I’ll just come out and say it: I love ITZY so much. Normally, it’s pretty hard for me to get into a group that’s so much younger than I am – I’m a full decade ahead of oldest member Yeji – but I enjoy their music so much and I find it totally irresistible. I also have a soft spot for them because they debuted right when I moved to Korea, so all of their releases are connected to specific memories of my time living here. “Dalla Dalla” was the soundtrack of my first month, “Wannabe” got me through a lonely month of self-isolation (thanks COVID-19), and “ICY” and “Not Shy” were some of my favorite songs of the summer. Plus a ton of my students absolutely adore ITZY, and it’s been fun to bond with them over that. So basically, I was eagerly anticipating their comeback with “In the Morning.”
The Korean title for “In the Morning” is “마.피.아.” – as in the popular game Mafia – and the lyrics compare playing it to getting someone to fall for you. (Assuming, of course, that the game doesn’t dissolve into chaos and uncontrollable laughter like it does whenever K-pop idols play it for a variety show.) The arrangement is somewhat eerie and unsettling, especially in the verses, and it does a good job of imparting a sense of uncertainty and suspense. Although ITZY is no stranger to girl crush songs, this still is a pretty big step for them. Their songs have plenty of sass and attitude, but they’re also mixed with cutesy catchphrases and/or dynamic energy. “In the Morning” is the first single where they double down on being 100% fierce, and there is nothing bubbly or bright about it whatsoever.
From what I’ve seen on the Internet, it seems like “In the Morning” has been getting pretty mixed reviews. I’m honestly not that surprised because the Korean general public isn’t really into girl crush songs, let alone the ones that are full-on “badass.” So, I was already imagining that the response for “In the Morning” here wouldn’t be as much of an instant love as it was for ITZY’s previous singles. However, I personally love girl crush songs and I NEVER get tired of them. So in this household, we love “In the Morning!” I do get some of the criticisms about it like the quality of the rapping and the lyrics, but those don’t bother me all that much. And I’m not just saying that because I really like ITZY, either; those have never majorly affected my feelings about any K-pop song.
One of the reasons I like “In the Morning” so much is because I think it’s rather daring – especially coming from a JYP artist, since that agency isn’t known for being experimental with its girl groups. (For example, TWICE has gradually transitioned from cute concepts to more mature ones over the course of two years.) I’ve mentioned before that while girl crush is trendy, many companies choose to give their groups a somewhat watered down version that’s more like “cutesy with a touch of sass.” And while I do like those, I generally yearn for something stronger. I’ve actually always felt that ITZY is one of the few girl groups who have really nailed that perfect combination of fun and fierce, so I really appreciate that they’re taking a risk now and going for the extreme. I respect the song’s bold choices like having the verses completely rap-base. Plus I can tell the members are really going all in on the concept and serving up as much attitude as possible, and I love that proud and confident energy.
While I’m absolutely living for “In the Morning,” there’s one element I’m not enamored with: the major presence of gun-like movements in the choreography. I just wrote a whole essay about this in my previous post for HOT ISSUE, so I won’t go into too it much again. But basically, I’ve started to have mixed feelings about choreography where there’s a lot of making guns with your hands and imitating shooting. (Because I’m American and gun violence is such an important issue in my country.) “A lot” is the key phrase here; it doesn’t bother me at all if it’s just a move or two, but more than that makes me somewhat uncomfortable. That being said, I understand Koreans don’t really have that same frame of reference. I imagine the choreographers are probably thinking of action movies or video games when they create the dance. So I’m not offended by the gun movements, but I also feel much more at ease if I can clearly see the context and intention behind them.
In the case of “In the Morning,” I have an easier time because I understand the whole concept is based around the Mafia game. ITZY’s obviously not pretending to be actual members of the mafia; they’re saying getting someone to fall for them is like being the culprit in a game famous for deception and trickery. And while I still think there doesn’t need to be so much pointing and shooting in the choreography, it’s mostly saved for the choruses. It isn’t the foundation of the entire dance like with HOT ISSUE and “GRATATA.” I must confess I still feel a little awkward about it, especially since it seems JYP is marketing ITZY towards the U.S. I do worry what Americans who weren’t K-pop fans would think if ITZY performed “In the Morning” on a talk show like so many K-pop groups do nowadays. But personally, I think I can move past it.
MY OVERALL INTEREST LEVEL
(NOTE: My options for each category are “Love,” “Like,” “Neutral,” “Not My Style,” or “Dislike.” But I rarely dislike anything, so I’ll mostly be using the other four.)
To tell the truth, I was pretty much hooked on “In the Morning” within the first 30 seconds. If I had done a video reaction to this, it would have just been me fangirling from the moment Ryujin said, “Guess who loves you? 나야 나.” (WHY IS SHE SO COOL) I actually love that opening scene where she and Yuna are hiding among the mannequins, and I think it’s so clever. The whole music video just has fantastic aesthetics and editing. And like I said, I’m very into the song. I did move the dance down a category because of the aforementioned gun-like movements, but I love all the other parts of it. So there’s no doubt about it: “In the Morning” is my new obsession, and ITZY just continues to impress me.
(“Knee Jerk Reaction” is a column I created to talk about comebacks or debuts when I don’t have a lot of time to write in-depth reviews. A knee jerk reaction is like an automatic response, so it’s a post about my initial thoughts on the song, the music video, and the performance if it’s available. Compared to my reviews, everything is more stream of consciousness and less analytical. And everything is 100% my own opinion!)
SOURCES: Music video and featured image belong to JYP Entertainment.