No one can stop talking about aespa. Following an explosive first-half of 2022 which included the futuristic K-pop girl group making their Coachella debut, the “Savage” singers have returned with their second mini album, Girls, a nine-track record of songs that positions them as one of the most exciting girl groups right now.
If you aren’t already familiar, the octet — made up of four real members, Karina, Winter, Giselle, and Ningning, and their four AI counterparts — already has a slew of prominent co-signs. Grimes counts herself as a major fan, and after a listen through their newest project it’s hard not to understand why. Their brand of pop — filtered through the band’s own strange sci-fi, story-laden lens — is brash, bold, and hard to define. On Girls, their sound jumps from glitchy, tough-sounding anthems to sugary, radio-friendly bops, and then swerves into another different lane completely. There are seemingly no sonic rules in aespa’s universe, which makes listening to Girls all the more invigorating.
Below, we rounded-up the best songs from the mini album that captures the essence of aespa’s unbridled artistic identity. From the title track “Girls” to the western and dancey mish-mash that is “Lingo,” these are the must-listen songs from group’s newest record.
In aespa’s universe, the girl group is a monster-fighting force navigating the line between reality and the virtual world. It’s a bold concept that the group often translates through tough, hard-hitting pop that wouldn’t sound out of place during the “walking away from a scene of destruction” part of a Hollywood action movie. “Girls,” their latest album’s title track and opener, is that version of song, but it does it in a way that doesn’t sound cheesy. Its glitchy, electronic-heavy production softens during the bridge, before sliding into a nutty techno breakdown at the end. Throughout, the members repeat the lyric, “We them girls,” like an invigorating call-to-action. Sonically, there are a lot of surprises, but it shows that aespa’s voices sound at home against any type of beat.
“Lingo” is probably the weirdest song on Girls. The two-and-a-half minute track uses harmonica, cowbells, and a grinding bass line to create something that feels akin to something like sonic whiplash but in a good way? The song is all about celebrating the special and unique bonds between close friends, expressed through the metaphor of a shared lingo. If this song is any indication, aespa certainly has it’s own language and I’m on board to learn it.
“Life’s Too Short”
Is “Life’s Too Short” the best pop song of 2022? That might be a too-early call to make, but if you ask me the guitar-laden tracks is, hands-down, the clear standout of Girls. Sometimes when K-pop groups release a song in English, they can fall in the trap of over-maximalizing the production and song structure, a tactic that works in K-pop but occasionally fails to translate. “Life’s Too Short” (aespa’s first English-language single) avoids that pitfall wonderfully, crafting instead a bright, bouncy, and fairly simple pop melody that stands as delightfully as a dollop of whipped cream. The song is all about waving away your haters because life’s too short to focus on those things — a very American concept that surprisingly doesn’t feel at all out of place in aespa’s world. From the song’s irresistible hook — there’s just something about the way they sing, “And I don’t care what they say about it” that immediately worms into my brain— to it’s kinda sassy lyrics and the members’ own nimble vocals, it has everything you’d want out of a three-minute pop song. Another rarity? Both the Korean and English versions sound fantastic.
“ICU (쉬어가도 돼)”
Dreamy, so sweet, and light, “ICU (쉬어가도 돼)” is the whimsical foil to the album’s slick and edgy pop side. Its acoustic, plucked guitar line funnily enough reminds me somewhat of One Direction but not to its detriment. The song is honestly just a really pleasant listen, as the girls take a pause from the hypothetical fighting and world-saving to sit down and serenade us with a mid-tempo ballad. Technically, it’s a display of the group’s seamless versatility and adds as a potent emotional punch to the group’s otherwise fierce storyline.
One can’t fully understand aespa’s story without listening to “Black Mamba,” the group’s song named after the ferocious villain in their universe. It’s also a beast of its own production-wise, blending elements of rock, hip-hop, and EDM, and has the girls singing in a call-and-response manner. The track is one of the earliest singles they released for Girls — dropped in 2020 — but remains one of their most idiosyncratic, boldly blending their fantasy story-telling and casual listenability. Two years later, I still don’t know what exactly the “Black Mamba” is, but I’m definitely still singing along to it.