If “God’s Menu” was all about chaotic kitchen sounds, Stray Kids went full throttle in “Thunderous,” exploding with “rumble, snap, crack, thunder” and their signature “noise” music in their newest album Noeasy.
The crowned Kingdom champions have carved a distinct sound for themselves since pre-debut, starting with “Hellevator.” Since then, their music tends to teeter on the edge of adrenaline rush and headache. Their last comeback, “Back Door,” harnessed the thrill of perfectly timed beat drops and their classic use of sounds from everyday life.
Noeasy is the essence of “Back Door” and more. This 14-track album is divided into four parts, representing four pieces of Stray Kids’ identity. Noeasy is chock full of noisy instrumentals and lyrics while also being seamlessly balanced by clever writing and emotional vocals.
Stray Kids’ ambitious project kicks off with “Cheese,” a fitting introduction with its witty focus masking serious lyrics. What other K-pop group (or artist in general) would literally write about cheese?
Complete with a gritty and bold electric guitar hook, “Cheese” uses humor to speak directly to Stray Kids haters who criticize their “noise.” As the first lines spit out, “Du-du-du-du-du-du is that funny to you? Is it funny that we have a headache?,” referring to “God’s Menu” and “Side Effects,” respectively. Ironically, this production is more refined and understated than their tracks brimming with noisy instrumentals.
The highlight of “Cheese” is the comparison of comments (or characters) to different kinds of cheese, demonstrating the comfortable humor that makes Stray Kids stand out. They tease, “We’re so funny you all got stiff, Parmesan cheese,” and then pivot to lightly chastise, “Your humor is a bit mozzarella cheese.” Throughout the song, too, is the bright “Cheese!” like what you would say before taking a photo. Even in the face of critics, Stray Kids celebrates their “alienness” and responds with humor.
Title track “Thunderous” carries on this next-level confidence. With lyrics like “I choose my own path” and “I’ll always say what I have to say” backed by explosive drums, brass, and an impactful beat drop, this song ushers in Stray Kids’ next era of charisma and self-assurance. Paired with the intricate choreography, “Thunderous” is a magnificent follow-up to Stray Kids’ victory on Kingdom.
“Domino” emphasizes wordplay, similar to “Cheese,” flipping through a variety of “domino” associations. Ranging from the pizza chain to the domino effect, the lyrics weave a story of working hard and success. At one point, they even used the Domino pizza chain as a metaphor for unoriginality. In contrast, Stray Kids go outside of their comfort zone in search of the unexpected: “I’m not picky, I’ll add every topping and chew and bite it.”
The hard-hitting brass are a bit reminiscent of “God’s Menu” as a strong bass supports the track. These elements build to their peaks at the end of the chorus with the aggressive repetition of “domino.”
To conclude the hype and humor section of Noeasy, “Ssick” combines both on top of a shallower sound and a fun beat drop. Wordplay takes center stage again, this time with “sick,” as in cool, being done with something, and illness. Confidence oozes from this track, least of all from the line, “I’m a player, I change the mood, game changer.”
Bang Chan and Felix’s lyrics halfway through the track reveal a moment of vulnerability, however:
Oh, yeah, I know
That I don’t have anything special
But yeah, did you know?
That I, myself, am really special.
Their loud confidence is more visible, but this quiet assurance in themselves cuts through the brashness. Stray Kids understand what they have accomplished—later in the song they mention their stages and awards, among other successes—and who they are. That knowledge itself is worth being proud of.
Throughout their three years as a group, Stray Kids have released their fair share of soft songs, but Noeasy is unique because the album has a dedicated section of emotionally honest tracks. The first of the five is “The View,” a sweet and simple pop of color among the darker tones of Noeasy.
The hooky repetition of “I like the view right now” creates an endearing track, if not a bit sappy. However, the verses are surprisingly dense, so the punchy chorus gives the song more room to breathe. “The View” is a drastic change from the bold opening four songs, but it also speaks to transitions (“Yesterday felt so stuck / But today, I feel comfortable without those frustrating feelings”), so it is fitting to be the introduction of the second part of the album.
In addition, the preceding tracks were very self-assured and had obvious clarity on what was coming next. Meanwhile, “The View” is Stray Kids slowing down and letting go, demonstrated in Han’s lines, “I don’t know where it will end / I leave it all to the refreshing wind.” Nature continues to be symbolic and a vehicle of storytelling, including an early line that reveals a changed perspective: “Back then, the place used to be vast like a desert / Now it is a wide field where I want to run.”
“Sorry, I Love You” takes the catchiness of “The View” and converts it into a sad love song. The sparse Korean hook, “johahaeseo mian, mian / johahaeseo mianhae” is simple, but it sticks. The production takes a backseat for “Sorry, I Love You,” as the friends-to-maybe-lovers arc is the highlight.
Changbin gave more insight as the lyricist. The rapper mentioned that the character is in love with a friend and confesses to her. However, the track captures the uncertainty that arises: will she reciprocate those feelings? Will this confession change their friendship? Stray Kids usually write songs about growing up and identity, but this niche love song is a nice addition to their discography.
The last three songs, “Silent Cry, “Secret Secret,” and “Star Lost,” tell stories within a larger narrative of navigating tumultuous struggles and keeping it locked inside of yourself. “Silent Cry” marks the halfway point of Noeasy and marks the album’s heart. This track focuses on Stay as Stray Kids’ own center, their own heart.
There is a tinny darkness to the intro. This and the title give clues on the song’s topic, but the upbeat production hides the solemn emotions. Stray Kids reach out an empathetic hand of comfort for those going through difficult times.
They know what it feels like, too, and they tell listeners that they will be there for them:
I’ll cry with you
Stop holding it in, let it go, go, go
When you lose strength, I’ll hold you
Just lean on me, ‘cause I won’t let you go
Sometimes having someone willing to listen or just be with you is enough.
The tables turn in “Secret Secret.” This time, Stray Kids reveal their vulnerability to the gentle strumming of a guitar. “Secret Secret” digs deeper into the emotions of Stray Kids–who they are, what they think about, and the stories of their fears. There is a shock of rain and water imagery, as these images are representative of the divide Stray Kids feels sometimes, their dejection that keeps beating them down, and their loneliness.
As always, the lyrics of the bridge are powerful: “I’m getting more and more tired / I feel left alone in the world / Will I get better by deceiving my own heart.” The same sentiments they were comforting in “Silent Cry” are now captured through the perspectives of Stray Kids themselves.
The last track of this section provides mutual comfort for the stories told in “Silent Cry” and “Secret Secret.” Loneliness is yet again a theme, which is one of the group’s fears:
Even if I live a calm life as if nothing has happened at all
I live it in fear that I’ll be left alone
While the “emptiness [can be] filled” for both Stays and Stray Kids, the latter is also looking for support from those people who they know are out there but cannot necessarily see. This is seen in the pre-chorus, “I imagine you in the night sky / You comforting me somewhere.”
“Star Lost” brings back the bouncy earworm quality of the early Noeasy songs with a simple chorus and outro that repeats “You got me feeling star lost.” Because of these characteristics and the easy listening this track provides, I can imagine it being an encore song at a Stray Kids concert. It is not hard to picture the members and fans singing “You got me feeling star lost” together.
Last year Stray Kids released a video series called “2 Kids Song,” documenting the paired up members and their short songwriting journey. A similar concept, the Howl in Harmony song camps, was employed before Noeasy dropped, building curiosity around the tracks produced by Han, I.N, and Seungmin; Felix, Lee Know, and Changbin; and Bang Chan and Hyunjin.
The last team created a sultry track that immediately distinguishes itself from the rest of the album. An addicting love/obsession song, “Red Lights” brings alluring staccato strings and an exploding electric guitar riff to the scene. The rhythms and the progression of this track brings to mind Michael Buble’s cover of Frank Sinatra’s “My Funny Valentine” with its James Bond-feeling and Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.”
Meanwhile, Changbin, Lee Know, and Felix’s “Surfin’” welcomes back the comedy. This laid back track opens with dissonant electric piano chords, which eventually fades to the background, prioritizing the summery—and relatable—lyrics. The three sing about taking a break by the sea from the heat, work, and lying that you are “fine.”
Clever lyrics strike again such as “My head is overheated like my laptop” (very relatable), and Felix’s line that should at least coax a chuckle, “I got ninety-nine problems but the sea ain’t one.” “Surfin’” also weaves vivid pictures like in Changbin’s verse, “I just bought my ice cream / I couldn’t even eat half, it all melted and flowed into my hands.”
The final unit—Han, Seungmin, and I.N.—opted for a ballad, “Gone Away.” As calming piano flows throughout, full and resonant beats sink into listeners’ ears and support the emotional lyrics.
Completing Noeasy’s love song trifecta, “Gone Away” dives into a crushing breakup. Poignant lyrics complement the vocals of the three, starting with the first lines, “Inside collapsed time / Even my hopes / For us to be together / No longer matter.” If the song camp tracks are any indication, one of the greatest powers Stray Kids have are their stories and distinct songwriting capabilities.
Wrapping up the Noeasy chapter are two previously released songs, “Wolfgang” from the Kingdom final and “Mixtape: Oh,” the only group track (sans Hyunjin) between In Life and Noeasy. As Stray Kids captured in their concluding Kingdom stage, “Wolfgang” is a brash and brutal fantastical story of survival, likening themselves to wolves. This vivid metaphor, however, can also be applied to the competition itself and the fight to survive in a saturated music/K-pop industry.
“Mixtape: Oh” is a full 360-degree shift, swinging from hunting wolves to an innocent romance. While not the most memorable song, “Mixtape: Oh” does lighten the mood and brings attention back to Stray Kids’ songwriting. Short and sweet characterize the lyrics, such as “In front of love, I’m still a kid” and “I just don’t want to linger around you like a scent.” This mixtape brings a soft conclusion to the noisy Noeasy.
Following Kingdom, the stakes are rising, but Stray Kids’ creativity and ambitions keep growing with these expectations. Listeners experience a sure-footed Stray Kids in Noeasy, beginning with their noisy confidence before transitioning to the deeper emotions underneath that assurance. The members got to experiment and challenge themselves in their unit tracks, looping fans and more into their creative processes and member interactions through the song camp concept.
They are a group full of thunder and lightning—and the storm of Stray Kids is not dying down anytime soon.