As the Northern Hemisphere prepares to welcome summer, so do K-pop releases with increasingly effervescent colors and upbeat melodies. And on the front line of this season are fromis_9, the group formed through 2017’s reality show Idol School, with their latest single “Fun!”

While the group’s previous releases were marked by whimsical and cute concepts such as “DKDK,” last year’s “Love Bomb” was a daring hint at a possible departure from that style into a quirkier, less saturated territory for rookie girl groups. “Fun!” indeed follows that edge, while diving even deeper into its own eccentricity.

In the absence of names like Crayon Pop and Orange Caramel, concepts that take inspiration from J-pop’s “cute but weird” badge remain free for grabs, and it’s interesting to see this generation of K-pop experimenting with it. Momoland’s renaissance with “Bboom Bboom” is one of the most popular examples, taking advantage of Jooe’s comical figure to shoot the ensemble into stardom.

In fact, “Fun!” definitely seems to borrow some inspiration from “Bboom Bboom.” While not so deadpan in its humor, it puts the same effort in entertaining the viewer through absurd advertisements and a relentless melody. However, fromis_9’s release leans heavily on repetition, overenthusiasm, and a sense of busyness to distract and entrance the viewers as they embark on a dizzying journey. Was it good? Was it bad? All that matters is that it was fun.

Bang! Feels like it’s bursting

Bang! Fireworks shot up

Fun! Our own universe

We just wanna have some fun

But what does having fun mean? Like happiness, the concept is alluring yet hard to pin down, besides shifting from person to person. In the individual teasers for the MV, each one of the girls initially appear bored and distressed, and then explore different ways of enjoyment. Jiwon eats a plate of macarons, Gyuri awaits until midnight to unbox various objects, Jiheon tries out virtual reality, Jisun engages in a gaming marathon, Seoyeon gets lost inside books, Nakyung believes she can fly on a trampoline, Saerom exercises with the TV, Chaeyoung watches a scary movie, and finally Hayoung plays some board games.

While these teasers present compelling plots in themselves, unfortunately most of their elements weren’t utilized in the MV. Like mentioned before, its main premise relies in parodies of famous brands and CFs. The opening scene, for example, displays an ad for “Funta,” where fromis_9 cheerily dance in a blue pool set and take sips of the orange drink. As orange and blue are complementary colors, this setting is enough to catch the viewer’s attention, and provides a treat for the eyes right from the start.

Gyuri’s set as a hair model for Funsilk (Sunsilk) mixes references both from the aforementioned brand and from a touching Pantene ad from Thailand. In it, a deaf girl learns how to play the violin despite criticism from her peers, and ensues a breathtaking performance wrapped up by Pantene’s slogan, “you can shine.” In “Fun!,” the emotional part was removed in favor of the comical, and Gyuri is the star of an orchestra formed by the other fromis_9 members. What first seemed to be a serious, luxurious ad soon reveals its reality, as the girls use the instruments in unexpected ways and play the bow on their hair strings.

Throughout the MV, each girl stars in their own TV commercial. Seoyeon is the model for Fromisnine’s (Maybelline) makeup ads, Saerom shines for Fr’óreal (L’Óreal), Jiheon and Hayoung sell bottles of Fromi Sweat (Pocari Sweat), Nakyung and Jiwon are best friends for Clear&Clean (Clean&Clear), Seoyeon and Saerom double up as dark, sporty models in a Fromis (Adidas) parody, and Jisun and Jiwon lend their visuals to sell a green plum drink (Woongjin Green Plum Drink).

Another set worth highlighting is the “Bomb” Noodles (Cup Noodles) scenario. In front of a giant cup, the members showcase some of the bouncy choreography and throw ingredients to the screen, as if the viewers are part of their magical recipe. The name also poses a direct reference to “Love Bomb” as well, and this is a product that would surely sell out if it was indeed available to the public.  

“Fun!” has an interesting bridge that gives space to a rich electronic texture instead of slowing down, and the MV takes this as an opportunity to show behind-the-scenes footage of the girls recording their ads. This moment of ease follows into the monumental last chorus, as the track bursts in a frenetic ecstasy of synths and adlibs. While the girls joke around, laugh and make faces, we finally see fromis_9 actually having fun, instead of just provoking funny reactions.

Overall, “Fun!” brings up more questions than answers. Besides bursting a laugh, what was the intention behind the parodies? Are they under the risk of getting sued, or on the brink of becoming CF queens? It remains unclear whether brands would be flattered or offended by their reenactments, but hopefully CJ E&M has researched copyrights and laws before betting on this concept. Besides that, developing any of the products advertised in this MV as actual merch for fans could have become an unforgettable marketing tactic, and its dismissal will forever haunt the hallways of K-pop’s underutilized potential.

On another take, some would tell me this concept “is not that deep,” and there is no point in questioning what fromis_9 meant with it. “Can’t you see they are just lightening things up and being fun?”, they would argue, and I do understand this point of view. Not everything needs a deeper meaning, even though, as humans, we attribute meaning to all things. But one of the aspects that make K-pop so interesting is analyzing the things that go beyond its glossy facade, and that’s what “Fun!” instigated me to do.

The societal pressure to have fun and be happy is real, and often revealed in the most innocuous things. Many moons ago, American singer Rebecca Black became a viral hit with “Friday,” whose post-chorus echoed a stiff “fun, fun, fun” that sounded more like an obligation rather than anything else. This was the moment immediately conjured in my mind after first listening to fromis_9’s “Fun!” and its general cluttering and frenzy. An entertaining — yet a bit exhaustive — madness that takes your mind off all the problems, like playing with a hyperactive 5-year old.

When the song is over and silence settles in, you can’t help but wonder what kind of “fun” are they actually talking about, and at what expense it is being produced. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the track and fromis_9 are unabashedly adorable, but “Fun!” often feels like a noisy bandaid to life’s less-amusing aspects. At least it’s a stylish one.

(Youtube. Lyrics via Color Coded Lyrics. Images via CJ E&M.)