Several years after launching their ambitious SuperM project, SM Entertainment has developed a similar strategy for their female artists. From what I can gather, Girls On Top will encompass multiple mix-and-match units. First up is GOT The Beat – a performance unit comprised of BoA, SNSD’s Taeyeon and Hyoyeon, Red Velvet’s Seulgi and Wendy, and aespa’s Karina and Winter. That’s an almost-unbelievable combination of talent. A powerhouse act like this deserves an equally momentous song, right?
Erm. SMent seems to have a different idea. Over the past couple of years, the vast majority of their artist’s music has become NCTified. They’ve found a winning formula and refuse to budge. And despite a host of behind-the-scenes talent (Bias List faves Yoo Young-Jin and Ryan Jhun among them), debut single Step Back flounders. More often, when K-pop agencies describe a track as “performance-based,” that’s code for the song itself becoming an afterthought. Attitude and presentation take precedence. That’s certainly the case with Step Back, and it’s a problem.
Honestly, these ladies deserve so much better. Apart from recent debuts aespa, they’ve all paid their dues to establish their place in an industry not always kind to women. I’m disappointed (yet unsurprised) that their track pits women against women. SuperM got the goofy-fun Jopping – a bombastic celebration of their talent and clout. Got The Beat are saddled with the worst kind of “cat-fight” cliché.
Song-wise, Step Back has its moments. The chorus thrives on classic Yoo Young-Jin vocal layering and adds needed punch. Otherwise, the arrangement doesn’t grow or build nearly enough. It’s a bit monotonous, even if the filtered vocal loop adds a cool sense of pomp. The ladies sell the material as best they can, wringing every ounce of drama from otherwise bland melody lines. In short, they’re far more captivating than Step Back and its familiar tropes.