Another month, another hotly anticipated girl group makes their debut. It seems that the legacy of the Produce series is going to continue for years to come, this time with Produce 48 graduates taking centre stage. IZ*One, the group formed on the show, enjoyed a huge amount of success upon their debut. With members from both the Korean idol system and Japan’s AKB48 idol group (and it’s sister groups), they had a lot going for them, and fans were heartbroken when they came to their inevitable end as a temporary project group. However, whilst the group disbanded, the members now had the opportunity to start again. In the past, this has been shaky ground to stand on; some groups with former members of IOI, for example, floundered under the weight of the popularity imbalance between members. Companies were seemingly uncertain how to handle these groups, always caught between putting the pressure on the more well-known members and leaving the lesser-known girls in the dark, and losing out on the pre-established fanbases and popularity that came along with the previous groups activities.

It’s nice to see, then, debuts that finally seem to be getting it right. Hot on the heels of the second release from IVE, a group featuring two IZ*One alumnae, comes a group in a very similar position. Le Sserafim, the newest girl group to debut under Source Music, is home to not only Chaewon and Sakura of IZ*One, but also Yunjin, a Produce 48 contestant who fans were eager to see finally debut. The group is rounded out by Garam, Eunchae, and Kazuha (who herself caused quite a stir as a professional ballerina who trained with the company for only 3 months before debut.) With their debut song FEARLESS, all six girls stand out, none running away with more lines or screen time. And it’s thanks, in part, to a song that takes a step back in order to let the girls really shine.

This might come off as somewhat of a defense on our part. The impact of the song has been rather lacking among the KPop community online. Opinions appear to be divided on whether the low-key feel of FEARLESS ends up leaving a lot to be desired, or whether its simplicity and minimalism is its greatest strength. Falling on the latter side of the argument, there’s a lot to be praised about the release. Whilst it may not have the gravitas or punch that some groups go for in a debut, it does something that is perhaps even more crucial for a new girl group – it distinguishes. In sound, it would fit in well next to a release like KNK’s 2019 release Sunset, which people praised at the time for feeling like something you might hear on a runway. FEARLESS follows a similar kind of style and intensity. There aren’t many peaks, the song doesn’t overall build to anything, but instead leans into the steadiness. The bass carries the song, the rhythm funky and layered over with vocals that build upon it. The chorus gives a great earworm of a hook after a strong build up in the pre-chorus, an anti-drop that is still compelling due to the vocal line.

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It’s almost restrained, chic sound is something quite hard to pull off convincingly, but the girls do an excellent job of it. They exude pure confidence whilst performing, backed up by strong lyrics: “If my scars are a part of me, I have no fear” a particular highlight. Their concept is one of strength, but quiet strength. A resolve that comes from within and is showcased in the way they present themselves.

The accompanying video takes a similar approach. The images a very clean cut and simple; a practice room, a ladder to the sky, boxing gloves paired with a glamorous dress. It all ends on a glitzy stage with chandelier-like crystals hanging behind them and sparks flying soon after. The whole effect tells a tale of what they aim from with their debut – to start with hard work, fighting until they climb to the top, where everything shines. It ties in beautifully with the message of the song without being too over the top or overwhelming the focus on the girls. Each member gets some beautiful solo shots, an essential for a debut where potential fans need to get to know the group.

Overall, Le Sserafim have taken their first step forward with grace and a confidence that most girl groups aspire to. If their first release is as polished as this, then the road ahead looks promising. And with the amount of support their mini album has already received, they may have a lot of fans along for the ride.

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