STAYC may still be witnessing the dawn of their budding career, but the six-member girl group have already fortified their status as one of the finest fourth generation acts K-pop has to offer. They burst onto the scene with the unmistakable electropop excellence that was their debut single ‘So Bad’, and later broke through to the top with the beloved viral hit ‘ASAP’ in April. Attempting to return to those heights might prove to be an intimidating track for most, but STAYC have made it look like a breeze.
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In true STAYC fashion, the K-pop act have set the bar even higher with the release of their first mini-album, ‘Stereotype’. While its title may suggest otherwise, this four-track mini-album is undeniable proof of STAYC’s unflagging determination to break the mould of average pop songs with a project of pure aural bliss that proves they’re anything but stereotypes.
As we bid the edgy sounds and visuals of ‘ASAP’ and ‘So Bad’ farewell, STAYC introduce listeners to a brand-new side of the eclectic girl group, who embark on a journey brimming with tender melodies and honeyed vocals. “Our past single albums focused on who STAYC was and what we were good at, while this first mini-album contains social messages and themes,” said Sumin of their intentions for ‘Stereotype’ during an online showcase for its release, as translated by Soompi.
Among the unique offerings on ‘Stereotype’, it’s no surprise that the immediate standout is its title track of the same name. The “social messages and themes” STAYC spoke of show themselves the most through this track, which beckons listeners to basically not judge a book by its cover: “It’s only the surface of me / Oh why, oh why? / Don’t judge me with your prejudiced eyes”. It’s not the most groundbreaking of takes, but compared to the girl crush concepts of other fourth generation girl groups (which typically always focus on the outer image), it’s a nice change of pace.
On ‘Stereotype’, STAYC ooze pure confidence over a layer of sickly sweet pop melodies, weaved together with hints of future bass and flute-like synths – it’s clear why this song was chosen to lead the mini-album. It forgoes the tried-and-true formulas for K-pop’s pronounced refrains and hooks, which are often cued in with substantial fluctuations in sound that can sometimes feel out of place, by adopting a mellower but more cohesive sound. Here, ‘Stereotype’ finds a perfect sweet spot between the slow-burning addictiveness of ‘ASAP’ and the immediacy of ‘So Bad’, coming together to create their most impactful title track to date.
But the brilliance of ‘Stereotype’ the mini-album doesn’t let up even as its lead single comes to a close – take, for example, the earnest ‘I’ll Be There’. While it starts off as a perfectly straightforward pop ballad number, what with its quiet, unassuming guitar riffs, but that quickly makes way for poignant vocals and a chorus that explodes with unadulterated emotion.
Once that chorus hits, ‘I’ll Be There’ becomes one of the best displays of STAYC’s vocal abilities and, more importantly, tonal variety. Using the intricacies of both graceful high notes (shoutout to main vocalist Si-eun) and sleek low-toned raps (none other than maknae J), and everyone in between, the six members utilise their strengths to deliver a raw message of unrequited love: “I’ll stay like this / Oh, I’ll be there / Oh, you’re the only one for me, that’s clear.”
What is a project that sets its sights on debunking “stereotypes” without a little musical experimentation? STAYC try their hand at the once-trending tropical house sound genre. Although venturing beyond their signature sound can be as risky as it is rewarding, ‘Slow Down’ possesses a familiarity, yet with a twist of freshness, that keeps it from being just another filler track. A sharply delivered rap verse and a catchy chant-like outro, are the cherry on top of this low-key gem.
‘Complex’ caps this record off on a literal high note, delivering the entire scope of STAYC’s vocal range atop a soft bed of groovy bass and delicate guitar. This track is a lot more laid-back than the other tracks on ‘Stereotype’, but boy does it make for a good closing track. The group’s soaring belts and buttery harmonies take centre stage in this R&B anthem, which is reminiscent of hits from the early 2000s. However, its pièce de résistance is none other than the ad-libs by Sieun, who at the very end hits a high falsetto that’s this close to a whistle, and demonstrates STAYC’s budding raw talent.
“We tried a lot of diverse things within our signature sound,” said the group of ‘Stereotype’, a testament to the fact that experimentation doesn’t always result in a misstep. With ‘Stereotype’, STAYC doesn’t just challenge expectations of girl group music, but blazes the trail for a promising future through what has become their best release yet. It’s clear to see why the six-member group are one of the forerunners in the race to the top as one of the best fourth generation K-pop acts.
- Release date: September 6
- Record label: High Up Entertainment