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Q&A: Philly Quartet Good Girl on Trying to Resurrect the R&B Group

When Philly girl group Good Girl took the stage at America’s Got Talent this year to perform their a cappella rendition of En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go,” they received an unanimous vote to go through to the semi-finals. “There is a gap in the market for a band like you right now,” Simon Cowell told the four young women. Even though they were sent home on the third night of Judge Cuts for their performance of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” they knew that Simon’s comment from that first night was right.

Since their America’s Got Talent appearance the R&B quartet have been slowly making a name for themselves in their home city. With sharp harmonies, sharper dance moves, and a striking look marked by a distinct bright hair color for each member – orange, red, blue and blonde — their YouTube cover videos of current-day hits like Tink’s “Million”, Ariana Grande’s “Focus” and Jessie J’s “Bang Bang” have racked up thousands of views. Their 2014 EP ‘90s Kind of Love is, as the title implies, a smooth mix of ‘90s R&B samples and melodies, but with current-sounding grooves. Most-recent single “Have Mercy” kicks off with a sample from DJ Kool’s 1996 hit “Let Me Clear My Throat,” before evolving into a funky slither, with 808s and trap drums that would make Mike WiLL proud.

Bobbie, JL, Arielle, and Megan Nicolle — all between the ages of 21 and 23 — never had any intentions of forming a girl group. Their manager, Dyshon Penn, knew them all in different ways from the Philly music scene, and asked if they wanted to perform as an ensemble for a ‘90s-themed showcase he was doing. Each jumped at the chance to be onstage, meeting up with one another to rehearse the hits of TLC and En Vogue to perfection. They expected it would go well, but the overwhelmingly positive feedback they got from fans — who assumed the quartet were already a longtime group — was enough to seal their musical fates together as one.

After leaving America’s Got Talent, they took little time to lick their wounds, going straight to back to work on proving they weren’t just a one-off reality TV product, but rather a commercially viable R&B group. But they’re not naive either – like everyone else, Good Girl know an R&B group hasn’t stormed the mainstream since the departure of Destiny’s Child in 2005. Back in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, you’d need both hands to count the number of girl groups who were regular fixtures on the pop charts: TLC, Destiny’s Child, 702, SWV, Xscape, Blaque, En Vogue.

A decade later, the R&B girl groups seem to have all but vanished. Their absence has not gone unnoticed, but no matter how good their harmonies or dance moves, acts of recent years, like Good Girl, rarely seem to make it up past local fame. (Though all-female vocal groups like Fifth Harmony and Little Mix shine as exceptions, their sounds tend to lean more heavily on pop than R&B.)

None of that has stopped Good Girl from working their asses off to claw their way back into mainstream. The group caught up with SPIN while recording in Los Angeles to talk about preparing for their show at Philadelphia’s Theater of the Living Arts on September 1st, as well as why the ‘90s were such an important decade to them, and how they’re determined to show the R&B group still has life yet to live.

How did Good Girl come about?
Bobbie: JL and myself, we went to school together at the University of Maryland. So we met at dance team auditions there. We’ve been friends ever since.

That was probably five years ago, and then after that, JL and Arielle met in New York City. JL was at a dance show up there doing her thing, and Arielle was in New York because there was a scout that was looking to put some girls together [for a group]. So he connected them, and they ended up starting together in New York, and staying together in L.A. They were able to bond from all that time they were spending together.

Then a little bit after that, JL contacted me because I was still living in Maryland at the time and she told me that their was a spot open with the girl group she was with. So I came up to New York. I met Arielle and we just connected really really well. And [around] that same time, JL went to Maryland and we were dancing [as backup] for Megan, because Megan was living in Maryland at that time, doing music for herself. So we got to connect with her.

Then our manager, Dyshon Penn, he knew all four of us in different ways [before he became our manager] and was based in Philly. So he decided to ask all four of us to come up to Philly to do a show called “’90s Kind of Love.” We weren’t a group at that time but we were all down to do the show to showcase our talent. We had to do all these ‘90s girl-group songs, like TLC and En Vogue, SWV, Xscape. After we did that, we loved how it felt, and the audience was like, “You guys need to be a group.” So we decided to be a group.

JL: At that first show we were backstage and just holding hands and praying, and all of a sudden we hear, “Coming to the stage, Good Girl!” And we’re still backstage hyping each other up and shaking off the nerves, and then someone backstage was like, “Go, go, go!” And we were like, “That’s us?” So we just went on stage and performed, and after that we were like, “Oh, that kind of felt good.” That solidified the name– having a great performance and feeling the vibes of each other in that moment.

Arielle: I think the reason why [Dyson] choose it is because he knew all of us individually, and he knew that we all had different types of personalities. All of us exude different aspects of what a “good girl” is, which is not always perfect.

What is it about the ‘90s that inspires you all?
Megan Nicolle: It was a great time for music, for fashion. A trend-setting period. I feel like as the decades go by there are certain times that really correlate with what the future looks like, and I think the ‘90s did a really great job of setting us up for everything.

We love just having real songs. There’s a lot of music out that’s not really saying anything and we just wanted to bring back real music. Real singing, real harmonies, real stories, real vibes, real messages. All that jazz.

There aren’t many R&B girl groups that make it big these days — or boy groups, for that matter. Why do you think that is? Is the R&B group dead?
Megan Nicolle: I feel like it has a lot to do with being a black group, because I think that there are a lot of successful groups overseas that are white that actually do incorporate R&B into their music, even though you hear the track and it sounds like pop. They’re using R&B melodies. They’re using R&B inspirations. So I don’t think R&B is dead. I think that’s something people try to tell you. But I definitely think it has more to do with being black, and of course being female — and then trying to resurrect what’s being called a dead genre.

JL: I think there are groups out there that are out there that have an R&B background or influence, because you can’t not be influenced by those groups from the ‘90s. They set the trail for what’s happening right now. I also think it’s almost a good thing, too, because there is no black girl group out there right now like us, or anything like us, so a lane is open for us to take over. And we’re going to take over.

So what is R&B missing right now? A group like you?
JL: Absolutely. I think it’s just a matter of taking ownership of it and making it cool, because once one person does it [fans will be] like “Oh, this is cool.” It’ll be new to people because they haven’t seen it done in so long. They didn’t grow up in the ’90s. They don’t know what that whole vibe was about. So if we go and we can bring it back and make it cool again, then it’ll be undeniable.

You make a point to do the choreography for all your songs. What’s the benefit of singing and dancing?
JL: We believe in real entertainment. The entertainers that we’re inspired by — like Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Usher — those are the greats, and they have been able to dominate when they’re performing because they can sing and dance. And we have the elements to be able to do that, and we can come up with the choreography ourselves, and everything is homegrown, so it makes all of it a better package. Nobody’s doing that anymore because it’s hard, but we’re willing to work hard to do it.

You each make a point to distinguish yourself, with different hair colors and style of dress, what for?
Megan Nicolle: I don’t think it was [entirely] a choice. We weren’t like, “Hey, you should make your hair red, and you should be pink, and I’ll be blue, and then you be green.” JL and Bobbie kind of started the color thing when JL switched hers and made red her staple, and then Bobbie kind of grew into the bright orange kind of color. I stuck with blue because I’m all over the place with color and hairstyles, but I think I found a color for myself that stuck. And then Arielle, I guess we wanted something different for her because originally she was black, and we liked the edge, but we wanted to give her a different vibe and I think [blonde] fits her really well.

Arielle: It’s important for us to all have our own identities within the group. ‘Cause you know, with girl groups or guy groups, there’s always that one girl or guy that you just attach to for whatever reason. It could be their hair color or it could be their personality, so it’s kind of reminiscent of the Spice Girls, how each one had their own personalities. There was Sporty, there was Posh. That’s kind of how we are: We have spicy — Bobbie, she has the spicy sassiness. Megan, she’s assertive and aggressive. JL’s fun and bubbly. And me, I’m chill.

Are you working on anything new? What’s next?
Bobbie: We have a really big show coming up on September 1 in Philly at the TLA. So we’re pretty much preparing for that. Trying to get our singing, our bodies right, all of that. Just trying to make sure we’re on top of everything, because that show is going to be really really big for us.

Arielle: We’re definitely in the studio, just trying to get the right record. We’ve been recording for a long time. We have over 100 songs, but for now we’re [looking] to top it off with some hits. Working with some really dope writers and producers. Just trying to take it to the next level. We may or may not release something soon, but you know, stay tuned.