Welcome to the future. Here, humans coexist with æs, digital AI-avatars who are created based on the data you feed into the internet. Don’t dismiss them too soon, though – the æs may be created in your image, but they’re fully functioning independent beings, ready to attend classes, create music with you, be your backup in an online game, or even help you shop for groceries. It’s like having a friend, only virtual.
If that sounds far-fetched, then boy, oh boy, will K-pop group aespa blow your mind. Where else will you find a musical act with both human and AI members?
aespa, in fact, have already entrenched themselves firmly at the neat intersection of entertainment and technology, topped with a neat bow of genre-bending music and a cinematic backstory that could rival the MCU. As the four human members – Karina, Giselle, Ningning, and Winter – venture out on a futuristic adventure to find their æs – æ-Karina, æ-Giselle, æ-Ningning, and æ-Winter – and defeat the mysterious ‘Black Mamba’, we learn that they are all part of a much larger, more complex network of entities.
If that sounds like a lot to learn before diving into an act, here’s your primer. We begin at “Black Mamba”, aespa’s debut single and one of 2020’s most anticipated releases. Featuring zany visuals, mind-boggling visuals, and sharp choreography, the track recorded 21.4 million views within 24 hours of its release, becoming the biggest K-pop debut in history.
Then came “Next Level”, continuing aespa’s story from “Black Mamba”, where the group finally ventures out into the unknown to find their æs, their adventures set to a rollercoaster of a track that alternated between dance, hip-hop, and EDM, in places sounding like a whole new track.
Now, aespa have finally moved forward and come face to face with the Black Mamba, or so they explained at a press conference for the release of their debut mini-album, Savage, which focuses on their growth as artists above all else.
“We want to show everyone that aespa is a group that can pull off various colours and not only powerful songs such as ‘Black Mamba’ and ‘Next Level’.” said Karina of their vision for the album.
Over the six tracks of the mini, the group meanders various facets of their personalities – staying true to their ethos as an act on tracks like “ænergy”, and turning into lovelorn girls on the likes of “Lucid Dream”, which features Hayley Kiyoko in the credits.
“Ever since our debut, aespa has had the concept of having its own unique worldview with avatar members. We utilised the ‘metaverse’ genre to express this unique worldview and its related contents in a realistic way that’s also dynamic and entertaining.” said of the group being called a “metaverse” girl-group, thanks to their unique concept utilising AI.
“Because it hasn’t been that long since we made our debut, we felt a little overwhelmed but incredibly happy.” said Winter of diving into working on the album right after the massive success of their singles “Black Mamba” and “Next Level”, before diving into why she thought aespa was met with a positive response despite their complex concept and storyline.
“I think at first, many people were curious about the metaverse aspect and our worldview with avatars since it’s a concept that had never been showcased before. This got people curious about our music and who we are, leading them to think “Let me try listening to aespa’s music”, “Let me try watching their performance” and etc.” she mused.
Reflecting on their upcoming first anniversary, Ningning mentioned how she had grown personally: “I can’t believe it’s already been one year. Time flew by fast! At first, I felt a little awkward and nervous in front of the camera but now I feel much more comfortable and enjoy performing more.”
The group was also full of praises, complementing each other’s work on Savage. While Karina complemented Winter’s new hairstyle, the latter pointed out Ningning’s fierce facial expressions as something to look out for. Giselle and Ningning were also appreciative of the members’ unique ways of pulling off a concept.
“Each member pulls off the concept well in their own unique way. We all have our own way of expressing the concept and as a whole, they complement each other nicely.” added Ningning. “For example, Karina’s new wine-coloured hair makes her look more powerful and sophisticated and Winter with short hair has a different vibe that leaves a strong impression in a great way.
“Lastly, Giselle completely nailed her rap verse. Overall, all the members bring something unique and different to make this concept even more impactful.”