GFRIEND (Left to right: Sowon, Yerin, Eunha, Sinb, Umji and Yuju).

GFRIEND (여자친구) is a K-pop girl group that consists of Sowon, Yerin, Eunha, Yuju, Sinb and Umji. Formed by Source Music in 2015, they were the only artists under the label when it was later acquired by BigHit in 2019 — unsurprisingly, since both companies share a long history together.

The group is known for a unique signature sound that encapsulates a nostalgic feeling that people can often identify even in other artists’ songs, “that sounds like GFRIEND” became a popular saying. Even following K-pop’s pattern to be as genre-blurring as it can, their attempt with trendy genres like moombahton in Fever and EDM in Labyrinth kept their signature sound present, showing their established musical identity.

GFRIEND have forged a musical identity that is uniquely their own — a mix of lush, feminine vocals delicately placed against some of the most aggressive guitar lines of the K-pop scene, rounded up with the drive of the mid-2000s pop rock boom. — SeoulBeats

Their soundscape floats especially from a funky and retro synth pop to orchestral instruments incorporated in different genres. Sentimental pop being their most recognized brand nowadays.

GFRIEND is also recognized for their synchronized and knife-life dance, gaining attention for the challenges such as 2x speed dance. Their choreography is capable of intricate moves and symbolism related to the songs, already demonstrating their storytelling selling point. Along with a “trust-and-listen” artist label for the evocative and healing song lyrics, flaunted especially in their more theatrical performances.

The members are notorious for their teamwork over the years, talent for a career built with vocally challenging songs combined with intense choreography and beagle-like (“beagle-dols”) personalities.

From a small company girl group to one of the most loved groups from South Korea, they established themselves as a top girl group of the 3rd generation of K-pop with hits like Me Gustas Tu, Rough, Navillera, Time for the Moon Night (and Fever being quite popular internationally).

Beyond inspiring many through their underdog story, GFRIEND has had a notable impact within K-pop, influencing other group with their recognizable style and setting a new standard for girl groups’ choreography even if sometimes they are put in a mainstream obscurity position.

The fictional universe: a girls’ coming-of-age journey

Was this power a blessing or a curse?

Ahead of their first comeback under BigHit Labels, A Tale of the Glass Bead was released unveiling the previous story, as the subtitle says, introducing a fairy tale esque lore where the girls were born with glass beads in a magical countryside village.

The abridged video clip is an easier approach to the story told in the first 유리구슬 Märchen, illustrated mini books that’s part of the physical album content. This condensed introduction came after the promise that they would streamline GFRIEND’s storyline, which has been running for years gathering wild and creative theories from fans.

The story has a classic power of friendship coming-of-age journey (with magic elements like time travel and esotericism), reflecting the nostalgia from their music. The plot basically revolves around the friendship of a group of girls while they grow up surrounded by this mysterious universe and need to deal with loss, their friendship falling apart and a bittersweet feeling as they struggle to be together.

[…] combining the fantastical elements of legends and fairy tales with the raw, straight-forward emotionality of their own lives, GFRIEND has managed to craft an intricate soundscape that’s as imaginative as it is intimate. — CLASH

How did it start?

The unbroken road suddenly split into two, and there, dark descended.

GFRIEND is widely dubbed as a group with an “anime music sound”, no wonder their overarching storyline is also compared to animes — from K-On! to Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the narrative goes from a school girl series to a fantasy narrative à la magical girls. Recently, also venturing in a promising world building.

They started with a slice of life esque series following what is today called “school trilogy. This became a signature of the group, marketed by the company with a strong storytelling, a broad term that can be extended to lyrics and choreography. It ended up being a natural move to keep with the narrative, evolving organically more than completely crafted, since the company was considerably new and with few employees (to not talk about debt and difficulties to maintain the group), there wasn’t a signal of a creative team solely responsible for this, but they created a solid plot following the girls in a coming-of-age. It wasn’t difficult to explore the already existent content to establish a cohesive and more elaborated lore based project.

GFRIEND’s “School Trilogy” is the most popular and successful example of girl group’s worldview. It leads to more groups to create solid and expandable worldviews — TheFact.

Before them, the most notable example for girl groups can be considered T-ara and their cinematic short films, but it wasn’t a story told over multiple music videos. Nowadays, it would be the their now labelmates BTS, who started their own narrative in 2015 with HYYH and is a pioneer in the multimedia storytelling, influencing GFRIEND with their now also trans-media storytelling (basically a BigHit signature by now).

The suspicion about a storyline going on started to circulate with Rough, since it wasn’t only part of the school arc, but it was also said to be inspired by the anime The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, fans quickly took the time travel allusion. Navillera (also known for the romance plot between the girls that was confirmed by them) referenced another work as well: a Korean poem called “The Nun’s Dance” by Cho Chihun, navillera being his neologism for the butterflies’ fluttering movement. Even though until that it was more slice of life storyline, fans already started the theory crafting with Yerin being a ghost (Yerin even acknowledged in the showcase that she thought Eunha was a ghost actually!). And that’s it, the butterfly, the clock and the glass bead started to being undoubtedly part of GFRIEND, being an imagery they often used even in performances (the garden for “Rough” being ahead of its time). Other allusions can be seen in Please Save My Earth, B-Side from The Awakening (2017), which has a manga with the same name and similar imagery to the music video for Fingertip, the MV that gathered the most theories until then and opened a pandora box. Comeback by comeback, the story progressed through the music videos with motifs linking one to another, as well as the lyrics.

The things started to be more detailed in 2018. Time for the Moon Night was teased with their own alphabet, a rune symbol for the group’s name and members as well as their western zodiac symbols, little details like the tape showed in the music video named “2006.03 가죽여행 (Family Trip)” shows that everything has a purpose (a creative team arrived?). Sunny Summer used excerpts from Shakespeare’s sonnets and Sunrise starts with Umji’s monologue “I had a dream last night. Even though our time together was short, we were not separated from each other.”, all hinting to a day, night and dreams thematic.

Theories became popular between buddies (fan community nickname) through forums, SNS, even youtube comment sections. Theory videos popped out in several languages trying to give a meaning for the story. Who makes the most coherent theory wins, from Fingertip being a retelling of the Orion myth to Time for the Moon Night being about a missing friend, touching sensible themes — but the infinity of the interpretations was what comically led most theories to become “jossed after the release of A Tale of the Glass Bead, becoming a memorable fandom moment.

As overarching storylines become every day more popular with K-pop groups, the appeal can be completely understandable seeing how narratives move people. For GFRIEND, the fans created their own stories based on the music videos, giving their personal interpretations, whether it was projecting their own experiences and worldview or especially GFRIEND’s personal journey as a group at the release time (something they have even been doing recently with the subtle “meta” description of their concepts).

That’s the beautiful thing about storytelling.

The audience-drivenGFRIENDverse” created by fans isn’t gone, but it’s expanding to this fairy tale more fictional and at the same time intimate than ever.

Crossroads (Labyrinth) opens a new chapter in their magical narrative with their most cinematic music video yet.

“Confused about which light to follow, we are still standing here.”

Apple (Song of the Sirens) is the second installment from the 回 (to return) series coming with a new 유리구슬 Märchen mini book that reveals brand new information about the myths surrounding their universe.

“On the briar-choked road, blood-red footsteps remain / Why does that icy decision hurt me so, was it a mistake.”

Walpurgis Night (Mago) is the final installment from the 回 (to return) series. GFRIEND fully embraced a new sound and the female empowerment theme with the in-universe witch persona.

In this midnight
I’m born again in the blessings of the fireworks as I fly

Reinterpreting myth with “回” series: A festival of mythical women, as reimagined by GFRIEND

You can keep up with their storytelling through this (fanmade) index and websites like TV Tropes, with their Wild Mass Guessing, and of course, the fan community, sharing your own interpretations as a fan! Join us on Reddit:

Last update: January 25, 2021.