ITZY Talk English EP and Expanding Their Reach: ‘K-Pop is a Global Genre Now’

“Not Shy” isn’t just the name of ITZY’s most recent album, it’s also become an unofficial motto for the buzzy Korean girl group, as they set their sights on the U.S. market in 2021.

Phase one begins this week, with the release of ITZY’s new EP — aptly titled Not Shy (English Ver.) — which features four of their most popular songs completely re-sung in English. The EP, which is available for streaming or purchase now, includes full-English versions of the group’s hit tracks “DallaDalla,” “Icy,” “Wannabe,” and “Not Shy.” As Yeji, Lia, Ryujin, Chaeryeong, and Yuna tell Rolling Stone, releasing an English album is a way to recognize and give back to ITZY’s international fans, while continuing to challenge the group to push outside their comfort zones.

“We thought that making an English version album could be a way for us to return the love we have received from our global fans,” Yeji explains, adding that she hopes the English lyrics will resonate with a larger audience too. “I believe that we can have a deeper communication with them through this album,” she says.

Taking on a new language is as easy as taking on a new genre or dance routine for ITZY, who are known for their free-spirited personalities, sassy empowerment anthems and can-do attitudes. While each member assumes a different role in the group (from lead vocals to rapping to lead dancer), together the girls feel at once well-studied and effortlessly cool (seriously, who else can make an airport security line look sexy, like the girls do in their music video for “Dalla Dalla?”)

Assembled in 2019 by Korea’s JYP Entertainment, ITZY rose to prominence with “Dalla Dalla,” which logged more than 17 million first-day music video views on YouTube, breaking the record for the most viewed K-pop debut music video of all time (it’s now at 241 million views and counting). The five-piece girl group took home the “Best New Female Artist” trophy at the 2019 Mnet Asian Music Awards (abbreviated as MAMA, and basically an Asian equivalent of the People’s Choice Awards or VMAs). ITZY also earned two nominations at last year’s 2020 Korean Music Awards, in the Best Pop Song and Rookie of the Year categories. Still, the members aren’t resting on their laurels, and say they’re looking forward to promoting their English EP, in an effort to build their audience and grow their reach.

“There are many fans that love our songs all across the world,” says Chaeryeong, “and we wanted to give them the English versions as well [as the Korean ones]. So,” she exclaims, “here we go!”

We spoke to ITZY about the differences between singing in Korean and English, Western artists they admire, and why coming to America is going to be a top priority once the pandemic is over.

Why did you want to re-record your songs in English?
Ryujin: I think we just wanted to deliver our messages to more people. I hope the new English-language lyrics will resonate with our global fans.

Lia: I am so grateful for the love our global fans have given us, despite the language difference. I hope they enjoy our English album and English lyrics.

What was the experience like in studio? Was it hard to learn the English lyrics or did it feel natural?
Yeji: Learning the English lyrics was not too difficult. I used to practice pop songs when I was a trainee, so I think that helped.

Lia: Since the original versions already had many English words, recording the English versions didn’t feel awkward, but was actually pretty natural.

Ryujin: It was hard at first for me, but it became more natural after I practiced a lot. I eventually found joy in learning the English lyrics and the proper pronunciations.

Chaeryeong: Since our songs are mostly fast-paced, it was difficult to sing that fast in English. However, practice makes everything possible!

Yuna: English is my second language, so some words were tough to pronounce at first. However, I learned each word with my English teacher and tried my best to pronounce them correctly. I wanted to get closer to our global fans, so I put all my heart into recording the English versions of these songs!

Yeji: Recording English versions was a fun experience overall. It felt like we were recording completely different songs.

Why is it important for you to release more music in English?
Yeji: I want to get closer to our global fans and communicate with them. I think this English album will allow us to have deeper conversations with fans and listeners.

Lia: As we record more and more English versions [of our songs], we will be able to give more and more chances for our global fans to listen to and understand our music; that is important to us.

Ryujin: Since K-pop has become a global genre, I think it is important to reach more listeners around the world. I thought if we release English versions, more people would listen to our music and be able to understand the messages in our lyrics.

Chaeryeong: Thankfully, we have fans not only in Korea but also in other countries. We’re just so thankful and want to do something for them. Making English versions of our songs is a new communication method for us.

Who are some American artists that you look up to?
Ryujin: I personally like the album Wonder by Shawn Mendes. Each song on the album has a different style, which is super interesting to me. “Monster” is my favorite song from the album.

Chaeryeong: I admire Ariana Grande! Her recent album is amazing. I love her original lyrics and get inspired when I listen to her music.

Yeji: I recently watched a live performance video of “Sober” by Selena Gomez, and it was so cool. I put it on repeat and watched it repeatedly.

Lia: There are so many great American artists that I look up to, especially Kehlani!

Yuna: It would be Lady Gaga for me. I think she is incredible and has the best aura around her.

You’ve performed in the U.S. before, and even shot your music video for “ICY” in Los Angeles. When can we expect to see you back in the States?
Lia: We do not have a plan to be in the U.S. anytime soon due to the pandemic, but I hope we get another chance to tour the States! I look forward to performing the English version of our songs with our fans in the U.S.

Ryujin: We always welcome a U.S. tour. Once we go back to our normal lives, we will definitely revisit dates and have a tour in the U.S. It was so impressive to me that all our fans who came to our 2020 tour seemed to really enjoy our show.

What has impressed you the most about your American fans?
Chaeryeong: When we toured last time, the U.S. fans welcomed us so passionately and it made me want to visit the country again and have more opportunities to meet them.

Yuna: I think our American fans have a lot of sizzling and positive energy — I look forward to feeling the same energy the next time we have a tour in the U.S.

Yeji: I cannot wait to be back in the U.S. and I hope to see our fans face-to-face soon and perform in front of them again once this pandemic is over. I miss the cheering crowd and I look forward to having that day come again soon.