[Op-Ed] Proper distribution of the Spotlight, How After School can win in the end
After School holds a special place in my heart. I initially found it hard to commit myself to any K-pop artist or group when I first began listening. I was a fan of the music, but nothing drew me in so much to make me full-on support and believe in the genre. One night though while browsing music sites, I came across a blog post recommending girl group After School, emphasizing the harmonies and genre-blending of their 2009 single “Because Of You”. I was intrigued, took a listen, and instantly fell in love. A piano ballad mixed with electronic dance elements and rapping blew my mind and, of course, the harmonies were on point (I have a thing for harmonies).
They were After School; a girl group with seven members with a unique system where members would be admitted and eventually graduate. But this was an afterthought as I further explored. From what I could tell, After School’s graduation system was nonexistent and only gaining members; topping off at nine at one point. One member had graduated, but I saw no reporters or fan comments upset about the member leaving. It just seemed like After School would just keep growing in power with new girls. I watched every second of the campaign for their first full album ‘Virgin‘, watching what I saw as a perfectly staged comeback with the flawless “Let’s Step Up” tap dance routine (after already proving they could create a drumline with “Bang!”) and the “Shampoo” single.
Before After School Red and After School Blue began their respective sub-unit promotions, it was announced that member Bekah would be graduating from the group. While Bekah always impressed me with her rap skills and was the best English speaker, it was not the biggest blow to the group. They were still After School comprised of eight girls with different personalities, such as their visionary leader Kahi, the model-esque NaNa, and the adorable Raina. Why wasn’t it such a huge blow to see Bekah leave? Was it because she simply did not stand out enough or had she not had her rightful time in the spotlight? Fans know how hard these groups train; was Bekah’s pop career that started with “AH” about to end now? These are all valid questions.
Then last month, news broke about leader Kahi graduating. Kahi inevitably became the face of After School with her singing, rapping, and dancing skills; even extending her fame with a solo mini-album and acting stints. So when the face of your group leaves, what happens next? As well, what happens when all the original faces of your group leave?
Some may envision disaster but the way I see it, with the right moves, After School could potentially end up as one of the most influential groups in K-pop.
There is the argument that when a member leaves, the members’ fans leave too. While the group’s newest recruit Kaeun may be special in her own way, she has no following yet. Kahi may have been a core reason fans were interested in After School and one of the faces they could automatically recognize. There were people who supported Kahi as the After School leader and additionally in her non-After School endeavors. Now, with seven other girls, Kaeun could easily be a nameless face amongst the more popular members—but what happens when they leave? Is Kaeun now expected to be a force in After School after stepping in following Kahi’s departure?
What After School and Pledis Entertainment need to make sure to do is to give each member their time in the spotlight. The comeback single “Flashback” sees a more even distribution of parts compared to past singles, but I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the newly shifted focus towards Nana, Raina, and Jungah. Nana particularly in getting her own solo track on their new maxi single with the standout “Eyeline” song plus lots of lines on “Flashback”, which means even more video time. Raina received a large amount of vocals on the title track and there was more emphasis on Jungah than ever as After School’s new leader; the girls also duet on the “Timeless” ballad.
Does it matter that Kahi isn’t in the new single “Flashback”? Do you enjoy seeing new members?
While it may be time to focus on these three members, the other five girls cannot be forgotten. The company is making strides in making sure all have their own projects, as member Lizzy is also a part of sub-unit group Orange Caramel with Nana and Raina, while UEE hosts a music program and takes on various roles in dramas. This should help solidify both the girls, though the other members do risk being cast aside.
There’s two ways to look at this risk though. On one hand, there is the possibility that like Mexico’s Menudo, The U.K.’s Sugababes, and America’s Pussycat Dolls, that After School will be Korea’s music brand. Perhaps that’s why Kaeun, Juyeon, and E-Young have all been styled somewhat similarly for this comeback. They are beautiful girls and if they are not going to be the stars, then they will at least give off the brand’s impression of beautiful, talented girls. Or Pledis could take the challenge of making all their members stars. Perhaps a sub-unit is needed (or coming?) to highlight the three aforementioned members? A hosting gig similar to Tiffany, Taeyeon and Seohyun of Girls’ Generation?
If After School and Pledis can make sure that all their members are distinct in their own ways when the time comes to graduate, they could very well find themselves with huge presence in the Korean entertainment world. While Bekah left to be a designer and occasionally is written about, Kahi could be a strong solo female force, extending Pledis’ capital as well as After School’s credibility.
Kahi would succeed because of the spotlight that was put on her during After School. Bekah never went solo–perhaps for several reasons. She may never have wanted to or it would not have been wise for her to do so as she may have not had strong enough star-power to make it. If the other After School girls are worthy of being in the same class as Kahi, then ideally they could all perform equally making After School a true force in K-pop for years to come. As other instantly recognizable groups age and are unable to perform as they may once have, After School may be able to do this with any batch of members. As long as the spotlight is fairly distributed making each student special in her own way, After School may have the system that ultimately proves to be the best in the world of K-pop.
Gif Image Source: After School Daze
About the author:
Jeff Benjamin is a Singer, Songwriter, DJ, Photographer and freelance writer who has written works for Billboard, Rolling Stone and now allkpop. Follow him on Twitter @Jeff__Benjamin