In our social media-driven world, it’s easier than ever to find out what everyone else thinks of us, be their opinions positive or incredibly negative. It’s easier said than done not to internalise the internet’s harsh words and take them to heart, but for Stray Kids – one of K-pop’s most experimental and inventive groups – those disses are propelling them forward in their quest for greatness.
- READ MORE: Stray Kids – ‘NOEASY’ review: storming through the scene with their repertoire of ‘noise’
In part, the JYP Entertainment boyband’s second full-length album ‘NOEASY’ glances at the critiques its creators have received for their unconventional clashes of EDM, hip-hop, rock, pop and more, while firing back with songs that refuse to dilute Stray Kids’ unique powers. “I love what you hate / Whatever you say, it’s all fun to me,” HAN raps on the see-sawing sneer of ‘CHEESE’. “Thank you, I love it / Gonna create chaos with our nonsense now.”
After their winning appearance on the Mnet reality TV series Kingdom: Legendary War – and gaining a superstar new fan in actor Ryan Reynolds – clearly nothing can keep the eight-piece group down. ‘NOEASY’ presents a band in supremely confident form and more creative than ever (all of the members received credits on the record): “I was sick even when I was born,” Changbin boasts on ‘SSICK’. “And when I’m up on stage I’m sick.”
NME catches up with Stray Kids to discuss ‘NOEASY’, the importance of staying positive and more.
Hello Stray Kids and congrats on your second album ‘NOEASY’! It’s been just under a year since your last album – how do you think Stray Kids have grown in that time?
Seungmin: “We’ve gone through many stages of growth and have broadened our individual abilities in expression, which has allowed us to widen the spectrum of our team’s musical colour. I think we’ve become more experienced in many aspects.”
‘Thunderous’ mixes elements of traditional Korean music with Stray Kids’ very modern sound. This isn’t the first time you’ve Korean culture in your work – what do you hope international fans take from the things you’re exposing them to?
HAN: “Through this song, I hope people will recognise that Stray Kids has their own distinct colour and that we’re artists who can apply our musical colour to anything, regardless of genre.”
The album title ‘NOEASY’ refers to the “loud impact” you want to leave on the world. How do you measure that impact??
Bang Chan: “Leaving a big impact on, not only STAY, but the many people all around is something that we really want to achieve. To entertain people, to give them strength, and to be remembered through music would make us feel really successful.”
‘NOEASY’ once again pushes forward your sound and you’ve described the band’s “assignment” as being “discovering what others haven’t done yet”. Why is it so imperative to you to keep things so fresh?
Hyunjin: “There are tons of artists out there, and [among all those artists] there’s a need for distinction, so the team’s individual colour can be solidified. Even from a choreography aspect, the routine has to be memorable and witty in a way only Stray Kids is capable of so that the team’s colour stands out more. When we’re out of fresh ideas, we explore what’s going on in the world and try to gain inspiration through that.”
How do you keep yourselves in a position to tap into new ideas and where do you turn for fresh inspiration when you hit a wall?
HAN: “[When I hit a wall,] sometimes I won’t write any songs or even listen to any music at all! When I clear my head and give my mind that time of rest, new ideas and inspiration come naturally to me through my daily life.”
The album refers in places, like on ‘Thunderous’, to some of the criticism you’ve faced for your “noisy” sound. Making a great song out of criticism feels very much like turning a negative into a positive, which I think is a habit you can see throughout Stray Kids’ story so far. Are you guys the type to always look for the silver lining and try and salvage something that others might perceive as bad?
Bang Chan: “Yes, of course. And I want to thank my parents for this. I grew up in an environment where optimism was always put into action in whatever bad situation we were in. Turning a negative into a positive is crucial when you want to advance forward, and I think my parents helped make this skill instinctual for me.”
Lee Know: “I believe it’s best to always look on the bright side no matter how bad a situation may be because things will only get worse if you think negatively.”
Let’s talk about the unit songs on ‘NOEASY’. Bang Chan and Hyunjin, you collaborated on ‘Red Lights’ – what was your vision for that song?
Bang Chan: “With ‘Red Lights’, we wanted to show something different to our STAY; a song that would make them blush musically and aesthetically. The message that the track holds is also something that we’ve both been through, and we wanted to express it with the dark vibes of the song.”
Hyunjin: “Our team has never attempted a sexy concept before, so I wanted to try it. Also, a lot of songs that I listened to and worked on in my trainee days were similar [to this track], so we gave it a go.”
HAN, Seungmin and I.N, you worked on ‘Gone Away’ together. How did working on a ballad compare to Stray Kids’ more typically energetic songs?
HAN: “Compared to the other songs, this track was minimalistic, so we knew the lyrics and melody would be really important. We needed a melody and lyrics that would touch people’s hearts, so we worked very meticulously on this song. Naturally, I engaged in a lot of conversations with I.N and Seungmin, and through that process, we were able to produce a great melody and lots of lyrics.”
Seungmin: “In a bit more tranquil atmosphere, we tried to capture our emotions in the lyrics, and while we were writing this ballad, we still tried hard to instill Stray Kids’ distinct musical colour. Even in a ballad, we tried to fill it with a lot of energy.”
I.N: “Because we haven’t worked on these types of love songs a lot, and we lack a lot of experience, we researched many movies, dramas, and songs related to love while working on the song. We also tried really hard to put a lot of emotions into it.”
Felix, Lee Know and Changbin, you are responsible for the summer bop that is ‘Surfin’’. Did you take any inspiration from other summer classics and, if so, which ones and how did they inspire you?
Lee Know: “We watched a variety of music videos by other artists and thought what it would be like if we created a song with a similar refreshing feeling.”
Changbin: “Mm… we looked into a diverse range of summer songs, and through that process, I think we were able to gain inspiration on the possible ways to approach and express the idea of summer in music. Using that as a base, we were able to create lyrics and a melody fitting to us.”
Felix: “We wanted to make a song that was suitable for summer and that would help people feel relieved and excited! We want to heal people who are going through hard times, always feeling tired, or don’t have much time for themselves.”
We have to mention your legendary performances on Kingdom. You clearly put your all into executing very ambitious and creative stages – how much were these performances filling the void of the tours and shows you would likely have been doing were it not for the current situation, and a way to connect with STAY at this time?
Seungmin: “Even though STAY weren’t physically in front of us when we were on stage, we approached it with the thought that they were watching us from every corner of the world. I’m proud because it feels like, thankfully, our sincerity was conveyed well to STAY, and I thought to myself that we need to continue working even harder in the future.”
I.N: “Kingdom was able to fill up a lot of the void we felt after our tour was cancelled. And through Kingdom, I was able to feel the importance/preciousness of STAY even more.”
You took inspiration from Deadpool on your mash-up of ‘God’s Menu’ and ‘Ddu-Du Ddu-Du’, which attracted the attention of Ryan Reynolds himself. What did it mean to you to have him not just show appreciation for your performance, but to take the time to check out your other work?
Bang Chan: “Never would I have ever imagined getting close to one of my favourite actors [and] role models, and this was honestly all thanks to the power of STAY. It was all because of STAY that Ryan was able to check out our performance and through that, he ended up checking out our other stuff, too, which motivates us more to work harder in the future.”
Felix: “As a fan of his work and his acting since I was little, it’s still unbelievable and exciting to see, feel, and hear that Ryan Reynolds would give his time to care for us. Not only are we honoured and delighted, but also motivated to work harder and achieve higher goals..”
Bang Chan, you now have over 100 songs credited to you on KOMCA, which is a huge achievement in such a short space of time. What is the biggest thing you’ve learnt about songwriting and how do you hope your writing will develop in the coming years?
Bang Chan: “Honestly, I’m still lacking a lot… I’m not the greatest, and there are so many people out there whose skills are far better than what I can do. But it’s this fact that motivates me to try even harder to improve my songwriting skills. Another thing that I’ve learned is that I can’t do this all by myself. 3RACHA plays a big role in songwriting, and it’s all thanks to Changbin and HAN that we could get this far.”
As Stray Kids continue to attract more attention and recruit new fans with every release, what are your ambitions for the group for the rest of this year, and in the longer term?
Hyunjin: “I hope to have a concert with many STAY soon and would like to show them even bigger, cooler performances.”
HAN: “I hope that one day Stray Kids will become a genre itself. I really want us to become artists that anyone can relate to and in whom people can find strength and support.”
Seungmin: “I’d like to wrap up the year feeling proud and unashamed when I look back, so my goal is to spend the rest of this year fruitfully with my members, making the most of our time.”
Stray Kids’ second full-length album ‘NOEASY’ is out now.