f(x) / Red Light / July 07, 2014
The big question about f(x)’s new album was always going to be whether or not it stood up to last year’s Pink Tape. As far as perfect pop records go, there weren’t many contenders to Pink Tape, which kind of puts f(x) in a unique position: for some reason, I get the sense that they might not be as widely regarded as Girls’ Generation or 2NE1 (says totallyamazing: “SM has successfully sold me f(x) as the oddball younger sisters of Girls’ Generation” and mixtapesandlinernotes asserts: “It’s days like this I’m thankful that f(x) is on the fringes of the SM talent pool”), yet their output is at times far superior. Both groups have already released albums this year: GG’s Mr.Mr. inspired a collective meh from its audience, and 2NE1’s CRUSH wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was unfortunately released far too long after their last mini-album, making some wonder whether the wait was worth it, or if there should have been more substance to something that took, three singles notwithstanding, almost three years to finally cultivate. But Red Light, mere days after its release, is already respected as one of the best albums of the year, a quintessential collection of pop standards, all hovering somewhere around the three minute mark to boot.
While Red Light is certainly a more mature work than its predecessor, it functions as more of a darker sequel to the art-house aesthetic of Pink Tape (though we’re still forever jumping over Instagram filters and Urban Outfitters ads since the inception with these guys). Many tracks neatly book end each other, such as the lead electro-pop singles (“Cheos Salangni (Rum Pum Pum Pum)” and “Red Light“), the two retro (70’s disco strings in “Signal,” smooth 80’s synths in “All Night”), hip-pop (“Kick” and “Mujigae”), and the ballad ending tracks (“Ending Page” and “Jongi Shimjang (Paper Heart)”). Rather than trying to surpass the work of Pink Tape, the writers emulate a lot of what worked so well, with an overwhelming degree of success. One can’t hold a grudge against this, anymore than a group that succeeds by making drastic changes you’re not partial to. For its part, the rest of the album is just as young and slick as we’re used to expect from the group, with subtle elements defining what really makes the album stand out (the bhangra drums on “MILK” are a particularly interesting choice, the way the last syllable in Dracula is drawn out in “Dracula” turns the sinister saccharine, and “Vacance” is a great companion to GG’s “Europa”).
Red Light will surely go down as one of the year’s highlights, especially where K-pop is concerned: there’s only a few more “comebacks” before all the major labels have flexed their finest, and the rookie groups continue to flail at a spectacular level. Red Light, while simple at its core, and almost elementary in its lyrics, is filled with some of the healthiest hooks and this-is-my-jam opportunities we’re likely to see all year.