In this review, Crystal Bell unpacks Stray Kids’ new EP, MAXIDENT, and the journey they’ve charted in their discography.
In pop music, the boundary between authentic artistic expression and commercialism forms a circle. One tends to serve the other. Breakthrough artists have something to say (even if it’s something you don’t like to hear); it’s how they connect with the fans who stream their music, buy their merchandise and attend their concerts. Yet there is always a fear that commercial success and popularity will tarnish artistic integrity, that the appeal to the masses will ultimately only appeal to the record labels that approve of it.
It’s something I thought of while listening to Stray Kids’ latest EP, MAXIDENT. The resounding success of their previous album, ODDINARY, which topped the Billboard 200 chart and has since sold over 1.7 million units, in addition to a new partnership with Republic Records, put a lot of expectations on the shoulders of the K-pop group . And when it was announced that the album would explore themes of love – something Stray Kids had generally avoided in previous releases, at least explicitly – it raised concerns among their fans who feared that Stray Kids do not become common.
The reality is that MAXIDENT is an album about love, but it’s still typically Stray Kids. Lead single “Case 143” is a throwback to the band’s more playful side (think a quirkier, brighter version of March’s “Maniac” or “Back Door,” but somehow more campy). It’s a pop song full of surprises: an instantly hummable descending chromatic scale; a key change; intense rap verses from Changbin and Han (in which Changbin asks, aggressively, “Can I be your boyfriend?”); and a rhythm so flexible and changing it might as well be a rubber band. In other words, there’s a lot going on. It’s a love song for someone who gets easily distracted.