Sometimes it's easy to think of KPop stars as cultivated celebrities, meticulously crafted, dressed, trained and polished by their companies, given what to wear, how to stand, dance, sing, even what to say. And in most cases, for better or worse, that would be true, and despite the growing numbers of disgruntled, blacklisted, or shunned KPop stars, most don't complain much, given their bee-line to fame, and hopefully a little pocket change if not outright fortune.
Once their dual maknaes Umji and SinB turned 20, the mission became clear. Upgrade and modernize South Korea's innocent young sweethearts, Yeoja Chingu, better known off the peninsula as GFriend. The group, resembling a sisterhood of Utah mormon virgins, known for their precise "power choreo," adorably immaculate image, and saccharine over-produced bubblegum burst onto the scene from their tiny little company Source Music in 2015, and quickly won over the hearts of South Koreans.
First, it was "Glass Bead" and its carefully crafted video, displaying their priceless dimples and irrepressible youthful energy, girlish charm, and high school theme. As easy as it is for a jaded Westerner to poke fun at GFriend or 여자친구 (yeoja chingu) as they're known in Korea, the sextet's charm is infectious to anyone who can appreciate the uncomplicated, right down to Yerin's dimples, Eunha's doe eyes, leader Sowon's gawky long legs, and lead singer Yuju's earnestness.
Then came "Me Gustas Tu," a song so popular it was practically the national anthem of South Korea for a few short weeks as a fan-made video of the girls performing on a rain-soaked and slippery stage went viral, showing a couple of the members slipping repeatedly yet popping back up to finish the song. It's a difficult video to watch if you're the type that has any kind of empathy for a young performer and what they endured, and GFriend were roundly applauded for their conviction and example of perseverance. "Me Gustas Tu" set the stage for their first number one song and third of their high school trilogy, "Rough."
Still overproduced with its passionate teen angst vocals, warbly synths, thick strings, and passé electric guitar dance breaks, "Rough" from the E.P. Snowflake, established GFriend as a unique force in KPop, with a unique and unmistakable sound, a throwback to a more innocent time as the troubled and technological world, especially on the Korean peninsula, whirls seemingly out of control. GFriend carved out their "power-innocent" concept niche and perfected it with the next single "Navillera," their second number one song and the first to appear on Billboard's World Chart, peaking at number twelve.
In 2017, the six were now adults, and mature, polished performers, and Source, along with the members, worked to craft a newer image for the group, a risky proposition given GFriends almost universal acceptance in Korea and in Hallyu fanbases around the world. In their fourth E.P., aptly titled, The Awakening, they accomplished the mission, sending a blast over the bow with a unique and refreshing single and video, "Fingertip," that takes the group to a new level, finding a perfect stride between their mushy-but-energetic power-innocent roots and new confident, potent stage presence, powered as always by their precise, inventive, anime-inspired choreography.
"Fingertip" starts off with another throwback of sound, an intro with a wahwah synth, clavinet and slap bass, reminiscent of Billy Preston from the 1970's, before a screaming lead guitar unfolds into lead dancer SinB (Hwang Eun-bi) opening the mic with an aggressive "Yow" as the main verse kicks in. The choreography is once more precise and even more anime-inspired, the members popping and dropping almost martial poses as they shuffle in and out in a flurry of movement, locks of hair flinging about. The verses build confidently, rising in intensity as each member sings her part, leading to the group vocals in the chorus: "Tangtangtang! Fingertip ne mameul gyeonulge!" (I'll aim for your heart!)
Source wins, finding an inventive way to mature the GFriend sound without succumbing to slightest hint of promiscuity that so many groups before them have done. At the same time, "Fingertip" retains the group's singular musical style, albeit a more aggressive and mature one. Vocally, never really their forte, aside from their competent lead singer Yuju, GFriend remains the same, still girlish, very similar to the mutual aptitude of Crayon Pop or Oh My Girl. Their attire, all important in KPop, is still matching, and the uniforms in the video and live performances have gone from their pleated skirts to a marching band/military hybrid look with shorts and boots, striking and ageless.
GFriend is never going to win over the hearts and ears of Western audiences, aside from those already heavily inured to KPop culture. Their sound is not the least bit trendy or modern, but it is their own, and distinctively so. Here's "Fingertip:"
And for those interested in their split-second precise power choreo, the dance version:
Another particularly GFriend tune from The Awakening is "Hear The Wind Sing" and here is their performance of it during their comeback on M-Net's M-Countdown. Try not to notice SinB's tumble at the bridge. In true GFriend form, she pops back up and hits her solo perfectly:
I swear this song is what angels sing to babies as they drift off to take their first nap in mommy's arms... only GFriend can bring that kind of flavor...