Note: under the cut, this post contains discussion of death. As such, it comes with a content warning. Be advised before continuing.
I woke up this morning to the news that Choi Jin-ri, also known as Sulli, was found dead in her home yesterday afternoon. It’s been on my mind all day, so I thought it would be worth it to write a post. In lieu of speculating about her life (too much), I instead want to share some of my favorite f(x) songs, specifically those from when she was a full-time member of the group.
Sulli joined SM Entertainment, a Korean entertainment agency, in 2002, at eight years of age. After years of training, she debuted as a member of f(x) in 2009, with four other girls: Luna, Amber, Krystal, and Victoria. f(x) continued performing and recording without incident, but Sulli took a brief hiatus from f(x) and the entertainment industry at large due to physical and mental exhaustion in August 2014. That hiatus eventually led to leaving the group in 2015, after a year-long break. Sulli stayed with SM and would instead pursue an acting career. f(x) continued as a quartet, releasing their fourth (and to date, latest) album, 4 walls, in 2015, and embarking on an arena tour in 2016.
Sulli continued to perform in movies, landing roles in features like the Pirates and Fashion King. While I haven’t seen these films, and I haven’t seen reviews for Sulli’s performances, these films seemed to perform well.
Sulli even returned to music earlier this summer, releasing a single called “Goblin”. Not only did Sulli perform this song, but she also wrote the lyrics for it and its coupling tracks. Take a listen below.
Sulli was a frequent target of Internet commenters ever since she took her hiatus in 2014. Translations of fan comments suggest people weren’t especially sympathetic to her for wanting a break. She was also accused of drug use when her eyes appeared dilated in a movie. As recently as last month, she received criticism for.. accidentally exposing one of her breasts in a livestream.
I don’t claim to know why Sulli left f(x), or why she has been a constant target of backlash. I can understand wanting to change your path in life, especially given that she joined SM so young. It’s okay to shift gears. Hell, I’m pushing 30, and I’m still only now approaching knowing what it is I want to do in life. I can’t begrudge her for taking steps to do the same. As far as I know, the split from f(x) was amicable – she mentioned in a 2017 livestream that she was still in contact with at least one of her bandmates.
But enough about her life story. Let’s share some of her work with f(x) – most of her fans know her best through music, and her contributions to f(x) are special.
“Airplane” is probably my favorite f(x) song, bar none. I love the sonic buildup to the chorus, and the vocal melody conveys a pure hope. Sulli (who is wearing the white top in the above performance) really sells the mood of the song with her soft delivery. For such a powerful track, each member takes a more subdued approach to singing. It really works in service of the song here. Really, the Pink Tape album (which this comes from) is some of f(x)’s best.
“Ice Cream” is one of f(x)’s earliest songs – I believe Nu ABO is their first full release. In my experience as a newbie K-Pop fan, f(x) was styled as one of SM’s premiere electropop groups, and this, in conjunction with their fashion choices and inventive metaphors (check out Tiny Mix Tapes’ review of Pink Tape here for an example). “Ice Cream” is also an earlier, sparser example, likening the confession of romantic feelings to melting like ice cream. Sulli’s sweetness adds a bit of edge to the topic at hand. Amber’s rap and Luna’s pre-chorus runs add a lot of muscle to this track, but like with “Airplane”, I think Sulli sells the mood of the song. (Fun fact: this song was produced by Hitchhiker, who made one of the weirdest pop songs I’ve ever heard.)
Sulli had a lot of great things ahead – she was just 25 at the time of her passing. I hope that wherever she is now, she is at peace. I hope that anyone who felt the need to pick on her, for whatever reason, will take some time to reflect on their behavior. As for me, I will take time to remember her contributions to art that truly brought me joy. This is just some of that art.