This is the first in a series of articles covering JYP’s newest girl group ITZY.
I tend to jump all over the place with the K-Pop bands I listen to, whether they’re male or female, pop or rap, OG or 4th generation. As of late though, it’s been hard to keep up with all the new groups. There are so many, from many companies, all of varying degrees of quality, as well as an over-saturation of the long-standing top bands, such as BTS.
As a result, I didn’t get around to listening to ITZY until a few weeks ago, but I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how high quality they were. I’ve heard them referred to as JYP Entertainment’s version of Blackpink, but I honestly don’t think that’s doing them justice. I think that they’re a response to Blackpink, or at least the type of band Blackpink is. At the same time, I think they’re a response to Twice, JYP’s biggest group. It combines elements of both, and yet it’s neither.
There are three camps of girl groups right now. There are the extremely girly bands, like Saturday, Momoland, and Twice. Then there are bands that take a more “mature” approach, like Blackpink or EXID. There are benefits to either approach, often revolving around what age group the fan base consists of. Then there are bands that try to be antithetical to both of these. Dreamcatcher would be the best example of that: it’s a band meant to be totally unique in a genre where it’s very easy to fall into a trap.
ITZY is, in my opinion, in the third camp because of how it incorporates elements of the first two, but the band has other unique qualities that make it stand out. First off, their title tracks have been hooky and electronic, but also relatively upbeat without crossing into the territory of being too procedural.
Secondly, they have sharp dance moves that require full body like GFRIEND, as opposed to a band like AOA where their choreography is mostly small movements. But it’s the sharpness that makes them stand out – it’s something guy groups tend to embody more than girl groups.
Thirdly, their songs have a message of loving yourself, but not watered down like BTS’s new catchphrase “Love Yourself” is. It’s much more about people viewing you negatively for the way you are and not caring, as opposed to the simple act of loving yourself because you’re special – in short, it’s not a superficial self-love, it’s anger and vehemence at a system that tries to pigeonhole you. (Ironically, this message was most prevalent in BTS’s early content, particularly “N.O” and Rap Monster’s single “Do You”.)
Lastly, they have an intriguing use of fashion and branding in their videos. It’s very much meant to enhance the members as opposed to rope them into a concept.
If we look at these qualities, it becomes clear: ITZY is a girl group handled exactly the same way a boy group is. They’re a band with good songs, sharp dance moves, and clothing that enhances their personality as opposed to distracts, who’s also allowed to be angry. These are all qualities you’d see in a big name guy group like BIGBANG or SHINee. I mentioned in my article on Twice’s “Like OOH-AHH” that Twice is given guy group-style songs that have more punch, and called them a cinnamon bubblegum band. If Twice is cinnamon, then ITZY is a ghost pepper. They don’t hit – they bite.
I think that this makes them antithetical to many other girl groups because it’s in direct opposition to the way most girl groups are conceived. JYP has always been good about finding an opening in the market and making a band that exactly embodies this. I think that Itzy is the closest thing we have to a representation of what a modern late teenage, early twenties aged girl is like. They have more depth than that, as well as charm. They’re not a stereotype in any particular way, they just kind of exist. None of them are typecast into particular roles.
This movement away from typecasting probably started around 2010, as people generally speaking prefer chemistry between idols. I talked about this a bit in my Super Junior article, but the status quo of creating a group still held until at least 2010, perhaps even later. That status quo: you need a cute member, a mature member, a funny member, a cool member, and a stereotypical maknae. I would not say that ITZY has that – ITZY does have a member that’s more extraverted than the others but I would not say that a personality type is necessarily a role. From watching ITZY on weekly idol I would venture to say that they seem more like a friend group and less like an idol group. Perhaps that is a carefully constructed image, but it is an effective one. I do believe that ITZY more clearly represents young girls than most idol groups do.
ITZY has an innate connectivity to its audience of young girls that I think is really important. They don’t seem over the top happy all the time, and their songs are sassy and angry. They carry themselves with confidence and yet seem relatively calm and humble. There is less visible pressure on them to act like a stereotype, and that is something that audiences can clue into. I am not saying that their lives are devoid of pressure – they are idols, that unfortunately comes with the industry. But it’s clear that the pressure we normally see – bright smiles and constantly playing is not there. Perhaps the pressure is to seem more calm and reserved, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. In any event we’ll likely never know – it is, however, an image that can reach a wider audience.
I think ITZY is a group we need to think about more. They have a lot of positive qualities that I think other girl groups should have. I think the takeaway should be that idol companies should not be trying to create what is currently popular, but find the gaps in the market where people need more. K-Pop should ultimately be about giving people what they want, not telling people what they should want.