For those of you who are relatively new to K-Pop, you may have not heard of the “graduation system” used by girl group After School. For background, After School is a girl group under Pledis Entertainment. Right now, there are eight members in the group: Jungah, Jooyeon, Uee, Raina, Nana, Lizzy, E-Young, and Kaeun. Kahi and Bekah “graduated” in September 2012 and July 2011, respectively.
Here’s a brief discussion on the Graduation System:
How Does it Work?
Under the graduation system, members withdraw and join in a more natural manner. There are no abrupt changes to the line up, unless something drastic happens. A good analogy would be to think of After School as college. You apply to be accepted, and once you are accepted, you are a student until either you fail, leave for an unknown reason, or graduate to begin a new part of your life. In After School, members are “admitted,” and after some time, they “graduate” to do other things. If a member leaves, it seems to be a well, thought-out process, in which options and future goals are discussed. Members aren’t forced out and leave on good terms (at least that’s the way outsiders are able to see it). I assume that Pledis has a group of trainees that are effectively prepared to join the group smoothly upon a member graduating.
Why Is It Used?
Giving the ages of members, it would be logical for members to feel like once they reach a certain age, they should not be a member of a girl group. Also, with wide age ranges, there can be concerns about the ability of members to relate effectively with each other. For example, Kahi was 31 when she graduated. The youngest member at the time of Kahi’s departure, E-Young, was 20. That’s a significant age difference. Along with aging comes image concerns. It’s hard for someone Kahi’s age. There are members of the public who think that only younger artists can be considered idols. Such ideas could have a negative impact on the psyche of, not only the older members, but also the group as a whole.
I think another reason it is used is so that members do not feel like they are stuck. In relation to age, there is the possibility of interests to change over time. Members may no longer wish to sing, dance or perform. Former member Bekah graduated in order to pursue her dream of being a designer. Kahi has continued singing, but is now a solo artist. Also, perhaps the member wishes to focus on having more of a behind-the-scenes role for the group, such as a producer or composer. The graduation system allows members the opportunity to pursue their dreams without causing chaos.
Why Is It Good?
The graduation system allows a group to recreate itself. They do not run the risk of staying in a musical rut. The new members may have talents that were not initially present in the group. With new blood, comes a new sound and image. Perhaps a new member is an amazing rapper. When they are added, you could see more hip-hop sections in their songs or songs with bigger beats. Also, it’s a good way to attract new fans. With a new member, there are different personalities and looks that will be introduced. These new aspects attract new fans who are interested in those traits. In addition to these things, as I mentioned earlier, it also allows members a smooth way out. This protects both the member leaving and the group itself from a lot of unnecessary backlash (no T-ara-like controversy).
Why Is It Bad?
The graduation system allows a group to recreate itself. I know I said that was a good thing (personally, I think it’s great), but that’s not always the case. Fans get used to seeing a group have a certain image, and can fight against a change. For example, A-Pink, who has had no member changes, suffered from backlash during their “Hush” promotions due to fans (uncle fans probably) being upset at the sexier concept instead of the cute, innocent look they had before. Fans may be used to the group being more vocal than rap, so if the new members alter the balance in the music, traditional fans may not like the new sound. Fans may also have a favorite member. If that member leaves, sadly, there could be an exodus of fans.
The graduation system is pretty cool and ingenious. There are no major break ups or gigantic shifts in image. Smooth transitions and happy members make for a long lasting group, even if the members are different 5 years from now. After School will still be After School.
Special thanks to Lama of Jordan for her suggestion!! 🙂