I never thought much of f(x)‘s music before Pink Tape, though I’ve always found their sound interesting, or at least unique, relative to the rest of K-pop. There’s a quality that’s distinctly “theirs” about any song they’ve released, whether or not I like it (the like didn’t happen nearly as often as the dislike). When f(x) got their big break with “Hot Summer” and “Electric Shock,” which were very catchy but substance-less, I’d like to think that I warmed up to them more. However, warming up didn’t equate to having any appreciation for the music they put out. In that respect, Pink Tape changed everything for me. From the first track to the last, I took their music seriously. The girls indeed have grown up; no helium induced staccato chanting, no more boring electronic loops,
no more crazy outfits (just kidding!), and no more directionless albums.
“First Wisdom Tooth (Rum Pum Pum Pum)” is unfortunately a song that most people didn’t take too well. I’m not going to argue whether this should or shouldn’t be a title track (I think “Toy” would have worked best in theory), but I do want to defend the merit of the song. “First Wisdom Tooth” is far from the weakest song in Pink Tape; it happens to be one of the most expertly written. “Rum Pum Pum Pum” a subdued song that easily goes under the radar because its “genius,” per say, is in its nuances, which most pop music consumers don’t take the time to file through. The base guitar loop is fantastic, the chanting is enhanced by vocals which round the song, the production quality is phenomenal, and the group dynamic is perfectly utilized.
The last part, “group dynamic,” is what stood out to me most with “First Wisdom Tooth.” The canon-like elements and harmonies are the beauty of the song; no line is bare unless it is used as a kick off into the next section of the song. Even in the solo lines, there is humming (humming!) floating in the background on top of the instrumentation. Vocal ornamentation is what makes K-pop groups worthwhile—in other words, groups that make songs only groups can sing are worthwhile. If I can sing a K-pop group song very easily as a soloist, the value of both the song and the group drops because either the song appears simplistic or the members of group feel useless. It’s the emphasis on group song which what makes artists like the former DBSK stand out. Their music requires five people to embrace the core of the song; they’re not all there to look pretty or sing a couple of lines. f(x) manages to accomplish something similar with “First Wisdom Tooth.” Classy all around.
Next is the fan favorite, “Shadow” and it’s rightfully so. The song takes pop to elegant minimalism with splash of indie vibes. A simple melody over a simple instrumentation has never been so powerful. It’s the kind of song that makes me realize that simple =/= boring and makes execution and craftsmanship the difference between a bad first reaction to a song and a good one. The only bad thing is that it’s also a song that makes f(x)’s weaknesses as vocalists somewhat apparent, because a song like “Shadow” is all about singing with style, and when the group’s vocalists are unable to carry out those small vocal modulations, the seams in the song begin to show. “Pretty Girl” is a song that a lot of people would have preferred to be the title track for its catchiness and bold instrumentation and beat. I don’t see how the choreo would work out, but I enjoy the track for the pop earworm it is. Structurally there isn’t much going for it: a guitar line, some synths, some “whoo”s, and lots of processing. Novel, indeed. (Where’s that sarcasm font when you need it? *Searches frantically through Tumblr dashboard*)
“Kick” is a song reminiscent of the old f(x), a past I hope they leave behind. This is definitely the weakest song of the bunch, as it’s haphazard in style and full of musical bells and whistles. The pre-chorus is beautiful, but the chorus is all over the place. It’s not terrible like some songs we know quite well from SM, and I am forever thankful that they didn’t make this song the title. Since it’s in B-side land, I think I can enjoy the experimentalism and journey through “Kick” without being furious at SM for overtly promoting it.
“시그널 (Signal)” I like for its electronic take on a retro melody, it has the right amounts of sass and minimalism to provide depth and make it an engaging track instead of an annoyingly boring one. It’s also a nice interlude between “Step” and “Kick,” which are both vibrant songs. In any case, “Signal” is classic Kenzie that you’d find more of on Shinee albums.
My guilty pleasure track is “Step,” which pulls retro elements into a modern uptempo. The chanting is surprisingly bearable, probably because I’m in love with the verses and the chorus—especially the parts with harmonization between Krystal and Luna. The bridge is the only dropping point of this song because it’s choppy and far too short. It starts out well with a great melodic build-up, but then gets lost when abrupt drops follow more than once.
There’s a twinge of disappointment from the f(Luna+Amber+Krystal) track this year (feat. Exo‘s Kyung-soo) because it’s no where near as addictive as last year’s “Beautiful Stranger,” which was by far the best track from Electric Shock. “Goodbye Summer” nonetheless is a smooth and well executed track, but has difficulty fitting in properly with the mood and depth of Pink Tape, though it works well as a pausing track between “Step” and “Airplane” much like “Signal” does. “Goodbye Summer” also faces the unfortunate fate of having Kyung-soo’s presence overbearing enough to the point I’d rather call it a Kyung-soo solo featuring Luna, Amber, and Krystal. Honestly, I think the track would have been perfectly fine with just the trio, and for a young Noizebank and Amber composed track, it’s pretty impressive.
“Airplane” is my favorite track from Pink Tape, as electronica with an ambient vibe will not ever be a bad thing in my book. The sound pulls a lot from Zedd and Kaskade‘s brand of music though I think it remains firmly in F(x) territory overall. This song is a perfect example of how dubstep should be approached in K-pop; the high and lows created by the dubstep are paired with airy vocals that juxtapose each other seamlessly throughout the song instead of acting as a needless and jarring “breakdown” interlude (see “Catch Me”). I can even forgive the “Gangnam Style”-esque chorus intro because all the awesome everywhere else in the song. I don’t know if f(x) has the stage presence carry both energy and melodic nature of the song live, but I really hope they do. (They should get tips from Younha). The only other thing I wish they did in “Airplane” is emphasize the upper-line as an equal and parallel vocal component instead of the weak thing we actually get.
“Airplane” really marks the beginning the string of phenomenal tracks that make the highlight of Pink Tape. While “Airplane” strongly resembled Zedd, “Toy” oddly resembles…DBSK pre and post lawsuit, except a female version. If the musical feel of “Catch Me” met “Rising Sun”‘s big, bold, aggressive mash-up sound (thanks McRoth) and you mixed in f(x)’s brand with it, you’d get “Toy.” The main melody makes for an amazing performance track (where’s that f(x) tour, SM?) that has the old “SMP” magic without leaving the modernism of f(x). THIS is the track that “Wolf” and “IGAB” should have been: epic, confident and “cohesive” (in context of the minutiae).
Each verse has a different structure style that is intertwined by the main chorus and by the scattering of those various structures within all the stylized verses. Nothing in this song alienates the other parts of the song. You can hear parts of the second verse in the very beginning, and the rap/chant in the first verse is reflected in the chorus and a bit in the second verse as well as right before the dubstep breakdown. “Toy” also has a strong instrumental from the beginning to push the momentum through the “dubstep breakdown” such that the latter doesn’t destroy the tone of the rest of the song. But what is by far the best part of “Toy” is the gorgeous bridge that actually thematically unifies the entire song right into the end. Who knew that a song with an unassuming name like “Toy” packed the kind of punch it does?[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9I9woSGzb4]
“No More” is the easy mid-tempo I was looking for since “Signal,” and almost-but-not-quite got out of “Goodbye Summer.” Vibrant, 50s retro, and very f(x). This is a song that fits the vocal composition of the group to a ‘T’ and my only problem is that it ended far too soon and far too abruptly, leaving the listener without a truly conclusive moment in the song.
Musical influenced numbers can either hit all the right tones or fall horribly flat, and thankfully “Snapshot” works impeccably well. Two parts sass, one part classic, and one part unabashed fun makes for a fantastic track. I’m really digging the chanting style from f(x) in this song and Pink Tape overall. Before, it was just a pathetic way to cover up mediocre singing, but here it’s a welcome stylistic addition. And those snapshot sounds? A perfect cutting tone in the song with a graceful balance between edgy and classy.
“Ending Page” tops every mid-tempo in this album, with an awesome foundational pop-rock instrumentation. What I like most about this track is how it stays away from letting the cliched melody of the chorus become the focal point of the song, and drives attention to the beautifully crafted verses. The chorus serves as a transitional element that jumps from one wonderful verse to the next. The full sound is powerful, enticing and one heck of a way to end the album. The transformation between Electric Shock and Pinocchio to Pink Tape can be described in one word (or three): maturity, maturity, maturity. Everything in Pink Tape is mature pop that shows great production and care in crafting each and every song. There is not one disappointedly bad track in sight. Mark my words, PInk Tape is going to be a defining album in the future of f(x), if enough people see the merit behind its unconventional exterior. Pop takes a lot of effort to master and give depth to, and it’s rather shocking that f(x) would be the group in K-pop to take experimental pop to the next level with class.
Everything about Pink Tape screams confidence and self-assurance to an extent that I hadn’t seen in f(x) and in K-pop as a whole for a long time. Wimpy pop is failed pop, and girl groups are most privy to this pitfall because they park themselves in the saccharine melodies that sell well digitally. F(x) took a risk in making their brand fit better among the niche sound that male groups more often take without sacrificing femininity. But it completely paid off—f(x) has the room to expand in both the compositional and vocal direction without losing what fundamentally makes the group what it is. Pink Tape captures this maturity, youthfulness and confidence in one tight and elegant package; I couldn’t have asked for more from f(x).
Best album from SM this year. Period.