After an impressive emergence, DSP Media's all-in bet to return to relevance, the co-ed quartet, K.A.R.D returns with the second of three planned "pre-debut" singles, "Don't Recall." Considering DSP's recent track record of clumsy disbandments of Kara and Rainbow, they could not have asked for a better reception. K.A.R.D kicked off the week as one of the hottest iTunes downloads on the planet. If their next release is this successful, we'll have to stop talking about how much we miss Kara and Rainbow.
Once again, after another game-changing and universally praised album that seemed to save their status as KPop's cool kid girl group, the future of f(x) is murky after a recent temper tantrum by Amber on Instagram, complaining about what seemed to be her monolithic company, SM. The members solo projects and growth as musical artists has offered their fans hope for a promising follow up to 4 Walls. The latest glimpse of their enigmatic maknae only enhance that glimmer of hope.
While their leader Victoria, a movie star in China, regularly missed appearances during their promotion of "4 Walls," lead vocalist Luna seemed to become the face of the group, wowwing the South Korean viewing audiences with both her stirring performances on the bizarre and now legendary program "King of Masked Singer" and releasing a powerful and vastly underrated solo E.P. Free Somebody, embracing and extending musical concepts the quartet mastered in 4 Walls. Androgynous Rapper Amber worked with Luna and on her own, producing a series of solo and collaborative work, branching out into EDM, hiphop, and pop, while documenting her life as KPop's official tomboy on her You Tube channel "Ranting Monkey." Unseen in the public eye after their live tour and Japanese single "Cowboy" was the mysterious and often aloof American maknae, Krystal.
Given the solid work by Luna and adventurous musical forays of Amber, along with their remarkable and frenetic "Cowboy", the STATION EDM-flavored and self-directed toss-away "All Mine," it would seem that more and more that f(x) members unfolding as artists with their own musical sensibilities and charismatic stage presence would bode well for a fifth L.P. or at least a comeback E.P. The recent collaboration between Krystal and June One Kim of the indie group Glen Check only enhances that promise.
The video is disturbing but not unexpectedly so, given "Soojung's" known propensity for the avant garde in her personal tastes, shown by her Instagram postings and even on the short lived reality show "Krystal and Jessica" in which the contrast of her and sister Jessica, formerly of Girls' Generation were often striking. Whereas Jessica's aesthetic is saccharine and conservative, Krystal's reputation is that of a hipster, even spending her downtime in New York, hitting jazz clubs. One can only wonder what forces are at work in Soojung's mindset, given that she was recruited along with her sister at a ridiculously young age, first discovered by SM Entertainment at the age of five, and finally allowed by her parents to join her older sister at SM at the tender age of 12. She debuted with f(x) at the age of 14, displaying a commanding and confident stage presence that belied her youth, but known to be reserved and somewhat aloof off-stage.
When Jessica was booted from SM and SNSD after spending too much time on her fashion line Blanc and Eclair, it came at a time when f(x) visual Sulli was also on the outs with SM, having fallen for an older man and creating her own stir on Instagram. KPop fans have a strange obsession to their idol's relationships, and in fact, most KPop stars are forbidden to date at all. Soon Sulli was gone, leaving the fate of f(x) in jeopardy, especially given SM's cash dump and promotional emphasis on their hoobae group Red Velvet. Few had any idea how Jessica's messy divorce with SM would affect the status of the wildly popular Krystal, who must have been torn in two emotionally. When 4 Walls was released, its universal and even international acceptance and success seemed to save the group, and launched them in new more mature and trendy directions, embracing electronica and EDM, in particular.
As cracks once more shake the foundation of the quartet that Spin Magazine called "the world's greatest living pop group," the sweetly distinctive voice of their precocious maknae surfaces, surrounded a sumptuous bath of synths and the vocals of June One Kim, from an independent group that, while Korean, always records in English. The mysterious wash of sound, flavored by eery pitch transposed vocal runs is a sublime background for Krystal's unmistakable voice.
As sisters, it's not surprising that the two have very similar sounding voices, but their aesthetic effect could not be more different, due to the very different contexts in which they're presented. Both voices have a sugary lilt, perfect English, and precise diction that makes them instantly recognizable. While Jessica has been surrounded by the Soshi bubblegum of Girls' Generation's squeaky clean image, Krystal's voice has added a fresh ring of youth to the edgy, ecclectic and adventurous repertoire of their hoobaenim, f(x).
In "I Don't Want To Love You," her dulcid voice sparkles amid the chilled-out wave surrounding it. The song, released not by SM, but by the brashly independant BANA (Beasts and Natives) label, is entirely in English, suited perfectly for her brief trills. The lush sound features not only layers of smooth, sultry synths, but is also flavored wonderfully with rolling tympany and acoustic bass runs, rambling jazz guitar riffs, and a number of different percussive effects. This is Korean chillwave at its finest. The most unfortunate aspect of "I Don't Want To Love You" is its brevity. Krystal really only sings one chorus, in a wistful, soft warble. This is not your typical KPop formula, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, heightened verse/chorus. Check it:
It would be nice to think that the musical strides shown by Luna, Amber and now Krystal will mean yet another memorable if not iconic album from KPop's most adventurous girl group, but that remains to be seen and nothing is a given these days, as always, with f(x).