Photo: Global Mgmt
Aespa Talk Debut Mini-Album 'Savage' And Fusing Artificial Intelligence With K-Pop
K-pop group aespa set records with their artificial intelligence-indebted first singles. Following their newly released debut mini-album, 'Savage,' the band chats about diversifying their sound and working with their own digital avatars.
How many times have you wished for a companion, a friend who knew you inside out? Someone who knows your strengths and shortcomings, your failures and successes? If you feel like playing a game, they're ready to be Player 2. If you want to write a song, they're here to help you pull melodies out of thin air. If you want to show off on social media, they have all the right poses. What if instead of a friend, this other half was more literal—an extension of your inner self?
But this isn't the introduction to an Elon Musk-ian vision of the future. This is the alluring world of K-pop group aespa, where people exist side by side with their æs, or AI-based avatars fashioned out of the data they put on the internet. While the æs' physical traits might differ from their human counterpart, the bedrock of the avatar's personality is built from data drawn from the pictures we like, the things we post, and the hashtags we follow.
That technological advance alone would make aespa's upcoming debut a fascinating listen, but the mythology in which aespa's members interact and collaborate with their AI-driven æs adds an unprecedented layer of surreality. Though only the four flesh-and-bone members are typically seen on-screen, aespa is billed as an eight-member group. While Karina, Giselle, Winter, and Ningning capture the real world through songs and music videos, their æs (æ-Karina, æ-Giselle, æ-Winter, and æ-Ningning) hold the fort in the FLAT, the virtual world in aespa's lore.
The digital æs connect with the human members of the group, learn from them, and constantly evolve. Shortly after the act's debut, fans were introduced to this dynamic through a series of videos showing each member interacting with their æ in a process known as REKALL. The human half of aespa modeled the ins and outs of social cues and interactions for their digital other halves, directly giving them tips on how to appear more natural.
As might be expected from a group under the banner of K-pop mainstay SM Entertainment, a complex mythology powers aespa. In fact, the group stands on the first rung of what is known as the SM Culture Universe (SMCU), a dystopian tale spanning the entire SM Entertainment roster, wherein the members' connections with their æs are severed due to an entity known as the 'Black Mamba' that aims for control over both the digital and real worlds.
aespa's explosive debut single, also named "Black Mamba," traces the origins of the story, with genre-bending follow-up "Next Level" extending the narrative. With a tally of 21.4 million views within just 24 hours of its release, "Black Mamba" earned the highest number of views ever for a K-pop group's debut. "Next Level," meanwhile, reached number 97 on the Billboard Global 200 chart, making aespa only the third K-pop girl group in history to reach that chart more than once.
Less than a year since their debut, the group's debut mini-album, Savage, faces the unprecedented pressure of carrying an entire cultural universe. Just as in their larger-than-life, theatrical SMCU introduction, however, the members of aespa are more than up for the challenge.
"We worked really hard on [Savage] because we're showcasing a new genre of songs that we haven't tried before," Ningning says.
"We always released singles and they were all vocally–for me–kind of low or rap," Giselle adds. "This time we have an album where there's [more] actual singing involved. Vocally, I tried to make sure that I brought something [new] to the songs."
Following the release of Savage, aespa spoke to GRAMMY.com about their music, their lore, and how they wish to grow in the future.
This is your debut mini-album. What is Savage about?
Karina: Savage contains the story of the SMCU, continuing from "Next Level." We have six tracks which all showcase different genres of music and contain different colors of aespa.
Giselle: The title track has our main storyline–the continuation of "Black Mamba" and "Next Level." Our other songs also carry a bit of our story, but [they're] leaning towards us–more of the "real world" us. It's [not about] our AI members, not about the story, but more about us as real people. "Lucid Dream," for example, is actually a love song. We wanted to show both senses between the real world and the virtual world.
I'm glad you brought up "Lucid Dream," because it features Hayley Kiyoko. What was it like working with her?
Giselle: We actually didn't get to meet her and do an actual collaboration, but the song was made by her. Seeing that she wrote it for us, we were so surprised. We're so glad that we were able to sing it.
Let's talk a little bit about the æ-members. Who are they to you, and what purpose do they have in terms of your larger storyline?
Karina: The æs are AI characters based on the members' real, individual data. They live in a world called FLAT, and just like how we live and continue our daily lives in the real world, the æs also continue their own lives in the FLAT. They live separate lives, and connect with us via [a process called] SYNK.
Ningning: Even [though we have] the SMCU storyline, which tells a story about how we go on a journey together, [it's] not only that. On stage as well, we interact with the æ-characters–that's something that we've started with Savage. That's something new that we've tried.
You've said before that the æs bring a new dimension to your music. How so?
Karina: Our music tells the story of our journeys and our experiences with æs. In terms of the concept of the album and the songs as well, they contribute a lot. It helps develop our own "aespa" genre. The æs have a big role in that.
It's very hard sometimes to describe aespa's sound. You never limit yourself to one genre. How do you approach this diversity?
Giselle: When we were approached with the songs and the demos, we actually were very fond of it. We liked the songs, but [at the same time] we did have a lot of effort that we had to put in to make sure they actually sounded good and that we actually matched well with them.
For example, Winter has a very soft voice, but in order to sing "Black Mamba," [which is a] little more powerful, she worked to show her vocals in a different style. We really enjoy trying something new. "Savage" was also new to us.
How did you mentally prepare for this album? What were some things musically that you wanted to work on in the run up?
Giselle: We all gave each other a lot of honest feedback and kept updating each other while practicing. We were like, "We want this song to have this kind of vibe," or, "If this is your part, we think this would be good."
Karina: The title track has a bit of a heavier mood. So, in terms of musicality, I really tried to understand the song and the sound. [I tried to] really focus on the details and little things like facial expressions and gestures. That was how I tried to convey the music right.
Ningning: Before recording, it's very important to deliver the message and the mood of the song. I really get into the character. For example, if I'm recording a song, I'll think of various scenes in my head, like a movie. "What character am I portraying? What's happening? How am I feeling?" Little things like that. After I do that and prepare myself, then I go on [and] record the music.
Winter: I think that styling is also important in terms of figuring out the musical colors of the song. With "Savage," I thought about what would be the best way to visually represent the song, whether that's fashion or accessories or dance moves–how to visually bring that out and have that in harmony with the track. That was something that I really paid attention to for this particular album.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
Outside Lands 2023: Watch Performances By Alvvays, Joy Oladokun, Lovejoy, & More
On Aug. 11-13, Outside Lands returned to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park for the 15th time. Check out some stellar performances from the multi-day music and food festival.
In the midst of an unseasonably chilly August — a San Francisco trademark — Outside Lands raged once again.
Some 75,000 attendees flocked to the Bay Area to enjoy delicious food and an eclectic array of entertainment — among them Janelle Monáe, Foo Fighters, Kendrick Lamar, and other leading lights of today's music.
GRAMMY.com was there to soak up the tunes and the atmosphere — and film some truly inspired sets. Below, revisit Outside Lands — or, if you weren't there, experience it from afar — with some top-tier performances.
Photo: Paras Griffin/Getty Images
Outside Lands 2023: 10 Female And LGBTQIA+ Performers Taking Center Stage, From Lana Del Rey To Megan Thee Stallion
Outside Lands is stacking a sensational lineup for its 15th anniversary from Aug. 11 to 13. From aespa to Janelle Monáe, here's 10 awe-inspiring female and nonbinary artists who are ready to rule San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of San Francisco's Outside Lands, and while the festival always boasts the Bay Area's best, the 2023 lineup is especially stacked with incredible female and nonbinary talent. From aespa making K-pop history to La Doña's homecoming, the fest's latest iteration is bound to be badass.
As San Francisco transforms Golden Gate Park into a lavish festival ground for three days, check out these 10 performers ready to electrify the city.
Megan Thee Stallion
Time to get lit like a match. Megan Thee Stallion has been hitting stages across the country this year — from LA Pride to her hometown of Houston for the Men's NCAA Final Four — and there's no doubt she'll bring the heat to Golden Gate Park on Sunday. Though the three-time GRAMMY winner is known for her high-hype, feel-good freestyles, her latest album, Traumazine, opens up about anxiety and the importance of self-care. So whether you're having a hot or healing girl summer, her headlining set will be the spot for festgoers to let loose.
On Friday, Janelle Monáe will usher San Francisco into The Age of Pleasure. Sensuality and freedom flood the singer's most recent album, and for Monáe's headlining show, fans can expect bursting psychedelic soul, pop and hip-hop in an evening full of color and love.
Emphasizing intersectionality and identity (Monáe identifies as nonbinary), her wide-ranging performance will traverse her trailblazing concept albums like GRAMMY-nominated Dirty Computer and The ArchAndroid. Having conquered both the big screen and the stage as a multihyphenate, Monáe's set will be nothing short of a spectacle.
Hot off supporting Taylor Swift's Eras Tour, beabadoobee is headed to Golden Gate Park on Sunday afternoon. The Filipino-English singer/songwriter has carved out a space for herself between indie rock and bedroom pop, first becoming known for her sweet, spacey falsetto and her sleeper hit "Coffee" in 2020. The indie star has since expanded her worldbuilding abilities rapidly, spinning intricate scenes from her debut Fake It Flowers into her scenic second album Beatopia — similarly, beabadoobee's Outside Lands set will likely flaunt the vitality of her imagination.
Raveena is the definition of grace, and her Friday Outside Lands set is sure to swell with serenity. Mindfulness is the objective of the singer's soulful music as she grounds herself through tranquil mixes of R&B and pop. From her 2019 debut Lucid to 2022's Asha's Awakening, her voice epitomizes comfort whether it floats through delicate strings or stony drums. At Golden Gate Park, Raveena will bring momentary, blissful peace to the festival's chaotic fun.
Ethel Cain is ready to take concertgoers to church — even on a Friday. The experimental breakout star is known for dissecting dark, Southern Gothic themes in her music, establishing herself as a rising leader in the modern alternative genre (and also in the LGBTQIA+ community, as she is a trans woman). Her debut album Preacher's Daughter only came out last year, but the critically acclaimed album swiftly earned the musician a cult following. After bewitching Coachella audiences back in April, Cain's upcoming Outside Lands set is sure to be compelling.
More than 10 years after she wrote her first original song, NIKI is ready to storm the Twin Peaks stage. Her deeply sincere indie pop drifts with bittersweetness, and it's powerful to witness how well the Indonesian singer's intimacy translates to massive crowds.
Signed to label 88rising in 2017, NIKI soon found herself playing concerts for a growing global fan base that resonated with her heart-to-heart songwriting. Ranging from the dramatic depths of her debut album, MOONCHILD, to 2022's earnest self-titled Nicole, NIKI's Outside Lands set will be perfect for listeners who want to escape with their head in the clouds.
Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey is the reigning queen of summertime sadness, and she'll be doin' time at Golden Gate Park as one of Saturday's headliners. Known for spinning tales of tragic romance, the GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter plans to enchant audiences at Twin Peaks stage following her release of Did You Know There's a Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard. Her discography haunts and aches, filled with everything from folky gospel to trap pop; if one thing's for sure, Del Rey's highly anticipated performance is bound to be a spiritual journey.
Born and raised in San Francisco, La Doña is making her city proud by performing at the Bay's biggest annual music festival. Taking the Lands End stage with her 11-piece band on Friday, the Chicana musician has come a long way since picking up the trumpet at age 7.
Centering around personal identity and community, her music beautifully merges traditional Latin folk with modern cumbia, reggaeton, and hip-hop. La Doña's progressive sound just earned her a spot on Barack Obama's annual summer playlist, and less than a month later, her hometown will get to see what all of the hype is about.
When aespa takes to Twin Peaks stage Friday, they'll make history as the first K-pop act to ever perform at Outside Lands. Exploding onto the music scene in 2020, the innovative South Korean girl group gives K-pop a fresh edge, distinctively inspired by hyperpop and hip-hop. The group's name combines the words "avatar," "experience," and "aspect," representing their futuristic style that's often embellished by a metaverse aesthetic. Their mind-blowing Coachella and Governors Ball debuts hinted that aespa is ready to pull out all the stops for their Outside Lands crowd.
Maggie Rogers knows how to break free. The 2020 Best New Artist GRAMMY nominee will get the crowd hyped for Saturday headliners Foo Fighters with an enthralling set. Although her debut album Heard It in a Past Life pulses with steady revelations, her alternative follow-up Surrender leans into sweat and desire. As she's proven at many festivals past, Rogers' show will be infused with bright energy, from the slow emotional burn of "Light On" to the exhilarating "Want Want" as the sun goes down.
Photo: The Chosunilbo JNS/Imazins via Getty Images
TXT, Blackpink, Aespa & More: Here Are All The K-Pop Tours And Events You Can Catch This Summer
Whether you want to put your Head in the Clouds, free yourself at Outside Lands or be (re)born pink, plan out your summer with these K-pop events and tours in mind.
2023 started off strong for K-pop events in the U.S. Household names like NCT 127, Kang Daniel, and Stray Kids all toured the country, while the Empire State Building was lit up in honor of TWICE's latest EP, Ready to Be. In April, BLACKPINK made history as the first K-pop group to headline Coachella, while BTS' Suga (under the alias Agust D) began his first solo tour — the first out of all BTS members.
As summer starts to bloom, so do even more tours, festivals and conventions for lovers of Korean music and culture to rejoice. From mid-May to the end of August, almost every week will be busy with affairs that range from concerts by rising groups like WEi, to weekend-long celebrations like KCON, to trailblazing performances like Tomorrow X Together (TXT) headlining Lollapalooza, or aespa becoming the first K-pop group to play at New York’s Governors Ball.
To add some color to your summer, GRAMMY.com assembled a list of all the K-pop concerts and events happening in the next few months so you can enjoy the season at its fullest.
Suga: Agust D Tour
April 26 - May 17
The first BTS member to headline his own solo tour, Suga kicked off a string of performances in the U.S. on April 26 in Belmont Park, New York. The setlist included hits from his two mixtapes, August D and D-2, new tracks from his first solo studio album, D-Day, and even some BTS classics. Before heading to the Asian leg of the tour, Suga will play in Los Angeles and in Oakland, California.
Head in the Clouds Festival
Forest Hills, New York
88rising continues its mission of spreading the talents of Asian diaspora artists through their Head in the Clouds Festival. In addition to their usual Los Angeles edition, 2023 sees Head in the Clouds Festival expand to New York for the first time. The lineup includes returning acts such as DPR IAN and DPR LIVE, while K-pop sensation ITZY, global girl group XG, and rising rockstar LØREN will make their HITC debuts.
Tomorrow X Together (TXT): ACT : SWEET MIRAGE World Tour
Dazzling boy group Tomorrow X Together (TXT) grow bigger with each new release and their international tours follow suit. After last year’s ACT : LOVESICK, they return for a six-city stint in the U.S. with ACT : SWEET MIRAGE, kicking it off on May 5 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Members Soobin, Yeonjun, Beomgyu, Taehyun, and Huening Kai perform hits like "0x1=LOVESONG (I Know I Loved You)," "Good Boy Gone Bad" and their latest single, "Sugar Rush Ride."
MAMAMOO: MY CON World Tour
May 16 - June 4
Vocal queens MAMAMOO will soon begin their first-ever U.S. tour. Hwasa, Solar, Moonbyul, and Wheein are set to perform in nine cities, starting with New York on May 16 and ending in Los Angeles on June 4. With almost a decade of classics under their belts, the quartet will likely perform songs such as "Um Oh Ah Yeh," solo songs by each member, and a slew of hits like "HIP" and "Egotistic."
WEi: PASSION World Tour
Boy group WEi also returns to the U.S. for their second world tour, PASSION. Each of its six members — Daehyeon, Donghan, Yongha, Yohan, Seokhwa, and Junseo — are known for competing in different survival shows, with Yohan finishing in first place on Mnet’s "Produce X 101" in 2019. Although Yohan himself will be absent from this tour due to conflicting schedules, the remaining quintet promises to have a blast from coast to coast.
Bang Yongguk: The Colors of Bang Yongguk US Tour
May 31 - June 16
As a singer/songwriter, record producer, and former leader of boy group B.A.P, Bang Yongguk is one of K-pop’s most wide-ranging artists. Through honest lyrics and a voice deeper than the Mariana Trench, Yongguk’s work is immediately identifiable and always innovative. After releasing a brand new album this month, The Colors of Love, he is set to perform 10 concerts across the U.S., beginning in Joliet, Illinois on May 31.
TRI.BE: 2023 USA Tour VIDA LOCA
June 6 - July 3
Girl group TRI.BE have graced K-pop with effervescent singles and boundless energy since 2021, when they debuted with "Doom Doom Ta." This year, members Songsun, Kelly, Jinha, Hyunbin, Jia, Soeun, and Mire will embark on their first U.S. tour. The septet will play a massive round of 17 shows throughout the country, starting in Orlando, Florida and concluding in L.A.
aespa: Governors Ball Music Festival
In less than three years since their debut, aespa are already making history. The quartet — formed by Karina, Giselle, Winter, and Ningning — will be the first K-pop group to perform at NYC outdoor festival Governors Ball, held June 9-11. SM Entertainment’s latest girl group became known for their AI-filled lore that includes avatars and an avant-garde sound in the likes of popular singles "Next Level” and “Savage."
TWICE: 5th World Tour Ready to Be
June 10 - July 9
Unrelenting girl group TWICE return to the U.S. for their 5th World Tour Ready to Be. Named after their latest album, the performances will feature hits from their 8-year spanning discography, as well as solo performances from each of its nine members. After performances in Asia and Australia, they will kick off a 13-stop North American leg of the tour at the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California on June 10, and wrap it up at Truist Park in Atlanta on July 9.
CRAVITY: The First World Tour Masterpiece
Last year, rising boy group CRAVITY toured the U.S. as one of the representatives of KCON 2022 Rookies — a series of concerts organized by the All Things Hallyu festival with up-and-coming names in the industry. In 2023, the nine-member group are proving their growth as they headline their own tour through New York, Chicago, San Juan, Atlanta, Dallas, and Los Angeles.
JUST B: Otakon
Held in Washington, D.C., Otakon is the place to be for lovers of Asian pop culture. After bringing names like AleXa and PIXY last year, this year’s edition of the festival will bring rookie boy group JUST B — Lim Jimin, Geonu, Bain, JM, DY, and Sangwoo — for a performance and some VIP experiences to get to know them better.
Lee Youngji K-PLAY! FEST
San Mateo, California
Rapper Lee Youngji rose to fame by being the first woman to win survival shows "High School Rapper 3" and "Show Me the Money 11." However, she gathered an even bigger fandom through the YouTube variety show "My Alcohol Diary," where she invites other K-pop idols to her home for drinks and hilarious conversations. On July 30, she will headline the Bay Area edition of K-PLAY! FEST, the "first ever K-pop festival for fans, by fans." Besides spitting fiery bars, she will also do a hi-touch event, a fansign, and take some selfies with fans who purchase VIP packages.
Tomorrow X Together, NewJeans, DRP IAN, DPR LIVE: Lollapalooza
After last year’s success with performances from Tomorrow x Together and BTS’ j-hope, the Lolla 2023 features even more K-pop. For the first time in history, TXT will headline the festival on August 5, while fellow labelmates and current sensation NewJeans will perform on Thursday, August 3. DPR IAN, 6 and DPR LIVE bring their R&B, rock, and rap fusion to the last day of the festival on Sunday.
(G)I-dle: I am FREE-TY World Tour
K-pop’s resident tomboys will bring their flair and authenticity stateside. After last year’s Just Me ( )I-dle World Tour, the quintet formed by Soyeon, Miyeon, Minnie, Yuqi, and Shuhua will perform in six cities throughout the first half of August. In addition to their attitude-filled setlist, fans can expect new songs from their upcoming sixth EP, I Feel.
Head in the Clouds Festival
After their New York edition in May, HITC heads to the West Coast for another weekend celebrating Asian talents. While the lineup is yet to be announced, fans can expect it to hold some of the names who performed in past editions, as well as exciting newcomers. HITC will happen at Brookside at the Rose Bowl on Aug. 5 and 6.
BLACKPINK: BORN PINK World Tour
Headlining Coachella in April wasn’t enough for the unstoppable girl group BLACKPINK. Jennie, Rosé, Lisa, and Jisoo have just announced four stadium concerts in August as an extension of their ongoing BORN PINK World Tour, which also included U.S. dates in 2022. The quartet will perform at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. on Aug. 12, then follow to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Oracle Park in San Francisco, and wrap it up at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Aug. 26.
aespa: Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival
Once again, the groundbreaking aespa hit the U.S. for another milestone: they will be the first K-pop group to perform at San Francisco’s Outside Lands. The quartet will play their futuristic set on Friday, August 11, along Kendrick Lamar, Janelle Monaé and WILLOW, among others.
Known as the largest Korean culture and music festival in North America, KCON has a decade-long legacy of serving as a bridge for "all things Hallyu." Held at the Los Angeles Convention Center and Crypto.com Arena, the festival includes a two-night concert, fan signings, food and merch stalls, panels with professionals in the industry, and many other attractions. KCON hasn’t announced its official lineup yet, but attendees can expect it to maintain the same excellence of past years.