An Album a Day is my exploration into the Korean music scene. This podcast will cover mainstream, indie and some underground artists within the scene and provide both factual and opinionated commentary. The biggest benefit to sharing my thoughts this way is that it will hopefully expose you to more great music and exploration of your own.
Today’s single album could have easily been combined with at least one other project. After all, it is included in After School’s debut album. However, I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you why After School was a breath of fresh air for female idol groups, as well as point out a moment when inspiration and acquisition blurred in their history. Let’s get into “Bang!,” the lady’s third Korean single, after the drop.
You’re tuned into An Album a Day. Show start.
Hey y’all, this is the song that put After School in a performance tier that other girl groups weren’t reaching. Let me correct that: other idol groups, period. While Billboard might not have called After School “top performers in K-pop” until 2016, they set the path for such acknowledgements on March 25, 2010 with the release of “Bang!” If you’re vaguely familiar with After School by way of music videos, this is the one with the marching band theme. I have to get a little linguistically nerdy to clarify something about themes and concepts. Finally, a more concrete use of my degrees!
Although the words ‘theme’ and ‘concept’ are sometimes considered to be the same thing, they are in fact not. Concepts are much more abstract and present restrictions. Themes, however, are much more specific and associated with a piece of work. To tie this into the world of K-pop, we’ve got an abundance of themes that we’ve mistaken for concepts. Concepts can appear under a theme, just as themes can fall under a concept. It gets a little confusing here, so I’ll give a general example and then a more specific one, as it pertains to our current group.
A general K-pop concept is the boy or girl next door. Common themes for this concept are:
School-aged, right down to the uniforms-as-costume look
Anything groups B1A4, Boyfriend, Apink and Girlfriend were pigeonholed into, for substantial parts of their careers
More specifically, After School’s concept of sexy and confident female idols, whereas the theme changes from album to album. Sexy and confident female idols who can emulate the energy of American film “Drumline,” is what “Bang!” had coursing through its veins. We’ll get into that influence and more but let’s go back to “top performer” stuff.
After School needs more flowers than they received for this single album. They upped their performance quality and introduced yet another group member, Lizzy. I’d like to see you try to learn about percussion instruments, marching ensembles, and then hop onto a stage and perform a solid battery routine in insubstantial attire and heels. Too much? Not for After School. More specifically, they did not gain this musical skill in full battery -- you won’t witness any member of the group playing marching cymbals, a row of tenor drums slung across their frame, or be frightened that a bass drum strapped across their bodies didn’t drag them to the floor -- but committed to five months of practice with snare drums and executed a solid performance. We’re not talking about the song just yet, you do realize this?! Kahi was so amazed by the 2012 film “Drumline” that it’s said that she wanted to create a similar experience for her girl group. I am entertained by this, given the long and occasionally troubled relationship K-pop and the Black American community have with cultural misappropriation. No, this is not about to evolve into a rant or exhaustive analysis -- Kahi took a professionally considerate approach to this.
As a choreographer and skilled dancer, Kahi was able to incorporate the usual tenets of dance for female idols back then with American drill team and dance sport, as well as aspects of Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCU) marching bands and Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLO). It isn’t performativity, there wasn’t a higher arching social change that After School was promoting, but it is a thematic performance that was made their own. It absolutely works and doesn’t feel exploitative.
The exploitative aspect, however, is the rights to choreography. And for a change of pace and scope, the controversy doesn’t involve American content. There was a dispute between Pledis Entertainment and After School, and German choreographer/dancer Camillo Lauricella, over some aspects of “Bang!”’s performance. Lauricella felt that her artistry had been plagiarized whereas Pledis Entertainment felt otherwise. It was necessary to bring this up because it is a part of After School’s history but the true details of this controversy are more-so about the entertainment company’s actions and not necessarily those of After School. Without full confidence in who was involved, I choose to leave this part as-is. I’ve opinions, but they’re about the group, this particular album, and not this. I do encourage you to look a little into it and learn something new. You might find yourself in an unexpected rabbit hole. Interesting, interesting stuff over in Korean entertainment.
Onto the music. “Bang!” consists of three tracks, “Let’s Do It,” title track “Bang!,” and With U.” The obvious standout is its title track, which also was released in Japan and added to their first studio album. “Let’s Do It” is literally them playing snare drums to ad libs and keyboard accents. It sounds good but watching the video makes it great. They are genuinely playing the drums, maintaining simple formations, and putting on a solid performance for a little over a minute. You immediately fall into the anthemic, pulsing, dance track “Bang!” thereafter. It’s braggadocious and the drumline compliments the production arrangement. The album closes with a slow jam that continues the focus on percussion, though it’s not the live snare drums. Since it’s a pop ballad, the vocals aren’t mind-blowing but the energy fits the project properly. And since “Bang!” was up for consideration for inclusion on “Because of You,” this genuinely could’ve been another A and B side project.
K-pop fans on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being essential listening and 1 not worth mentioning, the A3Day rating on this is a 5. This single album isn’t even 12 minutes, longer than some episodes of this very podcast, and should be in your streaming playlists fully. I hope that things continue to go up from here for the ladies! I’ll catch you in the next episode, bye y’all.
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