written by: compliant
f(x) is a girl group consisting of five members: Victoria, Luna, Krystal, Sulli, and Amber, in no particular order. For as long as I can remember, Luna has been the go-to vocal for f(x) and Amber raps. I’m sure their fans will be telling me how talented and hard-working and unique they are. How they do things with their own style and colour, and how they’re Positive Quality X, which is totally unlike The Rest of K-Pop, which includes Groups I Really Hate. They’ll probably cite awards and sales figures. I’m here to tell you that I really don’t care.
From a musical standpoint, for me, f(x) is a group whose songs I’m either going to like, or really really not like. Let’s see if “Electric Shock” will change my mind.
As I was listening through “Electric Shock” for the first time, I’m sitting there, well, shocked. Here I was expecting the other 87 keys of the SM piano to be rendered useless, and yet I could count enough notes to make a victory sign. “Electric Shock” has a song intro that reminds me of NU ABO, where the verses were composed to get us ready for the chorus, except that this is a lot…thumpier. (And none of those annoying unni squeals.) As with Chu, Hot Summer, and NU ABO, the verses of f(x)’s latest single only serve as a huge hype machine to get us ready for the core of the song – the chorus. Borrowing yet another page from NU ABO, the chorus of “Electric Shock” is made for us to sing along loudly with – electronic thumpy beats and all – so we can consume it in its catchy, manufactured, commercialized glory. It is what it is.
Then we have the pre-chorus, where everything slows down. It’s free of autotune, and has a simple rhythm to complement Luna’s little solo. It’s a segment that gets repeated a number of times, and, after the last verse fades, acts as a nice change-of-pace middle 8. This slowed-down bit is easily the best-sung portion of the entire song, and on its own, I would’ve loved to hear more. On its own. Unfortunately, when put together with the rest of “Electric Shock”, it just sounds horribly out of place. Without the end of the pre-chorus to remind us of what the song title is, you’re essentially going from a ballady solo floating on trance beats to THUMP THUMP na na na na. In fact, for the rest of the song, the Luna solo gets repeatedly sandwiched by electro-heavy verses and the electro-heavy chorus. The last song I recall being this bipolar? “Mirror Mirror” by 4Minute. (Which is precisely why I had to fix it.)
After “Electric Shock” was over, I was thinking, “Has SM finally realized how stupid one-note compositions are?” Alas, no. The next track, “Jet” starts off with a heavy dance intro as a hype-builder, but what it really ends up being is a combination of one-note verses and one-note choruses. But the note used by the chorus is pitched significantly higher than that of the verses! And it’s not entirely a one-note song! No, aside from the middle 8, the only part of the song to have a real melody is the insignificant “da na na na na” bits. Yeah, sure it’s fast-paced/catchy or whatever, but it doesn’t make SM look any less lazy. Again.
I wish I had something good to say about “Zig Zag”, because it is, rather embarrassingly, nothing but a variant of the previous track. I gave the verses a pass at first, because maybe SM intended it to be a rap-heavy section. Once the song was given a melody, it just became another series of one-note sections pieced together, except with more urban-sounding beats.
And then we get to “Beautiful Stranger”. I’ll admit, I got creeped out by the trance beats at the beginning at first. As you listen further, however, you realize that the beats don’t stay creepy-like. They evolve. They get slightly louder, and then get a thumpy beat attached. Now we’ve got something. The rap kicks in, the song gets enhanced by double guitar riffs. And just like “Zig Zag”, I gave it a pass because maybe the rap’s supposed to be there to give some oomph to the subsequent bits. By this point, though, I was so fed up with the previous two tracks that this song was either going to make me give up on the album, or give it another chance.
The wonderful thing about “Beautiful Stranger” is that it’s not just another one-note party. Krystal is given a part that takes the pitch from the level of a talking voice, and threads it gradually into an actual melody. As Krystal’s part ends, the song keeps building momentum to a point where there’s almost a seamless transition to the bit where the trio harmonizes the singing of the song’s title. More and more tone colours get added to the song as the momentum builds, but each one is kept simple so as not to crowd the vocals. Once the chorus is over, the excitement snaps and you’re back down to the verses, where the song starts you on the same musical ride once again. “Beautiful Stranger” is easily my favourite track on this mini-album.
In “Love Hate”, the beats take on a lesser role, but the girlish melody just doesn’t mesh well with beats better suited for hip-hop. Only the prechorus had something resembling a tune. I wasn’t sure, though, whether the singing was trying to match the tune of the synth in the background, or whether the synth was trying to match the tune of the singing. Vocals almost never match the background bits note-for-note, so for “Love Hate” to feature that in the pre-chorus just tells me that someone couldn’t be bothered to put in some real effort. Then we get to the chorus, which is nothing but 10 seconds of girly cheerleading. Everything was just done super lazily in this song. Not to mention another electro-dance intro with yet another rap-dominated verse. Nothing to see here.
The final track puts f(x)’s vocals on an organ track that invokes images of a cathedral on a Sunday. Or a wedding. There’s a certain atmosphere that then gets abruptly cut off once actual musical rests get placed in Luna’s parts. It resumes, but throughout the song, the organ gets cut off again. And again. It’s in the second verse for longer periods of time, but gets entirely omitted in the chorus. Instead of rudely interrupting the organ bits with forced pauses, “Let’s Try” would have been better off borrowing a page from Park Bom’s “You and I” and have the organ run throughout. If they didn’t like the organ going for the whole song, at least make some decent transitions. The chorus is another nicely harmonized segment à la “Beautiful Stranger”, but then we get slapped with an awkward post-chorus. The first bit of the post-chorus flows with the rest of the song, but the rest of it is such an unpleasantly sharp dropoff that I’m left wondering why it’s even there. What’s worse, this awkward post-chorus is used to end off the song – acapella no less – as if it were worthy of it. Instead, it sounds unsurprisingly out of place.
“Electric Shock”, as a mini album, has its merits. Once SM composers decided to give songs a real tune and put actual effort into producing them, you get stuff that people wouldn’t mind listening to. Nevertheless, the mini-album gets a fairly low score. Most of this, though, can be blamed on the fact that two tracks (a third of the entire mini!) are using the same tired SM formula where entire sections of songs consist of nothing but a single note. Unfortunately, as much as they’re fun to listen to, the catchy thumpy beats get used in exactly the same way for the upbeat tracks, strung into almost identical verse-chorus structures. In the end, just like Track 5 indicates, I have a “Love Hate” relationship with this mini. There are songs that I do like, but f(x), for me, continues to be a group whose work is going to be pretty good half the time, but also awful half the time.
| Points scale
0 – could do without
0.5 – not bad/filler
0.75 – pretty good/grew on me
1 – liked immediately
Points to stars conversion: [(3.5/6) x 5] + 0.25*
*there is a 0.25 bonus for every album. The logic is that, if every song were “pretty good”, it’s a 4-star album.