As a day-one admirer of aespa’s Next Level, I’ve loved watching the song work its way into public consciousness and become one of 2021’s most iconic K-pop tracks. SM Entertainment is clearly angling for an edgier sound for the group, perhaps in an attempt to replicate BLACKPINK’s global success. But so far, their tracks have retained that distinctive SM quirkiness, making the whole gambit feel oddly authentic. And yes… when it comes to SM, a cover of a b-side from the Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw soundtrack counts as authentic!
Savage is aespa’s first single since blowing up, and could be considered even more important to their legacy than Next Level. Unfortunately, it fails to meet that track’s success. Right from its obnoxious opener, it’s clear Savage will be a very different beast. Gone is the funky electro backdrop of Next Level, replaced with clanging percussion that feels recycled from any number of BLACKPINK tracks.
As expected from SM, the most successful moments in this track come when the girls are allowed to rip the roof off with a series of power vocals. They remain one of the most exciting rookies when it comes to sheer vocal firepower, and I wish Savage offered more chances to fuse this bombast with distinct melody. Instead, aespa spend so much time chanting about how “savage” they are that there’s barely time for melody at all.
There’s not time for rap, either. Most of Savage‘s posturing is driven by the kind of sing-talk delivery so popular in this era of K-pop. The track wants to hit hard, but none of its verses do. And without a killer chorus to anchor the spectacle, Savage comes across as all bark, no bite. It’s not until we reach the final minute that the track begins to display potential, placing the girls’ sky high vocals over an exciting blast of electro distortion. I’m sure it’ll all sound great when paired with a live performance, but on its own Savage is a mess — and not in a particularly fun way.