Every now and then a K-pop group comes out of the gates with guns blazing, making a splash on the scene the moment they debut. But, the question that follows is, can they keep that momentum going with the comebacks that follow?
StayC, a six-member girl group under Highup Entertainment, is one of those rare groups that can do that, and have done it, from their standout debut with “So Bad” to their latest viral hit “ASAP” and their newest EP Stereotype.
Nothing like the title of their first mini album, StayC have proven themselves to be anything but a cliche. According to the group’s official description on Highup’s website, StayC, which also stands for “Star To A Young Culture” (also the title of their first single album), strive to usher in a new era of K-pop by creating a “Teen-fresh” genre “that brings out the confidence of teenagers with a new vibe.”
Fittingly, Stereotype makes a convincing case for said genre — a healthy combination of retro musical stylings and futuristic pop sounds with a splash of innocence. The EP’s inclusion of “social messages” and experimentation with sound and genre are surefire signs that the StayC girls are on the cusp of proving that they can break through the typical K-pop mold.
The EP begins with the eponymous title track “Stereotype,” another unique and addictive track from the group with musical aspects reminiscent of StayC’s previous single, “ASAP.” As the name of the song suggests, “Stereotype” goes heavy on delivering its social message, featuring lyrics that encourage listeners not to judge a book by its cover. The song also depicts StayC’s own quest to find and hold onto their confidence while navigating those who judge them:
It’s especially noticeable today
I can see everyone staring at me
The more I feel, the more confident I am
I’d go anywhere blowing my hair
So that my sweet perfume blows, yeah
I like how I always dress myself up
I like being pretty, but listen, yeah.
But where the song really shines is musically — namely, in its addicting melodies, pacing, and the members’ sweet, honey-like vocals. “Stereotype”’s pacing and melodies are balanced by a funky, futuristic bass that constantly changes rhythm and speed between and within verses in the track, giving it its addicting quality. In between those complex bass rhythms are bubbly, flute-like synths and the members’ own synth-like harmonies, which give the track its “Teen-fresh” stamp of approval.
A major highlight of “Stereotype,” aside from its earworm combination of musical elements, comes during the bridge, when the harmonies and synths previously layered throughout are stripped away, leaving member Isa to sing the last iteration of the chorus with just the rhythm of the synth behind her.
Don’t look with your tinted glasses on
I’m a different woman
You should know, but I’m still afraid even if I look fancy.
The addictiveness of “Stereotype” doesn’t let up as the EP flows into the next song, “I’ll Be There.” The ballad track begins with a clear, soothing guitar riff with a simple rhythm. Rapper and maknae J’s broad, deeper voice is immediately recognizable as she sings “Hello” in English, then “안녕,” also meaning “hello” in Korean, over just the guitar.
A post-breakup song of sorts, “I’ll Be There” may seem like a filler track on the EP at first glance. However, make no mistake, because it certainly isn’t. The track’s chilled, slowed-down nature and instrumentation allows each of the StayC members’ unique, sweet, and sleek vocals to shine through. As each of the members switch every few lines to showcase their vocals one at a time, fluctuating between tones and high and low notes, “I’ll Be There” becomes a promising feat of StayC’s ability to shine not only in their addicting melodies, but as vocalists first and foremost.
“Slow Down,” the third track on the EP, ironically speeds things back up as the group takes a crack at the tropical house genre. While the trending genre is new territory for the group, “Slow Down” is so familiarly “StayC” that the fact that the track even technically falls within the tropical musical genre may be an afterthought for some listeners. The track’s tropical elements are most easily heard in the track’s beats and rhythms, via rhythmic claps and percussive elements, but the group keeps their signature electropop style with a series of electronic, video game-esque “beeps” and “boops” in the background of the verses of the song.
“Slow Down” is a perfect example of both the group’s youthfulness and surprising level of depth for having only been around less than a year. Both Yoon and J tackle rhythmically challenging, fast-paced rap verses throughout the track, sandwiched between the high-pitched falsettos of Seeun and Sieun in the pre-chorus and chorus. At the end of the track, StayC seals the deal to push their “Teen-fresh” genre to the mainstream with a sing-songy chant from all of the members:
So take it slow (Hey)
So take it slow (Ho)
You need to slow down slow down
Take it slow.
“Complex,” the fourth and final track on the EP, is another amalgam of all the things StayC do best. It begins with an easygoing guitar riff reminiscent of R&B tracks of the early 2000s, which is fitting for the group’s usual throwback vibe. Sumin’s rap verse at the beginning makes the callback to 2000s R&B even more apparent, as she raps:
One time I thought I completely forgot you
Indeed it’s really time to be okay
Then someone makes my heart flutter
At that moment I always think of you, so I just end it, my baby.
“Complex,” like most of the other tracks on the album, is completely unlike any other song StayC has released thus far. It’s more laid-back than any other track on the EP, perhaps even “I’ll Be There,” but stands out as another unskippable track thanks to each members’ unique vocals and individual vocal prowess. Sieun in particular drives the song, and the entire album, home as she belts out a series of high-pitched riffs and near-whistle notes behind Isa’s and J’s final lines. As with the rest of the album, “Complex” is another unmissable sign of how far StayC has already come and how far they can go.
Ironically, but not unexpectedly, Stereotype is a completely misleading title for StayC’s first mini album. From their very beginning, they’ve been anything but a stereotype, permanently on a quest to shift the K-pop landscape and make music sound new again. With “Stereotype,” they prove themselves to be successful in that venture, hardly making any missteps in their experimentation with genre and sound and instead making anything not already theirs uniquely their own. They’ve already beat themselves at their own game once before, and have now done it again, proving they’re the ones to beat among other fourth-gen groups.
(dongA. Highup Entertainment. YouTube. Lyrics via Genius. Images via Highup Entertainment.)