antifragile; le sserafim
oct 18 2022
When Le Sserafim released their debut song, "Fearless," I was so disappointed with the sterile, safe, heavily autotuned title track that I didn't listen to anything else on the album. Soon after that, their bullying scandal hit and I kind of wrote them off. Fast forward to a couple of months ago when I decided to actually listen to their bsides for the first time; I was absolutely blown away. It felt like the bsides had really taken the tired, hyper "public safe" title track and elevated its concepts and sounds to new heights. "Blue Flame" quickly became one of my favorite songs of all time, with "Sour Grapes" and "The Great Mermaid" shooting up the list as well.
That's a lot of words to say that I basically expected to not like "Antifragile." I hoped I would, yeah, because who doesn't want a group they're sort of interested in to release good music? But I figured that Le Sserafim were going to stick to making basic, public friendly title tracks that sought to be catchy above all else, paired with actually good bsides.
And I was right, at least in my own opinion. "Antifragile" is at least more interesting than "Fearless" by virtue of having like, an actual melody, but it cancels out by having every good part (interesting verses and prechorus) followed by a part that is actively annoying and grating (a high pitched chorus of "anti-ti-ti-ti fragile" and awkward rap segments). At least "Fearless" was just uninteresting the whole way through.
Kind of a sidenote, but I'm so tired of speak-singy choruses; these girls can clearly sing (they do sing, and sing wellon other tracks) so why have both "Fearless" and "Antifragile" consisted of choruses that aren't melodic and are basically just the girls tonelessly delivering the song's thesis?
Whatever, the song is boring and not my thing, but it's not actively bad or offensive and if I was stuck in the throes of a parasocial relationship with one of these girls I would probably love this song and be super pleased. It isn't a bad song, by any means. I just look at their bsides and know that they can do a lot better.
So let's talk about the bsides! Again, they're great. Not as good as the bsides on Fearless, which were melodically interesting and cohesive, but it is nice to see them explore different genres. The standout track of this album is obviously "No Celestial," bringing Le Sserafim to the echelon of Kpop groups who can put out a convincing pop-punk track (TXT and Choi Yena welcome them with open arms).
It doesn't just feel like a Kpop song on top of a guitar riff: it sounds like a pop-punk song. The song on Korean streaming services has them singing, "I'm no fucking angel / I'm no fucking goddess," but on English streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify "fucking" is replaced with "freaking"... which is so bullshit and brings the energy of the song down a little. We need to start a fan hashtag or something.
#STOP CENSORING LE SSERAFIM! #FREE LE SSERAFIM!
The other bsides are good but kind of get lost in the shuffle. "Impurities" and "Good Parts" are similar in tone and mood and "Impurities" is just a little better to me. "Good Parts" is unmemorable in comparison. They're not bad songs and I actually like "Impurities" a lot but I'm not obsessed with them like I was "Blue Flame" and "Sour Grapes."
Talking about "Good Parts" reminds me of something else I noticed with this comeback: the butchered English in both song titles and song lyrics. Look, I would never make fun of someone for not being able to speak English well or for mixing up verb tenses or grammar while speaking, but this is a huge company using English presumably to reach a Western audience and profit off them. Is it too much to ask that they get someone to make sure the English makes any sense at all? Hell, one of the group members is American, let her do it! I'm fine with small errors where you can still clearly tell what they mean, but when it's actively incomprehensible or impossible to ignore like in a song title is when I start to get a little cranky.
The title "Good Parts (when the quality is bad but I am)" just straight up makes no sense. When the quality is bad but I am what? I am also bad? I am good? I am not bad? I'm not bad? Also, this is nitpicky (big surprise) but when the quality of what is bad? WHAT ARE THEY TALKING ABOUT? This song also includes the line "Pic of mine zoom in out pretend I'm fine," which isn't as bad as the title but still pretty bad and confusing. "I zoom in and out on my pics and pretend I'm fine" would be the technically grammatically correct way to say this, which doesn't fit with the meter perfectly, but there are definitely ways to chop it up so that it works. I'm not sure if they tried and it really didn't work... or if they were just lazy.
Tangent within a tangent: I looked up a translation of the lyrics for "Good Parts" while writing this and they left a bad taste in my mouth. HYBE recently released a webseries documenting Le Sserafim's journey as they prepared for debut, and they got in major hot water among international fans for leaving in a segment where they put down the already waif thin Sakura for not "managing herself" well enough and encouraged her to diet more. It was really uncomfortable to witness and was a stark reminder that although we tend to think extreme idol exploitation is a thing of the past, it still definitely happens. They're just quieter about doing it.
Encouraging the girls to keep to unhealthy diets is bad enough, but then making them release a song where they talk about loving themselves despite their imperfections is just a slap in the face. They got in the booth to sing about embracing their imperfections and then probably went home and cried about being 0.1 kg over their target weight, knowing both their company and the general public are going to call them fat and ugly. It's just sick and I know not releasing these songs won't stop the exploitation, but it's just so fake and exploitative. HYBE as a company has a history of profiting off "self love" concepts while treating the idols like shit, but it's really an industry wide problem. The exploitation of idols is what made me take a huge step back from being a "Kpop stan."
Back to the English thing: if I want to get nitpicky (sorry for being an English major; some crimes can never be forgiven), "No Celestial" doesn't really make sense either. "Celestial" is an adjective, which means it should be "Not Celestial." Celestial can be used as a noun, but it's definitely not the most common use of the word and nowhere is the word "celestial" used in the actual song lyrics as a noun... and even that still would have been kind of obtuse and confusing. Maybe not outright grammatically incorrect, but certainly not great form to cut out the clarifying subject. Like, if they said "I'm no celestial" somewhere in this song it would be clear and I would be fine with it, but they don't, so it's confusing. Again, this is more of a nitpick, but it is something that struck me when I first saw the song.
Whew. TANGENT OVER.
All in all, I think overall I still like Fearless better, but I'm not disappointed in these bsides. I feel like I got a little negative there, so I just want to make it clear that I think this is a really good release. "No Celestial" along is worth it, and I think Le Sserafim have a lot of talent and charm. Like I said, I'm not really a Kpop stan anymore, but if Le Sserafim just released one good title track, I would probably end up... not buying an album, because their album design is kind of ugly and boring. But maybe I would follow their Twitter or something.
Thanks for checking out the review! Would love to hear what others think of this comeback! (Comment box below should finally be working :D)