K-Pop Boy Band Wants You To Get Weird
The immense popularity of K-pop, from a Western perspective, is nothing new. Now technically in their fourth generation, South Korean pop artists have enjoyed waves of success for decades, especially in the past five years or so globally, thanks to the connecting power of social media. And anyone interested in mainstream pop won’t be surprised to learn that in 2020, K-pop had a banner year with 44.8% growth, positioning itself as the fastest-growing major market. faster that year. Gender pivots BTS have been nominated for and performed at the Grammys, and four-piece girl group BLACKPINK was selected as Varietyof the Hitmakers Group of the Year 2020.
Many contemporary K-pop artists have followed their example. In fact, this week, eight-track K-pop track Stray Kids hit a major milestone by hitting No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with their seven-track EP. odd – the third K-pop group in history to do so, behind BTS and SuperM. Stray Kids also reached No. 1 on the Billboard Artist 100 chart, making them the first artist to top both charts simultaneously since Adele’s exit. 30 last December. With 103,000 of its 110,000 equivalent album units coming from album sales, odd is also the first album since 30 topped the Billboard 200 while also topping the Best Selling Albums chart.
In terms of statistics, these number ones are just bullet points in a much longer story. Formed in 2017, Stray Kids – sometimes known as SKZ – reunited via a reality show of the same name hosted by the group’s entertainment group and label, JYP Entertainment. Stray Kids started out as a nine-piece act, featuring Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, Han, Felix, Seungmin, IN, and Woojin, though Woojin eventually left in October 2019 for undisclosed personal reasons. Over the past five years, Stray Kids have amassed over 2 billion global Spotify streams (making them one of only four K-pop boy groups to do so) and are the first million-selling group in JYP. . According to their press materials, the total sales of Stray Kids in 2021 exceeded 2.7 million.
Stray Kids’ first official song was a hard-hitting EDM track called “Hellevator”, which appeared on the band’s debut EP, simply called mix tape. Since then, their “Hellevator” has hit the stratosphere, with their 2018 debut EP I’m not debuted at number four on the Gaon Album Chart.
Impressively, Stray Kids already has a significant volume of material to draw from. odd is technically the band’s ninth EP, following their second studio album, 2021 NOT EASY and compilation album SKZ2021, which fell last December. In total, Stray Kids actually released two studio albums, three compilation albums, one reissue, the aforementioned nine EPs, one single album, and 23 singles. The stunning success of odd could be partially attributed to the fact that Stray Kids recently signed with Republic Records in the United States and made their US late night television debut on The late showwhere they played odd first single “MANIAC”. Stray Kids are also on their second world tour, which will return to the United States this summer.
In terms of marketing, Stray Kids taps into Gen Z’s collective desire to cultivate individuality. Not only is their name all about getting away from the mainstream, but their latest EP is all about the concept. According to the group, odd represents “all of us who have something strange in us”.
Stray Kids also offers a slightly different take on K-pop in terms of the genres they like to mix. Where BTS evolved into dance-pop and disco on songs like “Butter” and “Dynamite”, Stray Kids became well known for their “noisy” take on pop (see also: album title NOT EASY), layering a cacophony of sirens, horns and various banging effects that borrow from electronica, trap and hip-hop. “We actually thought the term ‘noise music’ was something we could use as our own weapon,” band leader Bang Chan told Teen Vogue in September last year. “In the face of the ‘volume’ that tries to dissuade and hinder us, whether it be pain, hardship, adversity, disapproval or criticism, we will not be shaken easily, nor will we crumble never before it,” rapper Changbin added of their “construction noise” sound.
odd opener “VENOM” exemplifies this sonic chaos perfectly, opening with this bling-ing-ing-ing noise produced by the friction of the thumb against the teeth of a comb. In-house production team 3RACHA (formed by members Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han) tackles a series of jerky beats, a sharp knife tiresomeand muted, striking percussion.
Meanwhile, explosive NOT EASY the single “Thunderous” serves as something of a thesis statement for the group. As teen vogue Tássia Assis, writer and K-pop expert, says, “These are ‘Thunders’, ‘소리꾼’ (sorikkun), a term for singers of pansori, a traditional Korean style of musical storytelling. But ‘소리’ (sori) also means ‘his’ in English, while ‘꾼’ (kkun) is a suffix for a ‘doer’, a person who does something a lot or very well. Here’s Stray Kids’ first reveal: embrace your noise.
“Thunderous” also pays homage to traditional Korean music and culture, using sampled percussion heard in the folk genre. nori samuel and giving its music video a dramatic historical-era vibe, complete with pungmul dancers and white lions (usually associated with the Korean Bongsan mask dance). The lyrics, however, reveal Stray Kids’ predilection for rebellion, with Lee Know and Han growling, “I’ll always say what I have to say, Ptui, Ptui, Ptui.”
Indeed, it’s Stray Kids’ good-natured recalcitrance that sets them apart from the pack, and no doubt their fans love and appreciate them for it. Not to continue comparing or pitting them against BTS, but BTS is well known at this point for leading public displays of generosity. Stray Kids provides counterpoint by encouraging their fans to embrace all the qualities that make them unique – and making a lot of noise while they’re at it.