Stray Kids Are Breaking Records, Breaking Eardrums and Breaking Limits (INTERVIEW)
A Stray Kids track a day keeps the stress away. Though one can argue the K-pop group's energetic brand of "noise music" could possibly heighten tension, their bass-bumping, get-the-crowd-jumping songs are encouraging, vital points to Stray Kids' calling: to be the voices of their generation.
As showcased on their fiery 2019 hip-pop hit "MIROH," or 2020's heavy-hitting "God's Menu," Stray Kids — often abbreviated as SKZ — are unrelenting in their journey of self-expression and their determination to push themselves, and their fans, to their full potential. A prime example? Their second studio album, NOEASY, released Aug. 23.
The 14-track project, the majority of which was produced by sub-unit 3RACHA (Bang Chan, Changbin and HAN), exhibits Stray Kids' ability to bring the noise no matter the tempo. NOEASY starts off strong with five in-your-face tracks that blend EDM and hip-hop elements (lead single "Thunderous," "Cheese," supporting single "Domino," "The View" and "SSICK"), while the later part of the album experiments with different genres and styles, from jazz-pop to rock.
Just three years into their career — they formed in 2018 — members Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, HAN, Felix, Seungmin and I.N. already carry dozens of award nominations and wins under their belt, and boast chart-topping hits in both physical and digital sales. Even before the release of their second album, the group already set a new record by becoming the first artist under JYP Entertainment to reach 930,000 pre-orders.
We recently caught up with the members to talk about NOEASY, the adorable SKZOO version of "Thunderous" and why touring is their first and foremost priority.
Congratulations on your second album! A studio album takes lots of work, so how does it feel to have this out there in the world now?
Changbin: We really put our everything into preparing this album and we're really confident in it, so I’m really happy that STAY can finally listen to it!
Lee Know: We couldn’t wait to put this out because there are so many really, really good songs on it, so it feels great to finally release this album.
Hyunjin: Somehow a year has already passed, and we’re so thankful to our STAY who have waited for us. The entire album is good, so we hope STAY really enjoy it.
NOEASY has already achieved the title of being the best-selling album in JYP Entertainment in history. Any thoughts on that? What other records would you guys like to break?
Bang Chan: That title was achievable all thanks to STAY! If it weren't for STAY, we wouldn’t have been able to have even gotten this far. Stray Kids are known as “the kids that enjoy breaking things." We break objects, break eardrums and break limits, so breaking another record wouldn’t be so bad. Of course, we’ll need the help from STAY!
I.N: I hope we grow even more with the next album, so much so that people will describe us as artists who are constantly improving.
What were your first impressions of the title track?
HAN: When we listened to the final product, it made me really happy that the track sounded really fresh, the lyrics were very witty and full of spirit and it clearly embodied Stray Kids’ distinct color. I wanted to hurry and work on the performance and share the song with someone!
Felix: The song is really unique and I believe that we were the only team to make it impactful.
Seungmin: One day, upon arriving at home, 3RACHA immediately played the song for me. The moment I heard it, it felt electrifying, and I really wanted it to be a title track. That’s why I voiced a lot of my opinion, too.
3RACHA (Bang Chan, Changbin and HAN), you guys have made a name for yourself and were heavily involved in this second album just like past releases. What was it like with this project?
Bang Chan: Just like any other project that we’ve worked on, we just had fun. We experimented with a lot of different styles and tried our best to widen our musical spectrum.
Changbin: We knew there would be a lot of expectations as this would be a full album, so we really put a lot of effort into the process.
HAN: The process was a lot of fun. We’d ask ourselves, “What should we attempt? What should we try next?” And we looked forward to what we’d come up with while working on this album.
How was it different this time?
Bang Chan: The “let’s just have fun” part hasn’t changed at all, but the biggest difference would be the genres of music and the ways we recorded the songs.
Changbin: Perhaps because our second full album is the first album we’re releasing after [television competition] Kingdom, there was a bit of pressure to meet people’s expectations. When pondering what everyone would be expecting of us, we thought they’d definitely be looking forward to something new in true Stray Kids’ fashion. I think that’s the part that we contemplated a lot.
HAN: I think, compared to before, we had a little more fun while working on this album. There was no time crunch, and we worked with the thought of making music that best fits who we are today, so I think the end result came out really well.
What would you say were the key highlights for the album?
Bang Chan: One thing that I hope people will notice is the improvement of all the members’ recording skills. We put a lot of effort into all the songs.
Changbin: The album includes unit songs in which all of our members took part during the creative process.
HAN: I hope people look forward to Stray Kids’ distinct musical color, our wit and how much we’ve matured.
When you guys came up with NOEASY as the title, how did you define it in your own terms?
Bang Chan: This might sound cheesy, but life itself is pretty “no easy." Everyone goes through obstacles, everyone has their own downs and lows, but I feel like it depends on how “noisy” you’re going to be to overcome those hardships.
HAN: NOEASY is trying to convey that things may be hard, but we’re going to break through that difficulty with our sound! I think the best way to explain it is that even if things are tough, as long as we have the sound of Stray Kids and the sound of STAY, we can overcome anything.
You spoiled your fans with so much pre-release content, which would you say were your favorites and why?
Lee Know: The SKZOO teaser was the most memorable. I would say the cuteness amidst the power was the key point.
Hyunjin: The trailer video was a little embarrassing to film, but after seeing it all come together, it looked so cool that I hope we get to do it again next time!
Seungmin: We worked on unit songs that were included on this album, and the Song Camp teaser videos that showed the creative process behind those unit songs were really good! I think our STAY really enjoyed them, so I hope we can do that type of content again.
About the SKZOO version of the “Thunderous” video: Whose idea was it?
Felix: As we prepared for our comeback, we wanted to impress and entertain our fans with something fun and unique, so we all came to one conclusion which was wearing our costumes for “Thunderous."
Your music has become incredibly encouraging and has touched many STAY around the world. What would you say is your ultimate message as Stray Kids?
Bang Chan: At one point in their lives, people will have a moment where they feel astray from the road that they’ve chosen, and I would like those people to know that they’re not the only ones that feel that way. So, whenever you need someone to keep you company, just know that Stray Kids are here to get you back on track.
You guys pretty much owned 2020 with hit after hit, including “God’s Menu” and “Back Door." How has it been working and releasing music in the midst of the pandemic?
Changbin: There was a lot more time being spent at home, but I didn’t want to waste that time, and instead used it to consistently work on new music. I hope people listen to our songs and gain strength during this challenging time.
Seungmin: To be honest, I was really bummed we couldn’t get to meet our STAY in person, but I think we promoted our album hoping that STAY could feel our love through videos, our music and their hearts even from afar. I’m grateful because I think our sincerity was relayed despite not being able to see each other in person. We spent our time working really hard even in the unseen!
When the pandemic is over and everything’s okay, what’s the first thing you want to do?
Bang Chan: World tour, first priority!
Lee Know: The very first thing I want to do is have a fan meeting with STAY.
Changbin: Definitely an in-person concert.
Hyunjin: I want to go on a world tour to hurry and meet our STAY all over the world and experience new cultures in different countries! I also want to perform for our STAY in-person at Korean music shows.
HAN: A concert! I want to hurry and have a concert so we can vibe with STAY and sing together in the same place. I miss this so much and can’t wait until we can do this again.
Felix: World tour!
Seungmin: I would say the first that comes to mind is a concert with STAY where we can finally greet them and have fun together!
I.N: I want to do a world tour.
Congratulations on your third anniversary! Do you guys have any wishes, individually or as a group?
Bang Chan: Individually, I just wish for everyone to be safe and happy. As a team, I wish that we can reach places that haven’t been reached before with the help from STAY.
Lee Know: I really want to be able to let STAY experience our performances visually and physically in real life as soon as possible.
Changbin: I want to make music and perform as Stray Kids for a long time.
Hyunjin: I’m sad that we can’t right now, but I would really like for this time of coronavirus to pass so we’re able to make many more memories with STAY. I really miss the fan meetings, concerts and world tours.
HAN: I want to mature more and continue growing in my music and just as a person. I would like to make even better music so that I can continue to touch STAY’s hearts and give them joy.
Felix: Individually, I hope to make a lot of memories and give a lot of hope and happiness to the STAY all around the world to the best of my ability. As a team, we really want to go on a world tour to meet our STAY as soon as possible.
Seungmin: I want to show our fans an even more improved version of ourselves. My wish is to show STAY that we’ll never go backwards!
I.N: I would like to continue improving and be described as an artist of consistent growth. I want to become an artist that’s a good influence on people.
What’s something you would like people to know about SKZ if they haven’t given them a chance yet?
Lee Know: We’ve got backbone. Once you fall for us, it’s hard to get out.
Hyunjin: I hope that after listening to our diverse music and watching our extravagant performances, people will notice us a little more.
Anything else you’d like to say? Speak now or forever hold your peace!
HAN: STAY, thank you for always giving us positive energy. We feel bad because it seems like we’re always just on the receiving end, but we’ll work hard to reciprocate what you’ve given to us! We’re always so thankful for you, and we miss you so much. We love you, and please continue to watch over us.