K-Pop Music Reviews: After School – Shampoo

Title: Shampoo

Release Year: 2011

I sing this song in the shower. *badum-sch*

After one full year with only the three-member subunit Orange Caramel to quench the thirst of After School fans (technically, the official title is a “Playgirl” or a “Playboy”, but I feel kinda weird calling people “Playboys”, so I’m just sticking with “After School fan”), the entirety of the 9-member group has returned in full force with their latest album, “Virgin” – and their lead single, “Shampoo”.

Clocking in at 4:35 minutes long, “Shampoo” is one of the longest-ever lead singles for an idol group. This is a mixed blessing; on one hand, it manages to give every member in the 9-member group their equal share of screen time (unlike a certain other 9-member girl group *cough*), but on the other hand, the longer running time doesn’t contribute much to the overall quality of the song, and often drags it down.

Let me elaborate.

From L-R: Lizzy, Raina, Nana, (from top to bottom) Bekah, Jungah, E-Young, and Jooyeon, UEE, and Kahi.

Firstly – and most glaringly – the longer running time simply doesn’t do much. Does it kill the song, no. But does it also provide something special for the song? Also no. It just sits there like a benign tumor; it’s not exactly a bad thing, but it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it does to help, either – apart from, of course, giving every member their required due.

And that’s one thing I’d like to commend “Shampoo” for: the fact that it doesn’t relegate any of its members to a second-class role. It was a fault that I found with their previous single, “Bang!” – specifically, how their newest member (Lizzy) had no solo parts at all. Thankfully, this issue has been remedied in “Shampoo” – rather uncreatively and somewhat awkwardly, but remedied it has been.

After School is divided into “classes”, sorted by when they joined After School. This is the teaser for E-Young, the youngest (and newest) member of After School, and a member of the 4th class.

The side effect of this, of course, is that it tends to “weigh down” the song a little – not too much in that it starts to affect the quality of the song, but I have to say that the first time I heard this track, I was surprised – in both good and bad ways – by the fact that there were three rap interludes in the song – there’s the requisite rap by Bekah and Kahi, of course, but there’s also an extra little part featuring Nana’s rapping skills.

I’ve criticized Nana’s singing skills before in my “Bangkok City” review. And really, listening to her rap, I have one thing to say: she should’ve stuck with being a model. Even with subtle enhancing of her vocals via the magic of computers, it’s hard not to compare her voice with Bekah’s rap, which follows directly after hers – a shame, really, since they make Nana’s rapping sound even paler by comparison. I’ve said this before, and I’m saying it again: there are a few idol singers out there, whose main forte is not singing. I have an intrinsic problem with that, but that’s for another day.

The teaser for the third “class” – Lizzy, Raina, and Nana. They were the second-most recent additions to After School.

As for the rest of the track, I have to say that I’m quite impressed by the dramatic increase in After School’s singing skills. I had criticized “Bang!” for being little more than glorified shouting and military chants, and it’s nice to see that the girls have upped the ante with “Shampoo”. Some of the vocals still need a little work – there are still some parts where the voices are either overwhelmed by the instrumental or simply peter out in the middle – but on the whole, they’re a definite improvement, and on the most part, mesh with the song very well.

UEE (alternate spelling: U-IE) is the only member of the 2nd class, and the third-most recent member to join After School.

Speaking of the instrumental, it is absolutely fantastic. Of course, as a piano player, I might be slightly biased. But really, it’s refreshing to hear a track that doesn’t focus on synthesizers, electric guitars, and autotune. It’s almost as though I’ve stepped back in time; “Shampoo” feels like an ode that harkens back to a simpler past, before Lady Gaga went all avant-garde, before SNSD became a powerhouse, and before the charts came to be dominated by idol groups. That may be a little oxymoronic, considering that After School’s an idol group themselves, but listening to “Shampoo” is almost like taking a look back before the current industry came into being; there’s just something about the piano chords, combined with the string ensemble and the near-complete lack of synthesized backgrounds, that makes me feel like I’ve swallowed a glass of wayback juice.

The fourth and final teaser, showcasing the original 4 members of After School – Bekah, Kahi, Jungah, and Jooyeon.

In any case, it’s nice to see After School making strides and improving upon themselves. They have definite potential, and their concepts always bring something new to the table. One of the things that’s unique about After School is that they produce an instrumental-only track, a prelude of sorts, that precede the lead single, and they compose a unique choreography to go along with it.

For “Bang!”, the girls transformed into a drumline for their prelude, “Let’s Do It”.

For “Shampoo”, they decided to become tap dancers for “Let’s Step Up”.

After School really deserves more time in the spotlight than they currently have right now – overshadowed by another similar 9-member girl group, After School has always had to perform in the shadows. Perhaps. “Shampoo” will be the catalyst to change that.

4 stars out of 5.


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