Stray Kids are at an inexplicably odd moment in their career. Call it the in-between phase: too big to be discredited, not yet at their peak. Their star is rising at a rapid pace. Within the last two years, they’ve experienced a tremendous amount of growth, and now their latest EP, ODDINARY, which arrived on March 18, is on track to sell close to a million units in its first week and earn the Korean group its first entry on the Billboard 200 albums chart — where it’s likely to bow close to the top.
It’s the kind of success most artists dream of, and for Stray Kids, who have written and produced most of their own material since their 2018 debut, it’s a testament to their own artistic vision. Their creative autonomy, led by the group’s ambitious in-house production team 3RACHA (formed by members Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han), has allowed Stray Kids to forge their own path, eschewing industry trends for eclecticism and unpredictability. From blustering beats to hard-hitting hip-hop to psytrance rhythms, Stray Kids have always kept listeners guessing.
That approach hasn’t always led to great mainstream success. But the release of their first full-length album GO LIVE in 2020, bolstered by the enthusiastic reaction to its explosive single “God’s Menu,” changed everything, laying the groundwork for what would become the second chapter of their careers. Subsequent singles “Back Door” and “Thunderous” were equally as playful and boisterous, leaving subtlety at the door in place of something far more explicit. They declared themselves the thunderous ones — wild, powerful, and unapologetically noisy. That attitude resonated with people, and over the course of a few albums their fandom ballooned.
So how does a group balance their artistic freedom with the need to continuously deliver even better results? This is the crossroads ODDINARY inhabits.
In a behind-the-scenes video about the making of ODDINARY, leader Bang Chan explains that 3RACHA “had a lot of concerns” while working on “Maniac,” the EP’s lead single. “We tried a lot of different things and made a lot of different styles and kept wondering what fit this comeback the best,” he says, via fan translations. They weren’t trying to change their sound. On first listen, “Maniac” sounds like a sonic evolution for the group. There’s no big, brassy hook — the chorus is groovier and more restrained, the bassline is thicker and accentuated by Felix’s cavernous voice. But the hallmarks of 3RACHA’s style are still present: the layers, the weird samples (you can hear a drill whirling before the chorus kicks in, resulting in the members mimicking screws and spinning around in the stage performance), and blistering rap verses (“kindness is no longer trеnding, now rotten,” Han spits). For 3RACHA, it’s all about the details.
If ODDINARY exists at the crossroads, then “Maniac” is proof enough that it doesn’t matter which way Stray Kids decide to turn; they can continue to evolve their sound while also staying true to themselves as artists. The way Changbin describes it, via fan translator @hwangseungs, “Through this chance, this album, we want to show Stray Kids’ principles.” It doesn’t matter if Stray Kids make popular music, he adds, because “in each generation the genre changes to what the public wants, and we want to do everything with music that serves as a standard.”