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.
The sixth maxi single, “First Love” was announced almost a year before it was actually released. Though the reasons remain unknown for the delays, I’m willing to guess that the intensive preparation for one of the most physically demanding comebacks yet had something to do with it. Little did they know it then, but this was the beginning of the end. More insight, right after the drop.
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Hey y’all, following today’s episode, we will have final thoughts on After School’s Korean discography. But before we get into my 100% unscripted rambling, I must acknowledge that this album, “First Love,” was the last Korean album before an indefinite hiatus clutched the After School name. “첫사랑” (romanized as Cheotsarang) was released June 13, 2013 and South Korean audiences never heard from the as a group again. Take note of how I said that it was the last Korean album -- they still had a receptive audience in Japan until 2015, but the hiatus reached all angles of After School and sat them down. It’s a bit ironic, as the title track from this album did indeed sit some band members down, literally.
But first, the music. Clocking in at 20 minutes, the album delivers dance tracks and R&B flavor in the style we’ve come to anticipate from After School. Brave Brothers, who we haven’t heard from on their album in a while, hold down the first and second track, “8 Hot Girl” and “First Love” respectively. The first track lets the listener know that the ladies are back after a long wait and bringing something sexy to the scene, then properly falls into the title track. Brave Brothers took complete reign on the title track, actually, what with writing the lyrics and producing the music. He said he’s collecting nothing but wins and I don’t blame him. (Yes, for those unfamiliar, Brave Brothers is one man by the name of Kang Dong Chul and his sound is more familiar to you than you know. We’ll talk about him in depth someday.) Oh yes, “8 Hot Girl” can be chalked up to a Konglish language moment since it’s missing an -s, but this could also be semi-intentional. Remember, I’ve said that After School is “one band, one sound.” Who knows?
Production-wise, the album has a darker tone, especially stand-out track “Dressing Room.” The production team for this, the third track of the album, jumps to-and-fro from Europop and futuristic influences, settling somewhere between rock and R&B. It’s the best sounding song on the album because of its unexpected presence. It’s also the most memorable song with ad libs and attempts at vocal riffs. Track four, “Time’s Up,” has a faster tempo and incorporates live and MIDI stringed instruments, and features more singing in higher registers for the chorus. The rap breakdown has a refrain that’s not bad either. At this point in the album, they’ve delivered two ballads but this one doesn’t feel like their usual formula. Fifth track “Love Beat” brings us back to the pep rally/aerobics class/nightclub pulse that’s fun but missing something. The song constantly feels like you’re waiting for a musical drop -- an extra accent on the 808? An increase in percussion? Something’s missing, seriously! A handclap, something?! Songs that hold you at a standstill are so unkind, as your awareness of how music should work is challenged each minute the song is on. It’s an unfulfilled experience that is relieved by the closing track, “Makeup & Tears.” Live instruments and clear transitions that move the song along, Jungah and Raina sing out about crying over memories while putting on their makeup. The lyrics are directed at someone who rejected the protagonist but it can be loosely interpreted as the entertainment industry rejecting After School. A bit of a reach? Perhaps, but let’s consider some of the things that happened to the group during this time in their history.
First, this album was delayed for unknown reasons. There is no specific news about why the 2012-intended album moved to 2013, but it did happen.
Second, “First Love” genuinely puts them in pain. Both Lizzy and Nana were physically injured while performing this act, one before the choreography was ever performed live and the other after a terrible fall following a performance, and brought the group down to six for promotions.
Third, means of promoting the album had pushback. One music program’s parent company was in conflict with Pledis Entertainment, After School’s label, and after Nana’s horrifying fall, the group never appeared on Show Champion again. There wasn’t a statement that said her accident was the catalyst so we cannot draw a direct connection, but the Show Champion’s choice followed soon after.
When the ladies were promoting “Flashback,” it was said by their leader Jungah (remember, original leader Kahi “graduated”) that After School wanted to return to making music for all ages and that naming the project “Flashback” was to share the desire to get back to their original image. “First Love” is a hard shift away from those original colors. So much so, that after the album’s release, the women spent the remainder of their music career in Japan. They worked as a unit on a specialty show in Korea and then branched out into solo projects that put their beauty on display more than their artistry. Something happened to and with After School and Pledis Entertainment and it’s beyond fans to really know what that “something” was. I’m going to try to reach further into this during Final Thoughts, but for now, let’s close up this album.
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. It was a strong closing to a four-year-old South Korean singing career. The #A3Day Highlights Playlist on Spotify is updated and features a few tracks from this album, and we’ll ramble on a bit more about After School and their overall discography ranking in the next episode. Bye y’all.
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