Five years are both a long time and a feared number in the life of an idol group. Many disband before they even reach it, or they have to see members leave the group for a variety of reasons (especially under SM). While f(x) have faced similar problems over the course of the last few months, I want to take this opportunity of their fifth anniversary to look back at the great music they have created.
The girls originally started out as what seemed to be a sibling group to the noona-serenading SHINee who debuted a year earlier. Both groups could be considered as part of the more experimental roster of their agency, with f(x) potentially even more so than SHINee.
One example for this could be the strangeness of their lyrics, which often use very unusual metaphors to tell a story. Whether they sing about melting like ice cream when near a loved one (“아이스크림 (Ice Cream)”) or being as fragile as paper (“종이 심장 (Paper Heart)”), listening to an f(x) song can be a nice escape from the unoriginal, rehashed phrases often used in pop music.
There are a few themes which can be found throughout the group’s discography, such as female independence and power as well as summer and dancing. But the one which fits their image as being ‘out of the ordinary’ the best is the consistent emergence of supernatural and fairytale themes on all their records.
Such a reference might first appear in 2010 on their mini-album NU ABO. It seems like the word ‘boogie’ in the title of the song “Mr. Boogie” is a reference to the dance style, but lines such as
“With the start of magic, it’s your world.”
as well as the slightly menacing music could also suggest a link to the boogie man (or bogeyman), a mythical figure who is said to punish children for bad behavior.
In 2011, f(x) return with their first solo album tellingly entitled Pinocchio. The single off the album goes by the same name (“피노키오 (Danger)”), and focuses on the doll aspect of the children’s story rather than the propensity for lying found within the character Pinocchio. The lyrics themselves are utterly confusing. It seems like two speakers are present, one of whom views the other almost as an object which can be scrutinized and manipulated:
“I’ll recreate you to my heart’s satisfaction …
My heart is racing faster! It’s racing!
What do I do about my heart?
It’s like the time when I was younger, when I bought a doll with my dad”
Moving away from concrete references, “지그재그 (Zig Zag)” off of the group’s mini album Electric Shock seems like a general homage to fantasy worlds and fairytales. The speaker invites the listener to get lost in the music and be transported to another word:
“Turn up the speaker volume all the way
Now follow me to that place
Pass the diamond castle and over the cheese fondue forest
Chewing chewing the gum (the rain – throw it in your hand)
Jump over the pieces of broken dreams like dangerous glass, zig zag”
A bit of Alice in Wonderland mixed with a good dose of The Wizard of Oz, the lyrics of this song combine everything magical and nonsensical that the listener could wish for.
One only meets a concrete supernatural creature again on the group’s latest album Red Light. A song titled “Dracula” is a warning to the listener to beware of a mysterious being who hunts for “lonely” people and will turn these into “weird” creatures as well.
But the fantastical entities apparently most associated with f(x) are beings which combine both power and femininity within themselves: witches. In the song “빙그르 (Sweet Witches)” from their Pinocchio album, these witches are good people. Here, the speaker brews an energizing concoction for their loved one:
“This is an extremely secret recipe,
A Medicine specially made for you …
whenever you get tired,
Drink It Drink It Power Up
Drink all of my love”
This good-naturedness changes to vengefulness on their 2013 album Pink Tape. In the song “Pretty Girl”, the speaker turns into a witch to get rid of women who only rely on their good looks and see it as their biggest goal in life to become a “trophy girl” to rich, powerful men. This elaborate wishful fantasy once again contains a reference to The Wizard of Oz, and challenges female listeners to become more independent, driven women.
Another song off the album, “Toy”, begins with the lines
“Hey, when everyone is asleep tonight, should I make some magic?
Hey, should I cause a ruckus in your heart that has its lights turned off?”
This song is a self-confident message to an ex-lover. The speaker is tired of the other person’s games and of giving themself up for a relationship which feels “dark and narrow”.
When looking back on the songs which have accumulated throughout the five years of their existence, it becomes obvious that it has taken f(x) and SM some time to work out an image (or a message) which they want to deliver with the group’s music. After starting off with records which experimented with different sounds and subjects, it seems like the last three albums focused especially on the female independence and power mentioned in the beginning of this article.
The fantastical imagery and metaphors used on f(x)’s albums emphasize this focus. Apart from that, they also heighten the dramatic scale of the songs and highlight the group’s peculiarity and exceptionality.
Will we get another five years of such music? Who knows — I only know that I would look forward to it.