aespa-”Armageddon”: If you’re a robot, be a good one!

Gia Bao Huynh Tan
5 min readMay 29, 2024

The K-Hyperpop superstars are back, and they are in an identity crisis!

After almost 4 years of being the underdog of K-pop, aespa is known for their unique approach both musically and lyrically. There are too many lore, tales, and conspiracies about the storyline of a girl group, as we have seen with LOONA or Red Velvet, but with aespa, everything seemed to be more sophisticated and layered. Their company, SMTOWN, placed aespa in a futuristic world of Kwangya, in which each member has their own roles and fates that literally sound like they stepped out of a Final Fantasy synopsis. Even the members themselves have admitted to struggling to fully grasp the extensive Kwangya concept and its cyberpunk-futuristic elements, which SMTOWN has heavily emphasized in their music releases. Despite this complexity, the futuristic concept has provided an ideal backdrop for aespa’s innovative musical style. From their debut single “Black Mamba”, their first EP “Savage” to other releases as of today, aespa has navigated a journey of highs and lows, with both standout moments and missteps. Their first LP, “Armageddon,” continues their maximalist approach and serves as a powerful reintroduction, redefining who they are and what they strive to achieve. This album is a sonic trademark, showcasing aespa’s growth and solidifying their identity in the K-pop landscape, which sometimes, turned into a collective crisis.

“Armageddon” is also a reflection of what SMTOWN producers have done at their best, compared to their previous releases. There are moments that will remind and educate (for the younger generation of fans) about Girls’ Generation “I Got A Boy”, SHiNEE’s “Sherlock”, f(x)’s “Electric Shock” & “Pink Tape”, as well as their power ballads from Taeyeon, Wendy (Red Velvet) and many more.

They might say Hyperpop is dead, K-pop itself is the epitome of musical evolution. From the early records by Seo Taiji & Boys and Lee Hyori to the global dominance of Blackpink and BTS, K-pop has continually faced scrutiny and comparisons, often accused of appropriating African-American hip-hop culture. However, it’s essential to recognize that modern K-pop is celebrated for its unique approaches, characterized by maximalism, the fusion of various sounds and genres in a single track, and the explosive combination of instruments and vocals. K-pop has always adapted to global musical trends, and hyperpop is no exception. While not many K-pop artists have embraced hyperpop yet, the group aespa stands out as a notable exception, proving to be exceptional students of this genre.

The album starts with “Supernova”, which recently scored a Perfect-All-Kill on K-pop main charts. Sampling Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock”, “Supernova” is a blend of both hip-hop and dance. Aespa drive head straight into the genre mixture, seamlessly bind their vocal to the strong beat and the catchy hook (right? We can’t get off the “ey oh ay” part!). Towards the end of the song is what can be signified as aespa’s signature, sing-talk and ad-libs. “Supernova” is like “Next Level” and “Savage” on steroids, with its witty change-up and campy bombast. Moving on to the second track “Armageddon”, the only problem of the song belongs to the lyrics, as they strive to rhyme “Armageddon” and “I’ma get done”, which sounds absurd if we come to think of it. Yet, it’s K-pop! Compared to the maximalist sound of “Supernova”, “Armageddon” is more of a tone down. With a simple hip-hop foundation, with moments of synth and bass, it is an interesting take. The fact that SMTOWN and aespa chose this song as title track should be considered a bold decision. “Armageddon” showcases the versatility of the members’ vocals and how this simple beat let them shine.

The album continues to develop and aespa is at their strongest in the next two tracks, “Set The Tone” and “Mine”. Having their yeule and Charli XCX’s moments, they employ kinetic sneering sound effects and synths, while the members continue to combine rapping and showcase their vocal range. “Licorice”, accompanied by the video that takes us back to the retro Japanese superhero live-action, with chopping sounds and repetitive “Licorice” in the lyrics, bringing imaginaries of old Japanese arcade game centers or Nintendo console game kind of menace.

While aespa’s AI companions do not appear in “Armageddon,” the first half of the album (up until “Licorice”) metaphorically asserts their presence with futuristic sound effects and a blend of hyperpop and other genres. From “BAHAMA” onward, the album takes a more human turn, echoing summer vibes with synths, Taeyeon-esque R&B sounds, and SMTOWN’s signature balladic style. Unfortunately, what seems like a comfort zone for others doesn’t quite work for aespa. “BAHAMA” feels like a reworked version of the standout track “Hot Air Balloon” from their EP “Drama”, using familiar and overdone summer synths prevalent in K-Pop. Before “BAHAMA,” we had tracks like “Dance The Night Away” (TWICE) and “Holiday” (Girls’ Generation) setting similar tones. If they had infused the fun yet minimalistic deep house vibe of “Better Things,” it would have added an interesting twist and better distinguished the latter half from the first.

“Long Chat (#❤)” comes across as a filler, with dreamy vocals over disjointed future bass synths. The maximalist production in the first half overshadows the second, making it feel too grounded and conventional. “Prologue” sounds like it could belong on any of Taeyeon’s EPs, and the last two tracks are rather forgettable. And there is nothing else to say about the last two tracks. They are just… there!

“Armageddon” epitomizes aespa’s unique release style, combining various elements into a cohesive project. The first half is outstanding, showcasing aespa at their best with aggressive, maximalist, and slick vocal production. However, from “BAHAMA” to “Melody,” the songs fall into a more generic K-Pop style, with the group’s exceptional vocals being their saving grace. While aespa excels at creating superb Contemporary R&B tunes and handling ballads, the second half of the album lacks uniqueness.

For aespa to truly stand out and maintain their edge, they need to focus on creating more distinctive and cohesive music throughout their projects. By evolving their sound and pushing creative boundaries, aespa can ensure their future releases are not only consistent but also uniquely their own.

Listen to aespa’s Armageddon

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