Girl Groups ITZY & NMIXX Reinvigorate With a Ravenous Nature on “BORN TO BE” & “Fe3O4: BREAK” — Album Reviews

Maxine Thao
20 min readFeb 2, 2024
Top: ITZY for “BORN TO BE” — Bottom: NMIXX for “Fe3O4: BREAK”

ITZY and NMIXX have kicked open K-Pop’s door of 2024 releases. While both groups wear the crown of JYP Entertainment’s 4th generation girl groups, they are strong in their different boots that have only grown sturdier with their latest ambitious comebacks.

Although both groups are relatively young, there is a reason they have swung so hard with something to prove. ITZY have a couple more years of experience under their belt as their 5th anniversary is already coming up in 2024 — meaning that their journey up until now has more significant peaks and divots. They first exploded onto the scene with bright punches of eccentricity through “DALLA DALLA”, “ICY”, “WANNABE”, and “Not Shy”, but reached somewhat of a flat plane in their latter years while trying to strike a balance between sonic evolution and grasping the signature essence of their rookie sonic roots. With the eager attitude of their 2023 comeback, it was clear that a much needed significant shift for the group was brewing.

Fresher on the scene is NMIXX who only debuted in 2022, but their highly divisive dynamic sound that was introduced with the infamous debut title track “O.O” left some listeners with a sour aftertaste. Their follow-up comeback “DICE” — although a bit less jarring, doubled down on the capricious song structure, campy line deliveries, and genre blending. However, last year saw the group actively promoting a more classic pop and lighthearted sound — albeit with a hint of their previous playful quirk. From these projects, their accessibility for new listeners greatly opened (honestly, working on me as well) and now they have a perfect opportunity to embody the melded balance of familiar and fresh.

As someone used to rooting for ITZY and has a growing interest in NMIXX, I am glad to say that both groups have boldly delivered thorough mini albums in a perfect way to start off the year.

“BORN TO BE” (2024) by ITZY

ITZY’s 2nd full album “BORN TO BE” plays to every strength in the group’s arsenal. While their past few releases have received some criticism for being too juvenile, they decide to go big and go hard with all the energy and charm they could possibly conjure. The girl group reasserts themselves as an impenetrable wall of pompous industrial production, resolute statements with a cadence of dominance behind every word, and sharp and mighty choreographies. The mini album also comes with a perk — maximizing their appeal even more through personalized solo tracks for all 5 members. The varied individual charm of each member showcased in solo tracks of every flavor adds a special touch that is so delightful. No matter the shape of each solo and group track, ultimate confidence runs through the project’s bloodline.

The introductory track that shares its namesake with the album title is “BORN TO BE”. It’s very clear why it shares a title to the album, as this song perfectly encapsulates the raw voracious determination ITZY are ready to put on full display. Right out the gate, you taste the bottom of their leather boots that kick you right in the face. The whole track is pumping with unyielding energy from the demanding attitude of every member’s breath alongside the pacing rhythmic nature of the instrumental featuring scraping and gritty industrial synths clanging about, lines of contemporary trap bass, snares, and hi-hats, and the vital melody of the triumphant horn-like resonant synth line. The pairing of it with the skillful large-scale dramatic and striking choreography makes for the utmost savory satisfactory performance.

The duo of group tracks with polar intensity, “Mr. Vampire” and “Dynamite” are the top tracks of this album for me. However, the pre-released (well, through a music video only) “Mr. Vampire” fully sunk its teeth deep into my skin and I have been hankering to have this song officially released on streaming. Out of all the tough and dance-heavy group tracks, “Mr. Vampire” definitely leans heavily into a more laid back vibe with its balance of the familiar edge of contemporary pop with a subdued pristine and classy undertone; its juxtaposing presence within the project is very refreshing.

The minimalist chic “Mr. Vampire” presents such a wonderful new side of ITZY’s sound. While the main sonic scene is a rather peaceful and elegant one with the unexpected sampling of live bird chirps, ascending twinkles of piano, a lush pad, and delicate vocals — there’s simultaneously contemporary synthy quirks to create an oddly satisfying balance of pillowy velvet and rubbery textures; the additives of the whiny synth motif reminiscent of a squeaky clean window (that almost mimics the pattern of the bird chirping), thin and light percussion to decorate atop the kick drum booms, low-toned nonchalant soft rapping of the chorus, and even the minute production detail of a stark glitchy cut off of the piano lines give the track just enough fluorescence that is so intriguing and addicting.

I want to give a special spotlight to what truly makes this song as enthralling as it is — the vocal performances by the members, but specifically Ryujin took me by surprise in the best way possible. The highlighted vocal tone is a soft, velvety tone to match the instrumental (with a bit of sass and slight belting at some parts), with the cool delivery of the chorus that is both soft and calm yet confident, nonchalantly flirty. Ryujin is typically handed parts that showcase her lower-tone in a more aggressive or rap-heavy way, however, her particular soft tone that stands out here is so sweet and gentle like freshly spun cotton candy. Her voice in especially the second verse is a strong highlight of the stellar song.

“Dynamite” is THE dance track of the album. Now, although the rhythmic bass-focused dance-inspired sound is very on trend, it’s actually also very classic ITZY. While their past b-sides of this nature tended to emphasize a brightness, “Dynamite” has a bit more sonic grime and is club ready. The classic elements of the bouncing booming bass, trap snare and hi-hats, and clacking percussive flourishes all over are tell-tale signs to get up and dance. Of course, there’s also ITZY directly telling you to party your heart out with shouted out lines all throughout the track like “One, two, three, follow me, the way I groove, yeah / Turn it up, wanna see you shake…Murder that dance floor”. Despite being a dance track obviously aimed to keep up the energy, I love how the pre-chorus acts as a cooled off build up with the legato vocals and synth pad. Not to mention, the second verse of Yuna and Ryujin’s raps provide a more riveting dynamic to the song.

The official title track of the album is the sophisticated “UNTOUCHABLE”. The song feels like a more digestible, easier to listen to version of “BORN TO BE” due to the similar theme of self confidence and determination plus the bass heavy soundscape. “UNTOUCHABLE” takes a more minimalist approach with the main focus on the succinct synth bassline pattern, simple lighter percussion, and interjection of a resonant gritty guitar-like synth line. There are some catchy little melodies throughout, but nothing particularly ear wormy. As a title track, it’s a tad disappointing as even though it’s not offensively bad, it just feels a little bland.

The closing, last group track “Escalator” is the most hip-hop inspired track of the project. It has similar sonic traces to “BORN TO BE” and “Dynamite” with the booming bass and wilding modulating synth but less of a dance beat and more shouting and rapping. The rap verses from the girls and the beat breakdown at the end of the bridge that features a droning lead guitar-like line are pretty enjoyable for me, but other than that it feels a little lacking. More objectively though, if you’re someone who prefers the hip-hop genre, it’s a decent track for a closer.

Now as far as the five solo tracks for each member goes, I think they’re all pretty solid as their debut original solos. I’m pleasantly surprised at how well you can see each member’s personalities and hear their tastes just from the individual solos in this project. From just these morsels, I’d be really intrigued to see their future solo work — whenever that may be.

Leader Yeji first jumps in ready to devour the world with “Crown On My Head”. The electrifying energy of the track is thanks to the rock-inspired guitar and Yeji’s palpable passionate belting. Albeit, it’s modernized with contemporary pop production elements like synth bass and pads, typical trap drum kit, and baby vox samples. The blend of genres though is seamless and creates its own vibe to match Yeji’s vigor. The song begins with the bang of the intense guitar, but after the first verse, the synth becomes more prominent as the guitars quietly become more of a background element. It isn’t necessarily a fault, per say, but more of me personally wishing for the rockier elements to come through more. I do appreciate though how it creates a dynamic deviation from the fiercer first verse for a second verse that sits in a comfortable confidence. The payoff in waiting for more guitar does come in though by the bridge, where it stealthily builds up to a breakdown with the rapid fire lead guitar and intense synth bass, percussion, and vox that just might be my favorite moment of the song. The final chorus makes sure to end on that high with the full instrumental and Yeji’s fervent vocal ad libs. Overall, it’s a pretty solid song for a first solo that is up to the brim with Yeji’s pure passion.

Next is the kindly gifted “Blossom” by Lia. The main vocalist of the five member group has been on a health hiatus from ITZY’s activities since September of 2023, and therefore has not been involved in the making of, or promotions for this album. Except, of course, the inclusion of her solo track “Blossom” that was initially released as a surprise to fans when it was announced that her hiatus would continue.

In my opinion, the calming mid-tempo track “Blossom” might objectively be the best solo as it feels the most well thought out and complete. It’s perfectly fit for Lia’s vocal color which thrives in r&b, jazz styles rather than typical pop. The base of the song’s production is the ‘chill lo-fi’ reminiscent glitchy rippling modulating synth pad motif and casual trap drums, with sparkly dings and interjected vocal harmonies to help up the elegance and class along with her voice. Her casual lower-toned delivery of the refrain is just catchy enough, and the bass bumping up in the first post-chorus and second chorus, then the key change for the final chorus to top it all off make for a really satisfying composition. I also want to point out that the lyrics, co-written by Lia herself, are incredibly touching with its vulnerability. The standalone message of a late bloomer taking pride in taking their time to develop themself is admirable, but the added context of Lia indirectly reassuring fans about her situation is something to cherish. This song is truly hers and it brings a lovely delicacy to the album.

Ryujin with the pop-punk inspired solo track “Run Away” just feels right. Ryujin’s vocals here take a few different forms, showcasing more of her gorgeous airy high falsetto, some rare expressive belting, and of course her classic fierce attitude. The lyrical topic here is quite a darker, emotional topic of telling the other person to flee from their toxic relationship before it crashes and burns even harder, while surrendering yourself to the role of the bad guy. Despite the story attempting to match the angstiness the punk genre is known for, I really wish it went heavier handed with the guitars — maybe even pumping up the drums or bass, or just a minor key would help add more sonic grunge to chew on. That is to say, I don’t hate the somewhat upbeat and liveliness of the chorus because the poppier vocal melody for it still makes for a fun banger. The unmistakable highlight though has to be the quite stunning bridge; the acoustic guitar and reverb guitar licks under the most breathtaking iteration of Ryujin’s delicate falsetto yet, and the way her voice builds with her chest voice coming in with that painstaking tone to add more aggression and deeper emotion is pulled off so well.

“Mine” by Chaeryeong has a trendy sound that fits perfectly in line with debuted K-Pop female soloists. It’s classy and elegant flirty pop focusing on a funky bass line, rhythmic light lead guitar with fun flares of licks aspersed, a classic stable kick drum, and silky synth pad. This song is cleanly well done, but the biggest hindrance is that it feels unnecessarily sung in such a high key that the chest voice in the chorus feels a little jarring against the chill instrumental.

Lastly we have the youngest, Yuna, with “Yet, But” — aka the bubblegum princess herself in a song. It has positive energy smothered all over from the encouraging lyrics, bubbly big pop production, and of course Yuna’s cutesy vocal tone. It may be the most blinding sore thumb in terms of sonic cohesion with the rest of the album, but there is truly no better way to flaunt Yuna’s shine. It’s sugary sugary synth pop with cheesy lyrics and cheeky vocals from every corner — which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it’s a cute little number.

Overall, I’m pretty impressed with this project from ITZY. It feels like the direction for this album naturally unfolded to an authentic place that matches where the members are at this point in time with their skills and persistence in their career. They perfectly balance their identity while pushing their own envelope as a group and individuals just enough in a way that undoubtedly pays off.

“Fe3O4: BREAK” (2024) by NMIXX

“Fe3O4: BREAK” is a fun collection of tracks that roughly explores an ambitious theme through an exciting journey across multiple, unexpected bends of genres. With the motive to break down any walls in the way of achieving their dreams, we travel through influences of Latin hip-hop and UK garage beats, jazzy inflections, even country fiddles — among the usual contemporary pop compositions. The established vitalizing message and borrowing of similar production elements throughout keep it feeling moderately cohesive and fresh rather than scrambled. Of course, the classic NMIXX style of structural quirks and campy vocal snippets are still present, but now act as consoling signature composition points that help ground the project as theirs, and not as jarring as past releases.

The appointed title track “DASH” is a sonic treat found on the end of a string you’re suddenly chasing after. The biggest pull is the various textures and velocities of the production that keeps the listener attentive. The song’s equilibrium of smooth notes and spastic rhythm accentuates the appeal of the snippy catchy hook that ties it all together.

The striking quick intro gives us a taste of the hook, before stepping into the verse of a standard funky slap bass line and brashing drum pattern to set a cool and poised attitude. The pop canvas is spiced up with an attractive jazzy flair mainly through the vocal melody and cordial harmonies, plus tiny flecks of an acute piano key, a buried electric organ, and the most obvious saxophone licks to top it all off. The busyness of the verses rewind transition into a dreamier, airy pre-chorus thanks to the smooth background setting harmonies, plus a subtle buzz of a low pad, with some nice light piano notes and percussive clicks to guide along. More prominent saxophone and the familiar heavier drum pattern help a swell to build up to the chorus.

The chorus has moderate rather than grand energy, but it’s definitely not a bland standard pop chorus. It starts off with a short anti-drop, then glitchy harmonized spurts are weaved in to complete the ringtone-like catchy and quick phrasing, before the beat drops to the recognizable instrumental with the drum, bass line, and piano key flecks. Considering the minimalist approach to the chorus, that configuration is really needed for the sonic tension and release. The modest contemporary electronic sound is provided with the bass and drums for the urbane low end, but the sporadically interjected clean and tight harmonies here are undoubtedly the highlight of the whole song with the way they add a buttery flaky layer to the slick production. All that makes for a textural delight with how it balances sharpness and smoothness. The defiant attitude of the main vocal line hook is also a savory addicting touch.

The post-chorus rounds out the darting nature by tuning up the synth pad to soar slickly in the back as the vocal line also soars higher and an electric organ line transitions us out. From here, the dynamic of the instruments are cunningly involved together with small detail changes just enough to keep you on your toes — like the cool transition at the start of the second chorus featuring a tape rewind sound effect under the physical decelerating tempo of the phrase before launching back into the regular chorus. It’s a brief time before the anticipated ‘NMIXX change up’, which in this song acts less as a derailing shift and more like a standard dynamic switch a bridge provides. The exclaimed change up is a brighter sound, in contrast to the otherwise more rigid production of the rest. It rushes into a resounding electric guitar and drums with perky vocals full of hope. Those beating drums and a “Mm, I just wanna continue my pace” is the signal back into the song at the very, very brief final chorus of just the vocals, drums, and a sudden foreign buzzy oscillating synth line right in the middle of it.

Because of the interesting composition, something about the song does feel a bit enigmatic, in some ways better than others. I really enjoy this song as a whole with its charming pacing and textures, but the last chorus is its biggest fault for me. While it is a little strange, rather than being ‘too wild’ — I feel like after the bridge, the song needs a bit more of a bigger payoff to satisfy instead of the mindlessly thrown in new synth paired with the bite sized chorus length for the closing. Keeping the fault as a minor point, “DASH” is an impressive excursion that is unlike their previous work and others in the girl group sphere.

The first pre-released single for this project was the hefty “Soñar (Breaker)”. Despite their trail of more conventional poppier releases in the past year, this song draws a lot from their debut controversial bolded soundscape. While I can’t completely tell if I have just become more accustomed to their style, it definitely does not feel as grating as their rookie releases. It’s not my usual taste on paper, but I find it really fun and energizing; it’s grown on me with every listen.

The opening is very theatrical, like a parting of clouds in the sky with the piano steps, rumbling drums, and angelic background pad. It drops us into the song’s very rhythmic composition where the beat is very bass drum heavy throughout, with some clacking claves in the verses. The pre-chorus recaptures the drama of the intro to lead us forward into a march of drums and a mighty group rally cry. Earwormy chanting in Spanish over the Latin hip-hop inspired bulky but simplistic staccato beat featuring some erratic hiccuping vox is a venturous choice for a chorus, but in the context of the song they make it work. I really like the strength the accentuated bass pad with the chanting brings, it’s perfect for the transfusion of energy this song aims to accomplish.

The ‘NMIXX change up’ in the middle plays a similar role as in “DASH” by also creating a dreamy soundscape with the softer vocals, compressed drums, and spacey pads that supplements encouragement to dream of possibilities and chase after them. While it’s purposely meant to oppose the harsher vigor of the main composition, the opiate haziness that strikes resemblance to other sections makes it a warm welcoming addition rather than alien. In fact, this song has a good balance of the rhythmic thudding beat and softened melodic composition that makes it satisfying to listen to. The very brief post-chorus ‘Ooh, like it’ refrain that shamefully only appears after the bridge and as the outro is so so addicting with its campy melody and honestly one of my favorite parts of the song — I really wish it was much more present throughout because of how fun it is.

The track “Run For Roses” has played a key role in building up fruitful hype for this release, and understandably so. Judging by the fact it was pre-released through a concert performance and given some further promotion, it seems like everyone is aware that it’s a hit material and a clear stand out. It’s sonically very left field for the group, the EP, and in K-Pop with the song’s undeniable country essence, but the continuation of the impassioned lyrical theme, unapologetic assertiveness in the delivery of the vocals, and determined bass drum forward instrumental makes it somehow fit into place.

The base of this song is so interesting because the lead guitar line and claps gives that natural western country-rock feel, then the electronic low grumbling pad and bass drum kick in to ground us with a contemporary feel, all for the in your face fiddle and banjo plucking to overdrive the country aspect. It sounds so odd, but it’s really surprisingly pulled off well. The ornate lines of the guitar, fiddle, deep bass pad and kicks giving more sonic and theatrical depth, and the confident vocals and chanting all add up to give off a cinematic dystopian vibe. The song is very clear with the high level of determination to overcome obstacles together, of course along with the faithful lyrics itself. For instance, the ominous echoey intro with the steadfast message: “We’re alive ’cause we are not alone / Hand to hand, you know we won’t let go” is very “The Hunger Games”-esque.

While the instrumental is naturally captivating itself, the vocal melody is also a profound strength to the song. Something about the natural lulling chorus melody is so memorable — in a way that gives you comfort with its recognizable tune you can’t put your finger on and makes for easy replay ability. The potent chest belting exudes a power that could honestly work for a straightforward rock-inspired song, but instead it’s oddly complementing. Not to mention, the vocal runs and post-chorus scatting are also there to satisfyingly mimic the writhing instrument lines. Considering I quickly catch myself singing it to myself all the time, “Run For Roses” has strong potential as my favorite song of the project and maybe one of the top K-Pop releases of the year.

“BOOM” is a b-side that takes the darker hip-hop leaning sound and twists it into its own unique composition. This song has really grown on me; at first I didn’t quite get it, but after getting used to it, I enjoy its multitudes more, although it’s still not my absolute favorite.

The mid-tempo track swims between realms of a modern trap adjacent sound with industrial synth elements like the predominant 808 bass, reverberated light metallic clacks, trap hi-hats, signal and siren fx with a hip-hop vocal delivery on top, and a brighter, sweeter composition with a more lively uptempo beat, pop melody, and smooth cushioning background harmonies. It’s not intensely startling as the brighter section borrows the 808 bass and trap percussion — it uses it in a new, more playful way. The straightforward refrain of the “Light your heart up / tick-tick-tick-tick-tick / Boom, boom” does the job well enough as a sort of anti-drop to follow the minimalist bass forward instrumental. I don’t mind the, out of context, underwhelming refrain because the song satisfies me enough with the way it plays with the sonic mood. For instance, the doubling of the length of the second chorus to introduce a new deep house bass line. It quickly accelerates into a new lighthearted dance breakdown for the outro (although similar in vibe to aforementioned parts) with amusing glitchy vocal lines, light synth taps, and garage rhythm, very reminiscent of PinkPantheress. Oddly enough, it works to transition the listener to the next track that relies on that genre.

“Passionfruit” is such an unsuspecting, lovely vibrant track on this EP that became an immediate favorite of mine. Like the title, it’s a very refreshing bright tangerine orange and magenta pink with each dancing synth note a drop of freshly squeezed tropical juice. The carbonated sparkling track gets its synthy bubbliness from the 8-bit style patterned synth collection and gleaming vocals with weightless background ‘ooh’s. The frolicking vocal melody keeps up with the cute bouncy beat, while also having a relaxed cadence behind some raps to play with the dynamic. Every part of the melodies are sticky, but the prolonged ‘you’ in the chorus is such a satisfying balance under the leaping beat.

The whole track is very reminiscent of PinkPantheress’ musical style, particularly “Boy’s a Liar” — not a fault, but it’s definitely noticeable as its main inspiration. While an electronic bubblegum beat could quickly feel tiring, the song adds nice assortments of just the right amount of dynamic rhythm changes and balance of small quips as it goes on to keep interest among repetitive (but addictive) synth pattern and main vocal melody. For instance, in the second verse it ups the trap-style snares and hi-hats, even adding a dog-toy like squeaky synth fx, and slows down the rhythm of the last chorus with puffs of the compressed kick, cloudy background vocals, and resonant synth pad before it revs up for the refrain. Tiny details like the faint tiny pinging of a triangle and a low modulated vocal hum act as garnishes to further round out different corners of the sound. This song is full of fresh and vibrant, giddy energy, and not sickly so — I really can’t help but love everything about it.

The perfect follow up “XOXO” is best described as a delightful pastel purple track. It shares a loveliness like the last track, but less zingy and more elegant like a milky floral tea. The whole track is rather mellow with the amiable accents of synth keys and polished harmonies quilting the verses, but the chorus is extra pillowy. The fluffy harmonized vocals of the chorus are as light and fluffy as peaceful floating clouds in a spring sky with a calming light oscillating synth pad underneath, plus the faintest, light flute floating in. Although, the familiar trap percussion set of an 808 bass, snares, and hi-hats prevents the track from becoming too sugary sweet, keeping a slight edge to ground it all. It’s simple and chic, but I enjoy the distinctive lighthearted vibe a lot — specifically the ethereal aerial vocals are the biggest refreshing appeal to me.

“Break The Wall” is one of those album closers made with the purpose to sum up the album’s message, but doesn’t really stand out on its own. It’s a bit generic, and my least favorite song of the project. The way every section is ticking the boxes to hit the story beats of a heartening, optimistic pop song makes the song so flat; the oscillated beat for the verse, pizzicato strings and claps for a minimalist juxtaposing pre-chorus, a full fleshed chorus with group crowd vocals, are all pushing the limit for me. When it gets to, of course, the sentimental bridge where the sustained piano enters and the girls sing emotionally before the high note into the group chant only accompanied by a kick drum and claps, it becomes one too cheesy and cliché with its format for my taste.

On the whole, this EP has secured NMIXX in my mind as a group to stay tuned into. “Fe3O4: BREAK” does an excellent job of showing off their vigor through robust anthems and valuable versatility through the b-sides — all held together by the members’ talents. There is a song for anyone to enjoy, and they’ll probably stay and surprise themself with the charm of the other tracks. The variable nature of their sound makes me so curious to see all the possible directions they are open to, and I am already excited for their next project.

All that is to say, both ITZY and NMIXX had the power to set the tone for the K-Pop sphere this year and they kicked it off strong. These two girl groups are honing in on who they are as artists and their efforts gave us the rewards of two exciting projects.

ITZY “BORN TO BE” — 3.5/5

NMIXX “Fe3O4: BREAK” — 4/5