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aespa Dominates the Experimental K-pop Genre: An Album Review of “Drama,” by Karla Garcia

As my playlist desperately needed something new, I was beyond excited when I saw the Drama teasers on Instagram. I hoped that aespa would jam up my days by bringing upbeat, catchy and experimental sounds into my final weeks of the semester. I was not disappointed: The group’s third EP delivered.

As a quartet, aespa debuted in 2021 under the powerhouse label S.M. Entertainment. Made up of members Karina, Winter, Giselle and NingNing, this South Korean girl group dominated the charts with their debut single “Black Mamba,” scoring more than 200 million streams on Spotify.

Their futuristic concept features the world of “KWANGA” — a mystical universe where each member has an official avatar that connects with NAVIS, the world’s female protector. “Black Mamba” incited the story of KWANGA by depicting the members as fighters against the threatening evils that destroy the connection between aespa and their AI characters. The song's lyrics refer to this enemy: “I hate Mamba / I'm Aespa, there can't be two.”

Drama takes a similar approach but with more subtlety. The EP is experimental and versatile, but less animated. While still maintaining aespa's futuristic sound, this release captures the group’s vocal skills in a new way. Comparing it to their previous MY WORLD EP, which incorporated an EDM and hip-hop style, Drama is a musical rollercoaster that highlights each member's unique voice and rapping style — taking aespa to the next level of K-pop music.

1. “Drama

Karina's rap intro is as experimental as the track itself. Her lyrics “ziggy, ziggy, zag, I'm new / 'cause I go biggie, biggie, bad, it's true” open the song and invite listeners into a dramatic world where aespa are fierce winners.

The chain-sounding synthesizer in the chorus creates a mysterious vibe resembling the instrumentals used in a superhero movie. This is followed by techno-band drums and the lyrics: “I bring drama-ma-ma-ma with my girls in the back / I break trauma-ma-ma-ma with my world in the back.” The bridge is elegant and transitions seamlessly into an R&B sound. Although, for a K-pop bridge, it was very short and less “feel-good” than I expected.

Favorite Part: the intro

Vocal Highlight: Winter’s vocals in the pre-chorus at 0:45

Instrumental Highlight: the synthesizer is the chorus

This track is catchy, magical and musically spooky. If Halloween were a sound, it would be this. The snares in the pre-chorus build tension and perfectly draw in the suspenseful lyrics: “So catch me if you can, boy / now, you see me, now you don’t.”

The bridge is dreamy, yet intense. Winter and NingNing's voices shine effortlessly as they sing in a soprano tone followed by powerful high hats that move into the final chorus. “Trick or Treat” is an energy booster and the perfect late-night anthem.

Favorite Part: the bridge

Vocal Highlight: NingNing’s vocals in verse two at 1:10

Instrumental Highlight: the snares and high hats throughout the tack

3. “Don't Blink

Beginning with a guitar sample, the song gives off a Western vibe that reminds me of the intro to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” Yet, sticking to the traditional K-pop style, the track incorporates a groovy hip-hop sound into the verse. The song is versatile as the bridge and outro include a muted robot-like voice mixed with the instrumental and place the members’ high-note adlibs into the background.

Its lyrics “look closely, the moment you let your guard down / I'll turn your world upside down” tie back to aespa's multiverse world of KWANGA.

I especially enjoyed Giselle's lines as the track fit her vocal range best.

Favorite Part: the outro

Vocal Highlight: Giselle’s vocals in the pre-chorus at 2:04

Instrumental Highlight: while not my favorite ever, the electric guitar in the intro, pre-chorus and chorus

“Hot Air Balloon” transports listeners to a happy-filled world with rainbows, puffy clouds and sunshine. This song is fun and bright, making me feel like I am dancing in the sky while flying in a hot-air balloon.

The instrumental has a bubblegum-pop sound and uses an upbeat EDM synthesizer as the lead. Karina and Giselle's voices stick out the most due to their harmonious rap vocals.

The chorus’ repeated “up, up, up” resembles a sped-up version of Nct Dream’s “We Go Up.” The song also reminds me of “Dumdi-Dumdi” by G(IDLE) as it follows a summer vibe and dance track concept.

Favorite Part: verse one

Vocal Highlight: NingNing's vocals in the bridge at 2:31

Instrumental Highlight: the grand piano in the verses and the electronic synthesizer in the chorus

5. “YOLO

This track is a traditional electronic-pop song with a few pop-rock elements throughout. The overall concept gives off a fresh teen vibe, marking a new sound for aespa. The song is inspiring as the lyrics in the pre-chorus read: “Even if it’s difficult, break it all / Even if you don’t like it, endure it and wait.”

Sadly, “YOLO” is my least favorite track on the album. While I appreciate the positive message of the song, its repetitive instrumental sections make it a bit substandard for a K-pop song.

Favorite Part: the pre-chorus

Vocal Highlight: Winter’s high note in the bridge at 2:38

Instrumental Highlight: the synth-pad modulation in the intro

6. “You

“You” begins with a jazz-type piano sound followed by an acoustic guitar. The track then adds strings and angelic vocals to produce a winter holiday vibe. The song is romantic, warm and Christmas-y.

It addresses aespa’s fans through its lyrics: “I shine even brighter, let’s always be together.”

This song best showcases the members’ vocals by highlighting their musical versatility to sing across numerous registers. Karina and Winter’s parts are most memorable as they harmonize elegantly throughout the track.

Favorite Part: the chorus

Vocal Highlight: Karina’s belting vocals in the last chorus at 2:43

Instrumental Highlight: the acoustic guitar in the verses and the muted bass in the pre-chorus

With over 1 million physical album sales of Drama, aespa has continued to reach audiences beyond South Korea. I too bought my copy of Drama last week and couldn't be happier to own the group’s latest release. My EP is the “Sence” version that includes a poster, a photo card, a sticker set and postcards — all featuring member Giselle.

Whether you are new to K-pop or have been a fan for years, give Drama a listen to explore aespa's experimental music, vocal versatility and futuristic concept. While you're at it, check out the official music video for “Drama” featuring dark, fierce and movie-like cinematography that elegantly showcases the member's choreography.

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