Less than two years into their career and StayC have already gained great popularity with their trinity of hit songs: “So Bad”, “ASAP”, and “Stereotype”. This time, they return with a slightly different style in “Run2U”.

While many may expect StayC to echo a style similar to the likes of “So Bad”, “Run2U” throws a curveball, to say the least. “Run2U” is pretty forgettable upon first listen. Though its chorus is not as catchy as any of their previous title tracks, that is not to say that “Run2U” is bad. It’s just different from the signature StayC sound that many are familiar with. 

That, however, is not the most troubling aspect of “Run2U”. Its motif is. On a visual level, “Run2U” appears to speak of female empowerment, that is, running along the lines of girls gone bad. The MV is filled with rebellious girl images, such as heart-shaped objects exploding, and even a balloon tank in their teaser photos. StayC don’t need love, it seems. 

However, their lyrics prove otherwise, commanding our attention. This is especially true after the problematic “Step Back”, which poses a similar issue about the misogynistic representation of women in K-pop by inherently suggesting that women should sacrifice themselves for love.

In “Run2U”, despite StayC’s ability to recognise their lover’s toxicity and acknowledge that they fail to understand them on many levels, StayC are unwilling to do anything about it. In fact, StayC refuse to let love go and see the bigger picture. Instead, they run towards it, thinking that love prevails, even if they know that love, like the bubble that Isa finds herself in, will pop: 

On the outside, you’re by my side, but you can’t understand

The nosey people are fake, I’m busy

No matter what I do, I can’t hear you, no, no, oh

“Run2U” isn’t as romantic as it seems. It continues to tie young women to love in harmful ways, asserting that StayC are dependent on love and that they need love to survive. Moreover, the use of pastel colours constantly reminds us that StayC are still heavily tied to their girlishness and the concept of love, a stereotype (ironically, given their song of the same title) of women.

In fact, the girls are so desperate for love that they will do anything for it, even if it means making self-sacrifices: “Crossing the linе over and over. It’s okay if I get hurt, I’ll run to you” and “Burn it and dig it, your love is so sunny, yeah. Even if I disappear or disappear”. This is a worrying theme, glorifying and romanticizing self-sacrifices in the name of love, self-destruction even.

Colloquially known as “struggle love”, briefly defined as needing to struggle and go through unnecessary pain to take one’s relationship to greater heights, StayC are blinded by this very love. In that aspect, they go so far as to comfort themselves even if they are hurt from chasing love (“It’s okay if I get hurt, I’ll run to you”), seeking to justify their obsessive and toxic actions with the reminder that they will soon be rewarded with his love. At this juncture, it can even be said that StayC’s over-reliance on love is almost encouraging their lover to hurt them again and again:

No, it’s okay, even if it hurts

It doesn’t matter, they can think whatever they want

I can’t stop because I love you

While one can argue that StayC, as young girls, are experiencing young love in accordance to their album title Young-Luv.com, justifying such actions only adds fuel to the dysfunctional fire. StayC’s portrayal of young love in “Run2U” is at the very least, uncomfortable. Love, whether young or mature, should never be toxic.

Since their debut, StayC have been singing about love. They’ve covered being desperate for love in “So Bad” and “ASAP”, trying to attract the attention of their crush in “Stereotype”, and now, romanticising toxic love in “Run2U”. While these songs are catchy, StayC and their producers have major issues to sort out.

With a long way to go in their career and more importantly, as a “Star to a Young Culture” (the meaning of their group name), StayC and their producers should live up to their name and work towards representing young women instead of misrepresenting them. So far, traditional gender expectations are subtly yet repeatedly reproduced with each comeback. Young culture and young girls are not all about boys and love. We can only hope that StayC will explore ideas beyond love in the future.

(Medium, YouTube. Lyrics via Genius. Images via High Up Entertainment.)