aespa - Savage [ REVIEW ]

"With futuristic cyberpunk, K-pop powerhouses stake their claim to grandeur. On their debut mini-album, the quartet dives headfirst into explosive hyperpop and cutting-edge production."
Album Score: ★★★★☆
Credits: SM Entertainment

In the K-pop environment, where performers frequently delve headfirst into proven trends that may be sweeping popular music at any particular time, brave leaps of experimentation and genre and sound merging can be unusual. Taking risks, even calculated ones, might end in a costly blunder that jeopardizes an emerging group’s chances.

aespa, the latest female group from SM Entertainment, made a formidable debut onto the scene a little less than a year ago by pushing its limitations, asserting their claim as the frontrunners of K-next pop’s development. The four members of aespa – Karina, Winter, Ningning, and Giselle – are quietly but steadily shaping their position in K-pop as change agents with their head-spinning, genre-splicing sound, and incorporation of AI technology into the group’s idea.

Credits: SM Entertainment

The rookie girl group may have already achieved significant success with their breakout viral hit ‘Next Level,‘ but aespa is proving that they are here to stay with their debut mini-album ‘Savage.’ This new six-track album is another step toward success for the female group, developing their signature sound and hinting at aespa’s speedy ascension.

On the album’s title track, hip-hop beats are blended with crunchy hyperpop synthesizers. The clanging electronic instrumentation that opens ‘Savage,’ although evocative of late PC Music artist SOPHIE, gradually releases the musical strength that aespa fans have grown to anticipate.

This time, it comes in the shape 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”), which is enhanced by Winter and Ningning’s wide vocal range. ‘Savage’ is loaded with addicting melodies and refrains that lie above expertly layered sound, reinforcing the edginess the group had previously established.

The ensemble not only maintains but embraces, the highs achieved on ‘Savage’ on the other tracks of the mini-album, which finds aespa entirely leaning into the future cyberpunk atmosphere. Understandably, opener ‘ænergy‘ is engrossed with the freshly established mythos of the SM Culture Universe. It’s a good introduction to the group’s fictitious universe and its distinct personas.

Credits: SM Entertainment

Despite its obscure lyrics, the music is filled with chant-like refrains and hard-hitting sounds that make for a spellbinding listen. At one point, they chant, “Karina is a rocket puncher / Winter an armamenter / Gisеlle got Xenoglossy / NingNing e.d hacker.” Lines like this can be perplexing for supporters of the group, let alone the uninitiated – but, ideally, as aespa gains fame, the SMCU’s blanks will be filled in.

With hazy electronic synthesizers and thundering beats, ‘I’ll Make You Cry‘ comes to life. With strong vocal performances and harsh lyrics, haunting vocals heighten the already tenacious atmosphere: “I’m sick and tired of it / You have to accept it / You must hurt to the bonе / Don’t expect mercy from me.”

Meanwhile, the quirky, high-energy ‘Yeppi Yeppi‘ is reminiscent of songs like ‘Everybody‘ and ‘Why Not?‘ ‘ by SHINee and LOONA, respectively – no surprise given that all three songs were produced by the same South Korean pair, Coach & Sendo. ‘Iconic,’ like the other tunes, is a force of revving production and fizzing choruses, with a seamless shift from edgy rap verses to calm refrains that make for a compelling single.

aespa slows things down in the conclusion with ‘자각몽 Lucid Dream,’ a song co-written by American singer-songwriter Hayley Kiyoko. On an album full of forceful songs, this tune is a breath of fresh air that both ends the record on a tranquil note while without compromising the boldness aespa has displayed so far. Regardless, the song is a sad swirl of hypnotic synthesizers and mild trap beats, layered with delicate layers of breathy vocals.

Credits: SM Entertainment

‘Savage’s’ kind of vivid, snappy electronic pop falls wonderfully in tune with the unconventionality aespa have so openly shown in their one year as a group, almost as if it’s announcing a new era of K-pop. Beyond establishing that they’re more than a one-hit-wonder, ‘Savage’ delves deep to transcend the bounds of K-pop and is undeniable proof of aespa’s predilection for expectation-bending sounds and imagery.

Written by: AJ Surema

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