Sometimes it can take a group a little while to get going, and Fromis_9 appears to be one such group. Debuting in 2018 with a lineup formed on the survival series Idol School, their early career hit a few stumbling blocks in the form of injuries, members taking leave to compete on other survival shows, getting caught up in the Mnet vote-rigging scandal, and a fairly haphazard promotion schedule.
Thankfully, 2021 saw the ladies of Fromis_9 get some stability and start to fully build on their earlier, minor hits, leading to hopes that 2022 will see them fully turn the corner and break through into mainstream success. Still, the first few years of their career have some unusual gems hidden among them, showing an ability to step outside pure pop and dabble in genre work, to great success.
One of two unit tracks from From.9, “Dancing Queen” was one of the first times Fromis_9 proved what they could do beyond chipper pop. Saerom, Gyuri, Jisun, Chaeyoung, and Jiheon deliver a downright sultry track, drawing inspiration from jazz and the club acts of the 1940s. The bluesy tone of the piano and guitar do a great deal of the work in setting the tone, but the five singers match it perfectly.
They are siren-like, placing themselves as desirable objects in order to entrance the man they are seducing by allowing him to think he has the power. The passiveness shown is purely performative, utterly embodying the sexual doublethink that forties femme fatales used so well.
Then there’s “Love Rum Pum Pum” from Fun Factory. While on the surface it appears to be another glitzy love song, there is an underlying bite of hedonistic self-destruction. The synths give a sinister undertone that is only highlighted by how closely they mirror the crunchy guitar lines. The beat is less fun than frantic, with an aggressive carelessness to it. Then there’s Fromis_9 themselves, whose attempt to attract the man who’s just caught their eyes is less love at first sight than it is a desperate attempt to lose themselves in someone new, abandoning themselves in the thought of a new pleasure.
In a more pop-rock vein is “Mulgogi”. A deep cut off My Little Society, it captures a sense of nonchalance. There’s no plan, no goal, no set desire, just a need to lay back and chill out, like a fish swimming around. The languid guitar picks up on the maritime element of the lyrics, and it strikes just the right balance between energy and blissed out vibes. Mostly, though, “Mulgogi” wins its audience over with its optimism. Warm and bright, this is a song that has no idea what the future holds, but is dead certain it’s going to be good, which the world could really use more of.
That sense of optimism comes back again on “Promise”, the closing track from 9 Way Ticket. Yet, this is a more subtle and nuanced optimism, showing Fromis_9 start to mature. Delicate and wistful, this shows them reminiscing about a relationship that ended due to bad timing, and expresses the hope that they can rekindle things in the future. “Promise” also sees Fromis_9 embracing a richer vocal timbre, settling lower in their tones and allowing a more refined and melodic performance.
Rounding things out is “Escape Room”, from their most recent EP, Midnight Guest. “Escape Room” has them dipping fully into R&B, embracing the sultry side they’ve always had. Once again, Fromis_9 invokes a deliberate passivity, expecting their man to take the lead on an adventure. This time, however, it is a challenge rather than a ploy. They want to ensure their love interest is capable of innovating the chaos and excitement they crave, rather than always following the ladies’ lead. Moreover, they want to be certain this guy isn’t merely talking a big game, but actually wants the same glamorous life, and won’t expect them to change. Set against a deceptively sparse instrumentation, “Escape Room” is a smile designed to cut, to weed out any who can’t live up to Fromis_9’s expectations.
Over the past four years, Fromis_9 have made their mark with upbeat pop music, but there is a wealth of experiments with genre in their discography. You just have to look for it.
(Images via Pledis Entertainment, YouTube)