K-pop acts aren't generally counted on for consistently putting out front-to-back solid albums, especially the girl groups and boy bands. As an industry that puts a huge emphasis on hit singles and music videos, full-lengths are even less relevant in the K-pop scene than they are in the U.S. Top 40 world. And to be honest, most aren't worth your time.
The shining exception? Look no further than the Korea's f(x). For whatever reason, the group has consistently put out top-tier albums—and they aren't just the type of material fans of the style dream of, but genre-defying music that could change even the biggest K-pop skeptic's mind.
f(x) originally debuted as the quirky younger sister group to phenoms Girls' Generation, who are best known for their irresistibly saccharine pop singles. As most younger siblings do, f(x) soon blossomed into their own persona, by experimenting, becoming more mysterious and turning slightly darker. The quintet explored so many different genres and styles, packing so many ideas into their albums, that it's difficult to say whether their singles were even the best songs to promote the album.
Take their 2013 album Pink Tape, which many fans consider the point where they hit a new peak. Lead single "Rum Pum Pum Pum" is a samba-inspired dance-pop track where the girls bust out alien-like harmonies on the chorus and sing Christmas carol snippets, all while describing their love as a pesky wisdom tooth. But there's fantastic Pink Tape moments like the dizzying "Shadow," which essentially imagines what creepy dolls singing pop music would create; the lush "Airplane," that dives into melancholy EDM; and the racing "Step," which has a relentless brass production.
From early deep cuts like 2011's "Love" to their new deep-house single "4 Walls," f(x)'s creations are offbeat and at times bizarre, but what's most brilliant about them is how they totally work in the pop sphere. Strong song structure is the foundation of their gems, while dynamic arrangement details and the members' colorful deliveries (Victoria and Krystal's slinky timbres, Luna's belts and rap skills by Amber, who also occasionally offers her distinct singing tone) give each tune a unique charm.
f(x) is massively popular in Korea and sell loads of albums, even though their songs and looks are far from the mainstream. When original member Sulli left the group earlier this year—usually a sign of decline for a pop group—f(x) came back with yet another incredible album, 4 Walls from last month, and once again proved that they've mastered industrial glitch-pop ("Deja Vu"), house ("Rude Love") and synth-pop ("When I'm Alone"). As if it was written in the stars the last song, which acts as the 4 Walls closer, was actually written by Carly Rae Jepsen—another underrated pop act whose music is championed by hardcore fans.
If you're a fan of pop music but are unsure how to wade into the K-pop pool, f(x) is the perfect group to begin your journey, especially with multiple stellar albums worth exploring. The band's unexpected takes on Top 40 are fascinating, ambitious, strange and most definitely worth your time. Don't be afraid.