f(x) Solidifies Brand of Quirky, Hipster Pop With 'Red Light' Album

f(x)

S.M.Entertainment Co., Ltd.

The girl group bring hip-hop chants, animal noises, twinkling synths, horror-movie screams and more on their new LP

Last July, f(x) dropped new single "Rum Pum Pum Pum" – a mix of samba, funk and yuletide carols that (somehow brilliantly) blended to give the girl group its first No. 1 on the K-Pop Hot 100. A year later, the quintet returns with "Red Light" for a track that boasts more elements of a mainstream hit, but features a slew of surprise quirks baked inside – a theme held throughout their new album of the same name.

A zippy, phat bass line, ticking clock, snare drums and stadium-sized clapping open "Red Light" featuring members Krystal and Sulli's confident coos. By the 22-second mark a hip-hop bass drop is added, at 0:37 the track is growing into an epic EDM buildup until the chorus hits at 0:52, turning the song into a hyperactive, synth-pop banger. The track continues in a similar, jerky fashion, adding vocal layers, hair-raising harmonies and ad-libs to the addictive melodies at will. While it'd be tough to not label the bubble-gummy hooks as pop, the aural twists and turns give the track an exciting, exploratory element, forcing the listener to listen again to catch the different parts. 

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With their left-field mix of pop, hip-hop and EDM, "Red Light" feels like the type of track Britney Spears fans were hoping the pop star would come back with last year, instead of the monotonous "Work Bitch." "Red Light" isn't particularly difficult to sing, but does include a slew of silky melody lines (nailed by f(x)'s resident rapper Amber, in particular) that Brit could have easily handled. 

"Red Light" is also a bit reminiscent to "Mr.Mr." by labelmates Girls' Generation, whose latest single had an easy-to-follow hook, but had quick, staccato-like ad-libs peppered throughout each section. 

The rest of the "Red Light" LP plays similarly to its title track, featuring elements of well-crafted, mainstream pop, but with a healthy dose of unique quirk to establish f(x) as the hip alternate to K-pop skeptics. 

"Milk" opens with cat meows, dog barks and a sample of a gun trigger loading before moving to the rhythmic, Bollywood-inspired production backing the girls' alien-like harmonies. But keeping the "pop" element of their brand of K-pop, there's a catchy, respective chorus line topped off with a ubiquitous whistle section.

The record boasts other delicious synth-pop infusions including "Rainbow" (mixing hip-hop chants with synths), "Butterfly" (the booming beats and wonky synths on the verses are smoothed over by a lush, coo-heavy chorus), "All Night" (a twinkling, '80s-synth jam that packs a punch with its jolting chorus), "Dracula" (schoolgirl chants and playful raps are juxtaposed with samples of thunderstorms and horror-movie screams) and more throughout the 11-track set.

f(x)'s 2013 album, "Pink Tape," hit No. 21 on Billboard's Heatseekers Albums chart in August, meaning a Billboard 200 entry wasn't too far away. Upon further cementing their hip take on the bright and bubbly K-pop, f(x) has certainly cemented themselves as an independent K-pop force, which could help them land on America's definitive albums chart.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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