On July 8, aespa snaked their way into the hearts and playlists of many with the anticipated release of their second mini-album Girls. The EP has nine songs, including the lead single of the same name and older singles “Black Mamba,” “Forever,” and “Dreams Come True.” Prior to the drop of the title track, the girls had already broken records by accumulating 1.6 million pre-orders—the most from a Korean girl group in history. 

Outside of that, they added another milestone to their list of achievements. Girls—the album and the single—makes for a great sophomore release. It shows us an aespa we know pretty well, solidifies the group’s rich concept, and takes them to new heights.   

Bring the “Girls” Out

The EP cuts to the chase by starting with its lead single. “Girls” is SMP (SM Production) to its very core: from its Yoo Youngjin-penned lyrics to its chanted refrains, accompanied with futuristic and heavy-hitting synths. Co-produced by notable names such as Ryan Jhun, Hitmanic, Rodnae Bell, PJ Ljung, and Yoo Youngjin himself, “Girls” is an exhilarating pop dance song filling any room with a distinctive aenergy—and some rock influences. The lyrics are as powerful as the melodies, as the girls deliver piercing vocals while singing about defeating the Black Mamba.

Finding Fun in the Familiar

Girls is an album that’s been rolled out for quite some time—since early June to be specific. Thus, it comes as no surprise that there are some songs we’ve already heard. In particular, Girls had two pre-release singles: “Illusion” and the English version of “Life’s Too Short.”  

“Illusion” is a clear fan favorite, with it being the closest to aespa’s usual repertoire if its hyper-pop roots are anything to go by. This single is alluring and elusive, which comes as no surprise because its Korean title translates to “will-o’-the-wisp.” The term pertains to a mysterious light emanating from an otherwise dark place, but also someone or something that is practically impossible to reach, much like aespa themselves due to their otherworldly concept and the seemingly undefeatable Black Mamba.

On the other hand, both versions of “Life’s Too Short” are far cries from fellow pre-release “Illusion” and aespa’s textbook sound. The English version served as aespa’s first English single, which they’ve extensively performed in the US. “Life’s Too Short” does away with lore-heavy lyrics and piercing melodies to deliver a timeless message: life’s too short for hate. Light-hearted and carefree are sides to aespa that MYs may not be used to seeing, but “Life’s Too Short”—in English and Korean—testifies to the girls’ growing versatility.

Few and New

As the Girls mini-album had five (and a half, counting “Life’s Too Short” in Korean) songs that we’ve already heard, one may have felt like there wasn’t much left to anticipate on the album D-day. Thankfully, that’s not the case because outside of the lead single “Girls,” MYs were given two new songs: “Lingo” and “ICU.”

“Lingo” reminds us that SM Entertainment is known for its experimental music for a reason. This B-side allows pop and country influences to converge as the girls sing about taking pride in being different and understood by a few. They share a lingo that sets them apart from the rest, and while outsiders may be put off by their differences (“Sometimes I feel like an alien / even if you don’t understand / I really like it”), aespa simply laugh at those who “don’t understand [their] lingo.”

Meanwhile, “ICU” is an appropriate album closer, and it also happens to be GISELLE and WINTER’s favorite track off their EP. It’s a guitar-led pop ballad that can be treated as a song for fans where the girls croon about the importance of knowing one’s limits. “Oh, remember when you feel sad for some reason / More than anything, you’re the one who’s precious / The weight of a long-time dream, no wonder it’s difficult / Just hold my hand and walk,” KARINA and NINGNING remind their fans that they’re with them through soft and sweet melodies.

Notes on KWANGYA

The Girls EP at large serves as a chronicle of aespa’s journey into the industry so far, which might be why their debut single “Black Mamba” and remakes “Forever” and “Dreams Come True” were included in the album roster. Moving forward, as with all things aespa, concept execution is just as important as the music. The girls are only getting deeper into their metaverse, and the “Girls” music video seems to tease a new chapter in their AI-led story as they’ve finally defeated their arch-nemesis: the Black Mamba. It should also go without saying that the MV is a visual delight featuring futuristic city landscapes and intricate serpentine imagery.

Beyond that, there’s something special for MYs—both present and in the making—who are interested in learning more about aespa’s lore, especially after listening to the Girls album. As part of the album rollout, SM Entertainment dropped the highly anticipated second episode of SM Culture Universe. Here, MYs can learn more about how the Black Mamba poses significant harm to the aespa girls by personifying their biggest fears and insecurities to intimidate them further. Sensitive issues such as the pressure to be perfect, rumor-mongering, an absence of privacy, and cyberbullying are covered by each of the members’ stories, accompanied by various animation styles to entice and engage viewers.

What Comes Next?

Less than a week into the release of the Girls EP, it has already become the best-selling girl group album in Hanteo history. The lead single is now also the second biggest Spotify debut for a K-pop girl group, placing after (G)I-DLE’s “Tomboy”. And as of July 10, the girls are officially back in Korea after a round of US promotions for “Girls” and “Life’s Too Short,” including an invitation to speak at the United Nations’ High-Level Political Forum on sustainable development last July 6. Thus, we can expect more domestic fanfare in the coming days.

With all things considered, Girls makes for a good sophomore release. general reception has shown that everyone’s been waiting and willing to give aespa a warm welcome back. Sonically speaking, a highlight of Girls would be the way it showcased aespa’s abilities in softer and slower songs despite the aforementioned not being their niche. Though, the bombastic aespa that MYs have grown used to is far from absent in this EP as well, ultimately striking a pretty good balance. Concept-wise, on the other hand, aespa have made one thing clear: the metaverse is here to stay—and so are they.  

Listen to aespa’s second mini-album Girls here. Want more aespa content from EnVi? Read our coverage on the English version of “Life’s Too Short” here.