Of all the idol group couldabeens, the saddest is probably After School. Pledis Entertainment, ya’ll seriously mucked things up for these ladies. They had a few charismatic members, a few talented ones, a few pretty ones; the basic formula was down pat. They had a pretty decent debut with “Ah,” and while “Diva” was something of a letdown, they came roaring back with “Because of You,” which is incidentally one of my favorite K-pop songs ever. And then Pledis fumbled, and they haven’t done anything remarkable since, unless you count the pastel toy-store horror of a sub-unit that is Orange Caramel. And Pledis, incredibly, managed to fumble even Orange Caramel! They haven’t done anything relevant or successful since “Magic Girl,” their debut single. Rather than trying to throw a life ring to After School, Pledis has apparently decided to funnel all of their money and attention to the boy group that they’re grooming to debut in the near future, leaving me become a keyboard warrior and bemoan the injustices inflicted upon After School.
For starters, that little AKB48 style “graduation” system: yeah, it ain’t working. The only member who’s actually graduated since the system’s implementation is Bekah. As for the older members, they just stick around and become increasingly irrelevant while Pledis tacks on more and more new girls who may or may not be actually useful. I’m looking at you, E-Young. Yes, you’re pretty fabulous and all, what with your guitar skills and knowledge of different instruments. But what are you actually adding to the group? Pretty much nothing. They never split After School into a band sub-unit in which you might have used your skills. Not that I’m implying that would have been a smart move on Pledis’ part or anything, but at least it would have been relevant to your skill set. And you, Jooyeon. You’re an ex-ulzzang with a very pretty face, but you’re not even the face of the group. You were the leader of After School Blue, but does anyone actually remember that? You were one of the original members to boot, but right now you’re getting almost as little screen time as E-Young, which is saying something.
Lineup problems aside, Pledis really dropped the ball at the most crucial point: songwriting. Say what you will about K-pop requiring nothing but a pretty face and skinny legs, it does actually take a really catchy lead single to cement a group’s status. After School almost had that with “Because of You.” It bought them their only trophies to date from those ubiquitous weekly music shows, and brought them onto a larger stage into the industry. @#!*% , they sold even me, an eternal skeptic turning up her nose at the idea of the “Korean Pussycat Dolls“. After that, lord knows Pledis tried. They tried to make “Bang!” really awesome. Truly, the idea had potential. The marching band concept was pretty sexy, and “Bang!” was an almost-there sort of song. Almost there wasn’t good enough, though. They picked a really terrible time to come back, and ended up being overshadowed by a plethora of other artists already well established in the scene. They wasted months on an (admittedly awesome) drumline routine, and then only ever showcased it a few times. Pledis evidently lost their nerve after that failure, because they half-assed “Shampoo” as well. They tried the same alternative perfomance style schtick, with the tapdancing thing and all, evidently not noticing that their time and money might have been better spent on a better lead single than tapdancing choreography.
And now the dear sweet executives at Pledis are flopping hard at the Japan game as well. After School actually got quite a decent amount of buzz following their collaboration bit with the ever-fabulous Namie Amuro. It was an excellent decision to go the sex appeal route with the Japanese version of “Bang!” rather than the cutesy one. Contrary to popular belief among K-pop fans, having the cutesy image is not the be-all and end-all of promotions strategies in the J-pop industry. Trust Pledis to ruin a smart decision, though. After School followed up with the buzzkill that is the Japanese version of “Diva,” and all the attention they had been recieving in Japan ground to a halt.
I don’t see After School pulling out of this rut anytime soon. Every successive venture seems to dig them deeper and deeper into a hole, and the girls, particularly Kahi, their trump card of sorts, aren’t getting any younger. What do you think of After School’s current situation? Do you think that Pledis could have managed this group in a more successful way?