Let’s look back at the journey since the debut of the most outstanding rookie Kpop girl group of 2021: aespa.
aespa – the 4-member rookie girl group of SM – have all that it takes to become a top female idol group. The group has been asserting their talent and position among 4th generation idols and also Kpop as a whole. Despite mixed reactions, aespa is still doing well and had a successful 2021, showing off their own distinctive and bold identity among mainstream Kpop groups.
The one of a kind concept of virtual members
On November 17, 2020, the new girl group that SM prepared for a long time officially debuted with Black Mamba. Coming out of a Big 3 entertainment company, aespa also received much attention prior to their debut because of the unprecedented concept in Kpop history – virtual members.
The public is so used to the repetitive concepts in Kpop, girl groups often follow cute concepts, wearing school uniforms, or chic, sexy and girl crush concepts, while boy groups aim for a strong, energetic image… So aespa with a futuristic concept is like a breeze of fresh air.
aespa’s concept of “real members and virtual counterparts” cannot help but attract the attention of the public. As a creative company, SM always comes up with their own unique worldviews for each group: f(x) with multi-style, EXO from another planet with superpowers, Red Velvet with mysterious, magical charm, or NCT with an unlimited concept,… But aespa’s concept that is “ahead of time” is still considered a risky decision of SM.
Although there are many mixed opinions about the new concept or the graphic quality of the characters, this is still something that makes aespa unique and stand out from the crowd. The group pursues a brand new concept in Kpop, which is unarguably modern and suitable for the current digital age. As a pioneer, this image of aespa is sure to leave a strong impression on the public.
Controversial debut with a visual lineup that is deemed “different from SM standards” and turning the tables after a year
SM is famous for being a visual feast of Kpop as the company is the home to the industry’s top visuals through each generation such as Eugene (SES), YoonA – Taeyeon (SNSD), Krystal – Sulli (f(x)), Irene – Joy ( Red Velvet)… When the lineup of aespa was officially announced, the public was surprised with 4 rookie idols with the “AI” styling, which is different from the traditional SM beauty standards.
Not only surprised, netizens were also not very “satisfied” with aespa’s visuals. Winter is the member who receives the least negative comments about her appearance. NingNing used to be considered the group’s “visual hole” only because she looked a bit rounder than other members. Karina, aespa’s visual center, was also involved in plastic surgery rumors. The worst part is some netizens even called Giselle the ugliest idol in SM history.
However, through each comeback, the 4 members’ visuals have been upgraded significantly. This is thanks to SM’s amazing efforts in taking care of their artists’ appearances when it comes to finding the right style for each member.
Winter with a face that suits the taste of Korean fans is giving off more of an idol aura when she dyes her hair to black. From the most controversial member visual-wise, Giselle has completely changed her image, looking much more beautiful thanks to choosing the right makeup and hairstyle. After losing weight, NingNing has achieved a toned and healthy body with a pretty face like a doll. Karina has now become one of the top 4th generation female visuals with her surreal AI beauty.
Capturing the public’s heart with catchy, addictive songs
Next Level and Savage – aespa’s promotional songs in 2021, both aroused controversy over music quality.
Before Next Level could dominate the music charts – even reaching the top of the Billboard Global 200 at number 97 and 54 on Billboard Global – the song was heavily criticized. Knetizens first believed it was a bad song as it has unconnected parts and annoyingly loud noises.
Savage – “a musical product that sounds like it was made from 10 different songs” – also received many negative reactions before helping the all-kill group win rookie awards at year-end awards ceremonies. However, Savage’s catchy and addictive melody is gradually winning the hearts of netizens.
aespa has proven that the group’s music has a distinct charm. The fact that songs like Next Level and Savage achieve high positions on domestic charts demonstrates it. Next Level ranked fifth on Melon’s list of songs with the highest digital music scores in 2021, showing the virality of this seemingly “flop” song.
Poor dance skills compared to other 4th generation groups
As the main dancer of aespa, but since debut until now, Karina has never been appreciated for her dancing ability. Her opening choreography with the cooperation of 5 Gen 4 idols at MAMA 2021 made the audience even more disappointed. She was quickly ranked on the list of Kpop idols who dance poorly.
On other stages, Karina also does not stand out from the rest of the aespa in terms of dancing skills. In general, her movements are not flexible and less attractive. Many people think that Winter is more suitable for this main dancer position.
The fact that Karina was repeatedly criticized for her poor dancing is partly due to SM. This aespa member was originally recruited for vocals but was “forced” to be the main dancer of the group, so she still has many shortcomings. She herself does not have outstanding dancing skills and talents like other dance machines of Kpop. Karina needs more time to practice and improve.
The most stable vocal of the 4th Gen or the loser with lip-synced singing?
Undeniably, aespa has a very high quality vocal line with the best vocal technique among girl groups of the 4th Gen. Both Winter and NingNing, the group’s main vocals, have strong, clean vocals that can reach high notes smoothly.
Karina was originally recruited through vocals, so her singing skills are not inferior to anyone, she even holds the position of rapper in the group. Giselle’s pronunciation is round and standard, her musicality is good, and the style is also very stable. In the remake song released in December 2021 “Dreams Come True“, Karina and Giselle both surprised others with their extremely sweet voices that are not inferior to any other group’s vocals.
However, for some reason, SM often uses lip sync, causing aespa to receive many criticisms from viewers. Lip-syncing is inherently a sensitive issue in K-pop, where idols are required to have both good dancing and singing skills. Although recording or singing over the music is inevitable, to be acknowledged, top groups always need great live singing abilities. Coming from SM, aespa can completely prove their ability to sing live perfectly, so being exposed for lip-syncing has a bad influence on the group’s image.
Charismatic visuals with controversial performance skills
aespa has visual, vocal, and good dancing, but lacks creativity on stage. The group’s performance skills are still limited. Although they have debuted for more than a year, it seems that performing in front of an empty stand (due to the pandemic) has made the 4 girls lack the emotions and spirit on stage like other idols. When facing only the camera, from aespa’s movements, expressions to aura are all the same in every performance, mechanically and emotionlessly. The only thing that changes is the outfit and hairstyle.
And is that why aespa can’t even focus on lip-syncing, leading to superficiality and excessive “honesty” as if they wanted to let everyone know that the group is just moving their lips?
Even Winter recently received a lot of negative feedback because of her lack of emotion and expression when debuting with GOT and “Step Back”. Many people also questioned whether this lead vocal was so attached to aespa’s AI concept that she performed so lifelessly?
Also from the performance of “Step Back”, Karina and Winter show the “true color” of rookies when standing shoulder to shoulder with their seniors. The two aespa members were mercilessly surpassed due to their half-hearted lip-syncing, unclear movements. In the dance challenge, Hyoyeon and YoonA also took the spotlight with their superior dancing skills and charisma.
Although their debut and performance skills still cause a great deal of controversy, aespa is still trying to prove the potential and talent of a group coming from the prestigious company SM. With the impressive awards that aespa has achieved in late 2021 and early 2022, it can be said that the group is the strongest candidate to compete for the new generation “Kpop queen”.
Successfully breathing a new life in the music industry with the magical and modern AI concept to the audience, gradually creating a distinct color with a unique personality in Kpop, aespa is expected to inherit a successful career of the seniors BLACKPINK, TWICE of the 3rd Gen. In particular, aespa has a lot in common with BLACKPINK, and the group’s path also has the same strategy. Although it is still controversial, the future prospects of the group cannot be denied. If aespa continues to release famous hits in 2022, the group will surely reach even further. The future of BLACKPINK “passing the throne” to the group is possible.