Review

Song Review: Stray Kids – Side Effects

Stray Kids are a difficult group to decipher, and I’m starting to think they like it that way. March’s Miroh was a watershed moment for them, and remains one of 2019’s finest singles. By bolstering their hard-hitting hip-hop sound with equally impactful EDM influence, the song seemed to spark a newfound ambition in the group’s trio of composers (also known as 3RACHA). Of course, ambition can cut both ways, and new single Side Effects (부작용) is likely to baffle just as many listeners as it thrills.

On first listen, the song caught me completely off guard. Where was the chorus? Or rather, where was the melody? Miroh was built on layers of instantly-galvanizing melody — almost hypnotic in their chant-like repetition. Side Effects keeps the same energy intact, but lets its blustering instrumental do most of the heavy lifting.

In this way, the song initially comes across more like an album intro or dance showcase. There isn’t a whole lot for the members to do beyond grunts and guttural screams. Placed within K-pop’s ultra-catchy context, this approach feels equally frustrating and exciting. Further listens tease out some of Effects’ hooks, namely a pre-drop injection of emotive melody that fits right within Miroh’s anthemic wheelhouse. The rap verses are more scattershot, but delivered with the passion we’ve come to expect from this group.

Really, though, Side Effects is all about its tour de force instrumental. Built upon the psytrance sub-genre, the 1Take & TAK-produced track surges with unpredictable energy — pensive and subdued one moment and explosive the next. I’m not a fan of the slower, trap-inspired segments (shocker, right?), but when Effects gets going, it generates its own sort of magic. The central drop delivers an unrelenting, sledgehammer beat intertwined with medical-based, spoken-word samples. Better yet is the combination of cinematic, klaxon synth and thumping percussion that first gets the song going. I could argue with how these elements are utilized (more pop melody, please!), but it’s utterly thrilling to hear new sounds within K-pop’s staid musical landscape. Say what you want about Stray Kids, but there’s definitely no predicting where they’ll go next.

 Hooks 7
 Production 9
 Longevity 9
 Bias 9
 RATING 8.5

~

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24 thoughts on “Song Review: Stray Kids – Side Effects

  1. I can’t believe this works. I absolutely can’t believe it. My first impression listening to the song was definitely a negative one, but I was listening just after waking up and without headphones. I kind of heard it as a less successful Miroh repackage, and while Miroh is its own beast, I changed my mind on the third listen. It’s my least favorite style of drop on top of just BEING a drop, there’s no real melody to the chorus, and it shouldn’t work with me, but here we are. Where have my musical preferences gone? Straight to Stray Kids, it seems like.

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    • Sorry to hop onto my own comment (where’s the edit button when you need it?) but my poor green guest icon! I was just getting to be super fond of it. Where have you gone?

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    • I thought the same thing!! The drop is definitely not my cup of tea and stray kids starting to use it even more these days. I appreciate Chris and 3racha in general for experimenting different genres and sounds even tho it’s a huge risk. I didn’t like Miroh at first too, the build up before the drop and chorus wasn’t my thing but after some time, i found myself bopping the song secretly lol. The same thing happened today too, when i first listened the song i was weirded out?? But when i woke up today and gave it a chance, that definetly worked out!! The power Stray Kids hold ugh

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think they could have swapped this with the intro track Road Not Taken and made that the title track instead. There is a lot of instrumental here, so I found it difficult to follow the structure of the song. It lends itself to great choreography though.

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    • Yes, the choreography absolutely betters the song. I kind of agree with you, too. I’m very happy with Side Effects as is, but I do admit I listened to the Road Not Taken teaser and was super excited to hear what sounded like a promising title track—I had no idea I was listening to the wrong teaser!

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      • I’m loving Side Effects more and more each time I listen to it, but I agree that we need a full song version of Road Not Taken. There’s so much potential there.

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  3. Since it clicked with everyone after a few more listens, I decided to give it one more try. I guess the rough electronic drop doesn’t have that repulsing effect after a second listen. Still, this song for me lacks the addictiveness of Miroh.

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  4. I love it.

    This one is about the textures of the instrumentals, accompanied by enough vocals to call it a song. Within the vocals or more properly raps and chanted words, they also use the different timbres well.

    Something about the intensity of passion of Stray Kids feels a lot more genuine than the other young boy groups. Since you posted the SS501 song the other day, this one reminds me of that old school Gen 2 bombast, but updated for 2019.

    The news reporter narration over the “chorus” is an effect I haven’t heard in a while. It fills the space and lifts and transforms what would have been be a typical drop chorus. (Although I wish they had used a different narrated text each time, minor quibble.) (Who wants to bet every how many other groups are now going to use that effect for a drop chorus?)

    I love the outro bumpity bump timbre. Is it the same tempo as the other parts or slightly slower? It sounds slower …

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    • Stray Kids are bringing one aspect that felt severely missing in last year’s K-pop, and that’s a sense of impact. I think that their energy and ambition helps make up for a lack of melody here. I’ll never love this as much as Miroh, but that’s a high bar. Even so, it’s a more-than-worthy follow-up and I’m enjoying it more and more as time goes on.

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  5. I became a big ol’ Stray Kids fangirl right before Miroh dropped. I came for the rap line, stayed for… well, the rap line, but also the members and the music. Last year I was firmly of the camp that they were overhyped, but this year I binge watch compilation videos of them and squee whenever they put out new content. Welp.

    Anyways, from the teasers I thought this was just going to be a generic boy group drop song. And well, it isn’t. I also came knowing that I am naturally more lenient with them when they use tropes that I usually dislike. I would probably have watched all the promo material for it whether I really liked the song or not.

    Fortunately, I do enjoy the song. I like the pulsing electro drop chorus, and I like how the song weaves in and out of sections varying greatly in intensity without seeming to follow the usual pop song formula. This song is definitely a grower rather than an instant love, and there are several things that I personally would change to make the song fit my own taste more. But if I had the choice to actually apply the choices, I doubt I would say yes. Because the glitchy, hard-hitting bombast of this song feels exactly like something Stray Kids would do, and to change it for my personal taste would be underselling Stray Kids.

    It’s not perfect a perfect song, nor is Stray Kids perfect, but they fit together; and this song also shows how they’ve evolved. I’m so glad Stray Kids produces their own (good) music, and I hope their music never loses its unique spark the way I feel, say, Seventeen’s did. Stray Kids songs feel like an intrinsic part of them as a group, and I love how they do that. I didn’t really like Stray Kids’ music before I got to know them as a group, and how the two are tied together. Now I love both Stray Kids and their music. By extension, for the reason I detailed above, I love this song.

    (I hope this makes sense haha)

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    • It’s funny that you became a fan right before Miroh, because that’s probably when my interest was at its lowest. I was really hyped on the group during the first half of 2018 (especially after District 9 dropped), but slowly lost excitement with the less-than-stellar My Pace and I Am You. I did name them my rookies of the year last December, but it was a hesitant choice.

      However, the one-two punch of Miroh and Side Effects has reignited my interest big time. I hope they keep this hard-hitting, electronic style for a long time.

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  6. It’s not love at first listen for me, like Miroh, but this track is super interesting. Especially that sample in the chorus caught me off guard. Super curious to see how stray kids continue!

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  7. Like you said, there’s some things that work well here and some that drag the whole affair down.

    The stuff I like would be:

    1. Finally using Felix’s voice properly for dynamic contrast. The “deep voice rapper” has been a trope in k-pop since the advent of T.O.P., but rarely are they placed so purposefully in an arrangement.
    2. Spoken word in the chorus reminds me of WYM’s “Where Are We Going,” which is a massive compliment from me.
    3. Stray Kids in the year of our lord 2019:
    -Releasing music nodding to a genre directly associated with taking psychedelics. Right now.
    -Titling said it “side effects,” have some dude reading drug facts newscaster style in the middle of the chorus. In this climate.
    -I get this (probably) wasn’t on purpose, but the timing is just glorious.
    4. The militaristic chant of the beginning is fantastic. In fact, there are literally no flaws with the first minute of this song
    5. They actually included screaming. I love a good scream.
    6. The repeated fake-outs are great, thanks Felix. Maybe I should be FLHB.

    Issues:
    1. Trance is a mostly wordless genre, which is an inherent contradiction in the frame of a k-pop feature. Since they stick with the instrumental-only spirit in the chorus, concessions must be added in the verses. Stray Kids mostly deal with this challenge well, putting the most aggressive raps where they belong (i.e. not in half time) and using cues in the instrumental to drive the song around effectively despite heavily contrasting sections. Except right after the first chorus, where they repeat the melody from the very first section but also cut all of the cool instrumentation, causing the song to briefly fall flat on its face. Presumably, this choice was to give the vocalists room to shine in a song where they’ve been sidelined on both the chorus and pre-chorus, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. For example, there’s another slow-down in the bridge that works fine since they repeat the excellent piano from the intro instead of introducing incongruous jazzy piano and Trap Skitter textures.

    2. They never repeat the instrumental that happens from about 0:15 to 0:32, which is really disappointing since that’s like the best bit. What we get instead is also good, but still. RIP.

    3. Most of the criticism I gave was just more compliments; this song is seriously really good and I love it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with all of your positive points, and also agree that the bit just after the first chorus is the song’s weakest moment. I’ve come around to it, though, especially since it’s immediately followed by my favorite segment (that rousing, two-part pre-drop melody).

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  8. Side Effects conjures dark, brooding images in my brains. Its experimental nature with heavy drums/bass make me realize how much I miss 1980s Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. My goodness, I like this more than Miroh.

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  9. I’m so hung up this song, it’s a surprise to me. I’ve casually listened to and liked some psychadelic trance before but I’m not a diehard or knowledgeable fan of psytrance. And yet I can’t get this song off of my mind for too long and it feels like my brain got hijacked against my will, and the feeling only got stronger after watching the performance lol

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