If you want to find the hardest working singers in K-pop, look no further than the eight members of girl group After School. They learned a drum line in 2010 to perform “Let’s Do It!”, a tap dance for “Let’s Step Up” in 2011, and a cane dance for “Rip Off” in 2012. Now, in 2013, a choreographed pole dancing routine for new single, “First Love.”
Despite three members being injured at different points throughout promotions — member Lizzy was still recovering at the time of this interview — the hard work seems to have paid off. After School has their highest-charting hit since the August 2011 inauguration of the K-Pop Hot 100 as “First Love” jumps to No. 7 this week.
Billboard joined After School as they rehearsed their physically-intensive routine. As well, the girls sat down to talk about their goals with such a risky performance, their hopes to promote in new countries and what else 2013 holds.
After School fans (known affectionately as PlayGirlz and PlayBoyz) last saw After School on the charts with Top 10 hit “Flashback” in June 2011. The group has spent the year in between focusing on solo and sub-unit activities which included acting opportunities and sub-unit Orange Caramel (made up of members Raina, Nana and Lizzy) landing a big hit with “Lipstick,” the lead single to their first full-length LP, hitting No. 2 on the K-Pop Hot 100.
But leader Jungah says the eight of them thrive as one group. “Us being together again feels new and it is also bringing back fond memories. We became closer since we got back with each other,” she says. “We’ve been away for a long time so we made sure we came out with a higher-quality performance and music.”
For this higher-quality performance, the girls made a consciousness decision to move past performance art and push cultural barriers.
“We wanted to break stereotypes,” member Uee explains. “We wanted to change the way people feel uncomfortable because they think pole dancing is too racy. We want people to see it in a creative perspective. We want people to realize that pole art is a popular sport and hopefully that can make people want to learn it too. Honestly, I heard it’s a trend nowadays for women to learn pole dancing as a form of diet.”
When the group eventually rests from their intesive performance, they’ll soon move into more promotions — both as a group and in units – including a new material for the Japanese market, from Orange Caramel and possibly more from After School.
Given their history, fans should expect the unexpected. 2011 saw After School splitting into two separate units to promote two different singles as After School Red and After School Blue. The group is considering more of these unique ways to promote.
“We are thinking about solo/unit activities so we can emphasize each and every member’s unique charm and qualities,” powerhouse vocalist Raina explained. She mentioned she wanted to perform a duet with fellow powerful vocalist Jungah while their multi-instrumentalist member E-Young would like to try a band sub-unit with three or four members.
While other popular K-pop groups have made their way to the U.S. or Europe. After School, curiously, never has. “We don’t have concrete plans, but I think the opportunity may come if we gain more fans in the States or Europe,” Jungah sums up. “We want to meet a lot of people and show our performances to them. We will go see you guys if the opportunity comes.”