Over the last two years, AOA have cemented themselves as one of K-pop’s top girl groups. They debuted in 2012 with little success, but later skyrocketed to fame after finding the perfect producer in hitmaker Brave Brothers. Riding the sexy concept craze, the girls managed to fire out a successful string of generic-yet-addictive hits like “Miniskirt,” “Short Hair,” “Like a Cat” and their biggest song to date, “Heart Attack.”
However, they experienced some mishaps last year when the group’s two most successful members, Seolhyun and Jimin, bungled a Korean history lesson on a reality show (creating a storm of criticism), followed by a dating drama between Seolhyun and Block B's Zico. Then, an AOA sub-unit didn't so so well, before the group decided to ditch Brave Brothers for their comeback single “Good Luck” - a tune that sold less than half of their previous hits.
Despite a few hiccups, most fans expected AOA to reclaim their crown when they announced plans to return at the beginning of 2017 with their first full-length album, Angel’s Knock. That didn't happened.
The group’s two new singles, “Excuse Me” and “Bing Bing,” didn't hit the top of the charts on release, ranking only slightly higher than rookie groups like APRIL and WJSN. “Bing Bing” has since fallen completely off the digital charts, but “Excuse Me” has at least managed to rebound a bit off the back of live performances and TV appearances.
So, the big question is: Why did AOA not hit the mark this time? Let's look at the good and bad about AOA’s comeback...
“Excuse Me” isn’t the best AOA single ever (that would be either “Miniskirt” or “Heart Attack”), but it’s far from the worst. The nu-disco dance number, co-produced by Brave Brothers and Sweden’s Erik Lidbom, sounds like Kylie Minogue with a splash of The Cardigans ‘Lovefool’ on the hook, and it’s certainly catchy enough to be a hit.
It’s “Bing Bing” that doesn’t quite hit the mark. It kind of sounds like “Good Luck,” which didn't turn out so well either.
One of the biggest mistakes AOA’s agency made was releasing double title tracks. In K-pop, streaming and voting is a large component of a song’s success, and multiple singles divides the fans who need to focus on supporting one song with all their time and energy. Unless you’re BIGBANG, maybe stick to one single.
K-pop is an extremely visual medium and sometimes a visual concept can be just as important as the music itself. AOA definitely got it right with “Excuse Me.” The cute-meets-sexy P.I. cosplay is exactly the type of thing that got the group popular in the first place.
But “Bing Bing” is an extremely sexual concept, which looks outdated and out of place among today’s current cute and innocent trends. And the all-black outfits don't work for a fun group like AOA. Watching the raunchy live performances is like going back to 2014 when the likes of STELLAR, Rainbow Blaxx and 4L were heating up the stage.
AOA shot to fame off the back of their sexy concept craze, which earned them a huge number of male fans in a short amount of time. One theory for the group’s drop in popularity is that they never spent enough time courting female fans, and now all the men have moved onto the younger girl groups like TWICE and G-Friend.
Anybody who has been following AOA since the beginning will remember that they actually debuted as a two-part group with a band unit called AOA Black. The band, which didn’t follow the group’s main sexy concept, released just one single, 2013’s “Moya,” which was their biggest hit before “Miniskirt.” I now wonder, could AOA have built a more diverse fanbase if they’d fit more band comebacks in between the sexy stuff?
While on the surface, AOA’s scandals are the most obvious culprit for their downfall, on closer inspection it’s hard to really say if the scandals actually hurt them that much. Seolhyun, who was a big part of both controversies, has barely suffered any major career repercussions at all. She’s still one of the industry’s top CF models, and has no problem booking major MC gigs of variety appearances. Another popular member, ChoA, has also remained a variety fixture and is well-liked by the general public for both her talent and personality.
Overall, AOA’s slump is likely some kind of combination of all the reasons above. But that doesn’t mean that the group’s over for good, not by a long shot.
“Excuse Me,” while still under-performing, has gradually risen up Melon’s digital chart each day since its release, and the group’s recent appearance on Knowing Bros. set a new ratings record for the variety show. It won’t be easy, but with the right song and concept, there’s no reason that AOA can’t bounce back from this.