GRL - SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT
Three nations are represented here; is it too much to expect pop to one day provide us with a girl group representing the entire G8?
Katherine St Asaph: What we’ve got: Dr. Luke and Robin Antin’s girl group. It was discreetly un-branded “the new Pussycat Dolls” but still includes most of the same people Antin got: Lauren Bennett, the Paradiso Girl turned “Party Rock Anthem” participant no one remembered and solo artist no one heard; Simone Battle, who left The X Factor in a puff of diva and savvy/annoying self-promotion; Emmalyn Estrada, of CanConLand; Natasha Slayton, who may be in the group solely because her name makes an easy ONTD meme; and Paula Van Oppen, who actually did get in by being a dancer as opposed to C-lister. PCD v.1 got pretty good material sometimes — disco pastiche “Hush Hush" was about five years before its time — and GRL’s Bonnie McKee track "Vacation" was surprisingly robust, but this is just a mess: verses and acoustica from Michelle Branch; chorus from Victoria Justice; coos from “She Wolf" and vwoops from EDM, together for some reason; and squiggly exotica-via-Sia vocal hook. Much like curdled milk, it coheres more than it should.
Patrick St. Michel: More a fan of the squiggly electronics and moments of background cheerleading than the festival-eyed thump, but even that leads up to a satisfying finish. Really, this works because the “aye aye aye” at the center is catchy rather than off-putting, which is all I ask from non-word hooks.
David Sheffieck: I’ll admit the chorus is pretty irresistible, but it doesn’t come close to cleaning up the mess that the verses make of this song. Like Pussycat Dolls before them, GRL continue to seem like a gigantic misstep; while I think there’s definitely a way this sort of ’90s-esque girl-group pop can succeed, GRL is gonna need something a whole lot stronger than this to measure up to the consistently-thrilling likes of Little Mix.
Jonathan Bradley: The melody, god bless it, remembers Mandy Moore. The production remembers too many of the past decade’s noble experiments with the synth squiggle — it adorns itself with these like Xmas lunch guests do the prizes won from Christmas crackers. Happily, Dr. Luke and pals lose the fiddly accessories quicker than a paper hat after the pud’s served, and then it’s nothing but that 1000-watt chorus dazzling in multicolor. I’m not even that mad about the frippery; classic girl group — the ’90s kind — was always willing to be omnivorous and abstract in its pursuit of pop sparkle.
Iain Mew: Did someone vandalise this by ripping out most of the track for the first verse? The contrast between overpowered vocals and minimalist backing is uncomfortable enough that it’s difficult to believe it was a deliberate choice. Especially when the only other thing that suggests a maverick approach in a dull song is managing to get three syllables and three different vowels into the word “got”.
Anthony Easton: This should be the soundtrack to some ’90s teen sitcom, like one of those magic montages that Sabrina the Teenage Witch used to do. What is inside is teasing, market savvy and saccharine so pure it becomes chemical perfection.
Brad Shoup: It’s vocal-led, which is distinctive enough. I’m not saying they’re searing the wires, but the hook is the high vowel; they mutate other vowels just to get to it. Everything else is buttressing (the warm synths) or jangle (the strumming, the zippy synths). Please tell me the next single isn’t a ballad; this is restful enough.
Alfred Soto: Less frantic than the usual Dr. Luke production, “Show Me What You Got” has a bevy of hidden hooks in the verses to compensate. The grrrls have less personality than Luke’s usual clientele; I’ll let the reader decide if this is a good thing.
Mallory O’Donnell: Wonky hockey chant that shows absolutely nobody what you’re made of. Too dull to be properly boring.
Abby Waysdorf: If someone wanted to know what contemporary pop sounded like heading into March 2014, “Show Me What You Got” would basically be it. Midtempo, with a chanted, stompy chorus, performed by a girl group with what could be construed as attitude, and a bit of flourish from both hip-hop synths and acoustic guitars. To GRL’s credit, it’s done well (what else could be expected from their pedigree?), and “Show Me What You Got” is pretty dang enjoyable. As winter grudgingly gives way to spring, this is the kind of song I like to hear. I’ll forgive the cynicism for that little bounce in the refrain.
Jer Fairall: With enough melody for at least three songs, the hooks are as unstoppable as they are indelible, but what impresses most is the emotional range: hear how effortlessly this flows from girl-group sass (“You’re dancin’ all up on me, expecting something more”) to aching vulnerability (“Hey boy, tell me, will you be there when I need you?”) to a chorus that deftly balances each of these competing impulses. I even feel a tad ungrateful carping about those goofy noises the girls use to fill the dead air, a strange flaw in a track that, otherwise, could hardly be tighter.
Will Adams: In one fell swoop, GRL spurn both the boy and the branding of all of Robin Antin’s past projects in favor of chastity: “I’m just not that girl,” they sing. In some respects, this is not true. First, the singular identifiable trait of any Antin project is visible marketing. Just like the Pussycat Dolls before them, the push to make GRL happen is palpable — it’s the usual bag of tricks: mall performances, incongruous movie placements, appeals to authenticity and blatant schemes (initially, GRL’s first single “Vacation” came bundled with Britney’s “Ooh La La” such that you had to buy both in order to get the latter, i.e. the only one people cared about). Second, there’s nothing to really back up their claim; he’s got to show ‘em what he’s got, a directive that can be interpreted in many ways. Third, given that GRL’s original lineup consisted of two former members of the now-defunct Paradiso Girls and Girlicious, they literally were that girl. But they keep singing it, and I begin to believe them. “Show Me What You Got” opens with a snappy club beat, like a bare-bones blueprint of “Buttons,” but veers into a glorious chorus filled with sweet hooks — vowel bending, Macarena “ay!”s, Dr. Luke’s lush synth pads. It’s a beautiful switch, as if the song itself is casting off Antin’s history to achieve some chaste zen. From then on, I’m convinced; the stale plasticity of Pussycat Dolls et al. doesn’t enter here, even though all of the same contrivances are there, and the mission is no different — it’s just getting at girl power from a different angle. No, they’re just not that girl. They’ve got songwriting on their side.
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