While the landscape of Korean entertainment can be vast and wondrous, it’s often the little things that make us fall in love, inspire awe, evoke secondhand embarrassment, or sometimes… break our hearts.

In this segment, we ask our writers: Among the many things vying for your attention this month, what won and made your heart beat?

Is This the Aespa We’ve Been Waiting For? & Here Comes Riize!
— Siena

Debuting under a huge company is arguably both a blessing and curse. On the plus side, publicity is a given, which means almost immediate exposure and fandom. On the minus side, publicity is a given, which means immense scrutiny and expectations. Aespa have gotten both sides of that coin in heavy doses, and despite a few solid hits, a fairly impressive discography, and one of the best fourth generation vocal lines, they’ve not quite hit their stride amidst all the pressure. But that might be changing. 

I almost completely brushed over their newest English-language single, “Better Things,” but a small snippet caught my ear and sent me down the new-favorite-song rabbit hole. A mid-tempo track packed with hooks, “Better Things” is a wonderfully subtle showcase for Aespa’s vocal prowess, all velvety tones and dexterous runs. Its presentation in MV, concept, and styling, also hits a sweet spot of keeping things Aespa have done before that have worked (fantasy, kitsch, enjoyable cringe lyrics) and discarding problem areas (over-seriousness, those terrifying CG ‘members’). As the cherry on top, stages for the song show that Aespa are sticking with the performance level-up they showed in “Spicy,” which is to say that the likes of (G)I-dleLe Sserafim, and StayC don’t need to lace up their sneakers yet to compete for top stage presence fourth-gen girl group edition, but Aespa have certainly improved from their initially dismal showings. All signs point to an Aespa who are more confident and clear in their style than ever, and that’s truly exciting. 

Speaking of SM Entertainment groups: Despite a bumpy creation story (who said Shotaro and Sungchan were ever part of NCT? Certainly not SM!), Riize is coming and I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a debut in a while. Everything they’ve put out so far looks stellar, particularly the “Siren” performance video and footage from their special Kcon LA appearance. Three cheers for this promising group, and infinite cheers for the fact that, also for the first time I can remember in a long time, all of the members of a major debuting group are not minors (yayyyyyyy)! It’s looking like a monster rookie is right on the horizon, and September 4th can’t come fast enough. 

Rookie Boy Groups Worth Anticipating
— Eileen

These past few years, the rookie girl group scene has been absolutely flourishing with popular acts like Ive, Le Sserafim, and NewJeans filling the music charts. And while I don’t see this dominance ending anytime soon, it also feels like the trends are gradually focusing on boy bands once again. 2023 has especially seen a lot more anticipated boy group debuts compared to the previous years.

Like Siena, I have my eyes on SM’s new group Riize. As the company’s first boy group since 2016 that isn’t part of NCT, I’m interested to see the kind of sound and style they’ll bring to the table. I don’t completely understand what SM means by this ‘emotional pop’ genre that they keep mentioning, but if it sounds anything like the chorus of “Memories,” then call me a fan.

Other acts that I’m looking forward to are the Boys Planet-related groups, particularly Evnne, which includes the contestants from WakeOne and Yuehua Entertainment, as well as Ciipher’s Keita. Their X (Twitter) account has been pretty entertaining so far, having fans guess which members drew the various group logos and even holding an egg frying competition. It’s definitely some of the most unique pre-debut social media content I’ve seen.

The boys from Redstart ENM have also caught my attention as they promote together under the name TIOT. Their modern take on Click-B’s 2001 hit song “Unbeatable” has plenty of energy and attitude, making me even more intrigued for their future debut.

On a different note, while I’m not as familiar with J-pop as I am with K-pop, I’m excited to see Anthonny and Haruto on stage again as members of TOZ alongside other former Boys Planet participants Yuto and Takuto. Many of the articles that I’ve come across state that the group will be promoting in Japan, though I wouldn’t be that surprised if they decide to perform in Korea as well given their fan base.

(Twitter/X, YouTube[1][2][3]. Image via SM Entertainment.)