After School Heaven
I’ve always been a fan of After School, but this year they’ve really stepped up their game in ways I didn’t think were possible. Just when it looked like they’d jumped the shark following the departures of Bekah and Kahi, they sexed-up E-Young and Kaeun, learned to pole dance, and made one of the best K-pop comebacks of 2013 with “First Love.” It didn’t do as well as it should have on the charts, but all that means is that we get to shake our fists and complain about how underrated After School is and how their M! Countdown stage is literally the greatest thing in the history of popular music.

Aside from Orange Caramel’s album, it’s been just over a year since After School released anything in Japan. It looked like they’d given up on the Japanese market, but now they’re back with a new single called “Heaven.” It’s a funky disco-influenced dance song that sounds a lot like a J-poppified version of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” and that makes it pretty damn special. When Korean girl groups aren’t recording Japanese versions of their K-pop hits, they’re either doing kitschy cute J-pop or generic dance-pop stuff. “Heaven” is neither, with a sound that mirrors the much hipper, more musical side of J-pop that’s often overlooked by casual observers of the genre. The same goes for the music video, which is easily the group’s best Japanese visual to date. To my knowledge, this is the first time a Korean girl group has ever even tried this concept and sound in Japan.

Making “Heaven” even better is that it still sounds and looks like an After School single (they even work the pole dancing in there!). They’ve managed to combine what’s good and unique about both K-pop, J-pop, and themselves into one song, which is something that very few K-pop acts in Japan have been able to do. That makes “Heaven” the coolest Japanese song from a Korean girl group since Girls’ Generation’s “Flower Power” slayed us all.

It’s a shame that After School hasn’t been able to get a second wind yet like Girl’s Day or 4minute did this year, because with “First Love” and now “Heaven” they’ve reaffirmed that they’re still one of the best female K-pop groups around, even if the charts don’t reflect that fact.