Thursday, July 17th, 2014

f(x) – Red Light

Jukeboxers agree: It’s Better Than Tiesto!


Madeleine Lee: I find this song hard to love, and it’s not because it’s bad, but because it’s intimidating. Where other songs with this kind of pile-on organizational structure end up limp or directionless, “Red Light” wields its beat changes with purpose, and if you can’t keep up, too bad. I may find it hostile, but I’ll still dance to it, in a circle facing my friends and with my elbows out.

Anthony Easton: For a song called “Red Light,” does anything move faster, refuse any guidelines including narrative, and just speed into a kind of fucked up oblivion? Gorgeous and smooth with textures that work like Adderall after an all nighter.

Iain Mew: Nothing ever stops moving, there’s a clock ticking extra fast to emphasise the hurry, and the effect is like turning the disorientating transitions of “I Got a Boy” or “Wolf” into an entire song. The ease that f(x) bring to the vocals holds it together — they always sound in control of where they’re going, and that makes whizzing through the harsh landscape thrilling rather than uncomfortable.

Patrick St. Michel: “Try to breathe for a moment,” f(x) sing, but good luck with that. “Red Light” is controlled chaos at its finest, a whirring song that packs in so many details and zips off in so many directions at once that it should break down at some point. Clocks tick, bass rumbles like its processing itself through a talkbox, and voices spill into and over one another. And that’s all just before the faux-chorus breakdown swivels into a finale full of disembodied voices stuttering off in the back. It’s disorganization made orderly — it took five people total to write and two to produce — and great evidence that overproduction works wonders when everything clicks into place just right, even if the end result is sort of suffocating.   

Hazel Robinson: Aw, man. This was all menacing bass and Little Mix strut, and then it hits the boshed up bit and drops the menace completely, like it turning out the gun pointed at your head is a super soaker.

Alfred Soto: Its kinetics impressive, it nevertheless boats spongy keyboards and an air horn transition — in 2014 the most obnoxious musical element. Yellow means proceed with caution, you know.

Megan Harrington: In translation, f(x)’s red light is the universal sign for stop, but from the spooky ringing rotary phone that opens the music video to the crank thrush of the beat, “Red Light” sounds devilish. I can’t help but imagine eyeballs glowing red in the dark and rooms stained red with blood. Something sinister lurks beneath the creaking dance floor boards. 

Brad Shoup: Harsher than “STUPiG,” my 2014 gold standard for pop needle detonation. Once you get past the refrain’s PCD first half, there’s some shrill — and astounding — harmonies. They don’t have long to register, because once the track establishes its excellent boom-bap/croaking Benassi-style synthbass combo, it’s off to the death races.

Jessica Doyle: Multiple people (including myself) have in the past fallen into the trap of looking to f(x) as a more “authentic”/creative/independent/pick-your-vaguely-positive-adjective alternative to the K-pop girl-group formula, now running on overdrive: all the SISTARs and Stellars and Girls’ Days and Tahitis and AOAs and Dal*Shabets competing to be the next SNSD, or at the very least the next Miss A. Such thinking is comforting — interesting maximalist beats! arty packaging! Amber! — and, like a lot of comforting thinking, bullshit. The K-indie scene exists, and f(x) is not part of it. The lack of overtly sexual choreography is almost certainly SM Entertainment’s decision rather than the group’s; the skittering cockroach beat comes courtesy of a UK-based publishing house who has also written for DBSK and Super Junior (as well as Little Mix and Miley Cyrus); and when not opening “Red Light” Krystal has been filming a gentle reality show with her sister Jessica… of SNSD. I love “Red Light” for its impressive packaging of ambiguity — the pleas to slow down and breathe that come right before the chorus kicks in; the chill in the production versus the affectionate warning of the lyrics; the gloomy atmosphere versus Krystal’s shrug at 3:20 — but don’t mistake it for anything revolutionary, in terms of personal expression. The machine is capable of a lot. The women currently working with the machine are capable of a lot.

Reader average: [8.81] (22 votes)

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9 Responses to “f(x) – Red Light”

  1. I would’ve given this a 5, not because it’s not impressive, but because I can’t get over how much more I like the original demo. Maybe the jarringness of f(x)’s version was intended, but I kind of suspect the song was supposed to be just a tad more coherent.

  2. Or maybe I would’ve given it a 6… but the demo would have been an 8 or a 9.

  3. Totally agree with Megan in that there’s a subtle undercurrent of malice in f(x) songs. You can feel it in Pink Tape, and precursors like Pinocchio.
    And I’m curious Jessica, when you say “machine” which is pretty insulting, as it means mindless or perfunctory, why are you even reviewing pop songs? Never thought I’d see this shit in TSJB. Having a seperate marketing and production team is standard procedure ALL across the board. Yeah, professionals work together with professionaIs, so fucking what? Art school graduates can actually do something with their degrees. Songwriters who can’t sing or play instruments make songs for other people. The parts all come together and it’s bullshit? Fuck you.

  4. @laurentian: Completely agree. I was thinking the same thing myself.

  5. By “bullshit” I was referring to the idea that f(x) should be regarded as superior to its girl-group rivals by virtue of being more “artistic” or “creative” or “hipster” or what have you. The product may be different but the process is the same. (Or to put it another way, Amber and Krystal are not, and almost certainly do not regard themselves as, superior to Hyolyn and Hyuna.) If you thought I was calling the music itself bullshit I did a pretty horrible job of making my point.

  6. To further clarify: the potential to confuse the female performer with her persona exists, and in K-pop it sometimes plays out as privileging f(x) (IU and Ailee may be in this category too) over groups that get assigned more standard aegyo/sexy concepts. I’m taking by a critical audience, not the more general one. And I know this because I did it, and then was forced to question the assumptions I’d made.

    So what I wanted to do here — and failed in doing, apparently — was celebrate “Red Light” without implying that f(x) was somehow cooler than another group (or that I was cooler for liking f(x)’s work). I’ve yet to see a girl group that wasn’t hard-working and interested, and a lack of imagination should be assigned to the company/managers, not the performers themselves.

    The fact that f(x) comes out of SM shouldn’t be an impediment to admiring their work, and I apologize if I implied that it did.

  7. Has to be said that in their tag along TV show Jessica and Krystal spend quite a lot of time talking about how different they are and how Krystal likes darker, tougher styles. Though they’re very lovey dovey with each other.

    The artsy visuals (even with an ‘art film’ released to buzz their last album) and aesthetics certainly lend an easy hipster vibe to f(x) that may lure some people – and arguably has, as they’re the only idol group to be nominated every year (and almost win every year) in several categories for the more snobbish, artiste-friendly Korean Music Awards – but SM have followed up the hype with quality material so it’s hard to complain, and I was head over heels in love with their sound and performance from their more anonymously packaged debut (by Kenzie, who did the lyrics for this and co composed/produced the great album track Milk) – is there a group in k-pop with a more flawless singles run?

  8. I’m used to bullshit transitions in late-Romantic classical music, which was one of the reasons I Got a Boy never fazed me. Getting to play said bullshit crazy transitions in orchestra endeared me to them because they’re really fun to master, so while the demo is pretty flawless in its progression as a banger, I love how disruptive the f(x) version is. It fits Red Light in as Rum Pum Pum Pum’s twisted sister, especially by maintaining the through-line of f(x)’s vocal harmony.

    Also agree with Megan and Laurentian about the sinister undertones of the song. My word vomit about it found that Red Light’s aural narrative was “desperately running away from the hangover.”

  9. f(x) looking like a dicey proposition these days (all group activities cancelled followed Sulli’s decision to quit the industry)… looks like they won’t be promoting more than one song/album/mini a year anytime soon.