[Review] Aespa’s “Savage” somehow manages to make it all work under the pop umbrella

Aespa are back with “Savage” after vaulting themselves into the top tier of the girl group stratosphere with “Next Level” — which I honestly still don’t get the appeal of but it was a breakout hit with the public. Of course, the group was yet to impress the most important critic/random dude of their time, me, and the title in itself had me bracing for disaster.

Well, the world is full of surprises.

That intro … why? It feels so corny it’s like intentionally done to become a meme or something.

Anyway, my initial feeling on “Savage” was that it was something from BLACKPINK’s girl crush catalog except with a different sample pack (no Teddy!) and a vocal chorus. That’s not necessarily untrue, though on repeated listens I was surprised to find that there’s a solid amount of melodic, pop appeal in all this, and that those changes in itself make for a quality song.

Part of that is due to what were surprisingly solid rap verses laid down over a clanging, electronic beat that later is joined by a thumping bass. That segues perfectly into an extended vocal section of a pre-chorus that’s very pop and showcases the vocals of Winter and Ning Ning. It effectively builds tension while providing much needed melody and finishes with a flourish that almost makes it a chorus in itself.

The drop that comes after is undoubtedly what will be the most controversial, but unlike “Next Level”, repeated listens didn’t give me the feeling that the centerpiece of “Savage” just dragged on and on. That was partially due to the better sense of bouncy rhythm in “Savage”, but mainly due to the vocal interjections from Ning Ning in the back half of the chorus that were absolutely essential. The more times I listened to it, the more I liked the interplay of all the elements and how it was tied together around a pop core. That was only reinforced by the excellent vocal bridge that added more melodic elements to the song, though the electronic-heavy closing was more miss than hit.

Honestly, the thing I hate the most is that they feel destined to become an NFT at some point.

I shouldn’t enjoy “Savage” because it feels like it’s not for me. It feels tailored towards a Pitchfork reviewer forced to listen to pop, one who loves nothing more than a chance to cite Sophie and 100 Gecs, which of course automatically makes stuff good. By contrast, I’m just a guy who enjoys pop tropes for the most part and doesn’t have those avant-garde wet dreams.

But that’s the thing: I think “Savage” does successfully hit on a lot of those standard pop notes. It has a bunch of quality rap sections and standout vocal melodies that would fit seamlessly anywhere else, while it’s the instrumental that makes “Savage” unique and provides a fresh take on things that helps it dodge the safe label. It threads that needle extremely well and deserves credit for taking those risks and making it work in the pop sphere, even for somebody like me.

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