For a song called “Fearless,” LE SSERAFIM held back a lot for their debut title track.
In fact, I’ve been frustrated with two highly anticipated girl group debuts this year. The first was with JYP Entertainment’s latest girl group NMIXX. Aside from accusations of plagiarism towards their company, my issue with NMIXX’s debut was how it tried to do too much at once with no clear direction. I found their title track “O.O” overpowering and confused with glimpses of real genius and pure, uncut talent. A major positive of the debut was how it showcased the members’ strong personalities and soaring vocals, despite being saddled with a song that couldn’t decide what it wanted to be outside of a Zero Coke commercial.
LE SSERAFIM, in my opinion, has the exact opposite problem. While the group has a clear identity and slick production, the title song “Fearless” is all sizzle and no pop. The song is incredibly well-produced with empowering lyrics and my favorite bassline so far this year, but having an anti-drop after the exciting buildup of the pre-chorus makes “Fearless” sound more like a preview for the group than a proper debut. Perhaps this was the point to some extent, as much of their promotional material could easily be mistaken as advertisements for a high fashion brand, but the result is something commercial to the point of being entirely too safe.
It’s an understandable move, considering HYBE’s history with girl groups. Several factors, including but not limited to the ill-fated GLAM to the company’s long history of not accepting female trainees, made the announcement that they would be debuting a girl group made up of in-house trainees instantly buzz-worthy. LE SSERAFIM even had their own controversies leading up to their debut, including bullying accusations toward member Kim Garam and criticism from Korean netizens towards the group’s initial concept photos. According to Lopa K for Meaww, fans didn’t see the photos as being “up to the mark and standard of a huge company that is home to the global sensation BTS and other popular groups like Seventeen, TXT and Enhypen.”
“The girls are also posing against a plain and simple background with no other decor or propers which has had fans calling HYBE and Source Music lazy,” K reported. “With the other big K-pop labels going all out from expensive outfits to lavish CGI for their rookie groups like NMIXX, aespa and Treasure, fans are calling out the cheap concept photos given to Le Sserafim.”
Personally, questionable outfits and poses aside, I didn’t mind the lack of accoutrement in those photos, especially with the more glamorous concept photos that would come later. In a landscape of expensive outfits and lavish CGI, what is going to stand out more than minimalism? That being said, minimalism can become boring if you don’t spice it up with an exciting centerpiece. For a girl group which contains a member who aims to “change the idol industry,” I can only describe their debut song “Fearless” as perfectly serviceable. It is by no means bad or entirely unexciting, but it’s missing that centerpiece moment that would have helped it become something truly memorable.
So, what does a successful debut look like to me? The most shining example I can give came last year in the form of Aespa, whose debut title track “Black Mamba” struck me as an instant K-pop classic. It was bold without being overbearing and catchy without being irritating. The choreography was strong, their concept was solid and the vocals from members Ning Ning and Winter were some of my favorites of 2021. This isn’t to say every debut track should be like “Black Mamba,” because that would get tired, obvious and repetitive. The lesson to be taken from “Black Mamba,” is to stay confident with a concept and stay sharp about where to take risks and when to play it safe.
Neither LE SSERAFIM nor NMIXX are untalented by any stretch of the imagination, nor are the songs bad on. I was looking forward to both debuts and want to see them make strong comebacks that match their potential. My frustration lies exclusively with companies who select debut songs for these promising girl groups that miss the mark by mere inches when they should have been easy bullseyes.
Do you agree or disagree? Check out the full video below and let me know!