ITZY on the ‘Mystery and Magic’ of ‘Cheshire’ and Bringing It to Life Onstage (INTERVIEW)
Nearly four years ago, ITZY arrived in blazing technicolor; a group of all-caps girls with a sound so bold and boisterous even their name screamed at you.
A trio of early, jubilant releases — "DALLA DALLA," "ICY," "WANNABE" — defined the K-pop girl group's dynamism and purposive pluck. They don't bottle up their feelings or neatly write them in the blank pages of their journals; they shout and sneer and move on with impenetrable confidence, no time for ruminations or emotional minutiae. (Just listen to "Boys Like You.")
On their latest single, however, Yeji, Lia, Ryujin, Chaeryeong and Yuna toy with restraint. True to its name, "Cheshire" simmers with mystique, casting an ambient shadow over a throbbing bassline and fanciful "la-la-las." It's a new image for ITZY — slightly darker and more enigmatic but no less self-assured. “In your mind, let me roam," Yuna coaxes on the track.
"We felt an ambience of mystery and magic. It made us focus even more on the expressions and the performance," leader Yeji tells PopCrush of preparing for its release.
Taking inspiration from the Lewis Carroll classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, ITZY’s performance evokes the image of the Cheshire Cat as they use their fingers to pantomime the feline's mischievous grin. The choreography is slinky and catlike, understated yet mesmerizing. "I really like the intro where everyone is sitting together," dancer Chaeryeong says, adding playfully, "So cute, like a bunch of kitties."
But these kitties have sharp claws, and it's that underlying friction that conjures an enthralling sense of unease. Lia says the group "tried to maintain the tension" throughout the performance by depicting diametric moods — a beguiling grin transforms into a stony glare with the swipe of hand. "I think we’ve shown a new kind of appeal in 'Cheshire,'" the winsome vocalist adds.
Watch ITZY's "Cheshire" Music Video Below:
It only felt right to debut this fresh image on a major stage. Eschewing convention, ITZY performed "Cheshire" for the first time at the 2022 MAMA Awards in late November on the same day their EP dropped. Following last year's staggering performance, in which Ryujin fought off a gang of men and took down a mafia boss played by Squid Game baddie Heo Sung-tae before rejoining the group for an elaborate dance break, they were eager to deliver a spectacle of equal measure.
"Remembering last year’s success, we wanted to make sure this performance made the audience just as happy. It felt stressful and exciting at the same time,” Chaeryeong says.
Meanwhile, Ryujin, not one to buckle under pressure, channeled her anticipation into motivation. "It’s been a while since we performed in front of such a large audience, so I was excited," she says. Sure, "the pressure was high, but it was also extremely exhilarating."
That pressure was compounded by their desire to show their fans something new, youngest member Yuna adds. She details the "interesting" process, recalling how the preparations began shortly after the group wrapped the U.S. leg of their first world tour in mid-November. To make a song like "Cheshire" pop on such a cavernous stage, they were joined by a dozen or so dancers who enabled ITZY to "channel an incredible amount of energy," Lia says.
“With all the people filling the stage, I feel that charisma and presence are stronger than ever," Yuna adds.
Rehearsals with their dancers happened over the course of "four or five" days. "We didn’t have much time, but we did our best with what we had," Chaeryeong says.
"While this song is calmer than our other title tracks, its heavy beat resonates well with people’s hearts, which makes it great for a large stage," Ryujin adds. And she's right: In many ways, the song's allure fully hits when you see it performed.
Watch ITZY Perform at 2022 MAMA Below:
The performance began with their signature crown pose, signifying that "the queens are here," Lia explains. "That was our message, and it was full of suspense." Once ITZY emerged on stage, holding court among a sea of dancers, ready to devour anyone in their way, fans knew they were in for something special.
Clocking in at just over seven minutes, the performance spanned two singles ("Cheshire" and this summer's "SNEAKERS"), multiple stages, an electrifying dance break, a bit of lite vogueing down the catwalk and a captivating opening from Yeji, whose expressions sizzled even when swathed in silk. Yeji took great care in making sure "the choreography and the fabric merge[d] in a harmonious way," adding, "missing the timing even by a split second would get me entangled in the silk sheet, so I practiced wrapped in silk on the stage, trying to adapt to the speed of my movements in it."
Elaborate sets and dramatic flourishes aside, it's their adaptability that make ITZY such thrilling performers. The performance showcases them moving from the bewitching poise of "Cheshire" to the vibrant whimsy of "SNEAKERS" with ease, their charisma never wavering. They don't need gimmicks to make an impact. Each member leaves their own mark: Chaeryeong entices with precision and A-plus hairography; Ryujin's presence is more magnetic than steel; Lia adds small details, such as coy smiles and sass; Yeji's power commands attention; and Yuna has an abundance of charm. They wear these idiosyncrasies like a crown — a conspicuous symbol of their own growth.
Watch ITZY's "Sneakers" Music Video Below:
In the closing shot of their MAMA stage, the members of ITZY stand tall while wearing ornate crowns, their faces flushed in the afterglow of another successful performance. The symbolism is two-fold. "We wore real crowns this time instead of ending with our signature hand symbol to show that we are still confident of our performance," Yeji explains, adding of the crown’s significance, "It's not even so much about being good or gifted at something, but rather about bringing our performance and music to many people for a purpose and with confidence … It’s about showing that we are determined to continue growing."
It means something a little different to each of them. For Chaeryeong, a crown is "splendor combined with confidence," and to Ryujin, it’s the group's definitive emblem. "It's the first thing I picture in my head when thinking about ITZY, rather than some particular meaning," she says. Lia feels similarly.
Yuna, however, views the crown as a shiny symbol of liberation, something integral to ITZY's ethos. "Crowns are like a special power accessible to those who know how to enjoy themselves" — those who are loud, colorful and unafraid to be different, just like ITZY.