Chic, bold, and – of course – fearless seem to be the perfect adjectives to describe rookie girl group Le Sserafim‘s concept. On their debut EP Fearless, which was met with critical acclaim, the quintet proclaimed their confidence and encouraged their haters to get away through a surprisingly minimalistic, stripped-down debut track and an outstanding array of versatile B-sides.
This notion is even more prominent on their second EP, titled Antifragile. The connection to the word fragile dates back to Le Ssserafim’s debut; the “Fearless” MV ended with the question “Do you think I’m fragile?” while a robotic female voice uttered the same question at the end of their TFMA performance. How fleshed out this concept already is could be seen in their debut documentary “The World is my Oyster“, where the girls are briefed on the meaning behind it. Executive producer Bang Si-Hyuk revealed that this approach was derived from the different backgrounds and narratives each member has.
Indeed, Le Sserafim is quite a unique group – Chaewon and Sakura were recruited as former Iz One members, Yunjin had previously appeared on Produce 48, while Kazuha was scouted from a ballet academy in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Joining this mixture is the cute and quirky maknae Eunchae.
Despite the short group training they had pre-debut, the girls have amazing chemistry and work incredibly well as a unit. Their recent offering Antifragile is testimony to this. Once again, Le Sserafim try their hands at diverse genres and succeed, creating a mixture of incredibly infectious and enjoyable tracks. Overall, the album has a more mature and fleshed-out coherence than its predecessor.
Similar to Fearless, Antifragile opens with a sonically layered, bass-heavy intro “The Hydra,” which sounds like it straight came from a runway. It serves to convey the album’s content and message as the members proclaim their resilience and unending strength in three different languages: Korean, Japanese and English. Analog to the lyrics is the title choice. In Greek mythology, a hydra is a creature with several heads that grow back even after being cut off. The statement “I am antifragile” can be heard a dozen times throughout the less than two-minute-long track.
Next up is title track “Antifragile”, a thumping mixture of reggae-ton and pop elements. It is a monster of a title track – infectious with an almost perfect line distribution and, again, a striking title. Antifragility is a concept developed by Nassim Taleb, who explicitly does not define it as the opposite of fragility, but rather as something beyond resilience and robustness. Compared to resilience, which resists shocks and stays the same, antifragility improves. A classic example would be a hydra, which can regrow its head. Thus “Antifragile” can be read as a continuation of the intro.
Musically, “Antifragile” comes with well-constructed verses that give each member time to shine. The robotic repetition of antifragile throughout the song contrasts well with the less processed vocals. The extra bits of percussion during the chorus add a lot of momentum to the track, but the catchiest part is arguably the post-chorus “Anti-ti-ti fragile” hook. Those who had reservations about the track will be positively surprised: this part is not as dominant as it was made out to be in the teasers, but rather serves the purpose of making the song as memorable as possible.
The pre-chorus contains a deeper meaning as confirmed by the members during their Rolling Stone interview:
Don’t forget my pointe shoes I left behind
What more must be said
Don’t underestimate the path I’ve walked
I go to ride till I die
Member Sakura revealed that the mention of pointe shoes alludes to Kazuha’s more than a decade-long ballet training, while “the path I’ve walked” hints at Sakura and Chaewon’s career as Iz One members.
The upbeat title song is followed by the dreamy R&B track “Impurities,” co-written by Yunjin. It’s the first time Le Sserafim have tried their hands at this genre, but the risk clearly pays off. The mellow beat serves to amplify their gorgeous and honeyed vocals, while the falsettos during the pre-chorus are particularly nice. Lyrically, the members sing about their imperfect, sometimes greedy selves, adding a softer notion to the untouchable, tough persona they created on the first two tracks.
With its rock elements and bold lyrics, the fourth track “No Celestial” sounds like an Avril Lavigne and early 2000’s coming-of-age film crossover. The members belt out “I’m no f***** angel, I’m no f***** goddess, rejecting the unrealistic expectations they have to live up to. Unlike anything they released before, “No Celestial” is a youthful pop-punk track, which continues the album’s narrative.
Closing off the album is the delightful “Good Parts (when the quality is bad but I am)”, on which Yunjin and Sakura have writing credits. Le Sserafim show their most vulnerable and honest side on this track embracing their imperfections, but simultaneously their desire to love themselves:
I just wanna love myself
Good times and bad times, love my weakness
From the splendid expectations
Even if it doesn’t look good otherwise
Find the good parts
The strength of this song lies in its simplicity, which can be felt both in its musical composition and its lyrics. It is like a more stripped-down version of “Impurities,” a very sweet listen that adds variety to the different aspects of Le Sserafim’s concept. However, compared to “Sour Grapes,” which closed off their debut EP, “Good Parts” could have used a little bit more momentum.
One major reason why Antifragile works so well as a coherent album is due to the producers’ understanding of the member’s vocal ranges and abilities. Instead of redundant adlibs or overproduced sections, the members of Le Sserafim make the best use of their skills to create magnificent and uplifting tracks. This does not necessarily come as a surprise; under HYBE, the group has access to the best songwriters and producers. Still, to deliver such a strong first comeback album is a major feat for a rookie group.