ITZY know what their audience want. And what their audience want are big, bombastic pop numbers. Luckily, ‘Guess Who’, the quintet’s fourth mini-album, is brimming with them. The six-track project wastes no time to get into the thick of it, kicking things open with the explosive title track ‘마.피.아. In The Morning’ (‘Mafia In The Morning’ in English).
It’s a fiery track that’s mostly made out of rap verses distributed between members Ryujin, Yuna and Yeji, while Lia and Chaeryeong cool things down with their melodic pre-chorus. On the surface, it checks all the boxes of a K-pop summer blockbuster: it’s feisty and assertive, characteristics that are usually found in an instant ITZY hit. Yet, ‘In The Morning’ is arguably the group’s most uninspired single since 2019’s ‘Icy’.
It is probably no coincidence that both songs were co-written and -produced by their label boss, JYP Entertainment’s namesake J.Y. Park, who has a penchant for pop clichés. There are times when Park and his frequent collaborator earattack hit the nail on the head (see ITZY’s 2020 smash hit ‘Not Shy’), but there are other times like this where they also miss. That’s not saying ‘In The Morning’ is less memorable than their previous singles. In fact, it’s actually ridiculously addictive – but ‘In The Morning’ is also woefully uncreative.
Right off the bat, from Ryujin’s opening verse to its hook, ‘In The Morning’ sounds like almost every other EDM-oriented song that’s been churned out in K-pop today. It’s unavoidably familiar especially in its chorus, which is sprinkled with random words that don’t really add much to the song, other than the fact that it’s, well, catchy. “I’m the mafia / Ma-ma-ma-ma-mafia, yah, yah / We do it like a mafia / Ring-ding-ding-ding, ding-ding,” they declare.
It’s a recurring production style in K-pop that often feels offensively lazy. Replace ITZY with any other group – be it their contemporaries BLACKPINK, NCT or even their labelmates Stray Kids – and the song will still produce the same desired effect. Other than ITZY’s megawatt charisma, the only thing that saves ‘In The Morning’ from being unbearably corny is Lia’s bridge, a smouldering solo that oozes confidence: “It’s deep in the last night, babe / When the night passes, you’ll have only me next to you.”
Thankfully, beyond ‘In The Morning’ are more – and better – girl-powered anthems. ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ is a bouncy rock-inflected production that actually deserves the spot as the album’s intro, while ‘Wild Wild West’ feels like a fun epilogue to their rodeo-themed ‘Not Shy’. On the other hand, ‘Shoot’ is a trippy kaleidoscope of sonic textures.
Then there’s the album’s centrepiece ‘Kidding Me’, a saucy eye-roll at a hesitant partner. Featuring trap drums and a compelling dance break, it has every bit of potential to have been the mini-album’s title track. At one point, Chaeryeong even raps. “I’m already on top of your head / Even if you run, you’ll eventually stay in the same place / Yeah, now it’s time over / I don’t care anymore,” she scoffs.
After a string of bangers, ‘Guess Who’ comes to a close with ‘Tennis (0:0)’, a perky bubblegum pop built around an acoustic guitar melody. It provides a nice change of pace amid the flurry of aggressive dancefloor anthems, but also a reminder of ITZY’s duality as performers – despite their edgy outlook, the quintet also have a soft side that unfortunately doesn’t get a lot of time in the spotlight.
‘Tennis (0:0)’ strikes a perfect balance between playful and endearing, without being extremely cloying. Cleverly using the racket sport as a metaphor for a fluttering romance, the song proves that even the most self-assured woman can turn bashful when confronted by her lover. It’s an unexpectedly muted ending to a record full of confident and sensual love songs. “A day with you is a match point / With this tension, I can’t move my body,” Yuna gushes before Chaeryeong shyfully confesses, “This feeling makes me crazy / I don’t know if I’m swinging for nothing.”
Some cringe-worthy lyrics aside, ‘Guess Who’ is by far ITZY’s most cohesive project in terms of sound. Each song transitions smoothly into the other, making its 18-minute runtime seem way too short and ripe for a relisten. More importantly, though, after three years of trial and error since their 2019 debut ‘Dalla Dalla’, the girl group seem to have successfully found a brand of maximalist pop that works for them. But it remains to be seen if they’re able to avoid falling into the cookie-cutter mould that has defined many of their contemporaries.
- Release date: April 30
- Record label: JYP Entertainment