When the news first broke that Amber would be the first f(x) member to get a solo debut, the move made all the sense in the world. Amber stands out in K-pop for a variety of reasons, whether that be her looks, her nationality, or her ethnic heritage. Her consistent choice of a boyish haircut and baggy shorts are remarkably daring in an industry where K-pop rappers are often glorified eye candy.
If anyone could bring something exciting and new to the solo debut table, it would be Amber. And that’s what makes “Shake That Brass,” Amber’s debut single, so baffling. It is so entirely risk-free and antithetical to what makes Amber interesting, and instead manages to come across as entirely sterile and dull.
The production for “Shake That Brass” is pleasant enough, but that’s about as complimentary as one can get for what ends up being a lackluster single. Brass should always work for a hip-pop single, as funky horn samples and rap go together about as well as any genre mash-up in existence. However, as unfuckupable as the combination is, “Shake That Brass” passes by the skin of its teeth. The horns bounce, but they have all the energy of deflated tires. The muffled effect on the riffs create an interesting sound that helps make “Shake That Brass” somewhat unique, but the muffling also turns what should be a banger into a track that sounds far too much like what one would hear out of a high school marching band.
It doesn’t help that, outside of the brass line, there’s not much else to “Shake That Brass.” The song is all farting trombone noises, triangles, and bass lines, but there’s very little progression. Criminally, Amber herself sounds underutilized. She’s given almost no opportunities to deviate from the beat or break things down, and all that’s left is for her to rap in the same cadence and rhythm for the entire song. Then Taeyeon shows up, gets off a couple of perfunctory lines and “dum-dums”, and disappears into an aether.
The best thing that one can say about “Shake That Brass” is that it hits one note fairly well. Unfortunately, it never tries to do anything else.
The video tries to mask the dullness of the music through its implementation of bright colors, well constructed sets, and varied camera angles. For those reasons, “Shake That Brass” is a fairly tried and true SM Entertainment effort. The direction is polished, and the sets are distinctive and contrasting in ways which are pleasant to look at (the purplish kaleidoscopic set harmoniously shines next to the bright whites and warm yellows of the other set pieces), but the decision to also include cartoonish text gives the music video an unfortunate Kidz Bop feel that is only reinforced by the toothlessness of the song. “Shake That Brass” looks professionally made, but it also looks like it came out of the SME music video factory. No amount of cameos can hide that.
The resulting product is unfortunate because Amber is capable of so much more. She’s proven over the course of her career that she can rap in a secondary language, and she’s also recently proven that she can sing, with the release of “Beautiful“. Most importantly, Amber’s uniqueness, from her decidedly tomboyish styling to her background as a Taiwanese-American Korean pop rapper, is a rare sight in an industry that regularly churns out vaguely similarly talented and pretty K-pop stars.
An Amber solo debut had all the potential to be a truly special experience, especially given that Amber reportedly had a hand in composing her tracks. Unfortunately, the most tragic thing about “Shake That Brass” is that it sounds like it could have been made by anyone in K-pop.