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For Stray Kids, Noise Isn’t an Insult — It’s a Secret Weapon

Rumble. Snap. Crack. In a bolt of thunder, K-pop mavens Stray Kids descend to Earth. Most precisely, to an ancient hanok village — a symbol of their Korean roots. In the MV for their latest single, they are the “Thunderous” ones, the “소리꾼” (sorikkun), a term for singers of pansori, a traditional Korean style of musical storytelling. But “소리” (sori) also means “sound” in English, while “꾼” (kkun) is a suffix for a “doer,” a person who does something a lot, or very well. Here is Stray Kids’ first revelation: embrace your noisiness.

It’s a response to targeted criticisms the band has faced: they are too loud, too noisy, too “construction music-y.” Since their debut in 2018, Stray Kids have written and produced largely all of their material, led by in-house production team 3RACHA (formed by members Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han). With such autonomy and enthusiasm to explore music without boundaries, it was only a matter of time until they struck a nerve.

“We actually thought the term ‘noise music’ was something that we could use as our own weapon,” leader Bang Chan tells Teen Vogue. It became the inspiration for the title of their second studio album, NOEASY, released on August 23. The wordplay is meant to convey agency, strength. “In the face of the ‘loudness’ that tries to deter us and get in our way, whether it’s pain, hardship, adversity, disapprovement, or criticism, we won’t be shaken easily, nor will we ever break down in front of it,” says incendiary rapper Changbin.

Title track “Thunderous” encapsulates that meaning throughout its many layers, incorporating elements that would have stunned Italian painter and composer — and noted appreciator of noise — Luigi Russolo. “Every manifestation of life is accompanied by noise. Noise is thus familiar to our ear and has the power of immediately recalling life itself,” he wrote in his 1913 Futurist manifesto, The Art of Noises. He stated that sound, “estranged from life, always musical, something in itself” had become “too familiar,” and that “noise instead, arriving confused and irregular from the irregular confusion of life, is never revealed to us entirely, and always holds innumerable surprises.”

In “Thunderous,” contemporary synths and drops blend in with traditional Korean instruments in a boisterous sound storm. “We wanted to present everything on a bigger scale,” all-rounder Han explains. Vocalist Seungmin adds, “To emphasize the diverse instrumental sounds, such as the “꽹과리” [kkwaenggwari, a small, flat gong made of brass, primarily used in Korean folk music], the traditional Korean drums, etc, we mixed a lot of Korean elements into the theme of the music video. I think the action of combining all this together worked well in executing the depth of the song.”

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