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K-pop Erupts over a Book-Inspired ‘Sexualized’ Pop Song

My Sweet Orange Tree

A controversy surrounding a song by one of South Korea’s biggest female K-pop stars, IU, has ignited interest in My Sweet Orange Tree – an autobiographical novel by Brazilian author José Mauro de Vasconcelos originally published in 1968.

The novel describes the misadventures of a five-year-old protagonist called Zeze. IU’s song is also called Zeze and she admits it was inspired by the book, but her lyrics have been accused of being overtly sexual.

My Sweet Orange Tree (Meu Pé de Laranja Lima in Portuguese) is a much loved book in South Korea and often studied in schools. Last Thursday and Friday, My Sweet Orange Tree was the most searched for book on AbeBooks.com as the scandal engulfed the 22-year-old Korean pop star.

The singer has now issued an apology, which translates as:

“My Sweet Orange Tree is a treasured book to me, too. I swear I did not write the lyrics to sexualize a 5-year-old child. The Zeze in my song is a third-party fictional creation taken from the motif in the original novel. However, after listening to the opinions of those who have listened to the song, I came to realize that its contents could have given offence and even caused some to grieve. I am wholly responsible for my immature handling of things as a lyricist.”

In the novel, Zeze lives in Rio de Janeiro in a poor family. Often mistreated and usually left to his own devices, Zeze becomes embroiled in trouble and mischief, which builds in seriousness as the novel continues. The orange tree mentioned in the title grows in his backyard and Zeze becomes deeply interested in its well-being.

According to the Korea JoonAng Daily, IU’s lyrics include “You [Zezé] are pure, but you are sly. You look like a young child, but you are filthy.”

The book’s Korea publisher, Dongyok, issued a statement that also questioned the sexual nature of IU’s latest album cover. Called Chat-Shire and released on October 23, the album (pictured below) depicts a boy wearing fishnets and raising one of his legs into the air while sitting in front of a tree.

Chat-Shire by IU

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