Label: Warner Records
Released: 8th May 2023
In the few years since their 2020 debut, aespa have proved themselves one of the most forward-thinking and ambitious girl groups in the world today. Futuristic in both sound and narrative, their output so far has spanned explosive dance anthems (‘Black Mamba’), head-spinning mission statements (‘Next Level’), hyperpop borrowing bangers (‘Savage’), reimagined 90s K-pop with alien raps (‘Dreams Come True’) and more. Opening the next chapter with ‘MY WORLD’, they step away from the computer.
Up until now, aespa – that’s Karina, Giselle, Winter and Ningning – largely existed in the virtual realm; the group’s sound focusing hard on electronic beats, and their group concept itself including an avatar version of each of the four members (plus, debuting amidst the pandemic meant their foundational year went by without performing to an audience in person). Coinciding with a storyline where the girls step out of the virtual world and into the real one, comeback track ‘Welcome to MY World’ explores more organic instrumentation, not just the distorted guitar and luscious string section, but birds chirping incorporated into the beat.
Everything aespa is not lost, though, there’s still the synth stabs poking through in the track’s second half. That gives way to the EP’s lead single, ‘Spicy’, which reverts back to classic aespa. Packed with attitude, it’s perfectly bratty, tying up a self-confident chorus with their usual wonky instrumental. ‘Salty & Sweet’ follows suit, maintaining the Sophie-lite beats that shaped their sound early on – the juxtaposition of a janky instrumental with the girls’ delicate vocals is always a winner.
‘Thirsty’ provides something more refreshing, with a bubbly beat and flawless vocal harmonies; it’s the love child of PC Music and Flo’s new-R&B sound. The most human track here, the one breaking through the screen aespa’s concept has put in front of them, is ‘I’m Unhappy’. With a mostly stripped-back plinky piano and rattling drums beat, the attitude from the previous tracks is replaced with a blatant “This is like hell, I’m unhappy” chorus line.
A fitting final track, ‘Til We Meet Again’ sounds like a K-drama ending credits song. Featherlight and featuring a subtle (and effective) key change in its final third, it serves as a reminder of how well the aespa girls’ voices lend themselves to ballads, but also that if this EP is missing anything, it’s a knockout belt from Ningning or Winter, the raw power in their earlier releases.
While ‘MY WORLD’ doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of their first EP ‘Savage’, it offers up a new side to aespa, doubling down on their versatility and expanding their ever-intriguing universe.