Aespa has gone to the next level with their first album, Savage, which arrived on Oct 5.
A six-track EP, Savage comes almost a year after the K-pop girl group debuted with their first single, Black Mamba, last November.
Fronted by a single of the same name, Savage arrived about five months after the group’s May single Next Level, which became a viral hit in South Korea and turned the rising rookies into one of the industry’s most prominent female acts.
Formed by K-pop company SM Entertainment, Aespa (stylised “aespa”) is a distinctly conceptual group featuring a sci-fi storyline and virtual “ae” counterparts of each member, all of which feature across their music and related video and social media content.
This ties into SM’s larger plans for a companywide, music-based fictional narrative and metaverse known as the SMCU.
Since their debut, the group has focused on a powerful experimental style.
On Savage, the quartet continues this through addictive tracks that show off the distinctly quirky flare of dance-pop that Aespa has become known for, embracing Y2K aesthetics and sounds for inspiration.
The album also features numerous references to Aespa’s fictional elements, which are immensely fun for those who invest time in the band and their concept but may put off casual listeners.
The album kicks off with aenergy, an uplifting anthem that explores the group’s members and the characteristics they showcase throughout their superheroine-like story, declaring each members’ in-universe skills and abilities.
Uplifting with its singsong chants and propulsive beats, aenergy leads into the title song on the album, Savage.
Like its precursors Black Mamba and Next Level, the song Savage is brilliant in its eclectic blend of genres, including trap, dubstep and intense power balladry, as Aespa show off their charisma and vocal runs, while in the music video they take on their characters to combat their enemy and meet their ally, Naevis.
“In our new song Savage, we finally confront and come face-to-face with Black Mamba!” Giselle said during a press conference for the album’s release.
“Befittingly, we wanted to show a powerful side of us that’s also nonchalant and relaxed at the same time which comes from having confidence in defeating Black Mamba.”
If you’re a fan of in-depth world-building and multifaceted storytelling, Aespa’s music and general concept provide a lot for you to embrace and think about.
References to the band’s fictional storyline are featured liberally through the album, so if you’re familiar with Aespa’s villain Black Mamba, their “ae” alternatives and their digital ally Naevis, who exists in the digital world known as Kwangya, the album will help you continue to enjoy the story they’re telling.
“I’m going to Kwangya, game in / Defeating a subtle alienation / And make me drift apart from my ae,” declares Karina during the song Savage.
“My Naevis we love u,” the members all sing later, with Winter following it up with, “My victory, one Synk Dive.”
Watching the music video to Savage, or if you’re already one of Aespa’s dedicated fandom members – known as “My” – these lines may make more sense.
But if just casually listening, these verses and others across the album referencing Aespa’s narrative come across at best random and at worst bizarre.
While in general pop music, and K-pop especially, doesn’t need its lyrics to be high literary art (though it can be) or even comprehensible, the fact that Aespa are telling a story through lyrics is an experience that certainly elevates their musicality, but may be too immersive for some.
That said, we are living in an era where millions keep up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s various stories across different films and television shows.
So perhaps Savage the album will lay the groundwork for a distinct era of fictional storytelling via pop songs, and Aespa will be considered progenitors of a genre dubbed “fictive pop” or the like.
Beyond the intro track and Savage, the rest of Aespa’s first album continues to showcase all they have to offer musically but takes a bit of a step back from the fictional metaverse.
Throughout each of the other four tracks, the quartet’s powerful vocals are put on display, contrasted with singsong raps and eclectic ad-libs.
The revenge track I’ll Make You Cry is particularly intense, scattering wailing siren synths and twinkling beats over the chaotically harmonious dance tune, which is at once dramatic and beautiful.
The drama is followed by the more lighthearted Yeppi Yeppi, a hyperactive and energetic take on “pretty” in Korean.
With a bit of a bouncy house feel, it’s an all-round fun moment that is built to be grooved to while throwing your hands up in the air and holding a party for yourself in celebration of your beauty.
Yeppi Yeppi is joined by Iconic in the way it features some brighter, festive moments, but kicks off first with strong hip-hop.
Then, once it gets a few moments into the song, it turns into a series of alternatingly sweet and sassy verses all about how I-C-O-N-I-C Aespa is.
Throughout the album, the harmonising and power belts of members Winter, Ningning, Karina and Giselle are put on display in a big way.
All of their sleek vocals come to head on the final song Lucid Dream, a dreamy alt R&B tune that emits a hazy, ambient vibe, but features one glitchy electronic bridge that feels in line with Aespa’s futuristic concept.
As a long-awaited first album after only three earlier singles, Savage is successful in showcasing what the members of Aespa have to offer as one of the most ambitious newer female K-pop acts out there.
The six tracks each offer something new while creating a cohesive listening experience that is invigorating and satisfying, and which shares more about what Aespa’s musicality will be like moving forward.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.