South Korean idol group, Stray Kids, made up of IN, Seungmin, Felix, Han, Hyunjin, Changbin, Lee Know, and leader Bang Chan, gained widespread recognition for their trendsetting, high adrenaline hit “God’s Menu” in 2020. On August 23, the group made their long awaited comeback with the release of their second full album, No Easy. Leading up to the release, Stray Kids dropped an album trailer, teasers, unit images, and a “Stray Kids [INTRO ‘NOEASY’]” video where the group touched on their personal thoughts and opinions about the album. The nine released teasers give fans a glimpse of the variety and duality that can be expected. The album features 14 multigenre tracks, such as the released teasers, slow and sexy “Red Lights,” summer time fun “Surfin’,” electronic “Cheese,” and groundbreakingly powerful title track “Thunderous.”
After gaining momentum in 2020, Stray Kids took colossal strides towards global recognition with their experimental performances and ultimate victory on MNet’s ‘Kingdom: Legendary War.’ Their performance “God’s DUDUDU” combined their most popularly known hit “God’s Menu” with Blackpink’s “DUDUDU” while incorporating a cinematic theme based on the movie Deadpool. The performance made such an impact that American actor Ryan Reynolds praised the group in a viral Tweet and continues to stay in contact with leader Bang Chan. Bang Chan even interviewed the actor after being invited to a private prescreening of his newest film, Free Guy.
Since Kingdom, Stray Kids, along with their growing fanbase, refuse to slow down. Constantly active on all platforms, not a week goes by when the group did not post or upload content. Over the past few months, whether it be SKZ Players (unofficial songs or dances uploaded on their YouTube channel), VLives (a platform for idols to go live with their fans), Instagram posts, Howl in Harmony (a series where Stray Kids casually conversed and allowed fans an inside look at the creation of the B-side tracks “Gone Away,” “Red Lights,” and “Surfin’”), or STAY Week (an entire week dedicated to their fans and the birthdate of their fandom name ‘STAY’), Stray Kids did not let STAY rest long before providing another piece of content to show their appreciation.
No Easy, stands as the group’s most anticipated comeback yet. The album racked in 930,000 pre-orders, breaking JYP Entertainment’s previous record sales of 830,000 copies set by JYP’s “Tantara” and has been projected to become the most sold album in company history. According to fans, the title itself No Easy, or “Noisy,” acts as a sarcastic diss towards haters who claim the group produces noise instead of music. The self-produced group -specifically Bang Chan, Changbin and Han who together make up writing and producing sub-unit 3Racha assisted on the creation of each track, making this album personal and an embodiment of the group’s essence.
Kicking off the album, “Cheese” stays true to Stray Kids’ signature electronic and heavy bass sound. This track playfully addresses the many phrases critics have mentioned regarding their music. Lyrics such as “You find du-du-du-du-du-du funny? / What’s so funny about a headache? / What’s so funny about A-class vibes / Funny Cheese” act as a clapback towards those who spoke poorly about their previous tracks such as “God’s Menu” and “Side Effects” for being “too different.”
The title track “Thunderous” draws fans in with its powerful, catchy beat and groundbreaking accompanying choreography. Member Felix explains, “This concept can be called ‘Goblin’ and ‘Black and Red.’ It is another image that we have never shown before, expressed with Stray Kids’ unique colors and sounds.” In 24 hours, the music video reached the group’s goal, an impressive 10 million views.
Following the title track, “Domino” pushes forward keeping the intensity. Domino manifests the theme that the title represents – “It starts with me, they follow me, the domino effect.” Stray Kids found a playful way to let everyone know that it doesn’t matter what people say about them because in the end everyone is going to follow in their trendsetting footsteps. Throughout the track each member contributes his own individual strengths and talents. To begin the track, Changbin implements his signature, distinctive rap saturated with aggression, confidence, and subtle disses. He, along with the rest of the rap line, Hyunjin, Jisung, and Felix, incorporate their distinct tones that captivates with every line. The vocal line, Seungmin, IN, Lee Know, and Bang Chan, break up the dominant, almost threatening raps with the electric keyboard-based melody and velvety vocals. A subtle xylophone scale can be heard underneath the main melody, representing the sound of falling dominos. Felix shines on this track by demonstrating his ability to not only demand attention with his visuals, but with his unique sound that can diversify and bring variety to any track. With his signature deep vocals, the high energy beat slows for the lyrics “One by one go down down down down / One by one they follow.” A music video compliments the track with vibrant colors, outfits, and editing techniques.
Next up on the track list is “SSICK.” Stray Kids abandon their usual humble personas to address those that treat them differently now that they are gaining success. Starting with a roaring audience, the song swiftly transitions to a hip-hop beat and Changbin’s staccato rap. IN and Seungmin join in during the pre-chorus complimented by piano and strings. Lyrics such as “The fakes pretending to be hot are bland / I’m tired of hypocrites treating me well” and “Don’t cross the line, don’t call you and I an ‘us’ yet” explain the group’s distrust of those who only recently started treating them with respect.
“The View” follows with a brighter, summery feel. In their Youtube video “Stray Kids [INTRO “NOEASY”], member Changbin stated, “We made this song a long time ago and we kept on saying we’ll include it in the album someday to perform and we got to include it on the second regular album. I feel attached to it.” The song expresses the feeling of being in awe of their current life. “Am I dreaming / It’s that beautiful / I was absolutely speechless.” The accompanying music video gives off similar vibes to that of their prior track “Blueprint,” a vibrant, positive essence offers the feeling of freedom and the first deep breath after dealing with struggle.
“Sorry I Love You” slows down the album to present a sadder, deeper aura. Produced and written by member Changbin, the track discusses the feeling of having an unrequited love for a friend. Lyrics sung over background piano and drums as “Sorry that I like you so much, I’m sorry / I tried to hide my feelings, but I guess it was too obvious” and “What I did to get closer to you was rather / Building a wall between us, I’m speechless” tap into the heart of a tortured soul facing a double-edged sword.
Stray Kids show fans a genre less explored with “Silent Cry.” Melodically, the track listens as a good balance between video game music and R&B. Upbeat electronic sounds and a catchy dance rhythm cushion the sad lyrical meaning. The track cries out to those that tend to suffer alone and keep their emotions and feelings tucked away instead of asking for help. The lyrics, “Don’t be the only one hurting / Give me your silent cry,” beg fans to share their burdens and break down the barrier between them.
Another one of the albums sadder, slower tracks “Secret Secret,” written exclusively by member Han, shares the theme of putting on a persona to hide personal struggle. With the use of string melodies and a heavy focus on the members vocals, the relatable track emotionally discusses the secrets and heartfelt confessions one may share with the pouring rain but not those around them.
In “Star Lost,” Stray Kids sing the feeling of missing and wanting to find a way back to someone so badly that it creeps into little moments and thoughts everyday. Although the lyrics represent heartache, the melody creates an uplifting, hopeful feeling. The track’s feel-good tune stays consistent through the entirety of the track.
“Red Lights” follow, asultry, seductive track written, composed, and performed by members Bang Chan and Hyunjin. The track uses sexual compulsion as a metaphor to talk about obsession and inner conflicts within oneself. In a music video full of BDSM themes, objects with deeper meanings, and an age warning, Stray Kids offer fans something like never before. Bang Chan and Hyunjin’s vocals uniquely compliment each other over a violin, an electric guitar, and a bass to emphasize sensuality. During their Howl in Harmony series, Hyunjin commented that fans can unpack and find new elements the more they watch and pay attention to different aspects of the setting and theme.
After the heavier “Red Lights,” track “Surfin’” flows in to bring a breath of fresh air to the album. Also created during the Howl in Harmony series, members Felix, Changbin, and Lee Know strive to create a refreshing track to cool down fans on a hot summer day. With vibrant outfits, playful dancing, and a catchy melody, the music video transports fans to a summer beach party. Fans on TikTok have since created the #surfinchallenge where they recreate the chorus’ bright choreography.
Following the summer hit, another creation formed during the Howl in Harmony series, “Gone Away,” provides the aching feeling of youthful love. Members Seungmin, IN, and Han create and perform a beautiful, heartbreaking ballad about loving someone while knowing it leads towards devastation and the ultimate decision to let that person go. A slow, pure piano and acoustic guitar harmony emphasizes the emotions in lyrics such as, “There’s nothing left (everything that was like a dream) / Even if time goes by / It only hurts.” Although the track and music video teaser represent juvenile love, the members’ experience and vocal maturity plainly manifest. The balance between smooth vocals and soft rapping adds variety and dimension to the album.
“Wolfgang,” the song the group performed to win MNet’s Kingdom: Legendary War, brings back the high energy of the album. This powerful song describes maneuvering the chaotic and malicious world together to come out on top. The album’s version consists of all eight members, which emphasizes the group’s bond and love for one another.
To round off the album, “Mixtape: OH” emphasizes each member’s vocal ability with a light melody created by the piano, strings, and soft percussion. Lyrically, the song discusses the feelings of being transported back to a pure sense of childhood and innocence when with a loved one. The provided music video shows each of the members engaging in different activities they enjoy while in deep thought. Scenes of the group enjoying their time together gives the feeling that this track can represent all types of love, whether romantic or platonic. It holds a great significance to both the group and fans, representing the surprise return of member Hyunjin after his four month hiatus.
No Easy perfectly represents Stray Kids’ evolved, more mature sound and image. Known for their signature EDM and hip-hop influences, they forged their own path in the K-Pop industry by showcasing each member’s authentic personality in each release and providing a unique perspective on what it means to be an idol group. No Easy shares their fearlessness of being different, their ability to produce a variety of different genres and styles, and their ability to defy those that doubt them. Speaking on his dream for the album, member Hyunjin commented, “I would feel really proud and happy if they say ‘Stray Kids pursue different music from others and are unique and full of personality.’ And above all, the goal is for the members to work safely without getting hurt.”
It’s safe to say they accomplished their goal.
Make sure to stream No Easy on all streaming platforms!