History of K-Pop: f(x)

History of K-Pop: f(x)

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It’s officially 2018, which means it’s almost f(x)’s tenth year together. The girl group was formed in 2009 by SM Entertainment and debuted with five members: Victoria, Amber, Krystal, Sulli, and Luna. The girls made their debut during a time that would later be unofficially recognized as the “second generation” of K-pop groups, or groups that debuted roughly between 2005 and 2010. In other words, they followed the first-generation groups of the 90s, who existed in an industry largely without modern hallmarks, like digital sales or social media, and forayed into a new world—one where the rise of the Internet posed a challenge to entertainment labels to be more experimental and more innovative than ever.

f(x)’s debut under SM Entertainment saw them join the ranks of existing SM groups and K-Pop powerhouses TVXQ, Super Junior, Girls’ Generation, SHINee, and more. However, the group formed a distinct image right away, having a more experimental and electronic sound than most of their labelmates. This began with their debut song, “LA chA TA” which was released along with a corresponding music video on September 2, 2009.

Notably, the group’s collective appearance strayed away from that of many girl groups at the time. While many other groups made public appearances in color-coordinated or perfectly matching group outfits, the members of f(x) were often styled distinctly from one another from head to toe, adding a dimension of individuality to the group’s overall concept. For example, Amber’s androgynous personal style was incorporated into her styling during promotions and performances, and the members were often seen with unique hairstyles and outfits that incorporated grunge or punk fashion trends. This helped establish the group as the pioneers of a K-Pop subculture of sorts—that is, those who weren’t typically drawn to K-Pop overall could still find something they enjoyed in f(x)’s body of work.

The group released their first full-length album, Pinocchio, in 2011, followed by their second album, Electric Shock, in 2012. While their promotions for the single “Pinocchio” garnered eight music show wins, indicating great commercial success within Korea, their second album brought them to even greater heights. The girls not only received more critical acclaim for their work, but also rocketed to the number two spot on the Billboard K-Pop Hot 100 with the single “Electric Shock.” Additionally, the girls were awarded the “Best Dance Performance” award for female performers at the Mnet Asian Music Awards. According to a 2013 Billboard article, these accolades helped the girls snag an invitation to perform at South by Southwest (stylized as SXSW) in Austin, Texas, making them the first K-Pop group to perform at the popular American music festival. The girls headlined a special event called “K-Pop Night Out At SXSW” and performed on a bill with numerous other Korean music acts.

 Credit: Billboard Korea

Credit: Billboard Korea

The event served as more than mere recognition for f(x). It was also an opportunity for them to perform in a smaller venue to a dedicated audience of international listeners, as well as a huge step forward for the future of K-Pop performances in the United States. Before the existence of K-Pop festivals like KCON, it was unlikely that K-Pop groups would be able to perform in a festival setting in the United States. However, f(x) broke the mold and played to a full house—or rather, 550-person venue—in Austin that year. As Amber said in the Billboard interview following the event, “SXSW definitely broadens horizons.”

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The group continued to receive critical acclaim in the following years. In 2013, they released their second full-length album, Pink Tape, which was successful in both South Korea and America. The album even landed a spot on Fuse’s list of the 41 best albums of 2013, and f(x) were the only Korean artists featured on the list. To promote the album, instead of releasing traditional teaser images and videos, the group released an abstract “art film,” featuring not only snippets of their music, but musings about love and scenes that appear almost like hazy memories, eerie and enchanting all at once.

In July 2014, the group released their third album, Red Light, which was also met with widespread approval. However, the group went through a bit of a rough patch; shortly after the group began promoting the album, SM Entertainment announced that Sulli would take a hiatus due to health issues. The label also cancelled the rest of f(x)’s album promotions, wrapping up the promotional period earlier than originally intended. In late 2015, it was announced that Sulli had officially parted from the group, and that f(x) would continue to promote as a quartet.

In spite of this, the remaining members went on to release their fourth studio album, 4 Walls, in October of that year. According to critics, this album allowed the members to better showcase their vocal abilities than previous albums had. Additionally, the group’s musical style evolved, combining their signature electropop sound with elements of UK garage, synthpop, house music, and EDM. The album topped the Billboard World Albums Chart, and in January 2016, the group began their first concert tour, titled Dimension 4 - Docking Station.

As of right now, f(x) has yet to return with another full album. However, the group members are hardly inactive. All four members have had solo activities during the last two years, whether in music, acting, or other creative pursuits. For example, in May 2016, Luna released her first solo EP, Free Somebody, and promoted the title track and its B-side, “Keep On Doin’,” on various music shows. Additionally, Amber released a series of three singles under the collective name Crossing; “Borders,” in March 2016, followed by two more singles, “On My Own” and “Need to Feel Needed” in May. She also released a music video for a fully English song, “Breathe Again,” in September of 2016, and has continued to post videos on her YouTube channel, “What the Pineapple!” Krystal also continued various solo promotions, including a prominent role in the 2017 drama Bride of the Water God and an acting role in a comedy series, Wise Prison Life.  Victoria has garnered numerous acting roles, largely in Chinese films and dramas, including A Life Time Love and Legend of the Ancient Sword.

Although the members have been busy with their individual activities, fans won’t have to wait much longer to see them working together again. While SM Entertainment has not yet announced an official f(x) comeback, members Amber and Luna released the song “Lower” on January 5, 2018 as an SM Station track. The song blends some of f(x)’s previous electropop sound with contemporary house and synthpop beats, creating a sound that is at once familiar and refreshing.

f(x)’s musical growth over the years has been incredible, and hopefully, we’ll see even more of the group’s work and achievements in the future!

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