Aespa has been among my most favorite K-pop acts in the relatively short time they have been around. Black Mamba is an incredibly solid debut song, still among my favorite from the 4th generation of K-pop. Both Next Level and Savage were boundary-pushing pieces of music that made me rethink the scope of what K-pop can be. Now the question is, does ‘Girls’ live up to my high expectations?
Similar to Future-Perfect that I’ve recently reviewed, Girls doesn’t have many hooks that are instantly memorable, taking a few listens to truly unveil the song’s charms. Unlike Future-Perfect however, even with several listens over the last few days, there are still several parts of Girls that I can’t remember no matter how much I tried!
I will admit that the intro to the song caught my attention, boasting a futuristic sound that is quite unlike what the group has given so far. However, when the girls started singing, the melodies felt uninspired and lacking. There are bits and pieces within the melody that are slightly more memorable than others, but as a whole, it could have been stronger.
Things start looking up when things pick up at the rap parts, giving the boost of energy that the song desperately needed, especially given the song’s nature, being a song of female empowerment. A special shoutout to Giselle for her delivery helps makes this part stick out to me in particular.
Aespa has always had strong pre-choruses, and Girls is no exception. Its melodic lines are instantly catchy and remained in my head afterward. However, I do think Savage had a stronger pre-chorus, but at the same time, it could be considered unfair to compare the two when Savage arguably has one of the best pre-choruses in all of K-pop.
Anyway, when Girls hits the chorus, it lacked a bit of oomph. It does not hit me as hard as I anticipated. Winter’s growls and vocal approach (aggressive and piercing) in particular help alleviate the issue, but the melody itself isn’t particularly strong. Again, similar to Enhypen’s Future-Perfect, Girls’ chorus employ’s a call and answer strategy, but it isn’t sticking as well as I initially predicted. Things get better in the chorus’s second half as it drops the one-liners and embraces melody, which arguably makes use of aespa’s biggest strength, their vocals. The melody is incredibly solid too, for when I first listened to it, the only part of the chorus I remembered was the melodies towards its end. ‘We them girls’ is a great hook, but it was underutilized and should have been used as a bigger motif throughout the song to help make it more memorable.
The second verse is relatively better than the first. It flows better and maintains the song’s energy.
I do like the bridge, mainly because aespa has the vocal ability to pull it off convincingly. Winter’s piercing vocals matched with Ningning’s sleek and smooth vocal runs work very well for the climax of the song. Additionally, Karina’s vocal run at the very end leaves a lasting impression.
Overall, I think that there are some notable strengths of the song’s hooks, but they are a bit undercooked. I think that the impact of the hooks is also diminished by the production which I will discuss shortly.
There are several things to like about the song’s production. From its unapologetic use of percussion in the verses to the rock guitar used in the pre-chorus, Girl’s certainly brought the ‘b’ to ‘bombastic’. I liked the production in the bridge as well, which gives it the majestic ‘SM’ feeling, which shouldn’t be a surprise given that SM’s signature producer YYJ did help produce the song. The song used a wide range of sounds that added an interesting variety of musical textures that help this song stand out in the saturated field of K-pop. This should be a good thing… right?
However, I am very disappointed at the imbalance in volume between the vocals and the instruments that could have maximized the song’s impact and completely embrace its female empowerment theme. This is especially noticeable when the chorus hits. While Winter’s vocal delivery wasn’t lacking, giving grit and power, her voice still felt somewhat restrained and held back by the instrumental that surrounds it. While this isn’t a big issue for other parts of the song, it is especially noticeable because the chorus is usually the song’s centrepiece. This diminished the impact of the song as a whole, making me think of what Girls‘ production could have been with some slight adjustments.
Vocal and Rap Delivery
Aespa is among the generation’s strongest vocalists and Girls is one of the best showcases of the girls’ vocal ability. The song’s chorus is set at a constant high, with several phrased Bb4s from all the girls. The pre-chorus and bridge are done absolute justice by the girls, milking the most impact as they could have. Ning Ning sounded absolutely beautiful in her vocal runs. Winter’s stylistic growls and piercing voice elevated the whole song in my opinion. Winter’s voice is often a topic of controversy among K-pop fans, and there are times when I am not a big fan of the effect it has on some of their songs. However, in the case of girls, where it is obviously meant to be a song of female empowerment, her stylistic choices added to the whole song and gave it more impact. I am not always a fan of the piercing nature of her belts in the 5th octave, but it works in this case. Karina and Giselle also sound the best they ever have. A very well done to the girls!
Rap-wise, I think Girls is also a solid showcase, especially for Giselle and Karina. Both sounded great and convincing. Giselle in particular stood out to me, for her rap parts were among the track’s greatest moments.
Rap – 9/10
Overall – 9.5/10
Aespa certainly sells the song, and I would say that there are not many K-pop groups I can think of which would be able to pull this song off convincingly.
All in all, I think that Girls is by no means a bad song, but it feels like a missed opportunity for something truly great. The members do the best they can with the material they are given, but adjustments here and there would have made the song much stronger. For a song intended to feel empowering, it falls somewhat short of delivering its message fully. The song’s dynamics in particular could use some work, for it certainly isn’t lacking in interesting musical texture. It seems like I will continue to look back at this song, sighing, thinking of what could have been.