Anybody who has spent just the tiniest amount of their time on the internet in the past year would have heard a STAYC song at least once, knowingly or otherwise. Produced by South Korean hitmakers Black Eyed Pilseung, the magnetic six-member girl group – comprising Sumin, Sieun, Isa, Seeun, Yoon and J – only made their debut in late 2020, but have rapidly risen to become one of the K-pop world’s most beloved young acts since, and for good reason.
From their chirpy, addictive breakout hit ‘ASAP’ to the compelling retro synth sound of their latest single ‘RUN2U’, STAYC have solidified what vocalist Seeun calls their very own “Teen Fresh” genre each time they return with new music, further catalysing their skyrocketing popularity. Towards the end of their promotional activities for ‘RUN2U’ and sophomore mini-album ‘YOUNG-LUV.COM’, the girls squeezed in some time for NME to discuss their musical identity, the pressure of success and their passionate fanbase.
“It feels like a dream to perform again, and for our song to be nominated on music shows,” shares leader Sumin, who adds that the members have been cooking up curious new ideas for their encore stages, a customary closing performance by the weekly winner on South Korea’s various music programmes. At the time of writing, STAYC have nabbed a total of seven wins for ‘RUN2U’, resulting in a slew of hilarious encore performances, including one where the members swap parts and another where they facetime their producer on stage.
But despite their ever-growing success, main vocalist Sieun reveals that the group do, at time, ponder about whether they’ll be able to continue outdoing themselves with future releases and the worries that come as a result. “I think about whether we’ll be able to deliver to our fans as much as we prepared, and if we’ll be able to promote successfully and show STAYC’s growth,” confesses the idol.
It seems like a happy problem to have though, and Sieun agrees, adding that the pressure feels perfectly natural. “It’s not too difficult or heavy to carry, so there isn’t anything I feel that I need to ‘overcome’,” says Sieun. “Our members all just have to trust ourselves and each other – and leave the results up to our efforts and luck!”
Hard work and good fortune aside, another major force propelling STAYC – or as fans have playfully nicknamed them, “SLAYC” – to fame is their ardent fanbase, also known as SWITH. Despite still being in the early stages of their career, the girl group have amassed a passionate and devoted following that, more often than not, help the group capitalise on social media, especially TikTok, and rally support for the new releases.
STAYC, though, seem to be acutely aware of their fandom’s undying love for the six-member group, expressing to NME their fondness for their fans and a desire to return the love they have been showered with. “We didn’t expect to get so much love for [our] releases,” admits Sumin. Later, Yoon adds that the group frequently keeps up with the comments on their videos. “Since we work very hard on all the content, we’re always curious about fans’ reactions,” she continues. “We get so encouraged and motivated whenever we see positive responses.”
Despite the overwhelming support for the group, there’s one issue that the fanbase have coalesced around: the omission of STAYC’s signature catchphrase, “STAYC girls, it’s going down”, from ‘RUN2U’. And we take the opportunity to ask the group about this polarising choice. “[The song] felt a little awkward without it,” Seeun admits. “But after learning the choreography, I thought it was better for the catchphrase to be missing in the song. We filled that gap with the choreography instead.”
“[The catchphrase] was missing in the title track, so I think our producer thought it would be good to include it in another song,” adds Sieun, referring to their bouncy, laidback B-side ‘Same Same’, which sees the return of the beloved phrase in its final few seconds. “He probably included in ‘Same Same’ because it was the most suitable for its composition,” she muses.
Honestly though, does it really matter? Between its gripping synth loops and addictive hook, ‘RUN2U’ still has STAYC plastered all over it, missing catchphrase be damned. Sure, having Black Eyed Pilseung in their corner certainly helps, but it’s incredible how quickly the act have established such a distinct sound and identity – which is even more impressive when one considers the number of abrupt concept switches many K-pop agencies put their acts through as they grapple to find something that sticks.
“Energy, K-pop and Teen Fresh” are some of the keywords that define STAYC’s music, says Seeun, the third being the self-coined term for the group’s very own genre. Meanwhile, Isa reckons that their distinct essence could be attributed to the vocal tones and styles of each member. “The music [also] complements those individual qualities, which helped to create our unique musical identity,” she suggests.
Reflecting on their now-concluded promotional cycle for ‘RUN2U’, Yoon hilariously expresses her envy for fellow main vocalist Sieun. “During this promotion, I felt that Sieun [might have] gills,” she announces with a laugh. “I find myself out of breath while singing at times, but Sieun kills it live and doesn’t run out of breath. So, I always ask her: ‘Do you have gills?’ I want to experience that too.”
While Yoon strives to develop alternative breathing methods, youngest member J tells us about her own personal aspirations. “I haven’t shown long hair to our fans yet, so I’d like to try long hair later,” exclaims the rapper, who has consistently rocked a shoulder-length bob since their debut. “[I also want to try] a Christmas carol-inspired concept!”
From where we’re standing, a promising future lies ahead of STAYC, and hopefully it’s one that will allow them to experiment and develop their craft to their hearts’ desire and make an even bigger mark on the world. “We hope to become a group that leads youth culture, and brings a positive impact globally,” declares Sieun. “We hope [that people] get energy and inspiration from us to live out their lives with confidence and boldness.”
STAYC’s latest mini-album ‘YOUNG-LUV.COM’ is out now.