I first heard the song through the music video:
As soon as the music video began, I was wonderstruck by the ribbon-decorated trees, ground, instruments, and knick-knacks. The backyard look like such a playful and relaxing place.
Then, when IU started singing, I was creeped out by her sultry voice and seductive behaviors because she seemed “out of character”. She tried to change her innocent lolita persona into a seductive one, but that failed to change my perspective of her because she has such a youthful appearance.
As soon as I heard the words “Climb up me”, my belief that the song was intentionally filled with sexual innuendos was confirmed.
After listening to the song for a while, I thought that IU deserved a round of applause for adopting different artistic styles. Perhaps she grew bored of her stagnant image while other K-pop singers have been experimenting with various themes and genres.
Once the music video was over, I scrolled down to the YouTube comments and discovered that there is a controversy associated with the song.
Unfortunately, learning the details of the controversy made me all the more weirded out by the song.
According to this “Ask A Korean!” blog post…
- the song was inspired by My Sweet Orange Tree (Meu Pé de Laranja Lima) — a novel written by José Mauro de Vasconcelos, and is about a young boy named Zeze who befriends a small orange tree named Minguinho;
- the song was written from Minguinho’s perspective;
- IU admitted that Zeze’s “great deal of self-contradiction” made him seem “attractive and sexy” in an interview; and
- IU claimed that she did not intend to sexually objectify Zeze
Besides analyzing IU’s gestures and singing in the music video, I figured that the only other way to determine whether or not she actually wanted the song to be sexually suggestive is to look up the song’s English lyrics (since I do not understand Korean).
Look how your lips smile, like this is so interesting
I can tell by that face, you’re a mean one
Ah, even your name is beautiful, I want to keep calling it
What I imagine I can’t say out loud, but so adorable
Stroking sounds with those little fingers
Singing of colors and sights in your ticklish voice, yeah
Zezé, climb up the tree
Kiss the leaves
Don’t fool around
Don’t hurt the tree, bad bad
Zezé, climb up the tree
Take the youngest leaf here
Take the only flower
Climb up me
Climb up me
All I needed to read were the first few verses of the song to make it blatanly obvious that the song is about pedophilia and disrespects the characters in My Sweet Orange Tree.
Although IU told the press that the “Zeze in the song was another character based on the novel rather than the novel’s Zeze” (“Ask A Korean!” blog post), she should have renamed her character… if she really did care about respecting the novel more than her popularity.
On top of that, I am disappointed at the fact that the song got approved by her label, LOEN Entertainment. This is just another appalling example of how the entertainment industry is more interested in profiting from outrageous activities and works than promoting music as an emotional and creative medium.
“Zeze” reminds me of two songs: HyunA’s “Red” and CL’s “MTBD” (“Mental Breakdown”).
Similar to how “Zeze” disrespected My Sweet Orange Tree, “Red” hypersexualized this South Korean nursery rhyme by replacing the word “apple” with “HyunA”:
원숭이엉덩이는빨개 (Monkey’s butt is red)
빨간건 사과 (Red apple)
사과는맛있어 (Apple is delicious)
맛있는건 바나나 (Delicious banana)
바나나는 길어 (Banana is long)
길면 기차 ([If] Long train)
기차는 빨라 (Train is fast)
As for comparing “Zeze” with”MTBD”, both songs are alike in that they have inappropriate and offensive lyrics. In “MTBD”, words from the Qur’an can subtly be heard in the background.
Unlike how HyunA and CL are only responsible for singing “Red” and “MTBD” respectively, IU is responsible for singing and writing the song “Zeze”.
Because of that, I feel sorry for HyunA and CL for getting blamed for something their producers and company are responsible for.
I absolutely love how CL not only apologized for singing a song that disrespects the Qur’an, but she is truly sincere about her apology. This is clear in this video that shows her stopping mid-performance and the tweet she sent after the performance:
HyunA’s response to the public’s outcry of “Red” may not have been appropriate, but at least she seems a lot more honest than IU about her objective in singing a sexually suggestive and children’s story-inspired song, which is just to do her job as a performer.
“It’s true that I want to be seen in a positive light and be loved by people since I’m a celebrity. But there are people who would not like me no matter what I do. I used to be hurt by that before. But I started thinking differently. There’s nothing I can do except to do my best.”
I still enjoy listening to IU’s songs, but I am unsure of how I should feel about IU since “Zeze” is the only song by her that I dislike.
I hope she and other K-pop singers learn from their mistakes, as well as actively influence the music industry to respect all people and works of art.