Contributing Writer, lolpenny, is back, and bearing gifts! Here’s her review of ‘A Class’ by Miss A.
Quick self-evident truth: Korea is inundated with female idol groups. There are so many that even the most dedicated fans probably can’t name them all. To hilarious ends, several fans have put much effort into categorizing and organizing the masses, their methods ranging from comparing them to countries to creating different “tiers” for the groups. Still there remains a confusing metric shit ton of them and with every subsequent debut it becomes harder for groups to forge an identity or gain a loyal fan base. This has given K-pop throwaway groups like Swinkle and Nine Muses, which is unfortunate but not particularly earth shattering.
Slightly more problematic is that every single group, all five million of them, have gone through a moody “dark” phase. They see a pink door and they want to paint it black. But really it’s more of a sparkly off-gray color.
So when everyone has done it and no one seems capable of bring anything better or blacker to the concept it seems unlikely that miss A can pull off this fishnet stocking-themed album. And yet they do.
A Class pulls back the curtain with “From One to Ten,” a piano-driven pop piece, the likes of which has been done in K-pop to the point of redundancy. “From One to Ten” is the kind of song that could play at either end of a stereotypical dance movie. The piano gives it a semblance of classical ballet, while the drum beats and constant buzzing drive it in a more contemporary, modern direction. Because JYP Entertainment (or AQ Entertainment, whatever) has billed them as a “dance group” since their genesis, this song is exactly what is expected of them, cliches be dammed.
Depending upon your mood, “From One to Ten” is either slightly melancholy or almost optimistic which is a little different than the other sweet piano melodies recently. But only kind of. Which is endlessly important.
From there the album barrels into their promotional track “Good-bye Baby.” Well, I say “barrels” but with the oddly placed sigh and the ominous first few bars a more appropriate description would be “descends,” but that’s just semantics. After a snarky debut and a peppy follow up, “Good-bye Baby” is miss A’s first honest foray into the dark side of pop music. It’s a little bit Coyote Ugly and a little bit Sid & Nancy and actually quite good.
Here’s the thing about groups from the three major labels: they have a clear and consistent image and they very rarely waver from it. This is why they work very well all the time and other groups work pretty well some of the time. The four girls of miss A fall into the first category, they have a sassiness that is palpable in everything they do.
The reason behind miss A’s success is that sassiness and the way informs every song they sing, but nowhere is it more clear than “Good-bye Baby.” The girls hit accents exactly where it counts; the ends of phrases and the downbeats in the chorus are both strong and profound. Tiny details like that make the rock themes in the song seem authentic instead of contrived as they would if some other group attempted this feat.
Miss A makes smirking in your general direction the core of their entire being while everyone else uses it as an occasional (perhaps accidental) gimmick. For this reason they are entirely believable in the scorned lover-slash-dominatrix role they’ve adopted for this round of promotions.
And thank God that horrible buzzing is gone.
A Class cools off (here a relative term) with “Help Me,” a standard JYP R&B track. The one major, albeit subtle, difference between this and every other R&B number is how sharp “Help Me” sounds. This probably stems from the previously mentioned attitude of the band. It’s either that or the swooshing background noises that teeter on the edge of electronica, all the while a thrumming bass line struggles to keep it from escaping.
There are occasionally some pretty cool things going on with intonation in the breakdown, and the music box, ice cream truck bell interludes are adorably comical (or comically adorable). But these moments aren’t ever the focus, and cower behind the predictability of the song. Anyway, “Help Me” is smooth and pleasant enough because JYP seems to specialize in that sort of thing so let’s not dwell.
It’s here that we come to “Mr. Johnny” or as the girls say, “Mr. Joddy.” It is a distinct possibility that whoever wrote this song made a list of elements that go into a club track and then crammed them all into this three minute song. “Mr. Johnny” is composed of reverb, auto tune, heavy bass, and twisty electronic nuances. It even includes a rolling snare into the chorus and an ostentatious voice almost beat boxing at irregular intervals. And just to really hammer the point home they threw in a clapping metronome. Techno pop doesn’t get better than that.
The last new track of the album is the “Silver Mix” of “Good-bye Baby.” I only mention this because the pulled back instrumental makes the song sound especially eerie and Jia’s rap comes off infinitely better with the claps punctuating the end of her phrases. Unlike a lot of remixes this one is neither better nor worse than the original; the song is similar to the original but it is good in an entirely different way. And isn’t that the point of a remix?
The bottom line is this, A Class is better than any of miss A’s previous material. It’s more consistent and not nearly as annoying. With most of the seven billion idol groups hitting a plateau after one or two singles miss A took the chance to move forward and that’s not nothing.
There is a simplistic quality to miss A’s work that will hopefully allow this forward momentum to continue. Other girl groups are content to rerelease the same song over and over or take and borrow from glaringly distinct genres. A Class and “Good-Bye Baby” seek neither to exactly mimic past songs nor totally reinvent an entire decade in three minutes thirty seconds. A Class might involve a hint of rock here or a touch of reggae there but overall it’s just pop music done very well.
Hello there. You can call me Penny. I’m just a girl from New Mexico with an affinity for pop culture. I spent half my life in ballet shoes and the other half staring at sheet music. Now I tentatively review k-pop for McRoth’s Residence. I think we should be friends. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on twitter @maxwellattack.