written by: drowningn00b
I’m convinced Pledis Entertainment doesn’t know what it’s doing. Last year, they announced the creation of a male version of After School called After School Boys (originally, Pledis Boys). So … where are they? In addition, they “graduated” Bekah, one of After School’s stand out members. Fine. But then musically, the Japanese debut record ‘PLAYGIRLZ‘ was a generic fuckfest with no personality whatsoever. To make matters worse, days before their return to k-pop, Pledis announced Kahi would begin her solo career in the fall, effectively ending her run as the leader of After School. So now, with After School 5.0, and Jung-Ah as the presumed leader, though Pledis has yet to make a definitive decision on the matter (netizens, and myself included, are rallying around Nana for the slot), they released ‘Flashback‘, a mini-album that is inclusive of a bumpy road into nostalgia, a recurrence of another Pledis mistake and a hopeful glimpse into their future.
On the YouTube page for “Flashback”, the group’s PR team claims the track, and the mini (appropriately categorized as a “maxi single” for foreign consumption), is a look back to After School’s dance roots, while remaining on the pulse of what the kids are listening to today. Speaking about the lead single:
“[the] lyrics sing of the longing for when one was in love and also contain a double meaning as Afterschool seeks to return to its early stages most wanted and liked by fans”.
Nostalgia should be insulted. With their lead dancer gone, the new dance intro track is the Korean translation of their track, “Rip Off”. Now with top hats and canes, the choreography (and music) pales in comparison to the snare drums for “Bang!” and the stolen tap routine (allegedly) for “Let’s Step Up”. “Rip Off” plays with a casino vibe, filled with slot machine sounds and xylophone nuances that would indicate flashing lights. The song is fun, and bears some resemblance to their glory days, with Raina and the other ones shouting the “Rip off!” lines in the chorus. The problem when the girls singing together is that all color is lost, leaving the taste of plain tofu after a spicy tuna roll.
But the bland party doesn’t end there. “Flashback”, the single du jour (with Nana’s sexpot back taking center stage), we see what should be a return to form to the original After School concept: a group of sassy girls with come hither eyes and suggestive dancing a la Pussycat Dolls. Only now, instead of the myriad school girl outfits, the ladies in “Flashback” take on adult sexuality, with exposed lingerie and subtle S&M imagery.
I’m all for sex in music, and “Flashback” has it wrapped in the pathetic “b-b-b-boy, I miss you” blanket of its lyrics. The song is fun, with a great bass line ideal for a club setting, but it has a passing resemblance to Brave Brothers-produced tracks for girls. I love the track, but not because it’s an After School song. Yes, Raina hits the high note well, and Nana’s passable rap segment with the Super Junior-fied stuttering was welcome with the recent graduations, but anyone can sing this song. Pick any group and the song would work just as well. It isn’t hard to sing like Janet Jackson nowadays, and Pledis did After School a disservice with “Flashback” because whatever nostalgia factor they were chasing after didn’t pan out. “Flashback” is a good track, but not for these ladies.
Where this EP succeeds is in the solo tracks. Nana is magnetic, with cameras loving her at every turn and eyes that burn with passion (something the newer members, and some of the vets, sorely lack). And if it was a choice between her, Raina, Uee or Jung-Ah, my choice for taking the leadership role is for Nana. who has a stronger voice than Uee, is more playful than Jung-Ah and has a better face than Raina’s ridiculous cheek implants cheekbones. Pledis played it right this time by putting her on the trance-lite and bass-heavy track, “Eyeline” after Kahi’s exit. This would have been the ideal introduction for Nana, til I remembered her first solo track on the god-awful ballad for Orange Caramel last year. “Eyeline” is ideal for her because the production makes her voice take the lead in the quieter moments and taking over where her voice fails.
By no means is “Eyeline” a stand out track, but it’s a better platform to start from than “Close My Eyes”. Side by side, these tracks show the good and bad side of future Nana projects; she can make me dance, but balladry is not her thing.
But the best track off “Flashback”, and of the past three records (“Virgin”, “PLAYGIRLZ” and “Flashback”) is the album-ending duet between Raina and Jung-Ah in “Timeless”.
The one track to take the past (“When I Fall”) and do it right for the present, “Timeless” is great. As After School’s two lead vocalists, Jung-Ah and Raina are effortless together. Pinpoint harmonies, smooth song composition and enough emotion to bring you into their sadness makes this acoustic guitar R&B track a must listen. Forget AS Blue and Red and Orange Caramel, Raina and Jung-Ah need their own sub-group. I can see it now; a duet release with a dance number a la Babs Streisand and Donna Summer, and a stupid cat fight song like Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy is Mine”.
If Pledis is smart, they’d capitalize on this. Blue and Red sank fast and Orange Caramel isn’t due for another ear-splitting release till the fall. “Timeless” is the kind of side project k-pop needs right now. SM The Ballad has yet to reunite, and TaeTiSeo just left for Japan, and these two ladies would make a great counterpoint to the homo-erotic pairing Homme. Don’t thank me for the idea, Pledis; just do it.
This review doesn’t make it clear, so I’ll do it now: I’m a fan of After School. I’ve loved their over-the-top concepts, as well as the music, with the only song that matters, “Diva”, leading the pack. So it’s been a thorn in my side to see Pledis Entertainment fuck up After School at every turn since “Because of You”. “Rip Off” and “Flashback” are not songs for the After School brand; they fit better as tracks for rookie groups. “Wristwatch” is the worst attempt yet to get OST work this year. But there are gems here.
Nana’s “Eyeline” puts her on the right path to a solo career, and Jung-Ah and Raina’s spectacular “Timeless” song gives me hope Pledis isn’t run by imbeciles, that the future of After School isn’t bleak.
| Points scale
0 – could do without
0.5 – mediocre/filler
0.75 – pretty good/grew on me
1 – liked immediately
Points to stars conversion: [(2.5/5) x 5] + 0.25*
*there is a 0.25 bonus for every album. The logic is that, if every song were “pretty good”, it’s a 4-star album.