K-Pop Music Reviews: After School – Bang!

Title: Bang!

Release Year: 2010

If my high school had had this kind of marching band, we would’ve won every single football game.

After School is composed of 8 members: Kahi, Jooyeon, Bekah, Jungah, UEE, Raina, Nana, and Lizzy. They added a 9th member, E-Young, in the beginning of 2011. However, since E-Young wasn’t around for “Bang!”, for all intents and purposes of this review, After School is made of 8 members. (Sorry, E-Young.)

Considered to be one of the “stronger” girl groups (both in popularity and in image) out there, After School is something of a curiosity. They’re the only girl group to have a “graduation/enrollment” concept, meaning that new members are brought in, and old members are cycled out periodically. So far, After School seems to be keeping only half of their word; since their debut with 5 members in 2009, they’ve added UEE, Raina, Nana, and Lizzy, and let go just one: Soyoung.

Something else noteworthy about After School is that three of their youngest and most junior members – Raina, Nana, and Lizzy – got together to form a sub-unit, called Orange Caramel. They would go on to have considerable success of their own, releasing hit tracks such as “Magic Girl” and “Bangkok City”. Although they perform as Orange Caramel, they are still considered members of After School, and the three of them will be joining the other group members for a comeback in early May under After School once again.

Their comeback will be something of a watershed for After School fans, since the last time all 8 (now 9) members last got together to release a track was a whole year ago when they released their third single, “Bang!” Yes, the exclamation point is part of the name.

L-R: Kahi, Jungah, Jooyeon, Bekah, Lizzy, Nana, Raina, and UEE

“Bang!” is an interesting study on the art of creating a concept. A lot of girl groups do the cute concept. They also do the dark concept, the retro concept, the sexy concept, and the innocent concept, with varying degrees of success.

After School was the first group to do a marching band concept. And “Bang!” proves that ridiculous concepts can indeed work, if you devote yourself to it 100% and not shy away from challenging the status quo.

How invested were they in their concept? Invested enough to do this:

Yes, they’re actually playing the drums. And in perfect synchronization.

I think it’s safe to say that the concept behind “Bang!” was one of the most innovative and original ideas to come out of the K-Pop girl group factory in a long time.

However, a good concept’s useless without a powerful and solid song to back it up – and that’s where After School stumbles a bit. Perhaps it can be blamed on the concept of the marching band, but is it just me, or is there…not enough singing? Try listening to the track again; a good majority of the song consists of girls shouting in random English, or otherwise singing something that sounds pretty much like a military cadence at an army barracks somewhere.

That’s the biggest issue I have with this track. They nailed the “powerful” part, but they forgot to include the “singing” part in there.

Something tells me the composers realized this; they probably listened to the whole thing once they were done and thought, “Hey, all they’re basically doing is shouting stuff.” So they decided to add in the incredibly awkward segue into a ballad – of all things – smack dab in the middle of the song.

Not only does it completely break the flow of the song – ruining the energy that was there in the first place – it also doesn’t do the girls’ vocals justice. After School isn’t really known for their ballads, and for a good reason: their vocals simply aren’t cut out for that kind of music. After School is known for powerful, charismatic, and sexy, and they should stay that way. None of the main vocals have a voice that have a deep enough timbre (with the possible exception of Raina) to do a ballad justice.

So, what we end up with is a complete deal-breaker that both interrupts the flow of the song, and also doesn’t stand on its own as an intermission.

I could honestly care less about the lack of singing and focus on guttural shouting – after all, it’s a marching band concept, and to be frank, there’s a certain something that makes the chorus very, very addictive. It’s energetic, and it works.

But the song is brought to a screeching stop in the middle, just when it’s heading into what should’ve been a roaring climax. It’s a shame that the composers decided to essentially use a “stopgap” measure to avert criticism, instead of going back and taking a long, hard look at the entire song itself.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

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