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LE SSERAFIM is Unapologetically Bold in ‘Unforgiven’ 

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HYBE’s LE SSERAFIM released their first studio album, “Unforgiven,” on May 1. The album set a record for the most first-day sales by a K-pop girl group worldwide.

The group consists of five members: Sakura, Chaewon, Yunjin, Kazuha, and Eunchae. They debuted one year ago as the first girl group under the HYBE label and quickly achieved immense success with hit tracks “Fearless” and “Antifragile.” 

Their newest album opens with “Burn the Bridge,” a stirring introduction in which the girls speak with defiant optimism in a mix of Korean, Japanese and English over a sentimental, crescendoing guitar instrumental. 

“My answer? I wish for what is forbidden to me,” Kazuha says. 

“Unforgiven” is the album’s fierce and energetic Western-themed title track. The song features guitar riffs from revered American producer Nile Rodgers, and samples the iconic theme from the 1966 Western film “The Good The Bad and The Ugly.” 

They chant menacingly in the refrain: “Unforgiven, I’m a villain, I’m a / It’ll be remembered as a new era, unforgiven.” The group explained the song’s message in an interview with NME.

“We want to empower people to walk their own path, even if you might become the villain in other people’s eyes,” Yunjin said to NME. LE SSERAFIM knows that judgment will follow them wherever they go, so why bother asking for approval? Their focus remains on the future and on uplifting each other, not on forgiveness.

Those who enjoy the performance aspect of K-pop will likely be somewhat disappointed by the dance choreography for “Unforgiven,” which is unfortunately rather stiff and contains quite a few awkward moments. When watching stages with a fixed camera, it becomes clear that the choreographers chose to prioritize dynamic close-up individual shots over thoughtful stage composition. In spite of the lackluster choreography, each member elevates the performance with striking charisma and skillful moves, and together they ignite the stage.

Another track on the album that highlights the theme is “Eve, Psyche & The Bluebeard’s wife,” aptly named after three mythological female figures whose curiosity led them to go against what they were told and seize what had been forbidden from them. “I’m a mess in distress but we’re still the best dressed / Fearless, say yes, we don’t dress to impress,” Yunjin declares with effortless swagger on top of a bouncy electronic beat. The lyrics were first featured at the 2022 Melon Music Awards during the group’s outstanding performance which put the girls in a league of their own.

From the moment they entered the K-pop scene with their debut track “Fearless,” LE SSERAFIM has been transmitting a message of perseverance and self-acceptance that truly reflects the personalities of its members. Life as a K-pop idol is rife with ruthless criticism and concealed hardship, and each of the girls has their own unique and impressive story to tell. 

Kazuha was a professional ballerina who chose to give up a lifetime of training to become an idol. Sakura has been in the industry for nearly 12 years, first debuting in 2011 in the Japanese group HKT48, then again in the Korean-Japanese girl group IZ*ONE alongside LE SSERAFIM’s leader Chaewon. 

In her debut teaser, Yunjin confidently proclaimed, “I want to change the idol industry.” She has since self-composed several solo tracks, including “I ≠ DOLL” which tackles head-on the taboo topic of judgment in the k-pop industry. 16-year-old Eunchae is the group’s youngest member, but she matches her fellow members in talent and tenacity. The group’s name, an anagram of the phrase “I’m Fearless,” is a fitting representation of their shared determination. 

The group has had its fair share of controversy: originally a six-member group, former member Garam was removed after only two weeks of promotions due to bullying allegations. It’s clear that LE SSERAFIM has been through a lot, but they grow stronger because of it.

LE SSERAFIM is one of several fourth generation girl groups that carry a message of empowerment. Among others are ITZY, (G)I-DLE and rookie international group XG. But the girls enjoy the friendly competition, as it only encourages them to further find their unique style.

“I think each team has very different and unique colors, which makes the whole industry very fun,” Kazuha said in the NME interview. “We shouldn’t lose our own color and uniqueness in this wave, and try to showcase that confidently.”

What new heights will LE SSERAFIM reach next? Fans have much to anticipate as the group continues to pave their own path.

Fei Yang is an Arts and Entertainment Intern for the spring 2023 quarter. She can be reached at