Taking their careers to the ‘next level’ today is aespa, with their third comeback since their debut with Black Mamba in October of 2020. You may have missed their first comeback occurred earlier this year and through a remake single titled Forever. Interestingly, it didn’t attract as much attention as you would have expected for SM Entertainment’s newest group. But don’t fret, aespa has a long career ahead of them. And that next step comes today with the comeback Next Level. It is another digital single from the female group (no album release just yet). But hopefully they will get one for their next comeback. But in the meanwhile, let’s check out Next Level.
Next Level is the type of songs that jams a lot of styles into one song. Sometimes it works fine, but other times, it doesn’t. For me personally, Next Level falls into the latter category. The individual styles themselves all sound great in their own right. But the issue is when they are all strung together. It is a bit of a reach to make it one whole piece. I personally feel these parts differ in a very distinct manners. Let’s break down the various parts of Next Level. The song starts and ends with this electronic background that reminds me of the soundtracks for those scenes in action movies where the main character is riding the motorcycle in a very cool manner (we will call this Part 1). This makes sense as the original version was from one of the Fast and Furious movies. Part 1 also features the chorus – the ‘Next Level‘ repetition hook, which is a really simple chorus. But one that works extremely well and catches on. While I did enjoy Part 1, the enjoyment unraveled briefly when this cutesy and innocent ‘Lalalala’ sequence was brought in. The original version has this sequence, but it kept it at a low tone. I think aespa’s version pushed for a more innocent style, which didn’t fit the cool sounding profile that kickstarted and ended the song. The atmosphere and style of Part 1 returns briefly, before we are handed the ‘Watch it while I make it out‘ repetition. To me, aespa’s version of this sequence fits with the cool side of the song. But because of ‘Lalalala‘ still fresh in my mind, this repetition carries the same effect which is unfortunate. aespa’s version of Next Level starts to divert from the original here. Part 2 seems to be a transitional piece and maintains the cool thumping beat of Part 1, but features a bit more percussion and textures. In addition to the instrumental change in Part 2, we get a greater focus on vocals, which were powerful and well executed by the members. Ninging and Winter’s vocals here reminds me of S.E.S’s Bada’s vocals (which is a huge compliment). Part 3 comes soon after with more peppy backing that is full of colour and brings forth urban city vibes. The result is an instrumentally light and cheerful sequence. It seems to merge both the strong rapping from Part 1 and the powerful vocals of Part 2 together. But while I really like this part, I feel this is miles away from the coolness of Part 1 (which returns to end Next Level following Part 3). Overall, I just wished Next Level didn’t flip the switch to suddenly change to Parts 2, 3 and back to 1 out of nowhere. It needed a bridge to glue it altogether and make it more cohesive.
Following the visuals of Black Mamba, I had high expectations on the visual front of the music video. And they delivered! A lot of the stylistic choices from Black Mamba were carried over, which I quite like and it allows the music video to appear connected to one another. (which I believe is intentional as the videos are under one universe). The fantastical colour scheme and some of the sets (the big tree and the rocky set) felt similar to the ones we saw in their previous music video. But Next Level makes sure to be its own standalone music video as well, bringing in a sci-fi futuristic concept, which I think was suitable for the song’s various parts. Also returning are the other four members of the group (i.e. the “æ” members). I liked how they were worked into the video and the transitions between the doppelgangers. I wished they played a bigger parts, especially if they are considered an additional four members. In terms of plot line, Next Level shows us snippet of their travels to “Kwangya to hunt down Black Mamba that estranged us from our avatars”.
Performance wise, I think the routine for this comeback looks awesome. I don’t think there is an iconic move like in their previous dance routine (i.e. the drop lunge). But this performance looks cool and full of confidence nonetheless, which is fitting in with the song.
Song – 6.5/10
Music Video – 8/10
Performance – 8/10
Overall Rating – 7.3/10