[Single Review] f(x) – Red Light

Looks like f(x) did not pull a SISTAR19 teaser on me because that hardcore sound from the teasers is actually included in the final song. In fact, all of the teasers for “Red Light” released thus far have been not in the least bit misleading, which is refreshing because K-pop teasers often advertise something so wildly different from the final product that it’s annoying and disappointing.

“Red Light” is a conglomeration of three different songs. Yes, it is one of those songs, in the same family as SNSD’s “I Got A Boy” and EXO’s “Wolf“. While transitions between the portions of the song are poor to non-existent, the parts of the track themselves are pretty hardcore and intense, harkening back to f(x)’s “NU ABO” days, though f(x) has matured much since then. “Red Light” is a tiring song to listen to but certainly it is an exciting song that deserves that title track slot. The music video tries to be as deviant as the song as well and I will give SM props for their effort.

While I can guarantee you that this release will not be met with overwhelmingly positive reviews, I still believe it is one of the stronger title tracks from SM this year. The amount of edginess that “Red Light” exudes makes SNSD’s “Mr. Mr.” sound like a child’s lullaby. Where it lacks in cohesion, it tries to make up for it with intensity and uniqueness. I suppose you can always count on f(x) releases to be different and “Red Light” is definitely just that.

Music Video

Finally, the girls break away from the boxes and no longer gaze emptily at imaginary objects and now traverse through different backgrounds! There is a semblance of artistry and thought put into the video, which I wholly appreciate. They were billed with a dark, edgy concept and they delivered. Had the teaser for “Shadow” last year taken a darker, redder turn, it would have probably end up looking like this music video. There are ominous shots of an odd-eyed black cat, a burning book, a telephone, gas masked people, explosions, and other unsettling imagery.

A burning book?!Even if you condemn the visuals of this music video as pretentious and too dark, certainly you can at least appreciate the fact that it is a significant step up in production value from their last music video for “Rum Pum Pum Pum”. The sartorial choices were spot on, from the militaristic outfits that f(x) don during their dance sequences in that decrepit building to the jazzed up outfits to the pirate accessories.

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Though the whole projector on body thing is getting a bit overdone in indie music videos, I suppose another instance of it in a K-pop music video that is trying to be edgy and indie wouldn’t hurt. It definitely adds a needed splash of color to a video that is otherwise ominously dark.

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Choreography-wise, I think the snippets of the choreography shown in the music video are all very intricate so I am excited to see a live performance of the song. From what I can see, the choreography matches the energy of the song well and is well performed, which is unsurprising as f(x) is one of the better K-pop groups at dancing (after all, they did debut under the assumption that they would be the female SHINee).

One of my favorite parts of the choreography is this gem of a move near the end of the song. There is so much swag effusing from f(x), I cannot. LOL.

One of my favorite parts of the choreography is this gem of a move near the end of the song. There is so much swag effusing from f(x), I cannot. LOL.

All in all, I think this is a solid music video, especially from SM, who typically cheapens the music video experience with dance-in-a-box MV releases. The effort put into the video is apparent as the visuals are stunning and unsettling, in the same vein as the teaser photos that were released prior to this MV. It doesn’t exactly break any ground but I will sum it up but saying that this is pretty much SM’s take on a YG music video. Take it how you will. I, for one, think it is the kind of music video that I had anticipated for “Rum Pum Pum Pum” last year. One year late, SM, but you delivered.

Single

Ever since EXO came into existence, SM Entertainment seems to have developed a penchant for stringing together portions of seemingly disparate songs and stitching them up into Frankensteins of lead tracks and “Red Light” is yet another one of those songs. While these tracks make for a very interesting and exciting listen, they also are exhausting and busy as hell. One of the biggest aspects that need to be attended to carefully when producing these kinds of songs is the transitions that hold together the pieces of the song.

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Unfortunately, transitions seem to be SM’s Achilles’ heel as each portion of the song are so disparate from one another, which is the opposite of what a song like this is trying to accomplish. The trap vibe during the verses and the ethereal pre-choruses and the crazy, explosive choruses all sound like different songs that are trying to compete with one another for attention. Independently, each piece sounds rather brilliant but the slower trap verses and the fast-paced, frenetic choruses clash with one another and the tempo changes and the shifts in energy of the song make “Red Light” an especially exhausting listen.

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If anything, “Red Light” definitely sets itself apart from the flood of other K-pop releases. The f(x) brand is prominent here as you know it’s an f(x) song when you listen to it but there are very unique sounds to be found in this song. The trap verses are my favorite parts of the song (considering how excited I was to hear snippets of it through various teasers on music programs prior to this MV’s release) and, though trap seems to be gaining traction as the trendy genre in K-pop, I think “Red Light” does an especially good job at executing it and making it unique to f(x). The grinding techno sounds combined with the heavy bass sound absolutely hardcore.

Victoria is just so over Luna's "swag".

Victoria is just so over Luna’s “swag”.

One characteristic that I love about f(x) songs is that, while, sans Luna, f(x) doesn’t have a very strong inventory of vocals, they make up for it through layering on lovely harmonies. Even during their speak-singing portions, there will be harmonies to keep the vocals afloat. The glitchy vocal samplings and the oohs in the background during the psychotic choruses definitely add to the jittery, hyper energy exuded during those parts of the song. All in all, an aptly exciting title track and MV from f(x).

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Conclusion:

“Red Light” is an interesting albeit exhausting listen. The trap verses simmer in swagger while the choruses boil over with psychotic energy and this constant ebbing and flowing of energy, on paper, sounds interesting but, in practice, makes the song rather busy and messy. The individual parts sound absolutely hardcore and intense and amazing separately but, together, they clash with one another, murdering any semblance of cohesion.

I can’t say I hate this song; in fact, I think it will be indeed on repeat once the full album is release because I just have an affinity for strange pop music and I am totally digging them trap sequences. However, that being said, this song might not be received too warmly by casual listeners just because it isn’t your standard piece of pop. Coupled with an eerie and unsettling music video, “Red Light” might alienate listeners who gravitate toward more straightforward releases.

Regardless, “Red Light” asserts f(x) as a force to be reckoned with in the industry as, with this release, it seems as though SM is finally beginning to take f(x) seriously. Following the success of “Pink Tape”, I am hoping that the “Red Light” album will surpass the bar that was set last year. f(x) has so much potential to trump some big name groups in K-pop and this album might give them leverage to do so.

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TL;DR

Dark, unsettling music video coupled with an ominous, frenetic track that is essentially a bunch of tracks badly stitched together. Transitions between sections of the song are poor but the sections themselves are certainly not. 

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