K-Pop Music Reviews: IU – A Cruel Fairy Tale

Title: 잔혹동화 (A Cruel Fairy Tale)

Release Year: 2011

Please hold on while I immerse myself in “The Nightmare Before Christmas”-related nostalgia.

Fond memories.

So let’s get this out of the way: This song reminds me of Tim Burton’s movies. Or perhaps “Alice in Wonderland”. This would be the perfect accompanying piece to Alice jumping down the rabbit hole.

I felt like I was in Alice’s shoes when I first listened to IU’s new song. Over the years, her work has been comparatively straight and narrow; from the cheerful bubblegum tempo of “Marshmallow” to the slightly ballad-ish sounding “Good Day”, she never really differentiated herself from the rest of the pack. Sure, she had talent, but then again, so does most Korean idol singers. She looked beautiful, but then again, so does most Korean idol singers…mostly. (COUGHhyoCOUGH)

But with this release…she blew my expectations out of the water.

First of all, the use of strings – something uncommon in itself – and adding to it an air of faux gothic – is pure genius. Whoever composed this song deserves an award. It’s a refreshing breath of fresh air, and it doesn’t fail to grasp your attention.

Once you get past the amazing ensemble, you get to the singing. Now, I’ve never really been a big fan of IU’s voice; I’ve felt that her “3-octave” range is overhyped, and her voice sounds like it could collapse upon itself at any second. But it is that precise quality – the feeling that it’s going to wither away and die any minute – that adds yet another degree of poignancy to this piece. It fits the lyrics perfectly.

Ah, the lyrics.

Apart from Epik High’s brilliant works of art (which I’ll cover later), there are very few songs that I’ve heard (Korean or otherwise) that has this degree of…poetry. Here’s a translation of the lyrics:

Credit: janeberryblue @ WeHeartIU

When tonight comes to pass
you will appear and wake me up
That which have fallen drop by drop
You lightly tread upon my tears

When that door opens, once again
the light will reach me
Afterwards, for all eternity
we’ll live happily ever after

When the clock strikes twelve
in my dream, I open my eyes
Amongst the crowd of cheers
we are dancing together

I’m breathing (You will never know)
I’m alive (Everyone fails to love)
Can I believe in this much at least?

Nothing lasts forever, Nothing really matters

Because the road to finding me is perilous
You must be having trouble
Someday, as I’m smiling,
I will fall asleep in your arms

I can never leave (I will never know)
For you might not be able to find me (Everyone tells me so)
For this wait might just turn into seafoam

Apparently, there are five veiled references to fairy tales in the lyrics. Can you find them all?

It’s hard to put into words how exotic this song feels. Take a few minutes to listen to it yourself. Whether you personally like this song or not – it’s hard to deny that it’s different.

For willing to take a risk that, in my opinion, pays off handsomely, and for having such a high degree of perfection in nearly every level of its inception, IU’s “A Cruel Fairy Tale” earns:

5 out of 5 stars.


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