aespa‘s back, and they’re bringing their battle against the Black M-m-m-mamba to the “Next Level.”

The SM Entertainment rookie girl group haven’t been ’round very long – they only debuted back in November of last year – but they’ve certainly been generating a lot of buzz.

That’s partially because of their unique makeup: the group consists of four IRL members – GISELLE, WINTER, KARINA and NINGNING – as well as their four virtual counterparts (æ aespa), who regularly make cameos throughout their visuals. Basically, it’s a little K/DA. Much more on this in just a moment.

On Monday (May 17), the girls returned to us with a Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw soundtrack bop (!) in tow – repackaged and repurposed for their wildly chaotic comeback.

Yes, that’s right: the song is a recreation of a tune also called “Next Level” by A$ton Wyld (also known as Sophie Curtis, a singer-songwriter from Sydney) from a 2019 movie soundtrack. The K-Pop world works in mysterious ways, to say the least.

Of course, the lyrics have been retooled with the help of SM Entertainment producer Yoo Young-jin. And the theme of the song? According to a press conference, via Soompi: it’s “about the journey to a place called Kwangya to find the Black Mamba that interfered with the connection between aespa and æ aespa (aespa’s avatars) and caused the world to fall into chaos.” A classic pop trope, if I ever heard one.

There’s also lore. So much lore! There’s a whole SM Entertainment Culture Universe! The Marvel Cinematic Universe is shaking. Can Thanos do choreography? Didn’t think so.

To understand more about what’s actually going on, here’s the (very helpful) Genius recap of the situation: “The overarching story behind ​aespa’s concept revolves around the connections formed between the real world and the virtual world. aespa interact with their avatars, or their virtual counterparts through SYNK technology. However, as seen in episode 1 of SM Culture Universe (SMCU) the SYNK has been disrupted by the villainous entity dubbed as ‘black mamba’ weakening their bond…the word “광야” (romanized as KWANGYA) is a Korean term that refers to ‘the wilderness.’ In aespa’s fictional universe, KWANGYA is the home of the virtual avatars. In the SMCU, KWANGYA is described as an unruled and infinite space located beyond the FLAT. Avatar Naevis can open portals in and out of KWNAGYA. But the Black Mamba is disrupting SYNK from KWANGYA.”

But there’s even more – there are characters referenced in the song too: Naevis!

“Naevis is introduced in the first episode of SM Culture Universe as a leading figure among the virtual avatars. She is shown to have the ability to open portals in and out of KWANGYA. The lyrics can be contextualized in aespa’s storyline as the members trust in Naevis and will follow her as she leads them into KWANGYA to stop Black Mamba from disrupting the SYNK connection between the real and virtual worlds.”

Oh yes, it’s a whole short film experience.

Do you need a Ph.D. in Mythological Studies to fully appreciate aespa? No. But also, it probably wouldn’t hurt.

The girls also got a chance to further elaborate on their avatars during the day’s press conference: “We were actually educated on it for a long time because we have to promote while understanding our world, so we completely understand it now. æ aespa sometimes open the force and come out to reality. We spend time together at those times, and since æ aespa are made from our data, we work well together even if we don’t practice,” KARINA said.

“A world like this in which we meet our other selves and go on an adventure has yet to be seen anywhere else before. I’m looking forward to it because I think it’s a style that’s uniquely our own,” WINTER went on to say.

All that aside, there’s still the matter of the actual song, which is…certifiably insane.

That’s not the first time SM’s thrown us for a loop, a la Red Velvet‘s “Zimzalabim” and Girls’ Generation‘s “I GOT A BOY,” which similarly play like three songs in one. The catchy hooks and chants are fast and furious (eh heh), and there’s something enticingly cool and slightly cocky about it – it’s got a slight K/DA / CLC / BLACKPINK edge, too. And like K/DA or LOONA‘s LOONAVERSE, you can dive as deep into the backstory as you’d like…or just sit back and enjoy the music.

Comparisons aside, it’s clear that the group is beginning to find their footing and forge their own path in their Marvel-Star WarsAvatar world – and our world, too. You’re doing æmazing, sweeties.

 
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Photo credit: SM Entertainment