In the K-pop world, B.A.P has become known for their aggressive, no-bars-held approach to hip-hop and pop bangers which has developed into a dedicated, global fanbase that has sent them on three world tours and will soon include a fourth.
The K-pop boy band recently returned with new single "Wake Me Up" as part of a three-song EP Rose. While the group is well into their fifth year together, it feels like B.A.P has crafted their most accomplished work to date that is as accessible as it is personal.
The Rose comeback is B.A.P's first release of 2017 after promoting two EPs and a full-length album last year. For their last effort of 2016 -- their Noir LP that earned them their fourth No. 1 on Billboard's World Albums chart -- the group's leader Bang Yongguk sat out of the promotions due to anxiety and panic disorders. Yonnguk produced or wrote on a majority on the record and while it would certainly be a difficult decision for him to miss out not only as an artist, it'd be an equally tough call to decide to be upfront about the true issue in an industry that has yet to speak openly and without judgment about mental health
It was significant for a K-pop star and his company, TS Entertainment, to actively put their artist's mental health first and be transparent about the situation. Many times, Korean singers or actors' issues are brushed over or ignored completely and fans are left wondering why they aren't seeing their favorite star as often as they once were. Yet, here was an instance where the entire team was revealing the exact reason of why their artist needed to rest -- a major move for TS Entertainment, who B.A.P slapped with a lawsuit in late 2014 over unfair working conditions until both sides settled the following summer and continue amicably today.
Perhaps even more so in the hyper-critical world K-pop stars live in, mental health issues are not something to be ashamed of and Yongguk and his team were brave in their decisions that ultimately paints the 26-year-old as a more realistic figure in Korea's world of untouchable celebrities. That refreshing honesty has seemingly fully bled into B.A.P's artistic output to stunning results.
Co-written by Yongguk and youngest member Zelo, "Wake Me Up" details an inner-awakening and a progression from "Awakening a different me inside / The faint light that was turned off" to "Putting back together / The messy puzzle pieces in this game... / I believe in myself right now," according to translated lyrics. This is a story of redemption that not only Yongguk can relate to, but B.A.P in general after being out of the K-pop game for nearly a year due to their lawsuit.
Through it all is a racing hip-hop/pop production that centers the aggressive raps and emotional belting around a subtle-yet-catchy string of hooky oohs making "Wake Me Up" is B.A.P's most accessible single in years. A step away from the hard-hitting "Skydive" or "That's My Jam," the change up still lets each member's unique vocal delivery shine and is reminiscent to how BTS also incorporate deeper commentaries over mainstream productions -- ultimately, only helping B.A.P's message hit harder.
Elsewhere, the accompanying video shows how B.A.P is making mental health and self-care a priority as they show an extremely diverse cast of actors -- perhaps the most diverse cast ever seen in a K-pop video -- doing their best to cope. The visual appears to touch on issues of self-perception (a young woman stares at herself in the mirror with dozens of beauty products sprawled on her bed), anxiety (a black man nervously looks around his bathroom), and eating disorders (a black woman begins seeing maggots in the salad ingredients she's preparing) among others. Yet, the most striking scene may come during the bridge section as a young man holds a sign that reads "Emotional Revolution." Here, B.A.P is calling for an inner-change in the way viewers feel and perceive the world. The music video highlights the types of struggles and issues many of their young fans around the world are likely facing and, instead of any major action, the band suggest they start with themselves. Easy-yet-important advice.
It's this type of honesty and perspective that ultimately forges a deeper connection between artist and fans and B.A.P has created a spectacular example of how real-life struggle can inspire with "Wake Me Up."