Once their dual maknaes Umji and SinB turned 20, the mission became clear. Upgrade and modernize South Korea's innocent young sweethearts, Yeoja Chingu, better known off the peninsula as GFriend. The group, resembling a sisterhood of Utah mormon virgins, known for their precise "power choreo," adorably immaculate image, and saccharine over-produced bubblegum burst onto the scene from their tiny little company Source Music in 2015, and quickly won over the hearts of South Koreans.
For reasons unknown to me (and most people), Pledis Entertainment decided to let their iconic sexy concept group After School and its unique, quirky and popular subunit Orange Caramel lay fallow after the predetermined retirements of their leadership, first Kahee, then Jung Ah. They then dumped all of their resourses incubating the thirteen-member cutesy boy band Seventeen at the expense of their other, more compelling and mature male group Nu'Est.
Perhaps unfortunately for fans of After School, Orange Caramel, and Nu'Est, the strategy seemed to work: Seventeen is now one of the most popular groups in KPop, extracting squeals of passion from teenyboppers and ahjumma alike. Now, Pledis is back in the girl group business, leaving AS and OC officially "in hiatus" while dumping their resources into what at first seemed like a female version of Seventeen.
Pledis did a masterful job of promoting their embryonic girl group, exposing their predebut dectet, working titled "Pledis Girlz", to YouTube and other internet video outlets, performing dance covers of KPop faves, including After School's "Flashback" and other KPop favorites like SNSD's "Catch Me If You Can" and f(x)'s "Rum Pum Pum Pum." Even more importantly, two of their members, Na Young (Lim Na Young) and Chinese national Kyulkyung (Zhou Jieqiong, a.k.a. Pinky) competed in the enormously successful music survival show "Produce 101" and ultimately became members of the shortlived but wildly successful 11-member I.O.I.
Now the group has a new name, Pristin, and they've officially debuted with thier E.P. Hi! Pristin, single "Weewoo", looking less like a female version of Seventeen and more like an edgy knockoff of the hottest girl group in all of Korean pop, Twice. Immediately, in the music video for "Weewoo" you can see the young ensemble come together, each member's particular charms locked into matching scenarios, the maknae Kyla's tarot card reading, pretty young fashion plate Xiyeon at her vanity, cute and bubbly Yehana at the laundromat, tough chick Roa at the scene of a crime, bookish leader Na Young in the locker room, and so on. A method taken directly from Twice, and not surprising since they shared a director for both debut videos. But is it as good as Twice's debut, the now classic "Like Ooh Ah!"?
The song kicks in with a classic disco churning rhythm track reminiscent of disco icons CHIC, driven by a pounding bass and lightly salted with twittering treated guitar and synths over the top, especially tasty in the chorus, as the girls sing the title, which is supposed to be onomatopoeia: the sound of a police siren. The music track is fairly minimal, framing each vocalist without overpowering them, hammering particularly hard on the chorus and Na Young and Kyla's short but effective rap break. The prechorus buildup is a little schlocky, but it works, serving the track up to a nice sweet spot for kicking in the group vocal and trailing catchphrase bars. The break is a little weak, slowing down the pace a little too much, a technique that worked well in a timeless classic like KARA's "Step" but not as much here, where the bottom just completely drops out. Still, it's not enough to spoil the little earcandy number. It doesn't have the irresistable hookiness of "Like Ooh Ah" and perhaps its not fair to make the comparison, but it's so easy to. "Weewoo" establishes Pristin a large girl group to take note of, but it will take much more than this likeable song and cute video to take them to the places that Twice has been lately.
One interesting not about Pristin, though, is the unusual level to which their members are involved in their songwriting. Almost every member has been involved in writing the lyrics and a great deal of the music for all of the tracks on Hi! Pristin, a remarkable and unusual occurance in KPop. "Weewoo" was composed by American Sungyeon (Shannon Bae) along with three others, notably Seventeen producer BUMZU. Is Pledis just saving money on songwriters now? You tell me:
One potential problem Pledis may have (and I'll go there) is the wide range in the members ages, from 15-year-old Kyla to 21-year-old Na Young. This places the group straddling conceptual realities and options. They're not going to overtly take Pristin to sexy concept when their main visuals aside from Na Young, Xiyeon and Kyulkyung are 16 and 18 respectively. It might be difficult to do quirky and edgy (like f(x), EXID, Blackpink, or Red Velvet) with a group so large. Most massive groups like theirs are cute concept, but that may be limiting their range of charms, looks and talent.
This group is one that bears watching, but after the gaping hole in KPop left by the mysterious hiatus imposed on After School and Orange Caramel, we can't help hoping that Pristin would fill part of it. As promising as they are, they don't.