In the K-pop landscape, where acts often dive head-first into proven trends that might be sweeping mainstream music at any given moment, gallant leaps of experimentation and the blending of genre and sound can be rare. Taking risks, even calculated ones, could result in a detrimental faux pas that jeopardises the prospects of an up-and-coming group.
Cue SM Entertainment’s latest girl group, aespa, who first made their formidable entrance into the scene a little less than a year ago by challenging its parameters, staking their claim as frontrunners of K-pop’s next evolution. With their head-spinning, genre-splicing sound and fusion of AI technology into the group’s concept, the four members of aespa – Karina, Winter, Ningning and Giselle – are slowly but surely molding their place in K-pop as catalysts of change.
The rookie girl group may already have a major triumph under their belts with their breakout viral single ‘Next Level’, but aespa are making it clear that they are here to stay with their first ever mini-album ‘Savage’. This new six-track record is another step toward success for the girl group, refining their trademark sound and hinting at the rapid, upward trajectory aespa find themselves on.
Hip-hop beats are fused with crunchy hyperpop synths on the record’s title track of the same name. The clanging electronic instrumentation that kicks ‘Savage’ off, while reminiscent of late PC Music artist SOPHIE, steadily unleashes the musical potency that listeners have come to expect of aespa.
This time, it’s in the form of a catchy chorus that makes full use of a sing-talk chorus (“Get me, get me, now / Get me, get me, now / Or I’ll become a savage”), sweetened by Winter and Ningning’s wide vocal range. ‘Savage’ is brimming with addictive hooks and refrains that sit on top of masterfully layered production, further perfecting the edginess the quartet had already grounded themselves in.
The highs established on ‘Savage’ are not just maintained, but more importantly embraced by the group on the the remaining tracks of the mini-album, which sees aespa completely leaning into the futuristic cyberpunk theme. Opener ‘ænergy’ is knee-deep in the newly founded lore of the SM Culture Universe and understandably so. It’s an apt introduction to the fictional world that came with the group and of their individual characters.
The track itself is rife with chant-like refrains and hard-hitting beats that make for a spell-binding listen, despite its rather cryptic lyrics. “Karina is a rocket punchеr / Winter an armamenter / Gisеlle got Xenoglossy / NingNing e.d hacker,” they chant at one point. Lines like these can be confusing for fans of the group, much less the uninitiated – but, hopefully, as aespa grow in prominence, the blanks of the SMCU will soon be filled in.
‘I’ll Make You Cry’ comes alive with woozy electronic synths and thumping beats. Haunting belts escalate its already tenacious atmosphere, with strong vocal performances and fierce lyrics: “I’m sick and tirеd of it / You have to accept it / You must hurt to the bonе / Don’t expect mercy from me.”
Meanwhile, the eccentric, high-energy ‘Yeppi Yeppi’ recalls songs like ‘Everybody’ and ‘Why Not?’ by SHINee and LOONA, respectively – no surprise there considering all three songs were helmed by the same producers, South Korean duo Coach & Sendo. In the same vein as the tracks that followed, ‘Iconic’ is a force of revving production and fizzing hooks, complete with a seamless transition from edgy rap verses to mellow refrains that make for a charismatic track.
aespa slow things down at the end with ‘Lucid Dream’, which was co-composed by American singer-songwriter Hayley Kiyoko. On a record full of powerful songs, this track is a perfect breath of fresh air that both caps off the record on a mellow note while not compromising the boldness aespa have demonstrated thus far. The song is a poignant blur of hypnotic synthesisers and gentle trap beats regardless, mixed with intricate layers of breathy vocals.
Almost as if it’s heralding a new age of K-pop, ‘Savage’’s brand of vibrant, punchy electronic pop falls perfectly in sync with the unconventionality aespa have so boldly presented in their one year as a group. Beyond just proving that they’re more than a one-hit wonder, ‘Savage’ digs deep to traverse beyond the boundaries of K-pop and is indisputable evidence of aespa’s proclivity for expectation-bending sounds and visuals.
- Release date: October 5
- Record label: SM Entertainment