In the mere two years since ITZY kicked down the door and strutted onto to the K-pop scene, they’ve been “달라” (different), “icy,” “not shy,” and exactly the women that they “wannabe.” With their newest release, however, the five-member Korean girl group — Yeji, Lia, Ryujin, Chaeryeong, and Yuna — has morphed into an even bigger and bolder force: The Mafia.
Don’t worry — in their lead single “마.피.아. In the morning,” JYP Entertainment’s youngest rising stars aren’t trying to actually embody the famous Godfather-like menaces. “The inspiration for this song is the Mafia game, which is a party game,” 20-year-old Yeji tells Refinery29 over video call. “When you play this game, the Mafia character is the key role, as this person has to confuse people and conceal their own emotions. They also have to be persuasive and capture other people’s hearts, so that’s the kind of special character we wanted to channel during this song.”
Among ITZY’s six-tracks on their new EP Guess Who, “In the morning” has the most unique texture of any of their tracks to date. Set against a creeping staccato refrain and tinny trap beat, the song booms and baps as the group rap and sing about stealing hearts: “I steal your heart/ You are gonna love me/ I’m the type who shows the teeth when it’s time/ Even when we make an eye contact/ It doesn’t shake me, no/ If it’s a sin to love you, the culprit is who?”
While the sound goes to places that ITZY member Lia feels may “shock” fans, the group still deliver with the signature ferocity that has set them apart since their impactful 2019 debut. Look no further than the visual, which sees each member play two bold characters: unassuming regular women by day, and mysterious, almost supervillain-like spies by night.
In an exclusive cut of the visual premiering on Refinery29, the ITZY members embody these roles with maturity and poise that seems to stretch beyond their years, and, most strikingly, show off what they do best — giving a captivating performance. Perhaps they’re not so different from the beguiling Mafia after all. As Lia says: “We always want to keep people on their toes.”
Refinery29: What do you want fans to feel when they hear “마.피.아. In the morning”?
Lia: “I’m expecting for fans to be surprised, because when we first heard the song and the style of the song, it was a bit of a change from what we’ve done before. So it’ll be something totally new, fresh and fun.”
You all usually play the confident hero in your songs — how was that experience playing someone a bit more sinister?
Yuna: “It was very exciting. We had so much fun preparing this album. [Holds up finger guns and smiles] ‘I’m the Mafia!’
Who among you slid into the character most naturally?
Lia: “I think Ryujin. But all of our members suited the song really well. Since we’ve practiced how to roll with different concepts with each of our singles thus far, we’ve gotten really good at facial expressions. I was surprised — and actually, kind of terrified because the song has a kind of nerve wracking, unsettling side to it. So when we were singing it very seriously with all the makeup and the setting, it was quite scary.”
How was that acting exercise — playing two distinct characters — for you?
Yuna: “My character during the day is an actress, so I had to act like this gorgeous, calm and cool person. But at night, I turn into this daring and powerful person.”
Chaeryeong: “My character was a professor during the day, and at night, I turn into a —”
Yeji: “— Bad professor.” [Laughs]
Chaeryeong, did you have any mean teachers growing up that you could take inspiration from?
Chaeryeong: “Luckily no! [Laughs]. Honestly, it was really hard for me. Every time I thought I was being menacing and evil, the director would tell me that I wasn’t being evil enough.”
What’s your favorite moment in the video?
Ryujin: “We all definitely love the fire scene. When we first arrived on set, we expected there to be a little flame here and there. But as we were dancing and getting closer and closer to the fire, we realized how intense it was. It looks very cool.”
Yuna: “My booty was on fire!”
Yeji: “We were wearing leather and there was smoke everywhere, our backs were hot...but we did it!”
When do you feel most confident?
Ryujin: “Actually, I’m not a completely confident person — especially when I’m not performing and in day-to-day life. But when I’m on stage and with my members, the energy I get from them and the audience helps boost my confidence.”
Lia: “I definitely get nervous on stage, but I am definitely in a better place mentally and emotionally when my members are by my side.”
Yuna: “In my case, when I’m on the stage, I don’t care about anything but expressing my feelings, so that makes me confident and comfortable. It also really motivates me to see other people — the members, our fans — getting excitement and energy from me, so it’s like a cycle.”
If you’re not quite there yet, how do you instill self-assurance in yourself?
Lia: “I always think about the fact that it’s eventually going to end. It’s going to pass, time is going to fly by and I’m soon going to be in my bed, go to sleep, and tomorrow will come. And it happens!”
Yeji: “In our music video for ‘Wannabe,’ there’s this scene where we had to dance with a lot of people around us. I had this moment where I was worried about what they would think about my dancing. But later, I started to understand that it was more about the responsibility of setting a good example and doing my best, and as I thought about it that way I gained more confidence in my movement and felt freer. That’s how I felt when I first started dancing, and so getting to that point once again felt like I was connecting with who I was and who I wanted to be.”
Yuna: “I try to consciously reset my frame of mind. I can’t change reality — all I can control and change is myself. It’s hard, but it helps me.”
What’s some memorable advice you’ve gotten in the last few years?
Ryujin: “We had dinner with our producer, JYP, when we first debuted, and he told us not to think about how you go — think about the value of the work and other things that you do. That has really stuck with me.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.