No matter what your opinion on SNSD’s “I Got A Boy” is, I think we can all come to a consensus that it is…different. It’s a blend of various sights and sounds that all together form a pretty bold attempt at being “edgy”. The success of that attempt might be pretty debatable, but at the very least it’s a far cry from anything SNSD has ever done before. After all the promises we’ve gotten about witnessing a new side of SNSD, SM actually pulled through with a genuinely different concept.
But with all that edginess spent on SNSD, I can’t help but wonder what the heck f(x) is supposed to do for 2013. Since their debut in 2009, f(x) has been struggling to live up to their role as SM’s edgy band, though not due to lack of trying. As a previous author noted, since debut, f(x)’s image has been carefully crafted to distinguish themselves from their much more popular sister group. Every concept features individualized outfits with more experimental clothing and hairstyles than SNSD’s (such as the neon hair tips in “NU ABO”), as well as bolder music video sets and special effects, from the cartoonish set in “Pinocchio” to the vibrant electrified boxes in “Electric Shock.” Also, f(x)’s singles tend to be louder and more electronic, and their choreography (at least in the beginning) emphasized some challenging dance moves. While f(x) has yet to really solidify a consistent sound/image or gain, it is clear that they’ve been set up as the more trendy, unorthodox group of the label.
In contrast, SNSD has blossomed in their role of the quintessential girl group. For the most part, they’ve stuck to fluffier pop songs as well as choreography that highlighted their bodies/synchronization versus a specific level of difficulty. And rather than edgy individualized outfits, they tend to wear uniforms that fit with a popular trope – sailors, cheerleaders, ’70s spies, etc. The closest SNSD ever got to being daring in their music or style was with “The Boys”, and while that did show a fiercer side of the group, it wasn’t exactly the most musically innovative song (especially with its monotonous beat). Considering that the rest of that album was full of the bubblegum pop SNSD has been doing for years, it’s clear that SM was just fine with having SNSD stick to safer, more classic concepts while having f(x) try out the more experimental ones.
And then SNSD’s “I Got A Boy” happens. After years of having SNSD perform minor variations of the same pop music, SM decides to turn the tables and give them the most inventive sound/concept SM’s has ever given to any of its current girl bands. And while I appreciate the change in scenery, the drastic revamping isn’t exactly necessary now that SNSD has reached the point where anything they release will make them money and keep them relevant. Considering SNSD was already flourishing in the niche it had before, SM probably would’ve been better off focusing all of the creative effort it spent in “I Got A Boy” on revamping f(x), the less successful band that is actually supposed to be experimental.
Because how on earth is f(x) supposed to stand out now that SNSD’s dabbled in an edgier look as well? “I Got A Boy” is already being mentioned in the LA Times for being “strange and structurally progressive”, garnering the type of attention f(x) has been trying to achieve all these years through their various styles and concepts. So now that SNSD has moved in on f(x)’s image, f(x) has to somehow pull off something even more outlandish if it wants to maintain any relevancy/notoriety as SM’s edgy band. And looking at the group’s past treatment (particularly regarding remakes) and the quality of SM’s previous attempts at drastic musical innovation (i.e “Maxstep”) does not give me much hope for future efforts at creativity.
Regardless of how good/bad “I Got A Boy” actually is, the undeniable commercial success/publicity that comes with an SNSD release (especially as radical as this one) has the power to set some sort of K-pop standard for 2013. Meanwhile, without having a definable fanbase to propel them to fame no matter what, f(x) is now toeing a fine line—an underwhelming comeback will only continue their relative obscurity for an SM band, while an over-the-top one might alienate the listeners and/or be called an “I Got A Boy” knock-off. And even if f(x)’s release ends up being really good, it probably won’t have the same attention-grabbing effect as “I Got A Boy” – how could a band that is barely making it possibly follow up Korea’s #1 girl group? It was already hard enough for f(x) to live in SNSD’s shadow when the bands had two totally different identities, but now that their concepts are mildly comparable? Well, all I can say is that this year, the girls of f(x) definitely have their work cut out for them.