A Pink have returned, at what promises to be a crossroads for their career–for renewed recognition and popularity or else some sort of fade-out.
With 2016’s long-awaited comeback “Only One”, A Pink seemed to hit a snag with their once dazzling popularity. 2015’s “Remember” didn’t equal the trophy-stealing triumph of their 2014 megahits “Mr Chu” and “Luv” but performed well in a crowded field, while its album made a terrific haul on physical charts. Then A Pink were off to see the world, promoting strongly in Japan and even treating North America to a mini-tour. But in their time away from the Korean scene, some believe their popularity began to atrophy. Others argue that “Only One” wasn’t the right song for promotion. On this second score I have to disagree, having found (against my worries) that “Only One” is a strong, even magnificent tune, full of autumnal refreshing splendor, and actually the most engaging song from the somewhat meandering album Pink Revolution.
Certainly, “Only One” was a bid for a bit of “evolution” in A Pink’s sound, incorporating the sort of R&B stylings which (rightly or no) are often taken as a harbinger of more “grownup” pop. Their holiday collection of bonus tracks entitled Dear went even further in this direction, with the melancholy “Miss U” and a trio of duets, like the power ballad “Lost Pieces”, which lent the impression A Pink is transitioning into a soft-rock band of sorts.
With “Five” A Pink seem to have taken a firm backwards glance, enlisting Shinsadong Tiger once again, but not to drive their sound towards anything more “grownup” (say in the direction of his T-ara dance anthems), nor for that matter towards the exhilarating Wall of Sound aesthetic of their early collaboration “My My”. What “Five” sounds like, basically, is the “Mr Chu” that would’ve been made had Shinsadong Tiger taken the production duties in Spring 2014 instead of Duble Sidekick–a distinct missing link between “No No No” and “Luv”.
“Five” is a whimsical, floridly refreshing track with breezy arrangements and something of the rondoesque structure of “Luv”. It’s not melancholy in “Luv”s way but neither is it quite the unrepentantly enthusiastic romp that is “No No No”. It is resolutely a track that conforms only to A Pink’s palette and no one else’s: the nearest points of comparison in recent days might be April’s “April Story” or Lovelyz’ “Now, We”, but “Five” is neither as dramatic as the one nor as emphatic as the other. In its approximation to the later 80s, “Five” sounds almost dreamlike in its sheer not-now-ishness. If there is any concern that, with a modal age of 23, A Pink shouldn’t be doing “cute concepts”, “Five” is a declaration of war against the naysayers who think A Pink should be doing something, anything, else.
The gesture itself is impressive: either S. Tiger, Plan A, and the band believe the public is ready to take a trip back to those halcyon days of 2014 before everything went to heck (and if you think about it, “Mr Chu” came out right at the moment before the successive disasters of the Sewol ferry, Jessica Jung’s firing, and the Ladies’ Code tragedy and the deaths during 4Minute’s outdoor set all cast a pall upon the world of K-pop which, some would argue, has never truly lifted. Perhaps March 2014 was K-pop’s last season of innocence?); or else, more modestly, they’ve decided that the best thing for A Pink from now on is simply to please their hardcore fans and let the rest of the world take it or leave it.
Given the robust physical sales for Pink Revolution and Dear, that latter might be the prevailing thinking behind the scenes. It’s hard to believe, but A Pink as a band is now “older” than T-ara was when they released “Sugar Free”, essentially their last truly ambitious domestic recording. World conquest, which seemed thrillingly within A Pink’s grasp when “Luv” was a trophy-hording hegemon, now seems a faded possibility, but A Pink can still produce great music and enjoy a prosperous later career, like KARA, as purveyors of a unique brand of pop their loyal fans favor.
But all of this is, for the moment, prospective. Will “Five” be a huge hit, a solid success, a squeaker, or a flop? It comes up against heavy competition, as neophyte pop tarts Blackpink are ramping up enormous viewcounts for their latest shenanigan. At this hour, “Five” isn’t doing too badly in its own terms, and if the global fans keep it up at this rate it may indeed see a couple of million viewcounts before its first 24 hours are up.
The “Five” video–the ostensible subject of this review– is a curious item, looking very made-for-Japan with its delicate cuteness and frankly with its somewhat limited-looking budget. This isn’t one of digipedi’s more deluxe efforts, we admit. There are however some interesting touches of surreal “narrative”, like the way Naeun glances sideways while the other members drink her tea, or the disdainful glare Chorong gives the camera as we spy her eating her macaroon. With the pretty teapots and table of goodies we’re reminded of how digipedi riffed on Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette in the video for Rainbow Blaxx’s “Cha Cha”, but that video was a perverse fairy tale, almost a kind of horror movie about excess and voyeurism, whereas “Five” is–again–shockingly retro in its pure innocence. Not just the picnic scenes recall “Mollayo”–it’s as if the girls have never left their teenage fairyland. Those who are not hardcore fans may genuinely be puzzled by this direction, but for Pink Pandas it is enough that our heroines are here with us again, looking as fresh and endearing as ever. With “Always” they counted up to four–now with “Five” they count backwards to the dreamy days of their early glory.