aespa – ‘Girls’ Album Review | The group plays it safe with bland mini album


Track List

Life’s Too Short
Life’s Too Short (English Version)
Black Mamba
Dreams Come True


When aespa announced their comeback last month, saying that I was excited would be a huge understatement. Given that their first EP Savage was such a strong and brilliant body of work, their second mini album Girls piqued my curiosity to see if they were going to take things to the next level (pardon the pun).

But that is precisely why my final disappointment was even bigger than my initial excitement. Let’s call a spade a spade – Girls was a big let down.

Girls in trouble – an underwhelming title track

Now, the title track Girls is actually quite nice. The production is exquisitely nuanced and bombastic (clearly another Yoo Young Jin gem), with catchy beats and a crisp guitar. And of course, the vocals are amazing and powerful as usual.

The futuristic beats are there, the vocals are there, the attitude and intoxicating feeling are there… but regretfully, confidence and boldness can only do so much.

Throughout the entire song, there’s less of a hook to sweep you off your feet, just like with Next Level and Savage. Sure, Girls is not a bad song by any means, but its chorus feels more monotonous than intriguing, and it lacks that pizzazz that made its predecessors so unforgettable.

The “in your face” extravagant energy is the same, but this song does not have the substance to carry it to its climax. 

But Girls’ troubles don’t end here – the track has a palpable identity problem, as it does not properly feel like an aespa song. The group’s signature futuristic quality may be here loud and proud, but the track sounds closer to something we could hear from NCT 127.

This does not make it a bad song (au contraire!), although one can’t help but think it’s a shame that one of aespa’s title tracks lacks character so early in their career. It’s not the forward-thinking and sci-fi track that the girl group is known for – it’s just there.

At the end of the day, Girls is more of an ear-worm than a song. It’s bearable to the ear (and definitely enjoyable even), but it lacks the musical quality to make it go from sufficient to great.

It’s absolutely nice and exhilarating, but not in a show-stopping and striking way like aespa’s previous title tracks. It feels more like an underwhelming transition than a standalone moment in their journey to stardom.

Illusion – the hyper pop gem

Next up we have Illusion, which was released ahead of the official album drop. In this song, aespa visibly lean into their hyper pop roots, delivering a song that is as extravagant as it is mesmerizing.

The rich composition falls perfectly in line with the group’s previous discography, being a connubium between fascinating production choices and sleek chord progressions. The members’ vocal deliveries are absolutely fantastic in this track, as the detailed production allows them to showcase the versatility of their voices, and tap into both their low and high registers. 

Overall, Illusion is the perfect aespa B-side, with its right blend of flamboyant lyrics and bold musicality. Plus, it is the most fitting continuation of their discography within this EP. 

Unfortunately, the song does have a few drawbacks, but they are not about the song itself. 

Illusion is by far the most interesting B-side on the album, so releasing it earlier deprived Girls of the novelty of its most alluring and memorable track. And to make matters worse, it made everyone’s expectations for the EP skyrocket immediately after hearing it, which was not ideal since (as we’ll now see) the other tracks cannot hold a candle to this song. SM made a dangerous gamble by releasing Illusion so soon, and I am not sure if it was the right move.

The (few) B-sides

The third track Lingo is another grower gem from the group. The song starts with a quirky back-and-forth phone conversation between the girls, and then progresses into a cowboy-themed production and beat. The verses are much darker than the preppy juxtaposing chorus, which can feel disarming on the first few listens, but rest assured it won’t take long before you’re bobbing your head along to the track. 

The next song – Life’s Too Short – was also released prior to the album but in its English version, which is also included in the EP. To be honest, Life’s Too Short is not a bad song, but the cliche and predictability of it all makes it incredibly mediocre. 

The Y2K vibes are cute for sure, but the production with the chirpy guitar chimes combined with the high vocal delivery makes it more reminiscent of mainstream pop music from 2021. And not in a good way. Life’s Too Short might have been a passable (albeit quite bland) release last year, but now it just feels tired and overdone. 

Continuing the preppy Y2K-esque narrative, we have the guitar-based pop ballad ICU. Truth be told, there isn’t that much to say about this song. It is the standard album closer for a KPOP album – sweet, soft and a little Disney Channel-reminiscent. It’s not bad, but once you’ve heard it one time, you’ve heard it enough. Its sound is incredibly ordinary for KPOP acts, which is not something that you would associate with a unique group such as aespa. 

And I’m afraid that is all for the new B-sides! The rest of the tracks – Black Mamba (the group’s debut song), and the remakes Forever and Dreams Come True – all came out in the past years. It’s a bit unclear to me why the songs were included in the EP, as they don’t seem to fit in neither thematically nor sonically with the other songs at all. Maybe SM didn’t have time to make enough material for Girls and needed a last minute fix – my guess is as good as any! But having so little new music definitely contributed to the overarching underwhelming atmosphere of the album. 

Girls can do better 

Overall, Girls unfortunately feels very bland and undistinguished, despite being as chaotic as per the group’s usual. But I believe the problem is that this time, that chaos is not of the charming and captivating kind; it’s more confusing and staggering

The track list moves so suddenly from a strong hyper pop influence to mellow and lukewarm songs, a style that does not feel in tune with aespa’s brand. Sure, they can experiment with new sounds – but I think experimentation should bring new and better music, not one that is plain and ordinary. 

This EP is not disastrous, but it feels incredibly underwhelming given the amount of hype surrounding the group and the stellar quality of their previous mini album.

Girls is not consistent, not as impactful and almost seems incomplete. With such a limited number of new songs, there isn’t much to chew on for listeners, and what is available here feels more bland than it was anything else. This EP feels like aespa were forced to choose between quality and quantity for it – and ultimately, they chose neither. 

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  • Verdict - 6.5/10

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