Say you’re one of the biggest music agencies in the world and you’re looking to launch your next big girl group. What do you do? Saddle them with a Christmas song (in February!)? Toss them an old b-side from the soundtrack of a Fast & Furious spin-off? Both sound like awful ideas, yet this is how SM Entertainment’s aespa have been managed thus far. Next Level arrives by way of F&F’s Hobbs and Shaw, from the vintage year of… 2019. But no need to worry. SM has a long – mostly illustrious – history of taking existing songs and reinventing them.
This is the case with Next Level. Though if follows the basic formula of its source material, the whole track has that easily-identifiable, Yoo Young-Jin arranged SM sound. And against all odds, I think it’s kind of great.
Let’s start with that oscillating electro bass. Yes, it’s cribbed right from the original track, but it forms a fierce backbone that delivers the requisite girl crush grit while carving its own niche. Given how rap-heavy the track is, this killer instrumental is vital to Next Level’s success. It grounds even the silliest moments, including that blustering chorus. aespa’s delivery is intentionally measured, and I like how the rap opts for a slower flow. The whole arrangement has a sinuous style that’s surprisingly engaging.
True to Yoo Young-Jin form, Next Level eventually works its way into an interruptive r&b breakdown. The track is upended – rhythm and all – for an exciting vocal showcase that hearkens back to SM’s old-school sound. It’s very funky, but all of Next Level is much funkier than I’d expected. Even if its warring parts don’t quite hold together, I can’t help but nod my head as the girls stake their claim as heirs to SM’s weighty legacy.