTTOKE” screeching got extremely cloying after a while. I’d honestly rather listen to SNSD’s “Party” on repeat for hours than hear that chorus again. “Vibrato” is just not a song that makes me feel good to listen to, and by that, I mean by the time we reach the frenetic bridge my eardrums are attempting to euthanize themselves. I’ll give it credit for not being boring, but not being boring doesn’t necessarily mean listenable either.

I admit that it’s hard to focus on the song when the music video is so distracting, which is one of Stellar’s biggest issues. Granted, I don’t speak Korean so I don’t understand all of the lyrics, but even without that knowledge the aesthetic and choreography in “Vibrato,” much like “Marionette,” is completely discordant with the song. Clearly this company is so desperate for any kind of attention that their first thought is “we gotta give this an OTT sexy concept!” and then “oh yeah, there’s a song, too.” While “Marionette” was content simply to present the group members in highly objectified situations, “Vibrato” thinks it’s clever by throwing in piles of disembodied doll parts to show us that they *know* these young women are being objectified… and then keeps on objectifying them. It’s like you spend this whole video waiting for the shoe to drop and it never does, just a split-open watermelon with leaking insides.

Pictured: your brain after watching this video
Pictured: your brain after watching this video

What we see of the choreography is some floor-humping, weird butt-thrusting, and bouncing up and down awkwardly. Yawn. I was genuinely offended by comparisons to groups like Girl’s Day or AoA. While the latter might be peddling butt-slapping and boob-shelf choreo, at least it’s done with a fair amount of cheekiness and playfulness. The members of Stellar just look like I feel while watching this—uncomfortable. If these moves are supposed to be sexy, the choreographers missed it by a long shot, but I’m thinking that wasn’t the point to start with. The point was controversy, so it doesn’t really matter how stupid the choreo looks as long as it gets banned and forces people to pay attention to the group.

Deleted scene from the “Vibrato” MV

Unfortunately, this company will probably achieve their ends with the way everyone is already talking about this crappy song and video like it’s high art or something. Shit, I’m talking about it, even if it’s just to be snarky. I really want to like Stellar, but I’m over their company’s blatant attention-seeking. It’s not clever or “meta” or whatever people want to make it so they can feel more highbrow than the drooling fanboys and ahjussi. It’s just more noise marketing, and the “any publicity is good publicity” approach is getting even staler than Stellar’s concepts.

I’m not sure why this company wants Stellar to be known as the group who’s always getting bitched at by netizens, and I recognize the desire to stand out in the already-overcrowded rookie group scene, but honestly? You can’t force lightning to strike. I think there’s this mentality that a sexy concept is always a sure thing, because breakout hits from groups like Girl’s Day and AoA featured sexy concepts. But it’s starting to look more and more like “Expectation” and “Miniskirt” are lightning in a bottle, songs that happened to come along at the perfect time to gain their respective groups momentum. Neither song was particularly innovative, but they were extremely infectious, which is really all a great pop song needs. Innovative K-pop songs, conversely, seldom gain traction unless they come from one of the Big 3 (and even then, it’s more like the group is selling the song and not vice versa). At some point, Stellar’s controversy-courting bubble has got to burst, and it remains to be seen if the group has the goods to hang onto that attention.