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S.M.’s virtual hybrid girl group aespa makes grand debut

Aespa, a new girl group under S.M. Entertainment, made its highly-anticipated debut with “Black Mamba” on Tuesday.

The four-piece band, consisting of Karina, Giselle, Winter and Ningning, unveiled the single via its YouTube and SM Town channels, opting out of any press event and leaning toward a rather online-oriented approach to showcase itself to the world.

Inspired by the futuristic “avatar” theme, the group’s name comes from “avatar, experience and aspect,” meaning that the bandmates would experience a new world by meeting another self through an avatar. Each member has her own avatar that will be used for online content. The bandmates and their avatars are connected through a virtual platform called “Synk,” according to the agency.  

aespa (S.M. Entertainment)
aespa (S.M. Entertainment)
Produced by S.M.’s chief producer and founder Lee Soo-man, “Black Mamba” is a dynamic dance track that boasts heavy bass and synth-layered earworm of a hook. The song tells the story of how the girls are threatened by the existence of “Black Mamba” that disturbs their connection to their virtual counterparts.

Tuning into the experimental concept, the music video for “Black Mamba” is also splashed with aesthetically striking graphics and neon-lit fantastical backgrounds. The bandmates are featured dancing in colorfully hued outfits, surpassing the boundaries of the real world and the virtual world.

The group’s debut, however, has drawn mixed reactions among K-pop listeners as the “Black Mamba” music video was accused of plagiarism. Many internet users pointed out that some scenes from the video were similar to that of “Pop/Stars” by K/DA, a virtual girl group created by Riot Games, the developer of the multiplayer game League of Legends.

In addition, a German visual artist named Timo Helgert also raised suspicion via his social media that the “Black Mamba” music video might have copied some ideas from his own work. He’d written, in his now-deleted Instagram post, “I received many messages. They didn’t ask me and I didn’t work on it. Seems like they copied it.”

S.M. has yet to comment on the plagiarism accusation.

Despite the controversy, Aespa, S.M.’s first new girl group in six years, is making headlines for its unconventional concept with an expectation that it might pave the way for a new virtual push in the ever-expanding industry. S.M. has been at the forefront of virtualizing their K-pop projects over the past few months, helmed by Beyond Live, its streaming concert platform.

Meanwhile, Aespa announced that its fandom has been named “My,” referring to a close friend. 

By Hong Dam-young (lotus@heraldcorp.com)
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