Since their debut, Itzy’s entire concept has revolved around being different. Their music actively encourages their fans, especially female ones, to eschew the traditional path and social expectations in favor of being who you are. Be wild, be aggressive, be a competitive horticulturist; just don’t sublimate your true personality and your needs because other people don’t like it. However, with the release of their third EP, Not Shy, Itzy has come to a reckoning that I personally have been awaiting since their debut. That reckoning? 

If you want to be a rebel, you have to stop trying to be cool.

There is an inherent catch-22 in a pop group whose identity is based around telling the society that birthed it to kiss their collective asses. One the one hand, their fans respond to that rebel image, looking for people to tell them you can go against the grain. On the other, their company wants financial success.  This often results in acts whose revolutionary or unusual characteristics are slowly sanded off to be more palatable to the mainstream, especially if they get popular. Setting a trend as a “different” is one thing, but when a group simultaneously tries to cultivate an image as different and follow the trends, things tend to fall apart. 

In many ways, Not Shy is Itzy’s strongest release. For one thing, JYP has finally learned the value of dynamic range and stopped overly compressing the tracks. The production has room to breathe, allowing for the signature organized chaos to come across as, well, organized. It also fixes the overwhelming loudness of previous releases. “Not Shy” is the clearest example of this, as it carries Itzy’s signature attitude and noise rock influences. Now though, the synth horns have enough space for the scattered stuttering to form into a full melody, especially when juxtaposed against Yuna’s delicate prechorus. 

Not Shy also gets different musically, pulling from a wide variety of vintage sounds to expand Itzy’s sound past the experimental EDM they are known for. Some are styles they’ve touched on before. “Don’t Give A What” is further proof that Izty really needs to go punk, as the guitar riff that opens the track and forms its backbone is crunchy, rolicking rock at its finest. On the other end of 70s musical influences is “Surf”, a love letter to the early days of disco. Sweet, but not gentle; “Surf” is given its bite from the funky bassline and the cooing disbelief of Itzy. A love song is old hat, but a love song about being surprised you actually like being in love is a new take.

Even the requisite album ending ballad takes a different tack. “Be In Love” sees Itzy taking a more active role in their relationship, trying to keep things alive despite distance and life getting in the way. The usage of staccato guitar lines and vocal delivery, rather than something more languid, gives “Be In Love” a sense of impatience and anxiety. Itzy are not in a placid state of yearning or acceptance. They are seeing cracks and trying to fix it, which gives “Be In Love” a buzz that not a lot of ballads can create. Not Shy flourishes when given the chance to be different.

Instead, the faults lie where more mainstream ideas and sounds have been forced in. The biggest offender is “Don’t Give A What”. It melds three distinct musical styles, and it does not work. The aforementioned 70s punk, a bridge from late 80s house music — specifically taking cues from Madonna’s “Vogue”, and Itzy’s usual experimental electronic sound. The first two actually work well together, and would have resulted in a weird but spectacular track. The issue is that the EDM synths do not fit. They overwhelm the guitar, they drown out the vocals, and the bloated, rubbery tones do not mesh with the general anarchy of the lyrics, vocals, or the rest of the production. But they do sound trendy.

The weakest track is easily “iD”, which sounds very much like someone took a Twice song and tried to make it aggressive. The production is washed out and bland, as well as bloated with cheerleader chants, which Itzy cannot do. Rather than peppy and high-energy, they just sound extremely angry for the whole song. Really, “iD” is pure noise. “Louder” is similarly a generic future bass track, though less grating. What it is, however, is dated, and not enough to be considered a throwback yet. The sourness, rubbery distortion all sound like something from a couple years ago. That said, it does gain points for having a good message, encouraging fans to be themselves loudly and take pride in who they are, however they are.

In many areas, the issue of trying to be cool by being different is inherently self-defeating — meet the new boss, same as the old. But as Not Shy proves, in music, it’s a poor decision because it does not work. Not Shy and Itzy as a whole thrive when they can be different — whether that difference is a refusal to be cowed by society or using more frenetic guitar pickups. It is when steps are made towards a more mainstream-accessible sound that Not Shy falters, because you can follow trends or set them. Both is not possible.

(Images via JYP Entertainment, YouTube)