Aespa’s ‘Savage’ boldly advances group’s AI avatar concept with futuristic experimental production

Photo of Aespa album cover
SM Entertainment/Courtesy

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

Less than a year after entering the K-pop scene, girl group Aespa released its debut EP Oct. 5, brilliantly furthering its signature artificial intelligence (AI) avatar concept. Savage serves as an ambitious record highlighted by surrealist visuals, unflinching lyrics and futuristic experimental production.

Aespa’s music is indivisible from the group’s artistic persona. The group’s managing company SM Entertainment describes Aespa as “meeting another self and experiencing a new world,” and indeed, the group’s music is best understood as exploring this departure from reality into a fictional, fantastical world, where an avatar embodies each individual. In the music videos of Aespa’s previous singles “Black Mamba” and “Next Level,” the four members appear with respective avatar figures. Building upon Aespa’s discography, Savage explores such a transcendental, escapist experience to the fullest extent.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of the album is its leading single “Savage.” The song boldly abandons all organic instruments in favor of artificial synthesizers and industrial sounds. Mirroring machinery, cold metallic sounds such as drilling, crashing and breaking lay out its sonic framework. To match the song’s heavier production, all four members also adopt more powerful vocals.

In addition, auto-tuned hooks such as “Zu-Zu-Zu-Zu” and “Punch!” reinforce an impression of relentless and forceful monotonicity, which is echoed by similarly assertive lyrics. The chorus features forceful lyrics such as “I’m a killer” or “I’ll break you into pieces.” The music video’s visuals, which include distorted emojis and snake-like electrical wires, imply that the lyrics are Aespa’s uncompromising response to malicious rumors and attacks on the Internet.

For some listeners, the futuristic Savage might come across as uncomfortable or simply boisterous. Regardless, Aespa accepts a potentially polarized public reception to the song for the sake of artistic experimentation — and based on the unparalleled commercial success of Savage so far in Korea, this give-and-take might turn out to be worth it in the long term.

The bridge section of “Savage” is the essence of the entire album. Here, its dark, discomfiting setting transitions into a pinkish, heavenly one, representing Aespa’s departure from a reality of slander and menace. As the music delves into 20 seconds of lighthearted ’80s synthwave, the four members stand face-to-face with their otherworldly, artificial avatar selves, singing “my Naevis, we love U.” This temporary hallucination of having escaped to a fictitious avatar world is a symbolic form of “resurrection” from reality, connecting Aespa to its listeners through a transcendental visual and auditory experience: “Now it’s my time to feel alive,” Aespa sings together.

Another EP highlight is the concluding track “Lucid Dream” in which the members repeatedly sing, “No, I can’t stop love,” almost emotionlessly. Here, the love described is so blinding and intoxicating that it becomes robotic, programmed in AI memory. Thus, even the singers’ identities become obscured — who is singing, the four members or their avatars? If the EP’s other five tracks are about fighting reality with unfaltering confidence, “Lucid Dream” reveals a new emotional fragility that sophisticates Aespa’s EP.

Despite its novel avatar concept, Savage does have its pitfalls. One of its core issues is the inclusion of rap, which is characterized by rather monotonous flows and overused auto-tunes. The group’s decision to rap rather than sing in order to sustain a substantial proportion of the EP is unwise, especially when the members have more impressive vocal capabilities.

The EP’s six tracks, while individually impressive, also lack consistency. “Yeppi Yeppi” is an obvious downfall, in which sweet, cheerful vocals distractingly alternate with flaunting rap. Opening track “Aenergy” similarly starts as a motivating avatar anthem, but unfortunately ends with repetitive cheerleading.

Although these occasional fallbacks might undermine the EP, Savage still stands out as an impressive work for its pioneering concept and innovative production. Already chart-topping in Korea, Aespa’s Savage continues the group’s yearlong exploration of its AI avatar concept, proving that the group is sure to revolutionize the K-pop landscape for the better.

Contact William Xu at [email protected].