SF9 Comeback Review: “Easy Love”

I’ve mentioned before that my main focus with SF9 is (or was) their dancing, because they’ve been pushed as FNC’s first male dance group. As long as their choreography is great, I was satisfied – I didn’t mind if other elements weren’t as interesting.  But SF9 is pushing themselves, and “Easy Love” shows that they’re capable of much more than snazzy synchronized moves.  In fact, this comeback has convinced me that they’re probably a group to watch out for.

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

Concept: Is “break-up” an actual concept?  I know it’s tackled a lot in K-pop – especially with boy groups – but I don’t know if it’s an established aesthetic like “sexy” or “cute.” It’s still cool and chic like they’ve done before; it’s just cool and chic guys being moody and experiencing a break-up.

Past Concepts: Party/club music with cool and chic style

SONG:

“Easy Love” is a smooth dance track like SF9’s other songs, but it’s more nuanced and sentimental.  Unlike the aggressive “Fanfare” and stylized “Roar,” the instrumentals are fairly low-key here. The signature synth is toned down, with guitar sticking out as the main element instead. The percussion mostly sticks to softer snapping or clapping beats, except for the emotionally charged chorus.  The song heavily depends on the vocals to convey melancholy and heartbroken feelings.  Luckily, the group has at least three singers that can deliver on that front.

I really like how well-layered it is – not technically, but structurally.  It moves so seamlessly between slow and fast, stripped-down and rich with feeling.  It also blends vocals and rap impressively.  I hear a lot of music that’s super repetitive these days.  While I do love that, I also enjoy songs that paint a story with the music as well as the words.  I really wasn’t expecting something like this from them, so I’m very impressed.

SCORE: 19/20

LYRICS:

It turns out that “Easy Love” is a bit of a misnomer.  The point is actually that there’s nothing easy about love at all, especially when you’re reeling from a break-up.  The boys are referring to how it seems so easy for their lover who doesn’t care (“Breaking up is so easy for you, though it hurts so much for me / Leaving me is so easy for you, because it’s nothing for you”).  It’s a very authentic account of being dumped.

It’s a little unique from other break-up songs because it has a different primary emotion. Healing from a break-up can be somewhat like the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance.  Most of these kinds of songs either cycle through these different feelings, or use sadness and despair as the foundation. While “Easy Love” explores a couple of these emotions, it’s very clear that the singer is in the angry stage.  Many of the lyrics speak of hating the ex, and are sharp and harsh:

“I hate love, because it hurts

‘Cause I’m saying that I hate you

‘Cause I’m turning into ice (Just tell me you wanna go)

‘Cause it remains as a scar (Drinks up let’s lose control)”

Making this song relatable is key to its success, because most of us go through a rough break-up at some point in our lives.  I remember how much I turned to music for comfort, looking for songs that could put my devastated feelings into words. If “Easy Love” had been around ten years ago, it would probably have been my go-to.  I’m not sure if those intense anger-filled lyrics are for everyone, but my primary emotion  was anger at that time. Even now, years after I’m over it, Hwiyoung’s rap stands out to me the most: “I was forced to wear you like clothes, now it’s too tight / If I can’t take it off I’ll rip it off, so let’s break up now.”  They have some really powerful stuff going on here, and it’s interesting to see such raw emotions in a pop song.

SCORE: 10/10

LINE DISTRIBUTION:

Per usual, Taeyang and Inseong trade off the choruses with their smooth yet powerful voices.  Rowoon also has a significant amount of lines, opening and finishing the song. As expected,  they’re more than capable of handling the technical and emotional nuances required of a main vocal.  The rappers end up fairly even (though Hwiyoung pulls ahead), but Dawon and Jaeyoon have the least lines – a large drop down from last time.

It’s hard to distribute lines between nine people, but I think “Easy Love” does a good job.  While it’s certainly not equal, it uses its members wisely.  Each rapper has lines with a flow and style that suits him perfectly.  Zuho, the most powerful rapper of the group, doesn’t appear until the bridge.  When he does, his verse builds up the song to explode in the final chorus. And Jaeyoon may only have one line, but it’s at a very pertinent moment of the song – which makes it very memorable.

SCORE: 9/10

CHOREOGRAPHY:

Key-PointThe current trend for “pop songs with feels” is to have a modern influence in the choreography, the idea being that it highlights the more emotional parts of the song.  We’ve seen that recently with groups like BTS, Winner, and Teen Top.  “Easy Love” seems like a perfect candidate for this kind of style, but I was interested to see that they didn’t do that.  They actually very rarely favor the emotion, instead focusing on hitting the beats like any other pop song.  This gives it a very stylized feel that’s very consistent with what they’ve done before. It also makes the smoother (and perhaps more sensual?) moments stand out with more impact.

ChorusI was disappointed with “Roar” because I thought the choreography was pretty easy for SF9. “Easy Love” is a huge improvement.  It doesn’t match “K.O.” (their current golden standard in my opinion), because I don’t think it’s overly memorable in the long run. But it’s still pretty damn impressive all the same. It’s a very involved choreography, filled with spinning, sliding, isolations, direction changes, and footwork.  And of course it’s all very smooth and clean.  When it comes to dance, I feel the same way about SF9 as I do with Dreamcatcher.  They’ve shown us that they’re superb dancers, so now they need to step it up a notch and give us a routine we’ll never forget.

SCORE: 18/20

CENTER AND FORMATIONS:

One of SF9’s greatest strengths is their formations.  There are obviously a lot of common points where everyone’s doing the same choreography, but a lot of times it looks like each member has his own specific dance.  They do use standard shapes, but they also create new and interesting ones.  They favor staggered motions and level changes.  And they do it all with such precision and ease that you hardly notice them taking four counts to whirl into position.  It’s great when any group looks like a well-oiled dance machine, but it’s even more impressive when said group is barely six months old.

Formation-Example

SF9 changes their center pretty often, because they’re all quite good. But I’d say the “traditional” center is Taeyang, which isn’t really surprising. He’s an amazing singer and a killer dancer oozing charisma and stage presence, and there’s something about him that will draw your eye to him every time.  They also frequently use Chani, who has less flair but is perhaps more technically solid.  He and Hwiyoung (who I think is the third member of dance line?) often support the center on either side.  And Rowoon has the “visual” center position, opening and ending the song. All good choices, but they can’t really go wrong with whomever they pick.

SCORE: 9/10

MUSIC VIDEO:

SF9’s music videos heavily favor visuals – not just looks, but also technical things like frame, lighting, set design, etc.  There seems to be some kind of narrative, but it’s pretty hard to figure out.  It’s mostly all shots of the various members looking pensive and/or angsty surrounded by old school computers and wires. If I had to guess, I’d say that it was symbolism: the outdated technology is a visual metaphor for a faded love.  It also might be about the group, because they all come together in the end.  But again, there’s inconclusive evidence. It’s too bad, because the technology premise looked really cool.  I thought it was going to be like Tron or something.

MV-Technology

“Easy Love” has a very similar color scheme to “Roar,” so it’s possible that the two might be related.  But “Roar” also has very little in terms of plot so it’s  hard to tell.  I think that the choice to use the primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) is very interesting.  I’m not sure if it means anything, but it could represent the members’ moods. But narrative or no, the aesthetics are undeniably killer.  Although the editing is a little heavy-handed for my tastes, the colors and effects are great.  Let’s be real – even if the video’s basically shots of handsome guys, at least those shots are really well-composed.

SCORE: 17/20

STYLING:

Somewhere between February and now, I’ve managed to learn all of SF9’s names.  I’m not sure if it’s because they all have different hairstyles or I just got used to them.  But I still think it’s time for them to ditch the matching uniforms.  I just didn’t feel it at all with this kind of song, and I liked their individual outfits better.  Even if I can tell all of the members apart, the only ones I think really stand out to the public are Taeyang (for his stage presence) and Rowoon (for his visuals).  I also recognize Dawon, but that’s more for his variety sense.  In short, they really need to start personalizing their looks so they can stand out more to non-fans.

The good thing about their styling is that they all look amazing.  I didn’t realize it before, but SF9 is a very good-looking group.  In my opinion there are no ugly K-pop stars, but I do think there are different levels of attractive.  And all of the SF9 members are really handsome – what’s more, each one’s a different type of handsome.  I try not to place heavy stock in visuals, but I commend the stylists for doing their job well.

STYLING MVP: Taeyang, because he’s the first one I notice every single damn time. (That and his glittery blue hair is mesmerizing)

MV-Taeyang

SCORE: 8/10

FINAL TALLY:

Song – 19

Lyrics – 10

Line Distribution – 9

Choreography – 18

Center and Formations – 9

Music Video – 17

Styling – 8

TOTAL: 90

CONCLUSION: “Easy Love” floated under my radar for a while because everyone and their mother was promoting in April.  Now it’s my favorite track from them so far.  I was perfectly happy to accept them as a group with knife choreography and fun club music. But I’m so glad that they’re working hard on other elements as well. On paper, SF9 has everything they need to become a top group: solid music and skills, perfect dance moves, a big agency, and top-notch visuals. (And variety sense, but I don’t usually count that here)  They’ve been doing pretty well for rookies both in Korea and internationally.

While I think “Easy Love” is a stellar quality comeback – especially the song and its lyrics – it’s still missing a little something. The emotional break-up song is a great way to mature a group’s image, and it’s launched groups like BTS and Got7 into mainstream popularity. But it worked for them because they made waves. BTS had been mostly hard-hitting hip hop at that point, and their intriguing storyline definitely helped people take notice.  And Got7 did a drastic image change from cute and funny to manly and tortured.  “Easy Love” is different from SF9’s previous tracks, but not that different.  They need something to set them apart, and I’m not totally sure what that is (a break-out member? A catchy dance and/or music video?) But they’ve more than proved to us that they’ve mastered the basics, and I look forward to what they bring out next

Sources: Youtube and FNC Entertainment

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