K-Pop Phenoms Stray Kids Want You To Get Weird

K-Pop Phenoms Stray Kids Want You To Get Weird

K-pop’s immense popularity, from a Western perspective, is nothing new. Now technically in its fourth generation, South Korean pop acts have experienced waves of success for decades, particularly in the last five or so years on a global scale, thanks to the connective power of social media. And anyone paying attention to mainstream pop won’t be surprised to learn that in 2020, K-pop had a record-breaking year with 44.8% growth, positioning itself as the fastest-growing major market that year. Genre kingpins BTS have been nominated for and performed at the Grammys, and four-piece girl band BLACKPINK were selected as Variety‘s 2020 Hitmakers Group Of The Year.

Many, many contemporary K-pop acts have followed in their lead. In fact, this week, K-pop eight-piece Stray Kids hit a significant milestone, coming in at #1 on the Billboard 200 with their seven-track EP Oddinary — the third K-pop band in history to do so, behind BTS and SuperM. Stray Kids also hit #1 on the Billboard Artist 100 chart, making them the first artist to top both charts simultaneously since Adele released 30 last December. With 103,000 of its 110,000 equivalent album units coming via album sales, Oddinary is also the first album since 30 to top the Billboard 200 while also leading the Top Album Sales chart.

In terms of stats, these number ones are only bullet points in a much longer narrative. Formed in 2017, Stray Kids — sometimes known as SKZ — came together via a reality show of the same name organized by the band’s entertainment group and record label, JYP Entertainment. Stray Kids started out as a nine-piece act, featuring Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, Han, Felix, Seungmin, I.N. and Woojin, though Woojin ultimately left in October 2019 for undisclosed personal reasons. Over the last five years, Stray Kids have collected more than 2 billion global Spotify streams (making them only one of four K-pop boy groups to do so) and are JYP’s first million-selling band. According to their press materials, Stray Kids’ total sales in 2021 topped 2.7 million.

Stray Kids’ first official song was a hard-hitting EDM track called “Hellevator,” which appeared on the group’s pre-debut EP, simply called Mixtape. Since then, their “Hellevator” has shot to the stratosphere, with their 2018 debut EP I Am Not debuting at number four on the Gaon Album Chart.

Impressively, Stray Kids already have quite a volume of material from which to draw. Oddinary is technically the group’s ninth EP, following their second studio album, 2021’s NOEASY and compilation album SKZ2021, which dropped last December. In total, Stray Kids have actually released two studio albums, three compilation albums, one reissue, the aforementioned nine EPs, one single album, and 23 singles. The overwhelming success of Oddinary might be partially attributed to the fact that Stray Kids recently signed with Republic Records in the US and made their US late-night television debut on The Late Show, where they performed Oddinary lead single “MANIAC.” Stray Kids are also currently on their second world tour, which circles back to the US this summer.

In terms of marketing, Stray Kids lean into Gen Z’s collective desire to cultivate individuality. Not only is their name all about leaning away from what is ordinary, their latest EP is themed around the concept. According to the band, Oddinary represents “all of us who have something odd about ourselves.”

Stray Kids likewise offer a slightly different take on K-pop in terms of the genres they like to blend. Where BTS have evolved into dance-pop and disco on songs like “Butter” and “Dynamite,” Stray Kids have become well known for their “noisy” take on pop (see also: album title NOEASY), layering in a cacophonous array of sirens, horns, and various clattering effects that borrow from electronica, trap, and hip-hop. “We actually thought the term ‘noise music’ was something that we could use as our own weapon,” band leader Bang Chan told Teen Vogue in September of last year. “In the face of the ‘loudness’ that tries to deter us and get in our way, whether it’s pain, hardship, adversity, disapprovement, or criticism, we won’t be shaken easily, nor will we ever break down in front of it,” rapper Changbin added of their “construction noise” sound.

Oddinary opener “VENOM” perfectly exemplifies this sonic chaos, opening with that bling-ing-ing-ing sound that comes from rubbing your thumb against the teeth of a comb. In-house production team 3RACHA (formed by members Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han) tack on a series of skittering beats, a sharpened-knife shiiiing, and thudding, bashing percussion.

Meanwhile, explosive NOEASY single “Thunderous” serves as something of a band thesis statement. As Teen Vogue writer and K-pop expert Tássia Assis lays out, “They are the ‘Thunderous’ ones, the ‘소리꾼’ (sorikkun), a term for singers of pansori, a traditional Korean style of musical storytelling. But ‘소리’ (sori) also means ‘sound’ in English, while ‘꾼’ (kkun) is a suffix for a ‘doer,’ a person who does something a lot, or very well. Here is Stray Kids’ first revelation: embrace your noisiness.”

“Thunderous” also pays homage to traditional Korean music and culture, utilizing sampled percussion heard in the folk genre samuel nori and giving its music video a historical period drama vibe, complete with pungmul dancers and white lions (usually associated with Korean Bongsan mask dance). The lyrics, however, reveal Stray Kids’ predilection for rebelliousness, with Lee Know and Han snarking, “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 keep comparing them to or pitting them against BTS, but BTS are well-known at this point for leading with public displays of generosity. Stray Kids offer a counterpoint by encouraging their fans to embrace all of the qualities that make them unique — and making a whole mess of noise while they’re at it.

Mark Seliger

CHART WATCH

Machine Gun Kelly nabs his second consecutive #1 album on the Billboard 200 this week with Mainstream Sellout. Per Billboard, Mainstream Sellout launched with 93,000 equivalent album units, including 42,000 in sales. It’s the first rock album to hit #1 since AC/DC’s Power Up in November 2020 and the largest debut for a rock album since McCartney III in January 2021.

A lot of top 10 mainstays are up next: Lil Durk at #2, Encanto at #3, Morgan Wallen at #4, Olivia Rodrigo at #5, the Weeknd’s greatest hits at #6, Drake at #7. Daddy Yankee’s retirement album Legendaddy enters at #8 with 29,000 units but only about 2,000 in sales. It’s the best chart position of his career and the highest charting Latin album since Bad Bunny’s El Ultimo Tour Del Mundo hit the chart in December 2020. Doja Cat and Gunna round out the top 10.

Over on the Hot 100, Glass Animals lead for a fifth straight week with “Heat Waves.” After the Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” at #2, Latto’s “Big Energy” shoots up to #3. The song, which uses the same Tom Tom Club sample as Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy,” saw its rise boosted by a new remix featuring Carey and DJ Khaled. (It’s Latto’s first top-10 hit. For now, the original version and not the remix is the dominant version of the track, so it doesn’t count toward Carey and Khaled’s chart history yet.) Kodak Black’s “Super Gremlin” is at #4. Imagine Dragons and JID’s “Enemy” climbs to a new #5 peak, bumping Bieber’s “Ghost” to #6. GAYLE’s “abcdefu” is down to #7, followed by “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from Encanto at #8. Lil Nas X’s “That’s What I Want” (#9) and Doja Cat’s “Woman” (#10) round out the top 10.

POP FIVE

Harry Styles – “As It Was”
Much has been made of the personal lyrics within Harry’s synth-filled “As It Was,” a truly exciting entry to his forthcoming album, Harry’s House and overall next chapter. Whatever gossip you want to believe (is “Leave America, two kids follow her/ I don’t wanna talk about who’s doin’ it first” about Olivia Wilde?), “As It Was” is an inspired blend of pop music across decades and aesthetics and whets the palette for our next taste of Harry’s House.

Shawn Mendes – “When You’re Gone”
In what I can only guess is a response to ex Camila Cabello’s breakup anthem “Bam Bam,” Shawn Mendes has a shimmery, bouncy bop on his hands here with “When You’re Gone.” He’s out to dance the pain away, and I’m definitely here for it.

Kehlani – “Up At Night” Feat. Justin Bieber
The beat-boxing bridge is a nice touch on this ’90s R&B ode to lust-fueled insomnia.

Thomas Rhett & Katy Perry – “Where We Started”
Katy and Rhett sound really determined to lean into the country-emo-rap trend here, but it’s a niche best left to the Zoomers, IMO.

Olivia O’Brien – “Bitches These Days”
I know O’Brien is probably trying to reclaim and/or subvert the word “bitches” in this song that purports to be about fake friendships, but I can’t help but be reminded of the classic Mean Girls learning lesson: “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it OK for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Kelly Clarkson covered Billie Eilish and Khalid’s “lovely” on her talk show. [YouTube]
  • Harry Styles dropped out of Robert Eggers’ Nosferatu remake also starring Anya Taylor-Joy. [Variety]
  • Lizzo has a new line of shapewear. [New York Times]
  • Katy Perry is narrating a new podcast series about Elizabeth Taylor. [ABC News]
  • Demi Lovato officially released a “sped up remix” of “Cool For The Summer” after a sped up clip of the original went viral as a TikTok sound. [YouTube]
  • Snoop Dogg says he’s got a collaboration with BTS coming. [HypeBeast]
  • Tom Parker of the British-Irish boy band the Wanted died of cancer at age 33. [BBC]
  • Luna from f(x) will make her Broadway debut in KPOP. [Deadline]
  • Wallows did “Marvelous” on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. [YouTube]
  • Billie Eilish is the youngest person to win an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Grammy for music created specifically for a film. [Guinness World Records]
  • Squid Game’s Hoyeon Jung will star in the Weeknd’s “Out Of Time” video, out tomorrow. [Instagram]
  • Glass Animals remixed Florence + The Machine’s “My Love.” [YouTube]
  • Machine Gun Kelly covered System Of A Down’s “Aerials” on Howard Stern. [YouTube]
  • Ariana Grande pledged $1.5M to support her new Protect & Defend Trans Youth fund. [Instagram]
  • James Corden teased new Carpool Karaoke segments with Nicki Minaj and Camila Cabello. [Twitter]
  • Meanwhile Cabello shared a statement about paparazzi who stalk her at the beach and how comments on those photos negatively impact her self-esteem. [Twitter]
  • Kehlani brought a security guard onstage at Dreamville Fest. She heard him “singing his ass off” before her set started. [Instagram]
  • Cardi B deactivated her Twitter after fighting with fans who attacked her kids because she didn’t attend the Grammys. [Complex]

CLOSING TIME

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