It feels like it was just yesterday that Stray Kids debuted with the meteoric ‘District 9’ in 2018. Fast-forward four years, and the fresh-faced boys of that era would be astonished to know how far they have gotten. Currently, they are one of the leading acts in K-pop’s stratosphere, and their latest mini-album ‘Oddinary’ is proof: it amassed over 1.3million pre-orders (becoming the first release from their company, JYP Entertainment, to do so), and is expected to top the Billboard 200 this week.
With an array of hits behind their back – from the pulsing EDM of ‘Miroh’ to the kitchen madness of ‘God’s Menu’ – and a fandom that seems to double with each release, their motto “Stray Kids everywhere all around the world” is now but a fact. Few artists have dominated a scene as quickly and as commandingly as Stray Kids have been doing.
What makes Stray Kids so special, you ask? It’s not just the fact that they self-produce the majority of their repertoire, helmed by 3RACHA (composed of members Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han), or how astonishing their performances and visuals are. But perhaps it’s somewhere in the way they are always questioning themselves, and then, they reflect that process back to us like a mirror. As they sing in the relentless ‘SSICK’, a B-side off ‘NOEASY’: “Oh, yeah I know / That I don’t have anything special / But yeah, did you know? / That I, myself, am really special.”
‘Oddinary’’s main message builds upon that idea, hence the portmanteau of the words “odd” and “ordinary”. “Regular people like us all have something odd about ourselves. It captures the message ‘What’s odd will soon be normal,’” Bang Chan said during a press conference for the mini-album. And if there’s one thing Stray Kids know, it’s how to navigate your own path when it swerves from the main road.
Their experimentalism has been called “noisy” and “construction work-like”, arguments that they boldly embraced and incorporated into their ethos. To Stray Kids, those are not critiques, but mere evidence that their music “really leaves an impression”, as the soft-toned Seungmin told Teen Vogue last year. Of course, the seven tracks in ‘Oddinary’ couldn’t be cookie-cut.
Take lead single ‘Maniac’ for example, where Middle Eastern influences and bird-chirping samples give way to a suspenseful, bass-heavy chorus drop. It’s a display of how much Stray Kids refined their talents for this comeback, successfully combining their abrasive energy with more tempered tones. The song calls attention to the fact that we’re all “pretending to be normal” and that “in this not easy life / it ain’t ‘live’, it’s ‘holding on’”, so it’s time to unleash our real selves. Even if others see you as a maniac, embrace it – after all, everyone’s a little odd on the inside.
Following suit is ‘Charmer’, a spin-off of ‘Maniac’, but with more hypnosis and snakes. The clever use of homophones in the lines “넌 못 참아” (“You can’t stand it”, in Korean) and “I’m the charmer” furthers Stray Kids’s emblematic bravado and double-entendres. In this mystifying B-side, they claim to be so good that disliking them it’s not an option. Eventually, you’ll fall for their charms like prey.
On the same theme, opening track ‘Venom’ trickles down like a spider weaving its web. Contrasting with their usual “go out and get it” approach, Stray Kids surrender to a force stronger than their own here. “No escape, I have lost all my senses / Can’t feel my fingers / I got caught, you got me wrapped up / Around your fingers,” sings Seungmin. The redemption comes in ‘Freeze’, where dubstep amps up the excitement of breaking free and pursuing your dreams. As Hyunjin declares, “stop right there, keep trying, if we don’t succeed / I’ll keep rocking until I overcome it all.”
After four hard-hitting bangers, things slow down for the latter half of the mini-album. ‘Lonely St.’ is reminiscent of the melodic verve Stray Kids pursued during their early years, with light grunge guitars and handclaps that bring forward a refreshing rawness. ‘Waiting For Us’, a unit track by Bang Chan, Lee Know, Seungmin and I.N, segues with soft rock, giving center stage to their soaring voices. It’s a change of scenery from what the mainstream public expects from Stray Kids, and a testament to their flexibility and range.
The group leaves the best for last, though: closing track ‘Muddy Water’ by rappers Changbin, Hyunjin, HAN and Felix is the absolute standout on ‘Oddinary’. Over a jazzy, old-school hip-hop melody, the dexterous rappers exhibit some of their best verses to date. This is what happens when Stray Kids push their boundaries even more, and boldly believe that “We’re the rainwater that comes after the stagnant water has dried up / I’ll change all the standards of the world / You get soaked without even realizing it”.
In life, when you reach inconceivable heights and your dreams become your day-to-day, you start to question why. It’s a dangerous space, where ego and comfort can cloud your thoughts, or worse, stale your creativity. But Stray Kids don’t take anything for granted. While nowadays they may claim to be nothing but ‘Oddinary’, this mini-album is a reflection of their extraordinary passion, wit and growth. It’s an elegant step forward for a group who, hopefully, will never get tired of raising questions.
- Release date: March 18
- Record label: JYP Entertainment / Republic Records