Release Date: January 8, 2024
- BORN TO BE
- Mr. Vampire
- Crown On My Head (YEJI)
- Blossom (LIA)
- Run Away (RYUJIN)
- Mine (CHAERYEONG)
- Yet, but (YUNA)
ITZY is a group that has had a musical identity crisis over their past few releases, causing some listeners to abandon ship and write them off. Indeed, they haven’t been setting the world on fire like earlier in their career. Yet it’s a bit premature to say their best days are behind them. Some would say ITZY’s Korean music is in its “lost period.” They are stuck trying to satisfy many people’s wants and differing opinions about their direction, adversely affecting their musical output.
A new year usually means looking forward and having a fresh start, leaving the misfortunes of the year before behind. With that in mind, ITZY starts their 2024 by releasing a new album called BORN TO BE. Do they get a reset of sorts with this release? Well, that depends on what your expectations of ITZY are. I still like them, so I’m going into this album hoping they will deliver something decent.
Before I continue, it is important to note that Lia did not participate in BORN TO BE‘s recording and promotions outside of her solo song. So, all the new group tracks are without ITZY’s main vocalist.
Looking at the track listing of BORN TO BE, half of the songs are not what one would call “new” or “freshly pressed.” The members’ solo songs were pre-released between mid-November and late December, so those have been played to death and over- and under-analyzed by fans and casual listeners for a while.
I was too busy at the end of last year to listen to the solos of the ITZY members (or anything released in November or December of 2023), so all these songs were new to me. I believe they emphasize each member’s allure quite nicely. My favourite is Lia’s solo Blossom, not only because she is my bias in the group. Blossom has a great R&B/Pop feel that matches well with her vocal performance.
As for the other solo songs? I had high expectations for Yeji and Ryujin, anticipated Chaeryeong and had lesser expectations for Yuna. All of these songs delivered as expected and the one that caught my attention the most was Chaeryeong’s Mine. Like Blossom, it has the right amount of groove to appeal to my tastes and Chaeryeong’s vocal performance was above what I expected.
Remember, ITZY aren’t exactly known for being powerhouse divas belting notes only dogs can hear, so don’t get offended if I give kudos for being decent on the mic rather than gushing over a job well done.
The five new group songs feature the pre-release song Mr. Vampire and the performance track UNTOUCHABLE. The three high-energy songs (BORN TO BE, UNTOUCHABLE and Dynamite) sound much like material from ITZY’s Japanese album RINGO. Once you listen, you’ll know what I mean (assuming you acknowledge ITZY has a Japanese discography.) For those who don’t acknowledge such things, these songs are satisfying reminders of the older ITZY sound.
That is, until you get to the mid-tempo Escalator. That feels like the current ITZY, with more rapping and talk-singing over a hot beat.
Mr. Vampire is the only group song that isn’t a cardio workout. Instead, it’s chilled out and a bit weird because of the sound selection used in the instrumental. How much it annoys you might affect your enjoyment of this song. If you can get past some musical quirks, you’ll find a pleasant version of ITZY slowing things down. Even with the switch in mood compared to the other four group tracks, I don’t see Mr. Vampire as anything memorable.
So is BORN TO BE a return to form for ITZY? The album does have some positives. Four of the five group tracks have a consistent musical direction, with only Mr. Vampire sticking out like yellow on snow and somewhat polarizing in how people react to it. And as I mentioned earlier, the solo songs do a great job of matching the member’s personalities and charms.
To answer the return to form question. I believe BORN TO BE puts ITZY back to getting into the good graces of those who think they are on a downward spiral. For everyone else, consider BORN TO BE a solid album that takes inspiration from the early eras of ITZY to create something more cohesive than some of ITZY’s most recent releases before this album.