Two years in, STAYC have become one of the most exciting acts of K-pop’s so-called fourth generation. With veteran producers Black Eyed Pilseung in their camp and messaging that seesaws between knowing and owning who you are, and more coy reflections with attraction and love, STAYC brought an exciting freshness to our tried-and-tested K-pop formulas. Never let it be said that they sounded banal.
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This year’s ‘Run2U’, for example, was a futuristic retro extravaganza, loaded with synths and bass fit for a sci-fi adventure. The groovy ‘Stereotype’ – where the group asked people to give their expectations a break– also came buzzing with bass, melodic flute loops giving the song a light summer feel. STAYC became a mainstay because of their propensity to stretch the boundaries of expectations.
That’s why it is disappointing to find that they may have played it safe on ‘We Need Love’. On their third single album, they’re going ham on love, even if they subconsciously know that it’s not exactly what the literature and movies make it out to be. This love is exciting but unhealthy, but who cares when you’re swept up in the tide of emotions? Over the course of three tracks (and a remix of ‘Run2U’) the story that emerges is STAYC decide to take the plunge anyway, enjoy the ride, but end up regretting the feelings they develop.
If examined through that lens, ‘We Need Love’ is a solid, albeit repetitive album, offering the light-hearted pop sound one would expect of such subject matter. In the context of STAYC’s history and output so far, however, it does not seem a worthy follow-up to the music they’ve released so far.
The album has its strengths. Title track ‘Beautiful Monster’, for example, delivers perfectly on the emotional crescendo it builds. Layered onto a simple guitar arrangement are claps and disjointed synths, all of which merge into a colourful, high-pitched chorus augmented by booming trumpets. The wave recedes on the second verse, and we revert to the simplistic arrangement again – just enough to keep you hooked throughout the track, but also making you wonder whether they’ll pick up the pace.
While the next track ‘I Like It’ does manage to surprise – the second verse breaks away from the song’s languid, acoustic guitar progression and slots in a neat rap by Sumin and Sieun, over a distinctive hip-hop beat – it is short-lived and sadly goes too far into a repetitive arrangement. The momentum fizzles out despite the song picking up pace towards the bridge.
The best track on the album is the deceptively chipper break-up anthem called ‘Love’. After being starved for action on both ‘Beautiful Monster’ and ‘I Like It’, it’s delightful to hear ‘Love’ quickly shedding the restraint of its first verse and segueing into a smooth rap section with heavy, steady beats. STAYC easily build anticipation for a simple, yet catchy chorus.
Despite the individual strengths of its songs, ‘We Need Love’ leaves much to be desired as a whole. It seems to be missing not only the aforementioned experimental streak STAYC have become synonymous with, but also complexity in the story they build.
‘We Need Love’ is a fitting summer album – in the sense that the memories of this season won’t linger ’til the next. But if this is a segue into another era, it’s a transition STAYC have made without the curiosity and complete disregard for the rules that characterised their previous material.
- Record Label: High Up Entertainment
- Release Date: July 19