To the surprise of many, GFriend said farewell on the 22nd of May. In the years since their debut, they have been consistent in terms of quality. While they may be well-known for their wholesome image and their schoolgirl trilogy (“Glass Bead,” “Me Gustas Tu,” “Rough“), in their later years, they expanded their sound.
This month’s Music and Lyrics focuses on Gfriend and the mysticism and magic of their last two releases, 回: Song of the Sirens and 回: Walpurgis Night. As two parts of a whole (although there is also 回: Labyrinth released early 2020), the group explores magic and being modern-day witches.
The first and most important track in “Apple.” This was a drastic turn for the group, not just in terms of sound but in aesthetic. To match this, “Apple” opens their witch duology with the imagery of a “briar-choked road” with bloody footsteps and questioning if they had made a mistake. It is with this first verse that we understand they are leaving behind the traditional princess image that one might associate with them due to their previous trilogy. But with all life-changing commitments, there is always the question “Why does that icy decision hurt me so, was it a mistake?”
There’s no turning back when the night turns restless
Let the festival I dared to imagine come alive
Dream the red dream, endless and deep
Let rise the shimmering light of destruction
Don’t agonize, let go of the timid child
Take me, the endless witching hour descends
“In the sweet darkness, the witching hour descends,” they coo in the chorus. Witches in the Western imagination has been through a lot of tension. And it is clear with the imagery selected that GFriend are playing with the Western conception of witches–from the Western imagery of princess (Yerin being Sleeping Beauty, Eunha with Snow White’s Apple) to the ending shot where they sprout horns.
This perhaps refers to how witchcraft was associated with the devil. Magic as a concept has been present in multiple societies throughout the world for millennia. And up to a certain point, there were no real boundaries between magic and religion, especially in the Late Antiquity era of the Roman Empire. It was upon the popularization of monotheistic religions that witchcraft became a crime. For witchcraft was the area of women, of subjects patriarchal Christianity was uncomfortable with.
And thus, witchcraft became associated with acts of evil–perhaps why “Apple” is also using themes also portray Eunha eating an apple at the start. evoking Eve eating the apple from the Forbidden Tree.
Another track from the same album is “Tarot Cards.” Used to aid divination, tarot cards are a familiar tool, perhaps, to those who want to dabble in cartomancy. Although, it must also be said that not all tarot users believe in or are modern-day witches.
Tarot also has a reputation for vagueness, which can be seen in the lyrics:
Whisper to me every vague question
Your sweet voice makes my steps tremble Go Ahead
Whenever I mix it and flip it upside down
It’s a new destiny
I’ll go find my own answer
It also refers to how some tarot cards can be opened to them being reversed–this is a personal preference to the user. As Sowon and Yerin sing “One by one seduced in the unfolding card” there is also an allusion to how when one is lost (as SinB sings, “Better day, it feels like I can’t hold it in my hands”) there is a temptation to put faith in the card. But as they say, they will find their own answer.
In a way, one can interpret this duology as being the arc of the GFriend members into becoming more confident in their magic, and thus themselves. It is about how they will commit to what they have chosen. Or, as Yuju says in “Apple,” it is them “Infusing with color all my gray decisions.”
In late 2020, GFriend released their final album, 回: Walpurgis Night. This refers to the eve of Saint Walpurga’s feast day. Based in Germany and has spread to nearby countries, Christians pray to Saint Walpurga to protect themselves from witchcraft.
Following “Tarot Card,” 回: Walpurgis Night has “Three of Cups.” Using the definition from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, one of the three popular tarot decks, Three of Cups means celebration and community. It urges the reader to develop deep connections and to work for a common cause.
The past memories and this burning feeling
Three of cups
Some things don’t ever
Change change change
Hotter. Burn this night white
Story story that won’t end
To make it brighter than it is
Ready to shine
Of these tracks, “Three of Cups” is the most straight-forward. It is a song that is about partying, about not thinking about your problems and past memories.
Obviously, when we talk magic and witchcraft, the topic of spells also comes up. “Love Spell” follows “Three of Cups” in Walpurgis Night and from the start to the end, there is a sense of mystery, of spiraling in the unknown that is love. Like “Love Spell,” the message is simple but it is in the simplicity that it is effective.
The obvious secret to knowing Magic
Back then, it was like a real mystery
Ya ya ya
A fever rises in the head and scatters neurons
Love is Magic ma ma ma ma magic
But by the end, there is the question if a love spell or even a love potion would be effective. After all, if love is a result of a spell or a potion, would it be real?
Of course, we can’t talk 回: Walpurgis Night and not talk about GFriend’s final song, “Mago.” The word means magic in several languages (such as Spanish and Italian) while also referring to the Korean deity. In Chinese and Korean folklore, Magu or Mago, is a protector of women and seen as a “Great Goddess.” Another reference within the song is when Umji sings “6960 Magic” within the first verse. This is the space cloud of dust and gas or nebula called the Witch’s Broom Nebula.
Go on and judge me now
I won’t ever waiver
Dance a dance for me
The night goes Tic tak tic tak
Feel so high
Lyrically, the song is about finding confidence in being one’s self. Thematically, this is the members embracing their witchcraft. This is underlined by the chorus, where they sing, “My life is waiting for you (yes you)… My heart is beating for you, no more fairy tale.” There is no mention of another party, of a love interest. Instead, it is GFriend being reborn (“In the blessed flame I fly reborn.”)
In the end, all they need is themselves. And it is those songs where they are finding what truly matters to their values and their confidence that there is more weight to the lyrics. “Apple” and “Mago” were large steps away from their established identity, but also saw the members taking more control of their sound and their lyrics.
While we may be saying goodbye to GFriend for now, they have a lasting legacy. There is power in being ourselves, in stepping away from the “fairy tales” of our lives and creating a path of your own.