An asteroid hitting Earth appears on the cover of Kep1er’s debut EP, First Impact. This image works as a metaphor for Kep1er, the highly anticipated K-pop girl group that was formed on the Korean survival TV show “Girls Planet 999.” Kep1er makes an impressive and successful landing on the K-pop scene with First Impact. However, unlike an asteroid, the landing leaves very little lasting repercussions as the EP quickly grows stale upon second listen.
As indicated by its uncommon name, Kep1er suggests that its music is somewhat unearthly and therefore cannot be judged by typical standards. Indeed, listening to the EP is an undeniably bizarre experience — it suspends listeners in a nearly silent void as if floating in space before suddenly striking them with piercing high notes and blasting instrumentals just like a meteor shower.
The EP’s lead single, “Wa Da Da,” is the best example of Kep1er’s peculiar musical production. It starts with a distant humming, “It’s you and I/ Let’s start,” as if coming from a transmitter within a spaceship that is about to launch listeners into space. Then, almost immediately, aggressive rapping abruptly halts the peaceful humming. As member Dayeon raps, counting “five, four, three, two, one,” the spaceship launches, regardless of whether listeners are prepared or not.
After the rap, loud, powerful vocals promptly follow, adding to the momentum of Kep1er’s spaceship as it penetrates the atmosphere and soars into space. As the members sing “higher, higher,” they build an escalating tension that eventually explodes into the main chorus.
The main chorus of “Wa Da Da” deserves more careful investigation because it captures the essence of Kep1er’s music. Surprisingly, the chorus features no singing or rapping, not even melodic instrumentals. In fact, it is 10 seconds of chaotic industrial noise, during which all members virtually shout out “Wa-da-da, wa-da-da.” Moreover, perhaps to create more confusion, another 10 seconds of sweet, soft singing instantly follows the previous 10 seconds of noise, producing greater dramatic contrast and even more disharmony.
But, disharmony is exactly what Kep1er’s music aims to achieve. Because the K-pop scene has never lacked appealing melodies and catchy lyrics, Kep1er turns away from both to explore the dissonance of the universe instead. Thus, what seems like nonsensical gibberish is actually part of a new order that Kep1er tries to create out of disorder.
With the innovative bizarreness of “Wa Da Da,” Kep1er makes a solid appearance on the K-pop stage. However, the group’s uniqueness is unfortunately compromised by other tracks on the EP. “MVSK,” an urban, R&B-inspired song sounds very familiar to the production team e.one’s previous works, such as IZ*ONE’s “Sequence” and TWICE’s “Rewind”. The EP also includes songs from “Girls Planet 999” such as “O.O.O (Over&Over&Over),” which primarily consist of cliches about teen romance. “Wa Da Da” turns out to be the only star in Kep1er’s solar system, which shines amid a bunch of boring, unappealing moons.
Even “Wa Da Da,” the obvious highlight of First Impact, has critical pitfalls. The song’s experimental chorus may be shocking upon first listen, but it gradually gets more disturbing as the chorus unnecessarily repeats three times throughout the song. “Wa Da Da” also fails to balance organic instrumentals, the members’ vocal performances and artificial sound effects. While thick industrial noises eclipse the presence of Kep1er’s nine members, such dehumanization raises an important question for Kep1er: Does exploring space mean denying the human world entirely? How can listeners appreciate the song and find replay value in it if they cannot readily relate to pure noise?
Although Kep1er’s first EP offers no satisfying answers to these questions, it is an adequate experimental record that will keep listeners intrigued and ready for more innovative projects. First Impact has undoubtedly helped Kep1er pave its way toward a second, more powerful impact.