STAYC – ‘YOUNG-LUV.COM’ review: a mature, ambitious return that ups the ante

Here's proof why they’re one of the K-pop’s finest fourth-generation acts

From their delightful viral single ‘ASAP’ to the confident pop anthem ‘Stereotype’, STAYC have solidified their status as one of K-pop’s finest fourth-generation groups by keeping listeners on their toes. Careful experimentation is, by now, part and parcel of the group’s identity – but it might not be too far off to assume that there’s a part of it that’s influenced by the member’s own growth as individuals.

It’s certainly reflected in ‘YOUNG-LUV.COM’, the group’s latest mini-album but also their most ambitious foray into new sounds to date. STAYC’s latest record is a clear departure from the cutesy, youthful sounds of their earlier releases and a step into a fuller, more mature vibe that’s a mark of the group’s growth – both as artists and individuals.

On title track ‘RUN2U’, STAYC skip the cutesy, sweet, almost bubblegum pop that defined hits like ‘ASAP’ and ‘Stereotype’ in favour of a retro synth sound that places the group’s vocal prowess at the forefront. One thing that remains, however, is the youthful confidence that has underlaid the group’s body of work thus far (“Even if I disappear, even if I disappear / I can risk it all for you, there’s no worries, yeah”).

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While its off-kilter production might seem more promising on paper – opting for a chirpy hook instead of building on the bounding electric instrumental that pushes the verses forward – it results in a chorus that comes off underwhelming. But then again, so did the choruses for ‘ASAP’ and ‘Stereotype’ at first, and those quickly became undeniable earworms with staying power, so perhaps it’s just a matter of time.

As ‘RUN2U’ draws to a close, ‘YOUNG-LUV.COM’ makes way for mellower, laid-back cuts. ‘Same Same’ is a deceptively simple track that places the spotlight on Si-eun’s delicate vocals, contrasted by a rhythmic trap-inspired beat. Throw in J’s playful ad-libs and high notes from Si-eun during the outro, and you’ve know you’ve got another classic Black Eyed Pilseung production on your hands.

Of all the tracks on STAYC’s latest record, it might not come as a surprise that the mini-album’s namesake is the strongest of the bunch. ‘Young Luv’ draws inspiration from the pop-rock hits of the early-2000s – a genre that is foreign territory for the sextet, but one that allows the group to really stretch their blossoming musicality and vocal prowess.

What makes ‘Young Luv’ such a standout track isn’t just the genre (although that certainly helps), it’s the group’s delivery. Weaving between strong, steady vocals from Si-eun and Isa, and Sumin and Yoon’s melodic lines, ‘Young Luv’ is able to deliver a story of unrequited love in a way that’s undeniably STAYC’s: “Maybe I’m just fine on the outside / Anyway, baby, I’m sorry for my young love.”

stayc young-luv.com review run2u
STAYC. Credit: High Up Entertainment

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But the genre that defines a good chunk of the girl group’s latest record is R&B through the decades. The groovy ‘247’ is the closest thing on the record to the lively pop sound that’s defined STAYC’s career thus far, but with elements from early-2000s R&B. Here, rapper J takes the reins, and her deep vocals create a secretive, silky declaration of what it means to be in love: “Trippin’, look what you started it / Keep on, nothing cannot stop me / Even if I watch you all day, I’m not bored at all”.

‘Butterfly’, meanwhile, takes on a smoother, jazzy direction that recalls R&B from the ’90s – SWV’s classics come to mind – with an instrumental that combines a synth bass and a lo-fi-esque tempo. The group’s harmonies center stage here (demonstrated by J and Su-min’s rich vocals on the bridge: “Fluttering leaves and winds blowing / And you, with the flapping of your beautiful wings”), but the real star of the show is Si-eun’s ad-libs at the end. And in true STAYC form, ‘YOUNG-LUV.COM’ ends on a high note with the 808-driven ‘I Want U Baby’, the group’s spin on modern R&B ballads.

When asked about the theme of ‘YOUNG-LUV.COM’ during a press conference for the record, Si-eun revealed that the group desire to “present a new image of STAYC with this album [so that] the public can realise what we have shown [thus far] is not all we have”. It’s easy to gloss over this statement – after all, they’ve said the same thing about the comebacks that came before this.

But what ‘YOUNG-LUV.COM’ shows is that STAYC have the mettle to continue pushing the envelope with every record they put out, while not having to completely reinvent themselves every time. It’s not just a demonstration of where their growth has taken them, but a promise to constantly up the ante.

Details

stayc run2u review youngluv.com
  • Release date: February 21
  • Record label: High Up Entertainment
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