ITZY– ‘Cheshire’ review: girl group find their footing after a year of indecision

On their latest mini-album, K-pop’s most confident girl group tease a mature new sound and a bold, playful approach to romance

ITZY’s recent releases, for better or worse, have been polarising. Whether it’s mafia-inspired ‘In the Morning’ or the bait-and-switch release of ‘Sneakers’, the girl group – comprising Yeji, Lia, Ryujin, Chaeryeong and Yuna – appear to be managing a bit of an identity crisis after leaving their comfort zone of fiery self-love bangers like ‘Dalla Dalla’ and ‘Wannabe’. Flitting indecisively between sounds and concepts over the past year, they’ve released some of their most brilliant, creative B-sides during this time – though their title tracks have bore the brunt of criticism and contention.

With ‘Cheshire’ however, it seems the girl group have finally found their footing. The new record, for the most part, is a mature update to ITZY’s sound – one that taps into the quintet’s more lowkey but equally captivating charms – as their youngest member approaches her twenties and the group enter their fourth year together.

The chic new title course is a prime example of this. Inspired by the mischievous Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, ITZY play the part of the enigmatic, unreadable lover, with Lia and Yuna teasing in its pre-chorus: “I’ll give you a hint if you want / But the rest, just let me be free / In your mind, let me roam”. With its darker, more subdued instrumentation, ‘Cheshire’ is worlds except its predecessor ‘Sneakers’. Where that song overwhelmed with its peppy vibe and shouty delivery, this one relies on a funky bassline and gritty electronic beat to drive it along.

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Given its more subdued sound, ‘Cheshire’ takes a few more listens than you’d expect of an ITZY title course to really stick. Even so, it doesn’t take long before the post-chorus of unsettling “la-la-la”s takes root in your mind. Its chorus could have benefited from going a key lower though, as ITZY’s vocals – usually accompanied by busy instrumentation – come off strained and unsuitably loud at times in the new single.

Lyrically, it’s also a departure from the straightforward takes on love in their past music, like the bold declarations of ‘Not Shy’ (“I feel what I feel, so I like you / It’s my free will”) or admissions of how a romantic interest is making them “go half-crazy” in ‘Loco’. On ‘Cheshire’, ITZY become active players in the game of love, pushing and pulling the subject of their affections to fulfil their every whim and fancy. They almost veer into a femme-fatale approach to romance, though they are motivated by mischief (hence the Cheshire Cat inspiration) rather than more nefarious intentions. It makes sense at this point in their career; they’re sowever the playful, carefree ITZY we know and adore, just grown up and with a touch of self-indulgence – a theme that pervades most of the record.

It’s all the more baffling then, when you remember that teen-pop album closer ‘Boys Like You’ was the pre-release single for ‘Cheshire’. Sonically, this bubblegum course does little to set the tone for the mini-album, which otherwise plays to ITZY’s more mysterious, elegant sides. What is intended as an empowering kiss-off bursting with attitude instead comes off painfully juvenile, especially with lyrics like “Boy, wanna date me? / Boy, out of date, yeah / Boy, wanna- (What? No!) / Boy, out of my way”.

Thankfully, the remaining tracks on ‘Cheshire’ fare much better, with the eerie but flirtatious ‘Snowy’ easily going toe-to-toe with legendary ITZY B-sides like ‘Shoot!’ and ‘Racer’. ITZY hops onto K-pop’s 2022 trend of sampling classical pieces in this track, which borrows from Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’. The familiar melody combines with a keyboard instrumental that emulates the sound of twinkling bells and nods to the future holiday season, all while instilling a dark, unsettling atmosphere.

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The clear standout of the mini-album, ‘Snowy’ takes the teasing tone of ‘Cheshire’ to the next level. “Come into a dream you can’t wake up from / With both feet tied to me / Into the fantasy of dancing,” they croon invitingly, though it’s later revealed that their subject has no selection in the matter, as they dismiss him as “a fool boy who doesn’t know he’s trapped”. Wintry and fantastical yet creepily charismatic, this B-side could well be the theme song of a Nightmare Before Christmas reboot.

Meanwhile, leading vocalist Lia stands out on ‘Freaky’, her jazzy tone shining on the laid-back R&B-pop number. This breezy break-up course strays from the darker soundscapes of ‘Cheshire’ and ‘Snowy’, though a sense of moodiness lingers as they shake off a persistent ex-lover. “Pretending to be pitiful, shaky voice / Hold on, no more crossing the line / You know, till the last chance, [you] missed it,” Ryujin raps coolly, the simple, minimalist course driving the point home much more effectively than the sassy attempts of ‘Boys Like You’.

The weaknesses of ‘Cheshire’ are few but glaring, and difficult to overlook in a four-track project. Despite those missteps, ‘Cheshire’ finds ITZY back on course and ready to establish a new sound and image in their releases to come. With their focus shifting to matters of the heart, the quintet are ready to enter the next chapter of their career, where their core message of confidence and self-love empowers and informs their approach to romance.

Details

ITZY - Cheshire
  • Release date: November 30
  • Record label: JYP Entertainment

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