LE SSERAFIM – ‘ANTIFRAGILE’ review: ascendant K-pop rookies regroup and find strength in vulnerability

Now a quintet, the HYBE girl group look inward and proclaim their resilience on their first comeback

Nearly six months after their promising debut with ‘Fearless’, K-pop rookies LE SSERAFIM – an anagram of the phrase “I’m fearless” – are back and more self-assured than ever. Armed with bold confidence and steely resolve, the quintet return with ‘ANTIFRAGILE’, another display of the unfaltering courage they have touted from day one.

While ‘Fearless’ was undeniably powerful, it also had moments that came off emotionally guarded. This time, it seems LE SSERAFIM have decided to make room for more thoughtful, honest self-reflection. It is this candid vulnerability on ‘ANTIFRAGILE’ where LE SSERAFIM live up to the coded meaning of their name.

To be ‘ANTIFRAGILE’ is to not only endure but thrive in the face of adversity. And if there’s one rookie act that has exemplified that, it’s LE SSERAFIM. Besides the pressure of debuting under one of K-pop’s biggest agencies, the girl group have weathered an early storm of controversy, bidding goodbye to the member Kim Garam as a result. ‘ANTIFRAGILE’ finds, Sakura, Kim Chaewon, Huh Yunjin, Kazuha and Hong Eunchae rising above these months of intense public scrutiny.

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The record opens with bass-heavy intro track ‘The Hydra’, its reference of the mythological creature a clear signal of LE SSERAFIM’s resilience: “Take a swing, here’s my neck,” goes the challenge from Sakura. Each member goes on to declare their convictions in their native Korean, English and Japanese, promising to triumph again and again over adversity. “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship,” Yunjin declares with unfaltering poise, before the hypnotic chants of “I am antifragile, I am antifragile, fragile, fragile, fragile”, kick in.

It is a pity that ‘The Hydra’ omits some of the lyrics heard in LE SSERAFIM’s comeback trailer (Yunjin’s “I’m a mess in distress / But we’re still the best dressed / Fearless, say yes / We don’t dress to impress,” were some of the clip’s most iconic lines), but that allows the song to transition seamlessly into title track ‘ANTIFRAGILE’. A hard-hitting Afro-Latin pop number, the new single tears away the cool confidence of ‘Fearless’ and bursts with life an infectious energy previously unseen from LE SSERAFIM. While the track’s ever-present pipe effect borders on grating, the intense, rhythmic beats of ‘ANTIFRAGILE’ make for such a thrilling experience that it barely even matters.

Its lyrics, while not written by the members, also nod to their personal experiences. “Don’t forget my pointe shoes I left behind / What more must be said,” Kazuha sings in the pre-chorus, nodding to her 15 years as a ballerina and the life she’d given up to start over in South Korea. Meanwhile, Chaewon and Sakura assure listeners that their past success as members of project girl group IZ*ONE have not made them any less passionate: “Don’t underestimate the path I’ve walked / I go to ride till I die die”.

Next up is the sophisticated R&B gem ‘Impurities’, one of three songs on the record co-written by vocalist Yunjin. LE SSERAFIM are unafraid to wear their battle scars with pride, proclaiming that nothing will ever dull their shine. ‘Impurities’ comes off as an immaculate union of the easy, languid delivery on ‘Sour Grapes’ and the more subdued funk of ‘Blue Flame’. This laidback B-side is more addictive than one expects on first listen.

On ‘No Celestial’, LE SSERAFIM cast aside grand titles in favour of living flawed but honest lives, gleefully dropping a barrage of F-bombs in their wake: “I’m no fuckin’ angel, I’m no fuckin’ goddess”. A rejection of the unrealistic expectations placed on them and many of their industry peers, ‘No Celestial’ accentuates its playful and rebellious message with a guitar-heavy instrumental. From fierce snarls to soaring belts, the group’s delivery is as powerful as it is earnest. While the entire record is all about embracing their flaws, LE SSERAFIM execute ‘No Celestial’ to pure pop-punk perfection.

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‘Good Parts (when the quality is bad but i am)’ returns to the honest introspection of ‘Impurities’, and speaks of finding true courage in embracing one’s flaws. “I just wanna love myself when I’m / Feeling good or feeling bad / I love my weakness,” they sing on this sweet, stripped-down pop number co-written by Yunjin and Sakura. Admittedly, it’s not the most lyrically impressive song of LE SSERAFIM’s discography, but there is an undeniable charm to its heartfelt simplicity. The mini-album draws to a close on this breezy, feel-good note.

LE SSERAFIM perform on all five tracks on ‘ANTIFRAGILE’ with ease and confidence. They’re an act with stories to tell, and we can only hope the members grow more confident doing so through their songwriting. This isn’t too surprising: HYBE’s biggest acts are known not only for being brilliant performers, but also skilled producers and songwriters, and LE SSERAFIM’s journey will doubtless be one to watch as they head further down that route.

While varied in sound, the new record keeps their message tight – a step up from ‘Fearless’ which, despite its solid individual tracks, at times felt conceptually scattered. Showcasing the best of LE SSERAFIM’s abilities while remaining faithful to their core value of fearlessly forging ahead in all they do, ‘ANTIFRAGILE’ is a strong first comeback that hints at even brighter days to come.

Details

Le Sserafim Antifragile album
  • Release date: October 17
  • Record label: Source Music/HYBE
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