When aespa debuted just over two years ago, they captured fans’ imaginations with the AI avatar versions of their members, known as their æs. Questions abounded about just how the æswould be incorporated into their live performances – and just how much attention the digital entities would take from the living, breathing stars. Their pair of debut concerts this weekend, titled ‘SYNK: Hyper Line’, bring aespa’s futuristic side firmly into the real world.

The “hyper line”, Ningning explains early on, is “a place where we meet æs and mys [aespa’s fandom] together”. As a gathering of three parts, the virtual component is used only sparingly and never feels overdone. The æs might be seen on stage before the aespa members themselves, but it’s one of a handful of appearances they make throughout the night.

Credit: SM Entertainment

During Karina’s solo song ‘Menagerie’, the singer performs in front of an LED screen, which midway through is taken over by an effect that makes it look like the glass has smashed. Out of the shards comes an avatar, ready to mirror her dance moves. One song later, the same screen is splattered with neon blues, greens and purples during ‘Illusion’, before aespa strut out in front of it and their virtual counterparts take up residence behind them. Elsewhere, other tech plays a role in the set, like the AR emojis that fill the screen during one VCR break.

aespa’s debut concerts don’t look to the future only in terms of flashy effects, though. Although the lead-up to the shows has been filled with surreal reports about delayed comebacks, that doesn’t stop them from sharing a bunch of new songs from their upcoming album with those present at Jamsil Arena and watching online. The concert’s mid-section is packed with fresh material, building on the sounds that aespa have utilised so far.

Credit: SM Entertainment

‘Thirsty’, the first new song to be revealed, is dreamy and bright R&B-tinged pop, the kind of song that would slot easily into a latter-day Ariana Grande album. ‘I’m Unhappy’ brings a more melancholy edge to the setlist, the members forgoing choreography to deliver solemn lines. It’s only a temporary moment of dejection, though. ‘Don’t Blink’ – “about us tempting you,” according to Karina – brings back the dancing over a light rock riff, while ‘Hot Air Balloon’ ups the energy in the cutest way. Aespa are joined on stage by a horde of dancers in giant costumes of vegetables and animals, with whom they dance and interact with as they deliver the peppy, colourful song.

‘YOLO’ lifts things into euphoric territory, its drops of rave-y synths accompanied by explosions of pyrotechnics and streamers. The group saves the best for last, though. ‘Salty & Sweet’ dips back into edgier, darker industrial pop sounds for something enticing and ultra-cool, the four women purring: “‘Cause I am salty and sweet, ooh / I can’t resist it, I can’t forget it.”

Credit: SM Entertainment

Those new songs aren’t the only unfamiliar songs in tonight’s setlist. Each member of the group also performs their own solo track, tackling different styles and sounds mostly with aplomb. Karina goes first for the alluring ‘Menagerie’, which full of shadowy hip-hop beats and a hypnotic, cascading melody. It’s an impressive start to the solo showcase, especially when you know Karina helped co-write the lyrics. Later, Winter takes her place on stage in front of a twinkling background for ‘Lips’, a pretty and poignant ballad that shows off her warm vocals.

For Giselle’s solo stage, things switch up once again, with the rapper taking us to the street swagger end of hip-hop’s spectrum for ‘2HOT4U’. Its lyrics might be a self-assured kiss-off to someone trying their luck, but they also leave a lot to be desired in places – “Ew, you, blah blah blah,” she raps at one point. “I’mma call security on ya, ya, ya, ya.” Her performance also doesn’t match up to the attitude in the song, lacking the power and almighty confidence for a convincing rendition. And Ningning’s solo, the metallic, skittering ‘Wake Up’, suffers from similar issues, feeling flat when it should be full of edgy thrills.

Credit: SM Entertainment

Along the way, aespa also take some time to look back and celebrate the songs that have gotten them to this point. The concert opens with ‘Girls’, Winter strapping on an electric guitar and shredding out a solo to give it a fresh twist. Their remake of S.E.S.’s ‘Dreams Come True’ and the bright ‘Life’s Too Short’ highlight the four-piece’s promise, even when you take away the futuristic concepts and extra gimmicks, while a light-hearted ‘Lingo’ serves Gossip Girl on The Met steps sassiness.

With ‘SYNK: Hyper Line’ being their first full-length, headline concerts since debuting, it would be unrealistic to expect the group to be at the same standard performance-wise as their seniors. Even aespa themselves admit the previous day was full of awkwardness, some of which carries over here today, too. But by the time they reach the crescendo of the main set – their viral hits ‘Next Level’ and ‘Black Mamba’ – they’ve started to hit their stride.

“We tried new things in this concert and there might have been some trials and errors,” Winter shares in the concert’s ending comments while thanking the staff that worked on the show. Any hiccups along the way, though, are minimal and never overshadow the feeling that, in the not-too-distant future, the group will be able to reach their full potential. There’s still plenty of room for aespa’s vision of the future.

aespa played: 

‘I’ll Make You Cry’
‘Lucid Dream’
‘Dreams Come True’
‘Life’s Too Short’
‘I’m Unhappy’
‘Don’t Blink’
‘Hot Air Balloon’
‘Wake Up’
‘Salty & Sweet’
‘Next Level’
‘Black Mamba’
‘Till We Meet Again’

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