GFriend Comeback Review: “Fingertip”

Normally, I avoid teasers because I find them misleading.  But GFriend’s teasers got me so hyped. The Awakening, indeed.  The popular girl group is clearly ready to their expand their horizons, and this comeback is supposed to signal a big turning point.  It turns out that “Fingertip” isn’t that different from their previous work, but it’s a solid step in a new direction.

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*WARNING!* This review assumes the reader has listened to the music and/or seen the music video!

Current Concept: At first, I wanted to say retro because of the strong 70’s vibe in the song.  But I’m not sure because it’s only in the music and not the aesthetic. It also doesn’t really fall under their “powerful-innocent” concept.  It’s powerful, but not innocent.  It’s probably closest to “girl crush,” but it’s either a stretch or a weak attempt (more on that later).

Previous Concept: “Powerful-Innocent,” which basically means bright and girly songs delivered with intense high-energy choreography and power vocals.

SONG:

Music by: Iggy and Seo Youngbae (they’ve produced all of GFriend’s title tracks)

The disco feel is strong here.  “Navillera” was also 70’s inspired, but “Fingertip” kicks it up a notch.  There’s also some 80’s influence thrown in there for good measure. Basically if you take all of the most well-known parts of 70’s disco and 80’s pop and mix them together, you’ll get “Fingertip.” There’s synth, there’s electronica, and of course there’s the electric guitar. A lot of GFriend songs are pretty upbeat, but this one is very high energy.  You’ll almost certainly want to get up and move when you hear it.

In the past, GFriend has been accused of all their songs sounding the same (a con of having a frequent music collaborator).  K-pop groups generally try to find and maintain a signature sound, but that can be very tricky. You want your music to have a consistent style while keeping things fresh and interesting, but you don’t want all of your songs to sound like copies of each other.  There’s a very fine line in between, and GFriend has often treaded it dangerously.  “Fingertip” still has a lot of things that we’ve come to expect from a GFriend title track: basic structure, catchy hook, instrumental dance break after the bridge, power vocals from Yuju, etc. But the good thing is that it has everything we like about one of their songs, while at the same time taking a definitive step away from past work.  I’ve always been able to tell all of their title tracks apart, but everyone’s certainly going to be able to distinguish this one.

I’m personally a little on the fence with this song.   I’ve never been drawn to 70’s or 80’s music, and all that electronica can be a little overwhelming for someone who does not generally enjoy disco or funk.  But it’s got a good groove, and while it’s consistently high-energy it manages to build in intensity. It’s also undeniably catchy.  I’ve had “tang tang tang, fingertip” stuck in my head for weeks now.  It’s not quite the drastic musical change that I was expecting, because it has a similar (albeit more energetic) feel to “Navillera.” But the more that I think about it, it’s a good fit for them and it does show growth.

SCORE: 17/20

LYRICS:

Lyrics by: Iggy and Seo Youngbae

The basic premise of the song is how easily a girl can make someone fall for her, and how she has them at her fingertips.  Sowon and Yerin sing, “The moment that I point at you / I feel like you are mine.” So just like in the choreography, there are a lot of references of aiming at the heart and shooting with the fingers.  Although it seems simple, it’s a clever idea that evokes a lot of imagery.

Seoul Beats points out that GFriend’s idea of girl crush is not a true representation.  To paraphrase, they’ve mostly focused on the key point of girl crush – a fierce and confident female – and kept it surface level without any nuance. So while the male fans might believe that they’re changing from teenager to young adult, the females will not. This is because we really know all of the work that goes into it.  I think the reviewer’s speaking mostly in terms of visuals and aesthetics, but I believe it also applies to the lyrics.

I almost laughed out loud when I saw the translation of the first verse.  To paraphrase, the girl is walking along feeling good about herself.  She comes across someone attractive and is momentarily surprised. Eunha sings, “The eyes looking at me are way too perfect.” But then she takes matters into her hands and seduces the object of her affections.  The rest of the song is about how easily this person is entranced by the girl, but it speaks nothing about how she has this effect on them or what she does to achieve it (besides pointing those finger-guns at the heart).  Once again, it leaves out the means and is all about the results – and this makes the lyrics come off as one-note and shallow.

To be fair, plenty of K-pop lyrics are simultaneously shallow and perfectly enjoyable. This is pop music after all. The thing is that instead of girl crush, it feels like just another love song. Gugudan’s “A Girl Like Me” has similar themes, but it works as girl crush because it has a cheeky sense of self-awareness.  The guy is in awe because the girl is confident and she knows it – and she says she knows it.  The inner voice of “Fingertip” is “Hey you’re attractive and I’m attractive…oh look at that, I have you under my spell.”

Another issue with the “girl crush” label is that “Fingertip” has some subtle references of the girl feeling pulled in by the guy, rather than leveling the playing field like “A Girl Like Me” does.   Yuju sings, “Really what to do now / In the moment that I aimed at you / It felt as if I fell in love.” This suggests the guy has an equal hold on her, and she’s not as confident or independent as we think she is.  I don’t want to go into feminist mode here, because there’s really nothing wrong with falling for a guy’s charms and being honest about that. But these moments of yielding to the guy seem to be designed to make male hearts flutter, whereas the purpose of a “girl crush” concept is to attract fellow females.

SCORE: 7/10

LINE DISTRIBUTION:

The line distribution for “Fingertip” is about the same as any GFriend song. Yuju gets the most, including all of those fantastic high notes.  Eunha follows close behind with SinB, and then the other three fill in the rest of the song.  I do wish that members like Sowon and Yerin would get just a few more lines, but in general the line distribution accurately reflects their vocal strengths. They’ve found a system that works for them, and since it works there’s no need to change it. And their choreography makes up for any unevenness by consistently focusing on the group as a unit.

SCORE: 8/10

CHOREOGRAPHY:

Update, 4/5/17: They finally released a dance practice yesterday.

GFriend has become notorious for their complex and powerful choreography, and “Fingertip” is no different. If you want a workout dance that will get you sweating, look no further.  Like most GFriend numbers, this one requires a lot of strength and stamina.  There’s clean lines, strong and sharp arm movements, fancy footwork, power posing, and immense precision.  Now that the innocent part of “powerful innocent” is out of the way, there’s just power.  Every move is dynamic, bold, and packed with energy.

Tang-Tang-Tang

I really like the choreography, and I think the gun posing key point is great. However, I find it slightly less memorable as a whole than some of their other performances like “Rough” or “Me Gustas Tu.” The key points are great, but the only other moves I really remember are ones like SinB’s solo dance or the mini-dance break.  And I’ve watched them dance it over ten times by now.  Personally, I think it was a missed opportunity to put in more (non-cheesy) disco-inspired moves.  It would have made it stand out a little more against other group girl groups and GFriend themselves.  But I do realize that they’re not actually going for a retro concept.  All in all, the performance as a whole flows together well.  And their high skill level definitely needs to be acknowledged.  It might not become as iconic as some of their other dances, but it’s still very impressive.

Key-Point.gif

SCORE: 18/20

CENTER AND FORMATIONS:

When I started teaching myself “Rough,” I realized something about GFriend dances. Their moves are impressive and require a lot of skill, but their routines actually have a lot of filler.  There are a lot of spots where they are moving around or briefly posing instead of dancing.  Unlike other groups that do this to appeal to their fans, it seems to be so they can have a brief respite from non-stop power moves.  In no way does it detract from their skills.  But it made me realize that it’s not just the technique that makes GFriend dance pros – it’s the formations  and placement of the members that really elevate their performance.

Opening.gif

GFriend uses every trick in the book to give their routine extra dimension.  They cycle endlessly between different formations.  They play with up and down.  They face in different directions, or mirror each other in the choreography.  A lot of their dances include teamwork sequences, where they’ll do something in wave or come together to make cool images.  All of these things make the dance so well-rounded. The dancing itself might not always be memorable in the long run, but the performance always is.

Eunha-Formation.gif

As for the center, it’s slowly but surely becoming SinB.  She and Yerin used to share choruses (and still do), but it’s becoming increasingly clear with every comeback who is the main dancer and who is the lead.  This choice of center could have a lot of reasons behind it besides who’s the better dancer.  SinB has big roles in the group in both vocal and performance, she’s the visual, and she’s one of the more well-known members.  But regardless of those factors, the girl deserves the spot.  She’s a great dancer, and I’m glad that they have her little opportunities to show it off in the choreography.

SinB-solo

While SinB is in undeniably the center most of the time, but that doesn’t mean she’s the only one.  Yerin does have some nice little moments, and Eunha centers a chorus as well. On a side note, I want to thank the choreographer for putting my girl Sowon in that mini-dance break and giving her some extra time to shine.

Dance-Break

SCORE: 10/10

MUSIC VIDEO:

This is perhaps the clearest example of GFriend’s departure from their past work.  All of their other music videos have been bright and filled with light, emphasizing the girls’ friendship.  By contrast, “Fingertip” takes place entirely at night time and has the members pitted against each other.  It’s their first attempt at something with a narrative, joining the trend of cryptic story music videos.

It took me several watches to get an inkling of what was happening.  Based on the teaser, I was expecting something completely different. (When will I learn my lesson and stop watching those?) I saw the outfits and guns, heard the disco music, and assumed that it was going to be some kind of Charlie’s Angels homage or something.  Instead, we have a complex and layered sci-fi(esque) story about lucid dreaming and the line between reality and fantasy.

Yerin-2

From what I understand, Eunha is the main character.  The whole story of the music video takes place inside her imagination.  Lonely and isolated, she dreams up SinB – who gets chased through different worlds by the other members.  Things only get more complicated when Eunha herself enters into the dream.  Dream Teller has a more detailed explanation of this, saying that SinB is the butterfly that Eunha is chasing in the beginning.  It seems to be a literal take on that Chinese butterfly dream philosophy. (As in: am I a butterfly dreaming I’m a human, or a human dreaming I’m a butterfly?) Per usual, I don’t agree with everything he says.  But I do concur that the whole thing stems from Eunha regretting misunderstandings in a friendship or being unable to communicate.

SinB-Appears.gif

Lucid dreaming is an awesome idea for a story.  I’m a lucid dreamer myself, so I normally love this kind of thing.  However, I don’t think that the idea is effectively executed.  Dream Teller mentions that the lines between fantasy and reality blur in this music video.  But something as complex and cerebral as lucid dreaming has to have some distinction between the two for an effective narrative, especially when there is no dialogue to explain.  Take Inception, for example. When people asked me what it was about, I had a hard time explaining.  But when I was watching the movie and in the moment, I understood the world and the rules.   There are no discernible rules in the world of “Fingertip,” which makes the narrative messy.  We don’t know what’s real and what’s not, and it’s hard to find our footing.

To be fair, the main points of the music video are fairly easy to grasp.  We can understand that Eunha is dreaming and controlling the world.  We get that she’s lonely, and that SinB is for some reason afraid of her.  But there are still so many more questions than answers? Are the members figments of her imagination? Are they people that she knows?  Or are they all different parts of Eunha? What are their relationships to each other? Why are they divided and fighting?  Is the ending Eunha waking up and finding her friends, or is it a happier lucid dream?  And what exactly happened to make Eunha so isolated and solitary? I could think of maybe three different distinct interpretations of the music video, but I wouldn’t know which one is correct.

Members

I fully admit that you don’t really need to know any of this. But one of my entertainment industry pet peeves is stories with massive narrative gaps that could easily be addressed. I just prefer things that are clear, simple, and consistent. The girls mentioned on Weekly Idol that their CEO took parts of their choreography from a video game.  Why not put that connection in the music video?  It’s already trippy enough that it would be easy to make it a video game. Or, Eunha’s dream could be about being trapped in a video game where her friends are fighting her and/or each other. The way it is now, the connection between the image they’re promoting – the military outfits and the toy guns – and the music video seems pretty weak, like it was added as an after thought.

 

Complaints from a film school student (and aspiring screenwriter) aside, there’s plenty to appreciate about the music video.  The effects are great, and I really love the cosmic/space aesthetic. They also put in a lot of nice visual references to their other songs: the glass beads, the clock for “Rough,” the butterfly for “Navillera,” etc.  There’s even a small nod to The Little Prince thrown in there with the rose. And there’s a nice balance between the story, the close-ups, and the dancing.  It’s a solid effort and I hate to be so picky, but lucid dreaming is such a cool idea that it should get what it deserves – and it doesn’t here.

SCORE: 16/20

STYLING:

Up until now, GFriend has had very consistent styling. The girls always sported the same shade of brown hair, so I was shocked to see that this time around they made a huge change and pushed different looks.  Only Yuju and Eunha have kept the same look from before.  Umji and SinB have opted for less of a change and both still have natural shades, although SinB has some interesting highlights.  Sowon and Yerin stand out with red and blonde hair.  I think that girl groups sometimes have uniform styling in their early days to present a united front, but GFriend is definitely at the point where they have notoriety and can start being individualistic.  Those dramatic hair colors wouldn’t have worked with their other songs, but “Fingertip” is vibrant and makes a good fit.

I really love the army style outfits that are already becoming iconic. Like I said before, I don’t think that they did a good job tying the look into the music video. But the uniforms are very stylish and give off a polished team image.  I also like how they gave each girl a different type of toy gun, to have a little bit of individuality. The outfits don’t quite put them into girl crush territory, but it does give the message that the schoolgirl days are behind them.

STYLING MVP: Yerin.  I didn’t think the blonde would work when I first saw it, but it’s really grown on me.

Yerin

SCORE: 8/10

FINAL TALLY:

Song – 17

Lyrics – 7

Line Distribution – 8

Choreography – 18

Center and Formations – 10

Music Video – 16

Styling – 8

TOTAL: 84

CONCLUSION: That innocent high school trilogy is in the past.  The girls clearly want to prove that they’re growing up, and there’s barely anything young or cute here in “Fingertip.”  The one major flaw with this comeback is the way that they’re promoting their image.  Normally, it’s a good thing if you can’t box a group into one specific concept.  But this time, the lack of a defining element makes the whole thing feel kind of muddled. I don’t really know the demographics of Gfriend’s popularity, but it seems like they’re trying to attract female fans while keeping onto the male ones.  Which means that they’re naturally going to get stuck in this weird middle ground.  But if a group’s biggest sin in a comeback is false advertising, then they’re going to be just fine.

Although there are some things that I’m not wild about for this comeback, I can tell that’s from my own personal preferences.  As usual, the girls have delivered on everything technical: catchy song, powerful choreography, and interesting music video. I’ve had trouble getting really into GFriend because I am a good deal older than most of them. I don’t think they completely succeed in achieving that mature look they’re trying for.  However, they did successfully shed their youthful image for something more accessible for all ages.  Their comeback made me look at them more closely, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Sources: Youtube, Source Media, Wikipedia, M! Countdown (MNET/M2)

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