[Review] Sulli’s whimsical “Goblin” is an effective foil to K-pop’s polish

One of K-pop’s most coveted holy grails is the long-rumored f(x) comeback. Or, maybe it’s more of an urban legend — often discussed, but never actually coming to fruition. Like many agencies, SM Entertainment seems to have a hard time managing more than one girl group at once, so rather than continue f(x)’s powerful legacy, the group has been relegated to infrequent solo releases over the past four years. While Sulli hasn’t been a part of f(x) since 2015, her debut solo single “Goblin” brings renewed hope that SM hasn’t completely given up on these girls. At the very least, all five original members now have their own music.

As expected from the quirky f(x) legacy, “Goblin” is a left-of-center pop track, more akin to western alternative styles than glossy, choreographed dance music. Opening with haunting chimes and atmospheric harmonies, the song feels ripped straight from some twisted fairytale. Its opening verse sets an ethereal mood, which takes an unexpectedly upbeat turn as we head into the chorus. The melody here is sugary and sing-song, almost at odds with the evocative instrumental supporting it. I like this contrast, though I think the arrangement is almost too jaunty for its own good.

The most alluring aspect of “Goblin” is Sulli herself. This could have easily become the kind of self-indulgent track that saw her taking on the “cool indie girl accent” that so many western pop singers seem to favor these days. Instead, her performance is relatively unaffected, and is at its best when she plays it straight and sings in her natural tone. The whimsical sentiments of “Goblin” aren’t something I usually go for, but I can see how an off-kilter track like this would enchant listeners who might be tired of K-pop’s usual, hyper-polished fare.

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