Siren Songs: The Transformation Of GFRIEND
The saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but as leading Korean girl group GFRIEND prove, who says you can’t reinvent and reinforce it?
Having been on steady rise since their debut in 2015 , with a successfully established soundscape of emotional melodies, dynamic, eye-catching performances and a stable, supportive global fanbase (the ever-loyal BUDDYS), GFRIEND have never needed to fix anything.
But with latest EP ‘回: Song Of The Sirens’ the sextet are using their sixth year as a band to showcase a bold sonic, lyrical and visual change that only serves to bolster their undeniable position as one of the best K-pop groups of recent times.
The six-track production which dropped earlier this week, is the group’s first comeback under Big Hit Entertainment, with an online media showcase prior to release allowing a sneak peek into the band’s much-anticipated transformation. Rooted in themes of temptations and “could-have-been” scenarios, the EP is built not only intimate snippets of the band’s own lives but also on the world of intricate, interconnected stories introduced in their previous album, ‘回: LABYRINTH’.
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Talking about the inspiration behind this latest album, member SOWON says: “If you refer to our previous album ‘回:LABYRINTH’, the EP talks about the mixed emotions a girl faces at a moment of choice. ‘回:Song Of The Sirens’ is an album that carries on the story of the 回series (回 is a Sino-Korean word which means ‘to spin’). It depicts the story of a girl swayed by temptation, and captures her state of mind as she is swayed by what could have been.”
In addition to extending the “回” universe they already have in place, GFRIEND took inspiration anew from Greek mythology for this latest production. Drawing on tales of the siren - a dangerous half-bird, half-woman creature that tempted sailors to their doom with the sweetness of their songs - ‘回: Song of the Sirens is intellectual and intriguing.
Speaking of her interest in Greek mythology, SOWON recalls “I remember that I enjoyed reading comic books about Greek mythology when I was young,” with EUNHA adding: “Greek mythology cartoons and comic books were quite popular when I was young, so I was pretty into it!”
About other sources of inspirations, UMJI says: “I’m not an expert when it comes to Greek mythology but I’ve always found it fascinating. I usually get inspired from the emotions I feel every day or through stories and situations that unfold around me.”
SOWON echoes this sentiment saying that she writes from her personal experiences, while EUNHA reveals that her members are her biggest inspiration. By perfectly combining the fantastical elements of legends and fairy tales with the raw, straight-forward emotionality of their own lives, GFRIEND has managed to craft an intricate soundscape that’s as imaginative as it is intimate.
A great example of their personable yet expansive approach is the title track ‘Apple’. Talking about the inspiration and idea behind the track, SINB says:
“’Apple’ is a story inspired by a girl swayed by temptation. The word ‘witch’ is used to express the confidence that comes with being honest in one’s desires, rather than simply being swayed by temptation. That is why this album’s concept is called ‘Vibrant Witch.’ Another interesting part of the song is the dance moves that include the ‘catwalk’, inspired by voguing choreography, and ‘apple tree dance’ that illustrates a tree as we all stand in a line and angle our arms like branches.”
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The pop genre offering which blends retro sounds with addictive melodies, is a complete departure from GFRIEND’s usual sonic and visual concepts. Delving into what prompted the marked change from sentimental and emotional arrangement to more retro, catchy melodies, SOWON explains that this change has been a long-time coming.
She says: “Although we’ve continued to grow and evolve until today, I believed that we were in need of a transformation that could really surprise people. I was worried if our fans would get shocked due to our drastic change, but we tried really hard to show our wide spectrum of colours.”
In terms of further evolution, EUNHA adds: “As always, I hope to sing a lot of good songs and participate in writing music in the future.” While ‘回: Song Of The Sirens’ is clearly brilliant, GFRIEND are open about the challenges they’ve faced as they learned to be largely self-reliant in their music writing and making process.
YUJU explains: “It feels like taking out things I kept to myself for a while, little by little, which is a bit embarrassing but very fun at the same time! What’s most challenging is that there is no right answer in song writing. That makes it more fun but also more difficult. I still have a long way to go, so using words like ‘overcome’ might be premature. I tried my best, however, to stay motivated until the end when faced with hardships.”
UMJI who started song writing as a hobby says:“Now I have this great responsibility to get my piece perfectly done and make sure it gets delivered effectively. There were moments when I endlessly thought to myself, ‘Is this the best I can do? Is this the best idea I can come up with?’ However, I try to have more faith and confidence in my ideas and myself.”
Where UMJI had to get used to with the pressure of a hobby becoming a responsibility, EUNHA who had never been participated in the band’s song writing process since debut found the experience to be fun despite challenges. She says: “Everything was challenging. It was an experience that made me realize that creating something is definitely not an easy task. Despite such difficulties, I was able to work this out without feeling too pressured, thanks to the support of many people around me. I had lots of fun and I hope to continue doing it in the future!”
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GFRIEND’s new era is immediately impressive. Each track shines bright from the individual and collaborative efforts behind it. What’s perhaps even more impressive than the individual intricacy of the tracks is the easy cohesiveness of the EP as a whole. Where some tracks like ‘Eye Of The Storm’ draws from personal experiences while others like ‘Creme Brûlée’ and ‘Room Of Mirrors’ rely on symbolism and metaphors, and yet when you listen to the record in its entirety there is never a point where one song overshadows another.
YUJU credits Big Hit’s superb production team – ‘Hitman’ Bang, Pdogg, and FRANTS taking the central roles – for this seamless blend. She says: “Thanks to our talented producers, our musical team was able to harmoniously blend everything together with a bigger picture of the album.”
Moving on from this bigger picture to focus on their own creative process, YUJU says: “’Eye Of The Storm’ is a track for which I took part in lyric-writing without much difficulty because it was a story from my diary. The entire process enabled me to reminisce about the past and comfort myself once again. As the lyrics was based on my personal experience, I tried to make it easy for anyone to understand and empathize with.”
SINB adds: “The fact that ‘Stairs In The North’ is based on my personal story made me feel really strange and new at first. The experience encourages me to consider making more music with my story in the future.”
Still focused on their individuality, the six-piece reveal their favourite tracks from the EP. ‘Tarot Cards’ seems to be the most popular with SOWON, UMJI, EUNHA and SINB claiming it their favourite; SINB describes as “the perfect summer song” and EUNHA names as the song that makes her heart beat. As UMJI puts it: “It is a song that gets better when keep listening to it. It’s got positive vibes!”
Other favourites include ‘Room of The Mirrors’ for SOWON, ‘Crème Brûlée’ for YUJU and ‘Stairs In The North’ for YERIN.
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Having had a taste of diverse soundscapes across the six tracks of ‘回:Song Of The Sirens’, GFRIEND are now raring to experiment in the future. Members SINB and YUJU exclaim that they’d love to try everything from tango to city pop, while YERIN adds: “Concept-wise, I think all of us would look great in suits!” From their simple yet heartfelt goal for the future “to deliver many more wonderful stories to our BUDDYs going forward” we harken back to the highlights of their career.
SOWON says “I think it was when we first held our own concert. I still feel very honoured to have hosted our own, knowing that it is not easy to do so”, with UMJI reminiscing “I really can’t forget our album promotion for ‘Time For The Moon Night’. It felt like the opening of GFRIEND’s second chapter”.
Meanwhile, YERIN adds: “When we won first place on a (Korean) music show for the first time. It’d be great to be on top again for our upcoming release!” GFRIEND are equally down-to-earth – with members admitting to being tempted by delicious food (YUJU revealing ramen which hasn’t eaten in a while to be her fatal temptation) and the allure of procrastinating in favour of more sleep – as they are steadfast and bold in their attempts of subverting the negative connotations of terms like “witch” and “temptation” by infusing their music and concept with alluring self-confidence.
Five years on from their first steps into K-Pop, GFRIEND have learned and evolved from emotive songbirds to fierce sirens, with songs that offer the best kind of temptation.
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‘回: Song Of The Sirens’ is out now.
Words: Malvika Padin
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