After a successful year, aespa is taking over Kpop: Will they become the next BLACKPINK?

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. 

aespa is taking over Kpop
aespa was introduced to the Kpop world with a lineup including 4 ae 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.

aespa’s virtual and real parallel world concept 

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.

aespa is taking over Kpop
The ae concept is modern and suitable for the digital age like now. As a pioneer, this image of aespa will definitely leave a strong impression 

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.

aespa is taking over Kpop
aespa’s AI-like beauty surprised netizens

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.

aespa is taking over Kpop
Only Winter has a visual that suits Knet’s taste when aespa first debuted 
aespa is taking over Kpop
NingNing has received many malicious comments for her chubby appearance
aespa is taking over Kpop
Karina appeared pre-debut in a commercial with Kai (EXO). Her face was commented to be stiff, sparking plastic surgery rumors
aespa is taking over Kpop
Giselle also couldn’t escape negative comments on her looks 

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.

aespa is taking over Kpop
aespa when they first debuted
aespa is taking over Kpop
After a year, aespa makes the public change their mind because of how pretty they are 

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.

aespa is taking over Kpop
Karina was criticized for her unattractive dancing
aespa is taking over Kpop
Her movements are not flexible

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.

aespa is taking over Kpop
Karina’s dancing ability has not made a good impression on the audience
aespa is taking over Kpop
Not a main dancer but Winter is still appreciated for her dancing skills

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.

aespa is taking over Kpop
Karina is considered the worst main dancer in Kpop due to SM’s ambition

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.

Winter’s comparative vocals besides the seniors in “Step Back” (GOT)
NingNing’s vocal technique can rank among the top of Kpop

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.

Karina has a stable breath support and can take on both singing and rapping
Giselle raps well and with round and clear pronunciation

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.

aespa’s Encore “Savage” is extremely pleasing to the ear
A rare live stage showcases aespa’s stable vocals

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.

aespa is taking over Kpop
aespa looked like robots on stage for the lack of creativity in performance.
aespa is taking over Kpop
Aespa’s performances are like copies from one stage to another, maybe only the outfit and hairstyle change.

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?

aespa is taking over Kpop
They don’t even try to act like they are singing live
aespa is taking over Kpop
Half-hearted and extremely obvious lip-sync

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?

aespa is taking over Kpop
Winter’s stiff, lifeless expression on the “Step Back” stage made many people wonder
aespa is taking over Kpop
Is she too absorbed in the AI ​​concept and not able to “get out of the role”?

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.

aespa is taking over Kpop
Karina and Winter are criticized for being inferior to their seniors
aespa is taking over Kpop
In the same frame, YoonA looks more charismatic
aespa is taking over Kpop
Hyoyeon’s dance moves are more elegant and natural than Karina and NingNing’s

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.

aespa is taking over Kpop
aespa will surely reach even further and be more successful
aespa is taking over Kpop
Is it the time for BLACKPINK to “pass the throne” to their 4th Gen junior?

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