aespa – ‘Armaggedon’ review: long-awaited debut from K-Pop Titans

The K-pop quartet's much-anticipated debut album is finally here. Read The Forty-Five review.


When aespa burst onto the scene with ‘Next Level’ way back in 2021, it was clear that K-Pop had just met its future leaders. With a keen eye on AI, superheroism and the perfectionist imagery that both harms and empowers young women, their concept felt both timely and refreshing, a way to understand the genre through a new lens. 

Whilst the singles have remained strong, it hasn’t been an entirely smooth journey. Rumours of instability at SM Entertainment, pushback against the members’ dating lives or the more recent drama surrounding a supposed management-led rivalry with fellow group NewJeans have all frustrated fans who prefer to focus on the music, whilst simultaneously highlighting just how high aespa have raised the fourth-generation bar. But with the arrival of their first full album, the four-piece — Giselle, Winter, Karina and NingNing — all seem more intent than ever on proving that they are only ever in competition with themselves. 

Bringing back the dark, otherworldly narrative that shaped their initial concept, lead single ‘Supernova’ is an undeniable return to top aespa form. With its fantastical imagery, ‘oh-ay’ hook and a beat that sounds like unzipping a particularly sexy motorcycle jacket, it’s an instant K-Pop classic. Not everyone could get away with Sampling Afrika Bambaataa’s 1982 classic ‘Planet Rock’, but the ease with which it slips into the final section of the songs proves just how deeply innovation is baked into their musical intent. 


Other shape-shifting moments bang similarly hard. The title track starts out as tough-girl hip-hop, before smoothly revealing a fluid R&B bridge that is flecked with sitar-sounding instrumentation and a no-nonsense chorus: “I’ma get it done”. Next to ‘Set The Tone’, it recalls the early career of BTS, the perfect environment in which to showcase both their rapping prowess and their hunger to be on top. 

‘Live My Life’ meanwhile (the thematic sister to earlier single ‘Life’s Too Short’) takes on the tone of pop-punk, encouraging the listener to embrace their inner main character. Much like their rocked-up live version of ‘Drama’, it really suits their vocal tone, with Winter and NingNing in particular hitting high notes worthy of your favourite coming-of-age drama. 

In K-Pop, trends often move alarmingly fast. Acts are often required to balance a whole bunch of different expectations and moods, with lead singles and ‘album’ tracks often feeling quite starkly defined in thematic quality and hooks. But where previous slower tempo songs like ‘Welcome To My World’ and I’m Unhappy’ still managed to say something about the sinister underbelly of the hyper-digitised environment that we all live in, some of ‘Armaggedon’’s transitional moments do fall a little flat. ‘Prologue’ and ‘Mine’ are both epic in title but relatively pedestrian in melody, whilst ‘Long Chat’s celebration of the joy and intimacy of late-night communications is just a bit too sugary and childlike, missing the group’s usual bite. 

When they nail the mid-tempo though, they really nail it. ‘BAHAMA’ commits to escapism so whole-heartedly that it becomes an understated highlight of the record — a sleepy, swooning summer chorus that reminds us that even superheroes deserve the occasional beach break. With production this slick, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’ll be a TikTok dance trend within the week. 

In a genre where artists take time and care over the symbolism of their first album, it’s not surprising that aespa and their team have a keen desire to play, to find ways to extend their narrative thread without snapping it. aespa’s motive has always been that they are the girls who can do it all — as ‘Licorice’ boasts, they offer a complex musical umami, the desire to map uncharted territory and shape new worlds. Their willingness to experiment with both hard and soft is worthy of its own appreciation, but with ‘Armaggdeon’, it remains obvious that aespa really thrive when they stick to the edgier end of their USP; the girls whose badass alchemy and attitude might just save the musical world. 

aespa – 'Supernova'
aespa-armageddon-album-reviewReleased May 24 2024