With Christmas-themed releases, you often know what you’re going to get – a few jingle bells here, some lyrics about presents, trees and snow there. Although some Yuletide classics dip into more melancholy stockings, a holiday release is likely to be cheerful and full of joy. But when Stray Kids announced their festive single album ‘Christmas EveL’, it raised an interesting question – how does one of K-pop’s most inventive groups keep their creative streak intact while crafting something fitting for their fans to listen to as they count down to December 25?
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The answer is obvious as soon as the opening track ‘Christmas EveL’ begins – subvert expectations and do things, as always, their own way. Sure, it still references the kind of things you’d bet money on featuring in a Christmas song, but it swaps happiness for Grinch-like scorn and traditional festive sounds for funky hip-hop grooves.
“Look how fast the selfish cars made it turn black,” HAN assesses a snowy scene, “It’s even hard to walk in, it’s not a snowfield, it’s a mud flat.” That mood is infectious, sweeping across the rest of the group’s lines, leader Bang Chan declaring, “I don’t need no presents / Crossing out Xmas”, and I.N and HAN wondering: “There’s nothing special / Why did everyone wait for so long?”
Just when you think things are fated to be doom and gloom forever, the song switches up into a cheeky interpolation of ‘Feliz Navidad’, rapper Felix promising in his bassy tones: “Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad / I can feel the evil coming but Felix, never bad.”
Snow is unsurprisingly a constant on Stray Kids’ first seasonal release, but it takes on different roles each time it appears. If it’s an illustration of the band’s dissatisfaction with the holiday on ‘Christmas EveL’, then on second title track ‘Winter Falls’ it acts as something of a pathetic fallacy, its frozen descent onto Earth mirroring a relationship falling apart. “Winter falls, the snow falls,” I.N describes solemnly over a warm beat and emotive guitar melody. “Purer than anything, Falls, I’ll try to erase everything about you / That still remains with me.”
On B-side ’24 To 25’, meanwhile, those icy, white flurries finally get a positive spin. The acoustic guitar-driven track, which was composed with fandom STAY in mind, softly dreams of spending the night where Christmas Eve melts into Christmas Day with loved ones, a fantasy that’s helped on by getting snowed in. “You and I get more excited when we say / We can’t go anywhere,” HAN explains, while Hyunjin cheers on the weather: “Let it snow, let it snow / The more snow accumulates, the whiter the night is.”
‘Christmas EveL’ is rounded off by an English version of ‘DOMINO’, one of the highlights of Stray Kids’ second full-length album, August’s ‘NOEASY’. There’s no festive link here, but why not take the opportunity to remind the world just how great you are before it switches off for a few days? The lyrics follow the original sentiment closely, reinterpreted into English by Bang Chan, Felix and Korean-American rapper Junoflo. “Got their eyes on me / Hate or love, see they gon’ imitate,” Lee Know asserts on one particular moment of alluring confidence. “Can’t stop following / Probably cos we always dominate.”
It’s a fiery end to the record, even if it disrupts the Christmassy atmosphere that runs neatly through the rest of the tracks. That’s typical Stray Kids, though – always keeping us on our toes even when we think we’ve got them pegged.