Image courtesy of AllKpop
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It’s been seven years since AOA debuted. AOA, which stands for “Ace of Angels,” was one of the most popular girl groups in their heyday. The release of their hit single “Miniskirt” in 2014 boosted the group’s popularity to the top. The face of the group, Seolhyun, became known as the “Queen of CF,” an unofficial title given to female idols who have appeared in a substantial amount of television and public advertising. Recognized for their bold, mature-sexy concepts, AOA remained as one of the most popular groups in Korea for years.

After Choa, the group’s lead vocalist, left due to health concerns, however, the future of AOA looked rocky. The disappointing release of their 2018 single “Bingle Bangle” didn’t help their situation either, and neither did the loss of their sixth member, Mina. Now a five-member group, many expected AOA to disband, especially after the “seven-year curse:” an urban legend that’s based off of numerous groups disbanding after seven years, including the likes of 2NE1, 4MINUTE, and Sistar.

In spite of all this, FNC Entertainment, AOA’s record label, wasn’t ready to give up on them just yet. Appearing as contestants on the girl-group survival show “Queendom” which aired in 2019, where other groups such as MAMAMOO and (G)I-DLE competed to see who would win the title of best girl group in Korea, AOA saw a revival in their popularity. Their tenacity and desire to perform on stage once again in front of their fans proved to be the group’s saving grace, especially with their five-member performance of the aforementioned single “Miniskirt.”

Following “Queendom,” FNC Entertainment and AOA announced the release of their new mini-album “NEW MOON,” the group’s first release after a nearly two year hiatus. Featuring four songs with lead single “Come See Me,” AOA overcomes the seven-year curse and returns with an entirely new sound, look, and style. While some things in the album are hit or miss, it is a very good sign for the future of AOA — FNC isn’t ready to give up on them yet and instead of attempting to chase the glories of old, they experiment to find a new style that suits the five-member group.

Their performances on “Queendom,” as well as their music video for “Come See Me” and the overall sound of the album has an underlying Wild West theme throughout. Instead of the previous sexy songs and dances the group was known for, they go for a more chic and elegant concept, and it fits them very well. AOA is a veteran group — and veteran groups need to constantly innovate and change their image if they don’t want to be washed away into obscurity. The constant need to innovate can also be a negative, however, as made evident by AOA’s own 2018 release “Bingle Bangle” which reached for a playful video-game-y tone that didn’t hit any marks.

Thankfully, “NEW MOON” doesn’t fall into any of the pitfalls that “Bingle Bangle” fell in. “Come See Me” is one of AOA’s strongest singles — while not having anything that overly stands out, the song is a three-minute focused and hypnotizing experience. Group leader Jimin’s infamous motif in many of AOA’s songs — a short but sensual “Hey” — makes a return here too. The pre-chorus buildup to the group’s harmonization followed by them singing “Twilight” with a modulated guitar, reminiscent of Wild West classics, makes for a fantastic single to add to AOA’s discography.

“Magic Spell” and “Ninety Nine” continue the usage of western instruments, especially the former, which heavily utilizes whistling. “Ninety Nine” in particular is a B-side that shouldn’t be missed — a strong acoustic guitar with a mixture of Jimin’s fast raps creates an insanely catchy tune. “Magic Spell” is a bit forgettable though, lacking a memorable hook or the overall polish seen in “Come See Me” and “Ninety Nine.”

The focus in the album is all tossed out the window with “My Way” however. This song feels very disconnected to the other tracks and embodies a strange mix of a ballad and a pop song. While it still features instruments heard in the other three songs on the album, the sudden shift into the chorus is jarring, to say the least, and is a questionable addition to the album.

Nevertheless, “NEW MOON,” while not having anything particularly over the top, is a great stepping stone for what AOA could accomplish in the future. With more time to hone this new sound they’re going for, AOA could very well see a return to the top. In a vacuum however, this album isn’t too special.

You can listen to the album here and watch the MV for “Come See Me” here.

7/10

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