B.A.P. Comeback Review: “Wake Me Up”

In my last post, I mentioned that I liked BTOB more for their personalities than their music. I feel the opposite way about B.A.P.  I do enjoy their variety shows and broadcasts, but I literally became their fan because of one song. Last fall, “Skydive” smashed into my life to become one of my favorites.  I was really moved by their storyline they took on and the detail in their music video. “Wake Me Up” is also thought-provoking, but it takes it one step further. While many can probably relate to its subject, it’s based on B.A.P’s real experiences – which makes it all the more meaningful.

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*WARNING!* This review assumes the reader has listened to the music and/or seen the music video!

Current concept: In regards to their aesthetic and style, I would probably call B.A.P. edgy because of the rock influence in their more recent music. In their MV Commentary, they mention this specific comeback looking sexy and cool.

However, I’d personally argue that they’ve gone beyond a concept with this particular comeback (even if they’re very low-key about it in the aforementioned video). They’re addressing some very pertinent issues that are very real and personal to certain members – something that is not often done in K-pop these days. So in this review, I will focus more on the subject matter and the message rather than their aesthetic.

SONG:

Music by: Gabriel Brunell Brandes, David Fremburg, Secret Weapon

Arranged by: David Fremburg and Secret Weapon

“Wake Me Up” has a very distinct pop rock feel to it, and it reminds me of Maroon 5’s more recent music.  This is probably because the falsetto makes me think of Adam Levine. Making the falsetto a huge focus of the song as the hook is an interesting choice.  While it does help give off that “sexy” vibe that B.A.P. was talking about, it also has an almost haunting quality. As we’ll see with the music video, there’s a very melancholy feel.  Yet at the same time, there are also glimmers of hope.  I think that the soft and sweet falsetto really helps bring those out.

In general, I think that B.A.P.’s title tracks tend to be aggressive and intense – or at the very least high energy.  I remember being awed by “Skydive” because it was just so epic. You could hear them putting throwing they had into performing it.  In contrast, “Wake Me Up” sounds much smoother and more polished.  It’s not as raw (although the lyrics might be a different story).  At the same time, you can sense this underlying tension both in the instrumentals and the way that they sing.  It kind of feels like the eye of the storm, or something simmering just under the surface – perfect for a song about a person’s inner conflict.  As we’ll see, the mood of the song really matches the lyrics.

In my opinion, B.A.P. doesn’t usually have as much of a Western influence as some other groups. That is to say, their songs generally don’t sound like what I’d hear on the radio in the U.S. (taking out the “different language” factor) For them, this song is pretty accessible and easy to listen to.  As Billboard points out, having a more pop-friendly song provides a great opportunity for them to spread their message to a wider audience.  So while the public can enjoy the music, they’re also exposed to B.A.P.’s serious and thought-provoking lyrics – the best of both worlds.

SCORE: 18/20

LYRICS:

Lyrics by: Yongguk, Zelo, Mafly, Keyfly

“Wake Me Up” is about a person’s struggle with their mental well-being and their quest to get better, or as Himchan says: “Putting back together the messy puzzle pieces in this game.”  The chorus is the clear standout – it speaks of acknowledging the person’s need to heal, and the process of doing so:

“I’m awakening a different me inside, the faint light that was turned off
Wake me up, open my eyes, wake me up
I’m getting up before it’s too late, there’s a trembling in my new heart
Wake me up, shout out loud, wake me up”

The song is clearly about the journey and not the end results.  There isn’t a story per se, but there is a sense of progression. In the beginning, this person declares their need and intention to get better (“I need to jump over my limit, I can’t just stop like this.”)  Then they actually take steps to do so in the chorus.  There are hints of setbacks, but towards the end they fully commit.  (“Right now, I’m giving it my all looking for the hidden truth”). There’s a resolution to keep on going (“Even if there’s a delay, I keep walking”), and glimmers of positivity (“My senses are coming back to life”).

I think that this portrayal of the means (rather than the ends) is very important.  There is no easy way to recovery, especially when it has to do with mental health. It’s not a straight line from A to B, and the process is different for everybody.  Yongguk has a line that’s especially poignant: “Snap out of it, I thought that I swallowed you.” The “you” presumably refers to negative feelings, anxiety, and/or the danger of relapsing. It refers to things having a way of popping up or coming back despite our best efforts to move forward. There will be setbacks, and it’s important to be ready for them.

It’s pretty standard for Yongguk to have a hand in writing or composing the title track, but in this case it’s particularly worth noting.  During “Skydive” era, Yongguk sat out of promotions because of health issues – specifically, mental health issues.  It’s very clear that this song was partially born from that period, making the lyrics extremely poignant.   You can clearly sense someone who is speaking from personal experience, and there are a lot of lines that will ring true for people that have gone through similar situations. For example, I love the line “Questions thrown at me, without even a question mark.”  It’s a very succinct and accurate way of when people ask you about personal things (well-meaning or not), or perhaps even outright judge you.

“Wake Me Up” also has some references to a call of action, or “being woke.”  Yongguk has a tattoo of “Viva la Revolución” on his chest, and he even says it before launching in to his rap.  People are being more honest about their mental health these days, but we still have a long way to go.  Talking about these kinds of things is still somewhat taboo. (I’m mostly speaking from a Western standpoint, but from what I’ve seen this applies to Korea as well).  Zelo says, “The answer that the world wants is blind to its desperation.”  He also talks about a grown-up child challenging society.

Tattoo.jpg

I take this to mean a couple of different things, but the uniting idea is creating a safe space for people to be open and honest about their struggles.  It’s a call to society as a whole (and probably the K-pop industry as well) to be more acknowledging and accepting.  It asks us to break down the misconceptions surrounding these kinds of issues, and it urges us to be more aware of and educated on the problems plaguing society.

All of these elements unite to create a song that is realistic and sobering, but at the same time sympathetic and hopeful.  We tend to like songs that say everything will be okay, and “Wake Me Up” does have a bit of that.  But at the same time, it acknowledges that there will be setbacks and difficulty along the way.  It’s not making an empty promise; it’s painting a more accurate picture. It’s not a harsh or explicit song, but it also doesn’t gloss over anything. For me, this makes it more relatable and appealing.

SCORE: 10/10

LINE DISTRIBUTION:

Daehyun, Youngjae, Zelo, Yongguk, Himchan, Jongup

A group with six members is a very well balanced one, and B.A.P. has found a good line distribution here.  The main vocals Daehyun and Youngjae take care of the choruses and the high notes. Sub-vocals Himchan and Jongup each have a verse.   Zelo and Yongguk both have significant amounts of rapping, with Zelo stepping in to take the bridge.  There’s obviously a hierarchy that outlines their specific positions, but it gives each member what makes the most sense for their role.

SCORE: 9/10

CHOREOGRAPHY:

(Note: Sorry about the annoying whistling in the fancam.  It was the only one I could find before Himchan went on hiatus for his injury)

I feel a little strange talking about the choreography, because I don’t think it’s as important for this particular comeback.  In this case, I think that the dancing takes a clear backseat to the music (plus lyrics) and the music video.  I could be completely wrong, but I kind of get the impression that the choreography’s just there for something to do while they perform it.

That being said, that doesn’t mean that it’s bad.  Actually, it supports the cool and sexy look that B.A.P. mentioned.  There are a lot of chic moments and parts where they can appeal to their fans. My favorite part is the hook, which has a very sensual look to it.

Key-Point

Stylistically, it’s very similar to “Skydive.”  There are a lot of sharp angular movements and sliding around, as well as emphasis on moves for the shoulders and the legs.  It’s all very smooth and clean.

Chorus

Sometimes groups will take certain lyrics from the song and create corresponding movement in the dance.  I’m glad that B.A.P. didn’t do this, because it might have unintentionally made the performance overly dramatic or trivialized the message. But I do like their key point, which is probably the closest to referencing the song. It’s a very simple movement, but it does convey the need and emotions going on in the lyrics.

Wake-Me-Up.gif

SCORE: 16/20

CENTER AND FORMATIONS:

I personally think that the organization of this performance is all over the place.  There are moments with the whole groups, there are some sections with certain members, and there are times with a bunch of backup dancers.  (We all know I don’t always like backup dancers, but this time they fill up the stage nicely). Sometimes, it looks like a normal K-pop dance routine.  Sometimes, it looks like they’re trying to acknowledge the seriousness of the song and go for something more.  I hate to bring up the B.A.P. and BTS comparisons, but it might had been better if they had attempted something like “Spring Day.”

Although it’s not super cohesive, there are some nice parts.  It’s kind of weird to say this about a dance number, but I really like the moments of stillness.  There aren’t many of them, but they definitely have an impact.  The most powerful moment is when Yongguk appears in the middle of the song.  I assume that this is really because he’s taking it easy with this comeback.  But they’ve organized it so that everyone stops and looks at him when he starts rapping, giving real weight to his lyrics.

Yongguk-Appears.gif

B.A.P. tends to favor their vocalists as center, so it’s mostly Daehyun and Youngjae in the middle.  This is a good choice, because they both have very charismatic glares. Because they’re all moving around a lot, I’d say that a dance center isn’t imporant for this particular routine. But main dancer Jongup does get a lot of cool looking solo parts.

SCORE: 8/10

MUSIC VIDEO:

Emotion-Revolution

Like the lyrics, the music video depicts different people struggling.  Some of their specific issues are easier to discern, and some are a little more abstract.  But what’s key is that they are all alone and suffering.  The characters’ stories are interspersed with shots of the members staring at us, singing, and occasionally dancing. At first, it seems like B.A.P. doesn’t have any connection to these people. But towards the end of the song, they appear on the television and on the radio. When all of these lonely people gather to see and hear B.A.P., they find strength and solidarity in each other.  There’s no massive change or revelation at the end, but they can start the road to get better with others who understand them.

Turning-Point.gif

Ending

I really like how they handled the shots of the members.  At first, they’re standing around and singing.  But as the music video progresses, they become more active.  There are shots where they look directly into the camera, signifying their own awakening.  Several members rap or sing into a microphone like they’re on a broadcast.  Towards the climax of the song they are shown holding torches, which I associate as an impetus for change.  And at the end of the song they are all holding roses, which is a symbol for love – and perhaps in this case, for peace.

Flames

Roses.gif

This story could have easily taken a turn for the dramatic, but I think that it was handled very tastefully.  It was a good choice to keep B.A.P completely apart from the main characters (they’re never in the same room).  If they had appeared in person and led them in their celebration, then the message would have been that B.A.P was the uniting factor or perhaps the deus ex machina.  And while it’s great to have celebrities as inspirational figures, that could come off as cheesy. Having them broadcast the song over the radio and the television allows the music (and the lyrics) to be the catalyst, the agent for change.  This makes the members the heralds rather than the saviors, and gives them a guiding role.

Jongup.gif

One thing that stood out to me was the diversity of the cast.  While they were all relatively the same age (I think), they were notably different races and ethnicities.  While K-pop videos do occasionally have the non-Asian actor or actress, they very rarely show a wide spectrum of diversity. (Unless you count Taemin’s multicultural gang in “Press Your Number”) While I think that they could have added at least one other Asian actor as a “main character,” this casting choice reflects how universal these problems are.  Because this isn’t related to a specific culture, anyone can look at it and get something different. This is a truly tumultuous world that we live in.  We might not all have the same problems, but we all have our own things to deal with.  And it’s important to remember that you don’t have to suffer alone.

SCORE: 20/20

STYLING:

Although the styling is not as big a factor as it is in some other comebacks, it’s still very well done.  The members are dressed very handsomely, and they look great in the all black ensembles.  Their hair choices are noticeable and dramatic (Jongup’s two-toned hair, Yongguk’s girls, Himchan’s bright red shade), but they look good.

STYLING MVP: Daehyun, rocking leather, some sparkly neck and face tattoos, and that intense glare

Daehyun.gif

SCORE: 9/10

FINAL TALLY:

Song – 18

Lyrics – 10

Line Distribution – 9

Choreography – 16

Center and Formations – 8

Music Video – 20

Styling – 9

TOTAL: 90

CONCLUSION: There’s a debate that I see on Tumblr all the time regarding idols versus artists.  The argument is apparently that if you write your own lyrics and you put some of yourself into your work, you are an artist – implying that artists are above idols. Personally, I completely disagree with this. You don’t need creativity to be talented at the skill in question.  Actors don’t (usually) write their own lines, but acting is considered an art.  You can sing or dance without having to compose your own songs or choreograph your own dances. (Okay, mini rant over) Although I honestly believe all idols are artists, B.A.P. is a good example for those who think that the self-producing ones are on another level.

I don’t think it’s necessary for artists to draw from their personal experiences for their work to be successful.  That being said, it’s truly something special when they do. Anyone who knows even an inkling about B.A.P. knows that they’ve had a hard time with the lawsuit.  In an industry where a lot has been kept quiet, they’ve been fairly vocal about it. It sounded like such a soul-crushing experience, and I really commend them because not everyone could come back from that.

I remember watching a variety show last year where they were asked B.A.P.  what they would be if they weren’t K-pop idols.  Youngjae replied that they all just want to be singers.  This really impressed me, and I can see why “Wake Me Up” became their next title track. In a way, it reflects B.A.P. themselves.  They’ve all had hard times, together and individually.  They’ve overcome some major obstacles and a couple of setbacks, and they’re still standing because this is what they love.

B.A.P. has everything that it takes to be a successful group.  They may no longer be competing with EXO, but they have a very dedicated and loyal fanbase. They have skilled vocalists, rappers, and dancers.  On the more superficial side, they’re good-looking, and they’re funny.  But I personally think that they’re at their strongest when they get personal in their music.   I certainly wish them a lot of success and hope that they get really big, but I’ll look forward to anything that they release anyways.  What really matters is that they’re still here.

Sources: Youtube, TS Entertainment, Wikipedia, Billboard, Soompi, Seoul Beats, Omona They Didn’t (Livejournal), K-pop K-Fans (Blogspot), MV Commentary (MNET/M2), M! Countdown (MNET/M2), Idol Battle Likes Episode 2 (KBS), Instagram (Boog Brown)

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