The more distance from 2019, the more ITZY’s debut year feels like a watershed moment in K-pop. Their triple punch of Dalla Dalla, ICY and Wannabe has proven even more influential than expected, developing a sound and attitude that has dominated both the charts and the tastes of many fans. So, my initial question after listening to M.A.F.I.A (In The Morning) is: where the hell did that ITZY go?
Rather than continue to set trends, the girls have challenged BLACKPINK’s drop-chorus style. It’s not an awkward fit, but M.A.F.I.A is an awkward song. It’s largely hookless, with a vacuum of melody and noisy production that borrows familiar K-pop sounds and samples without bringing anything new to the table. I’m shocked that such a high-profile release, from an agency as huge as JYP, could wind up this… dull.
ITZY have megawatt charisma, and that pulls M.A.F.I.A over the finish line – but just barely. The track has no sense of humor about its own ridiculousness. It’s largely joyless, intent on posturing and posing rather than finding a hook or moment worth investing in. I’ll be relieved when K-pop loses its relentless gun metaphors as fuel to showcase a group’s “bad girl” or “bad boy” image. It’s a tired old trope, and usually comes across as disingenuous and more than a little silly.
As a song, M.A.F.I.A doesn’t have much to offer beyond these tropes. Its spoken-word boasts don’t succeed as engaging hip-hop, its irritating synth samples don’t craft an addictive instrumental, and there’s no knockout centerpiece to salvage the song’s weaker moments. It’s just a bunch of pissed off “ring ding ding” taunts strung together for three minutes, as if the most grating parts of BLACKPINK’s How You Like That had been extended into an entire song. This is a hard pass for me, coming from one of K-pop’s most promising rookies. That makes M.A.F.I.A doubly disappointing.