Stray Kids is a group that I’ve been slowly but surely getting more into as the years go by. I like them a lot, and I always check in on their comebacks… but I’m just not quite at the stage where I’m super invested in them. They’re undeniably talented with an impressive discography, so I definitely know and understand the hype. But personally, I’ve only really clicked with two of their singles up until this point. (“Double Knot” and “God’s Menu,” if you’re curious.) That being said, I connect with those two because they’re exactly my style of music – and they’re both songs I still frequently listen to. Stray Kids’ new release “Thunderous” is cut from the same cloth, so it’s looking like this one might be a game changer for me.
Stray Kids is well-known for their strong and powerful signature sound: forceful charismatic rap, explosive percussion, dramatic and (sometimes) almost aggressive arrangement, etc. I know the term “noise music” is often meant or taken in a negative way, but it’s actually something I enjoy – and I think Stray Kids really excels at portraying what it should sound like when it’s good. To me, bad “noise music” would be something that’s just super loud and repetitive the whole time. And while Stray Kids’ songs can get pretty chaotic, they’re certainly not one note. They have multiple sections with distinctly different tempos and energies, and they keep you on your toes from beginning to end. This latest comeback is definitely the good kind of “noise music” in my eyes, and it shows how they’ve perfected their tried and true formula.
While “Thunderous” is very similar in nature to last year’s hit “God’s Menu” (my personal Stray Kids favorite), there are some really interesting key differences. It’s every bit as rousing as its name implies, but it’s not quite as wild or frenzied as its predecessor. “God’s Menu” is like a rollercoaster where we’re all just going along for the ride, and “Thunderous” seems a little more focused and controlled in comparison. The arrangement does a great job of channeling all that energy and letting loose at the most high-impact moments. And they made a smart choice in highlighting naturally dynamic elements like brass and percussion – they really fill out the song and make it sound larger than life. And I love how”Thunderous” incorporates Korean instruments into its composition, particularly with the drums in the chorus.
Stray Kids celebrates Korean culture even more in their music video, which appears to portray their takeover of a village straight out of a historical K-drama. (In the group’s MV reaction video, they hint that they’re supposed to be “도깨비” – a Korean mythical creature that’s usually compared to a goblin.) The production design is a fascinating blend of past and present, setting modern items like sports cars and speakers against backdrops of majestic palaces and traditional dance and music performances. To make things even more epic, there are a bunch of eye-catching cinematic effects: short animated sections like from a superhero cartoon, mysterious blue flames (those 도깨비 powers at work), hawks swooping through the air, and bright flashes of lightning. The whole thing’s like a mini-movie, and it’s extremely entertaining.
Of course, I have to talk about how much I love this choreography. We all know I’m a very dance-oriented person, and I generally consider performances almost as important as the songs themselves. And I must say, “Thunderous” easily makes my list of top K-pop dances so far this year. The movements are so creative, and the key points are both really distinctive and memorable. It’s also very engaging, and it successfully holds my attention the whole way through – which is something that’s not happening a lot for me these days. But most importantly, it highlights Stray Kids’ strong performance skills. They’ve always had great teamwork, but a dance like “Thunderous” really presents them as a solid unit where each member is clearly an important part of the overall picture. All in all, it’s highly satisfying to watch – and I know I will be doing a lot of that the near future.
MY OVERALL INTEREST LEVEL
(NOTE: My options for each category are “Love,” “Like,” “Neutral,” “Not My Style,” or “Dislike.” But I rarely dislike anything, so I’ll mostly be using the other four.)
When I think of Stray Kids, I think of a group that isn’t afraid to be themselves and make their own rules. In fact, “Thunderous” sends a very clear message that they’ll keep making the music they like in spite of any naysayers out there. The Korean title, “소리꾼,” is actually one of the words for “singer” (though usually more in the traditional sense). Stray Kids said that they’re “소리꾼” taking on “잔소리꾼,” which interestingly enough is the Korean word for “nagger.” While these lyrics are pretty relevant to the group’s own experiences, I think that point of ignoring the haters and doing what you want is so important – especially in this day and age, where it’s so easy to feel like you’re getting dragged down. Stray Kids clearly wanted to make a statement with “Thunderous,” and I’m impressed by their unwavering charisma and confidence.
In my opinion, “Thunderous” could be a major potential turning point for Stray Kids. It’s not like they’re unpopular or unknown in South Korea – after all, they just won Kingdom and joined K-pop’s elite “million sellers” club with this new album. But based on what I’ve observed from living here (aka talking to my Korean students and friends), they’re a group that’s still very much on the rise; they haven’t quite become household names yet. That being said, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if “Thunderous” ends up being a breakout hit for Stray Kids and moving them up a level in popularity. They’ve certainly succeeded at drawing me in even more – it’s a little early to say, but it might replace “God’s Menu” as my current Stray Kids favorite. But in any case, “Thunderous” is a massive creative triumph, and I sincerely hope it will be a success in other ways as well.
(“Knee Jerk Reaction” is a column I created to talk about comebacks or debuts when I don’t have a lot of time to write in-depth reviews. A knee jerk reaction is like an automatic response, so it’s a post about my initial thoughts on the song, the music video, and the performance if it’s available. Compared to my reviews, everything is more stream of consciousness and less analytical. And everything is 100% my own opinion!)
SOURCES: Featured image and music video belong to JYP Entertainment. Original Soompi article can be found here.