New K-Pop Girl Group Aespa Debuts with ‘Black Mamba’

With high energy and intense choreography, Aespa makes their awaited debut amidst a discussion about their AI concept.


Raitah Jinnat

Aespa’s video garnered a lot of success, reaching around 21 million views on Youtube within 24 hours of its posting. It is currently at almost 80 million views.

Six years after Red Velvet’s debut, SM Entertainment debuted a new girl group Aespa (commonly stylized in all lowercase as æspa) with their first single and music video “Black Mamba” on November 17th, 2020. The girl group consists of four members: Karina, Winter, Giselle, and Ningning. Giselle is from Japan and Ningning is from China. 

Alongside, but separate from these members, are their animated, virtual counterparts coined as ae-Aespa: ae-Karina, ae-Winter, ae-Giselle, and ae-NingNing. These virtual members are additions to the group, implemented for the group’s storyline. “ae” allegedly stands for “Avatar x Experience,” alluding to this mix of virtual space and reality in Aespa’s concept. 

With colorful neon visuals captivating the audience, Aespa asserts themselves in the energetic electropop tune through lyrics such as “I’m the Aespa, there can’t be two / Monochrome to colors / This is evo, evolution” (English translation from Genius). 

“Black Mamba did not really sound like SM. It reminded me a lot of Everglow for some reason,” said Kimberly Lim ’21 of Bayside High School. Aespa’s debut puts them into a vein of empowering “girl crush” concepts, placing them in the same family as other groups, like Blackpink from YG Entertainment, and Itzy from JYP Entertainment. 

With this empowering concept in mind, many people were expecting to see Giselle rap after seeing her teaser. Surprisingly, the song was solely full of singing, leaving fans at the edge of their seats. However, the lack of rapping in the song creates a lot of room for potential in Giselle’s abilities. 

Meanwhile, the four girls showed off their dancing strengths. “My first impression of the choreography for ‘Black Mamba’ really surprised me, because all of the members were doing intense footwork and intricate body movements,” said Marcus Kim ’21. With SM Entertainment being known for its artists’ vocals, the members of Aespa also proved their capabilities with their stable live vocals, especially in their stage debut.

A few seconds after the song ends in the music video, a mysterious figure can be seen glitching out, which raises questions about how Aespa will expand their universe going forward. In a press release from SM Entertainment, Soo-Man Lee as its chairman envisions the SM Culture Universe, with Aespa being the first group involved in this wider project.

“Aespa will project a future world centered on celebrities and avatars, and will be born into a group of completely new and innovative concepts that transcend the boundaries between the real world and the virtual world,” Lee said.

This meshing of the virtual world and the real world within entertainment is an ambitious project, but it has not come without its controversies.

“They have so much potential, but the AI concept could go so wrong in so many ways,” said Celine Huang ’21 of Sentinel Secondary in Vancouver, Canada. 

The controversy comes in whether the virtual implementation will dehumanize the relatively young members. 

How might people take these virtual idols in their own portrayal? How far will fans go for fan service? These are questions leading to serious reflection amidst the hype about a debut of a new girl group from one of South Korea’s entertainment powerhouses. 

“Aside from the controversy about the virtual idol aspect, I was a bit disappointed about the allegations of plagiarism from K/DA’s MV (music video) for their debut,” Ulises Ponce ’23 said. 

The avatars from Aespa have been pointed out to be similar to the ones in the virtual girl group K/DA, which made its debut back in 2018. The conundrum is while the K/DA avatars have nothing to do with those who give them their voices, the ae counterparts from Aespa are based on real people.

Visual artists have also been accusing SM Entertainment of ripping off their work through the sets used for stages and in the music video.

“[I am] truly upset to see my work so blatantly plagiarized by SM. I’ve wanted to be hired to work with kpop artists so long, alas theft came first,” 3D artist Blake Kathryn said in a caption of a recent Instagram post that she made. SM has yet to make a statement in response to this allegation.

Amidst the controversy, however, there are many directions that Aespa can take with their concept from here, with listeners and fans (MY being their official fanbase name) going along for the adventure. 

“My first impression of the choreography for ‘Black Mamba’ really surprised me, because all of the members were doing intense footwork and intricate body movements,” said Marcus Kim ’21.