'SMCU Ep.2 Next Level': aespa become cartoon characters and diss the K-pop industry

In the mini-film, aespa face their darkest fears which include cyberbullying, invasion of privacy, and unrealistic expectations


                            'SMCU Ep.2 Next Level': aespa become cartoon characters and diss the K-pop industry
aespa turn into cartoon characters for the episode (aespa/YouTube)
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Thanks to SM’s latest multiverse project 'Kwangya' which is the SM Culture Universe, aespa is one of the few groups that have a unique and interesting storyline and concept. While there are only four members, the group first turned heads by bringing in AI counterparts that they called AEs. From fighting the Black Mamba the antagonist in their debut single to ‘synking’ with their AEs, aespa is constantly keeping their fans on their toes. And now with the release of ‘SMCU Ep.2 Next Level’, we get a glimpse of what to expect from their next comeback.

Set to release on July 8, aespa's new album is titled ‘Girls’. For pre-promotions, we got the members turning into cartoon characters as we got an animated mini-film. In the first episode that was released in May 2021, SM explained the concept of AEs. Well, in episode 2, we see aespa trying to figure out why their AEs have disappeared and if the Black Mamba has something to do with it. With each of the members having an important role in 'SMCU Ep.2 Next Level', the internet was rife with rumors. But what caught everyone’s attention was that along with the cinematic storyline, aespa was also dissing the K-pop industry.

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aespa turn into cartoon characters for the 'SMCU Ep.2 Next Level' episode (aespa/YouTube)

aespa show the dark side of K-pop

In the 'SMCU Ep.2 Next Level' episode, aespa boards the train to Kwangya which gets hijacked by the Black Mamba. The giant snake plays mind games with each of the members, trying to break them down by making them face their darkest fears. In Karina’s mind, a cartoon version of her is surrounded by broken mirrors, in which we see her crying and being overwhelmed by her insecurities and unable to be the perfect girl she claims to be on social media. The Black Mamba strikes a chord as it refers to the ageism and impossible beauty standards prevalent in the K-pop industry.

For Winter, we see her surrounded by glitching strangers gossiping about her, making up lies and asking if she even deserves to be part of aespa. It gets too much for Winter who tries to then run in the opposite direction. Once again, the episode reminds viewers that idols do see the hate they get on social media and how it can affect them mentally, even if they know that the rumors and gossip are groundless.

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aespa turn into cartoon characters for the 'SMCU Ep.2 Next Level' episode (aespa/YouTube)

Ningning’s weakness seems to be similar to that of Winter’s as she gets trapped in the fickle nature of social media comments. In the episode, she starts off by getting happy looking at the positive reactions before anonymous netizens gleefully take over with hate comments on her videos and posts. Ningning tries to cover her ears but the hate comments keep increasing, referring to the unprovoked hate that K-pop idols get even for simply existing.

In Giselle’s segment, she is surrounded by the paparazzi and flashing cameras that she cannot seem to escape wherever she looks. Even though she looks visibly uncomfortable, the paparazzi invade her personal space and try to grab her. This seems to be a diss at the invasive culture of the Korean media and obsessive fans who disregard idols’ privacy and constantly try to leak information on their personal lives.

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‘This part pained me’

Fans were moved as aespa took the time to talk about serious issues from cyberbullying to the repercussions of the industry’s impossible standards and expectations. One fan tweeted, “If you noticed, Karina animated version is the only one that’s wearing a "school uniform" unlike the other member. She got a huge pressure & expectation since predebut. Not to mention those false rumors. This shows that idols are humans too. They aren't some holograms or robots-.”

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Another said, “This part pained me ngl. the fact that they even put ningning’s actual vids on the third pic and how these people are having the time of their life leaving nasty comments which hurt her like knives 🙁 she always says she doesn’t care abt hate but this was so sad.” One fan commented, “This scene gave me goosebumps. giselle's expressions and gestures are just incredible.” A Winter fan added, “Spread one more rumor about her and i will [email protected] your neck.” Another said, “Can we all agree that aespa’s smcu ep.2 have shown the dark side of KPOP like expecting idols to be perfect, gossiping and to include harsh online comments and such.”

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