It seems like just yesterday that Stray Kids debuted the meteoric “District 9” in 2018. Fast forward four years, and the fresh-faced boys of this era would be amazed at how far they’ve come. Currently, they are one of the main players in the K-pop stratosphere, and their latest mini-album “Oddinary” is proof of this: it amassed over 1.3 million pre-orders (becoming the first release of their company, JYP Entertainment, to do so), and is is expected to top the Billboard 200 this week.
With an array of hits on their back – from the heart-pounding EDM of “Miroh” to the culinary madness of “God’s Menu” – and a fandom that seems to double with each release, their motto “Stray Kids Everywhere” is now but a fact. Few artists have dominated a scene as quickly and as authoritatively as Stray Kids have.
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 (consisting of members Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han), or how amazing their performances and visuals are. But maybe it’s somewhere in the way that they always question themselves, and then they mirror that process back to us. As they sing along to the relentless ‘SSICK’, a B-side of ‘NOEASY’: “Oh, yeah I know / That I’m nothing special / But yeah, you know? / That myself, I’m really special.
The main message of “Oddinary” builds on this idea, hence the portmanteau of the words “odd” and “ordinary”. “Ordinary people like us all have something strange about ourselves. It captures the message ‘Strange will soon become normal,’ Bang Chan said at a press conference for the mini album. And if there’s one thing Stray Kids knows, it’s how to navigate your own path when it strays from the main road.
Their experimentalism has been called “noisy” and “construction work”, arguments which they boldly adopted and incorporated into their philosophy. For Stray Kids, these aren’t reviews, just proof that their music “really leaves an impression,” as the soft-spoken Seungmin said. teen vogue Last year. Of course, the seven tracks of “Oddinary” couldn’t be cut into pieces.
Take lead single “Maniac” for example, where Middle Eastern influences and bird chirping samples give way to a chorus full of suspense and bass. It shows how Stray Kids have honed their skills for this comeback, successfully combining their abrasive energy with more subdued tones. The song draws attention to the fact that we are all “pretend to be normal” and that “in this not easy life / it’s not ‘living’, it’s ‘hanging on'”, so it’s time to unleash our true selves. Even if others see you as a maniac, accept it – after all, everyone is a bit odd inside.
Next is ‘Charmer’, a spin-off of ‘Maniac’, but with more hypnosis and snakes. The clever use of homophones in lines “넌못참아” (“You can’t stand it”in Korean) and “I am the charmer” reinforces the bravado and the iconic double meanings of Stray Kids. In this mystifying B-side, they pretend to be so good that not liking them isn’t an option. Eventually, you will fall under their spell like prey.
On the same theme, the opening track ‘Venom’ streams like a spider weaving its web. In contrast to their usual “go out and get it” approach, Stray Kids here goes to a force stronger than their own. “No escape, I’ve lost all my senses / I can’t feel my fingers anymore / I got caught, you wrapped me up / Around your fingers” sings Seungmin. Redemption comes in “Freeze,” where dubstep amps up the excitement of breaking free and chasing your dreams. As Hyunjin states, “Stop right there, keep trying, if we can’t make it / I’ll keep rocking until I get over it all.”
After four hard-hitting bangers, things slow down for the second half of the mini album. ‘Lonely St.’ recalls the melodic verve that Stray Kids pursued in its early years, with light grunge guitars and handclaps bringing a refreshing brutality. ‘Waiting For Us’, a unit track by Bang Chan, Lee Know, Seungmin and IN, continues with soft rock, giving center stage to their soaring vocals. It’s a change of scenery from what mainstream audiences expect from Stray Kids, and a testament to their flexibility and reach.
The group, however, leaves the best for last: the closing track “Muddy Water” by rappers Changbin, Hyunjin, HAN and Felix is the absolute star on “Oddinary”. Over an old-school, jazzy hip-hop tune, the skilled rappers show off some of their best verses yet. That’s what happens when Stray Kids pushes their boundaries even further and firmly believes that “We are the rainwater that comes after the standing water has dried up / I’ll change all the standards in the world / You get soaked without even realizing it”.
In life, when you reach inconceivable heights and your dreams become your daily life, you start to wonder why. It’s a dangerous space, where ego and comfort can cloud your thoughts, or worse, stifle your creativity. But Stray Kids doesn’t take anything for granted. While today they can claim to be nothing but “Oddinary”, this mini-album is a reflection of their extraordinary passion, spirit and growth. It’s an elegant step forward for a band that will hopefully never tire of raising questions.
- Release date: March 18
- A record label: JYP Entertainment / Republic Records