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.
One random afternoon in 2012, a YouTube thumbnail of several women standing in black dresses and high heels popped up in my feed. I clicked the video and was blown away by seeing ladies stomp the floor with charisma and energy that seemed more confident than some of the other girl groups I knew of. It’s still one of fondest memories from my first few months as a K-pop fan, when everything is shiny and engaging. The women who captivated me were After School, and this has been a long-awaited dive into their music catalog. Let’s begin, right after the drop.
You’re tuned into An Album a Day. Show start.
Hey y’all, We’re in sketchy audio spaces again but the show must go on. I want to talk about global duty before music catalogs.
Have you heard about Kpop4ClimateCrisis? The climate crisis is racing further towards us with every passing day. Every year, temperature records are being broken, the arctic is melting, the oceans are warming, natural disasters are more volatile and drought and famine is increasing.This problem affects us all and one K-pop fan of over eight years is working to bring the community together to help save our planet. On Friday, September 4, 2020, we hope to show support by trending #Kpop4ClimateCrisis and sharing our commitment to do something eco-friendly in celebration of a bias, favorite group or solo artist. Vowing to stop buying disposable water bottles, picking up litter, or even donating to climate change charities are some of the ways you can show your support. The Giving MACGoalas, the philanthropic side of my supportive audience, are doing our part for animal conservation efforts in Australia, as we recently adopted a koala named CW for a year. We hope you’re inspired and motivated to share your efforts online and please look for my hashtag contributions on Friday. A big thank you to Poppy and the Kpop4Climate Twitter account for sharing this information.
This week we’ve opened the K-pop vault to dig through the crates of After School. This is a moment I was excited about for some time because I simply don’t know enough about them. What I do know, however, is that they were a solid performing group, had enjoyable sub-units, and Nana, the lone member at this point, is my favorite.
After School is a girl group under management with Pledis Entertainment in Korea (they had a solid following in Japan but again, this is focused on Korean discographies) and had a unique on-boarding system, if you will. Members had an admission process and after x-amount of time, would graduate from the group. I actually dig this -- you apply to get in (aka training), you’re admitted (aka debut), you do your work and then you move on with your entertainment career or whatever else you aspired to do. The commitment has a clear ending. It’s something that each lady hopefully looks back on with fond memories, despite whatever struggles were experienced, knowing that they don’t have the disbandment cloud of unfulfilled dreams looming over them.
If anyone of the 11 women who represented After School at some point can look back with pride, it most certainly has to be its founder and former leader Park Ji-young, better known as Kahi. She was born in Daegu, and you know that place will always have a space in my heart, and was so self-motivated to become an entertainer that she trained herself in her teen years. Her passion for dance and singing was honed by her own efforts for several years, even going so far as to leave home and estrange herself from her father who wanted her to commit to studies at a university versus the fleeting lifestyle of trying to become a star. She headed north to Seoul, reportedly with no money, and a friend encouraged her to audition for a dance opportunity. That first job as a professional backup dancer at age 18 only fueled her inner flame more.
Odd jobs and dancing eventually had her busting moves alongside BoA -- yes, THE BoA we celebrated at the start of this season! -- and that led to even more opportunities with other big names we’ll speak about in the distant future. A3Day’s debut group, 1TYM even worked with Kahi as a dancer! Eventually, she came into singing with Korean-American group S.Blush (a girl group that I feel like I’m going to have a hard time finding info on when we hit the S-letters in the year 2027 or something). The ladies gave stardom a try but disbanded, so Kahi connected with friends around the industry and eventually got the green light from Pledis Entertainment in 2007 to establish a girl group. Planning went along, an unofficial debut happened in late 2008, and in January 2009, After School made their debut. She remained the group’s leader until 2012 when she set off to pursue solo endeavors.
I would love to meet this woman -- she reminds me of myself! That “I either win or I learn from it” mentality can get a person very far and inspire just as many people as it intimidates. She was determined to blaze a path of success in her own way and it worked. Let’s talk more after a quick sponsorship break.
What about the debut album? After School made their debut on January 15, 2009 with “New Schoolgirl,” the first of many singles that, in my apparent confusion, looks like a mini album to me? A single means “one,” right? Or maybe one song with an instrumental or a remix or two? This had three songs and an instrumental. Now I KNOW I had single albums from U.S. artists in the days of record stores that were like this but I’m so used to K-pop calling these “mini albums” and I’m overwhelmed with confusion. You can take a retail work break and this album will stretch that amount of time. The tracks are “Play Girlz,” “Ah,” and “Bad Guy” and are a long distance from the music I know them for.
At just over 10 minutes, you’re getting hip-hop, it’s giving you cheerleader energy, it’s giving you a damn Brave Sound producer tag at every turn because Brave Brothers wants you to know who did the work. It didn’t age very well. It sounds dated and the audio quality sounds more compressed than necessary. It’s almost as if the engineering process was trying to overcompensate for the singing quality, but the women can sing. Something doesn’t feel fully right. The ad libs in “Ah” are awkward in hindsight. In essence, it’s fun background noise at a sporting event or nightclub. With that being said, 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 3. The visuals would have made me check them out for debut and the audio would not have made me stay. I also need to decide if I’m going to say “rating” or “ranking,” random side note.
Next episode, we’ll see if After School moves up on the A3Day scale with their sophomore effort. Bye y’all.
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