Stray Kids: JYP’s new direction

Ever since the conclusion of JYP Entertainment’s survival reality program Stray Kids, where the nine members of the group took part in various challenges set by the company to prove that they were able to debut as a whole group, the victorious (and complete!) group was busy with promotions for their pre-debut EP, Mixtape, which featured the group’s tracks that were mostly performed during the program.

Following its release, Mixtape proved to be a fan favorite and topped charts in the States, and also proved to encompass the essence of what is unique about this group and, by extension, showcased the new direction that JYP Entertainment is taking in debuting this group. All the seven tracks on the EP were composed in some way by the members of Stray Kids, be it in lyric-writing, songwriting or arranging. In particular, the members of “3RACHA,” a previously established trio within Stray Kids consisting of leader Bang Chan and rappers Han Jisung and Seo Changbin, wrote the lyrics for all the songs and took part in the music composition for six of them. The ownership and individuality shown here is rare in the K-pop industry, considering this is a group who has yet to officially debut.

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It is even more surprising considering JYP’s usual management of their groups. With the exception of rock band DAY6, whose debut EP was also composed of songs created by the members, JYP’s boy groups mostly started out with EPs and title tracks composed by Park Jinyoung himself (i.e GOT7’s “Girls Girls Girls” and 2PM’s “10 Out of 10”). The members of these groups eventually went on to create their own music for their later albums and title tracks (i.e Jun K’s “Go Crazy,” JB’s “You Are”) after a few years, which is a common practice in the industry. Stray Kids releasing Mixtape could thus be an indication of a shift in JYP Entertainment’s priorities for their new groups: no longer are they optimizing safe and polished debut performances but instead highlighting releases that showcase more musicality and creative freedom. Perhaps this is to align with the current trend of self-composed music in the industry but whatever it is, it is definitely paying off for Stray Kids.

The exceptional composing skills of the members, especially the members of 3RACHA, were constantly displayed throughout the program, an instance being their rap face-off with YG Entertainment trainees, where Changbin and Jisung wowed with their original track “Matryoshka” (from their third mixtape, Horizon).

Since last January, the trio have been releasing their original tracks through SoundCloud and YouTube, with a total of three mixtapes out at the moment. The exposure they received as trainees does explain their prowess now especially for long-time trainee Bang Chan, who has so-far single-handedly done the producing and mixing for most of 3RACHA’s tracks, with Changbin and Jisung contributing to the lyrics.

The trio’s experience shows in their works, and really helped the entire boy group establish a very unique musical identity right off the bat. With the music video of “Hellevator,” the title track of “Mixtape,” racking up millions of views on YouTube before the reality show even premiered, anticipation was high for Stray Kids thanks to this intense song which highlighted the various strengths of the members, in particular their synchronized dancing. The group continued to impress with their music through the missions on the show, where they took on challenges such as performing at a live broadcast and busking on the streets.

While the group as a whole is definitely still a rookie one, especially with regard to the vocal areas, Stray Kids has proven that they can (and do) distinguish themselves from other rookie boy bands, not just musically but with their fresh personalities as well. Often displaying tough and charismatic images on stage, they played up their youthful charms on the show once off stage and even now on the occasional V-live broadcasts that they do. With an average age of 20 (youngest member Jeongin is a 2001-er), the members are cute and playful especially when they interact with each other.

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Speaking of which, the unity of this group is remarkable, despite only being formed a few months before the show. Perhaps this is where Stray Kids differs most from Sixteen, the survival show from which TWICE was created in 2015. In Sixteen, the 16 members competed against each other to get into the seven member group (it was later changed to nine members), which naturally created a lot of rivalry among the members. Stray Kids, on the other hand, was promoted and run as a show where the group “fought” with JYP to debut together. Their adorable friendship and dynamic were on display from the start, and got viewers passionately rooting for the group to stay together. The most unique part of this survival show was the lack of competition between the members and the cooperation they displayed. There was very little “fighting for the main part” that often goes on in such shows, and instead, there were so many moments where the more experienced members sacrificed their own practice time to help those who were lagging behind or in danger of elimination. The hard work and effort that the whole group put in to help each other improve led to heart-wrenching and tear-jerking moments for members and fans alike when a few members ended up being eliminated through the course of the show (they were eventually brought back in the final mission), further endearing the group to the viewers.

With all the hype and popularity Stray Kids has already gotten so far, their debut is definitely a highly-anticipated one. It still has to be proven if the “free-reign” direction JYP is taking with this group will last in the future, but for now, it’s producing results and I cannot wait to see how far this group will fly from here.

Have you been keeping up with Stray Kids? What do you think of the new direction JYP is taking with them? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.