After returning to their free-spirited roots and coloring the summer with their playful energy in “Sneakers,” Itzy are now taking a step forward to a darker, more mature sound in their latest EP Cheshire. Although this isn’t the group’s first time changing up their usual proud and self-loving focus with releases like “Mafia in the Morning” and “Loco” coming to mind, Cheshire expresses the girls’ growth in a classy, luxurious way. Taking inspiration from the iconic Cheshire Cat, the album shows a different mysterious side of the members while including a hint of mischief.

Expectedly, the title track “Cheshire” is representative of this peculiar theme. With an addictive vocal melody and funky instrumental, the dance-pop tune brings listeners to an unusually dreamy and somewhat ominous atmosphere.

Right from the beginning, the mesmeric “La-la-las” over the upbeat piano riffs instantly grab our attention and pull us down the rabbit hole leading to Wonderland, engrossing listeners into this strange ambience. As we fall further and further during the first verse and pre-chorus, our dramatic arrival to the whimsical land is portrayed by the intense, explosive chorus as the beat drops with a forceful bass line and a compelling mix of menacing synths.

Like most of their singles, the strong and lively spirit of the chorus is a great match for the members’ vibrant charisma. Though, instead of a shouty vocal line accompanying the instrumental, the arrangement is smooth and melodic. This helps the girls show a new chic and alluring image while also keeping the excitement high.

However, the momentum amassed during the chorus is quickly cut as we move into the second verse. Aside from the crisp choir-like pieces and kick drum beats, the verses don’t have enough elements to interest listeners. They bring the song to a sluggish pace and prevent the tune from developing further. The bridge offers more intrigue as the electronic beat becomes bolder and fiercer, but this energy is also short-lived with the softer outro immediately following it.

This move can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the subdued sound of “Cheshire” allows the members to express their growth and maturity in a unique, elegant way. On the other, the absence of Itzy’s fun and in-your-face attitude can make the tune feel milquetoast compared to the group’s previous title tracks. For a song based on the unpredictable Cheshire Cat, there isn’t as much mischief and quirkiness as expected.

Perhaps this is partially why the second track on the album, “Snowy,” stands out so much. In this number, the curiosity initially brought about by “Cheshire” is further amplified with a variety of refreshing and captivating musical elements. The song, for the most part, carries a dreamlike and fanciful tone as the soothing vocals move effortlessly with the ups and downs of the tune. However, the clever and frequent use of Beethoven’s “Für Elise” throughout the track adds another layer that feels chilling and uncanny. Whether the classical piece is being played with haunting bell-like sounds or the members singing along to the opening melody, there is a prominent Christmas nightmare aura that goes perfectly with the dark winter season.

Lyrically, the girls are assured that those who fall in love with them will become trapped and will not be able to break away from their charms:

Piled up in my heart

It’s only your footprints

Even if you run away

You’re inside me, oh

This boastful message is in line with their general self-confident lyrical direction, reinforcing Itzy’s identity.

The last two numbers on the EP, “Freaky” and “Boys Like You,” also convey a similarly honest and independent character with a more lighthearted mood. In “Freaky,” the group rejects an ex-lover who constantly repeats their mistakes:

To the bone, it’s freaky

I’m sick and tired of it, so tricky

It’s not going to happen even if you cry

It’s perfect to be alone

See how I’ll leave it

To you stupid, no need say

Ignoring appears to be the answer

I’m in my zone, just leave me alone

Their firm and unrelenting words are a direct contrast to the calm R&B vibes of the song. The easygoing melody and simple, old-fashioned instrumental push the members’ distinct timbres into the spotlight. Lia’s and Chaeryeong’s voices suit especially well with the track’s nonchalant air. Despite its brighter sound, it still feels mature and fitting for the record’s chic theme.

Regrettably, the same cannot be said for the closing number “Boys Like You.” Like many other English releases by K-pop artists, the pop-punk song lacks certain touches and eccentricities that would give the tune a notable Itzy color.

With juvenile lyrics such as “Boy, gonna diss me?/Boy, I’m so pissed” and “Boy, wanna date me?/Boy, outta date, yeah,” the track sounds like something from a Disney Channel film with a preteen audience in mind. This isn’t necessarily a bad approach, but it feels out of place on an album mostly filled with dark, alluring concepts.

All things considered, while Cheshire is not as impactful as past hits like “Icy” and “Wannabe,” it is certainly the most refreshing spin on Itzy’s signature style that we have seen in some time. After the group drew upon familiar themes in “Sneakers,” it seems like the girls are now shifting to more mature and sophisticated sounds as they develop their self-love concept. With so many new and different charms revealed in their latest record, Itzy’s next move has us grinning like a Cheshire Cat in much curiosity and anticipation.

(YouTube. Lyrics via Genius [1][2][3]. Images via JYP Entertainment)