Fresh off their Kingdom victory, Stray Kids have returned with their second full-length album. Not many K-pop groups release two full albums back-to-back, but I’m sure Stray Kids’ self-producing status leaves them with plenty of material to choose from. Although last year’s God’s Menu was a fun, memorable title track, its parent album was stuffed with superior highlights that promised to push the group’s sound forward. It’s disappointing, then, that new single Thunderous (소리꾼) comes off as a retread rather than a step up.
Utilizing traditional instruments to forge a beat drop banger is not uncommon in K-pop. It’s always a welcome trick, but like any familiar trope it requires those basic building blocks – great hook, memorable melody – to stand on its own. My biggest gripe with Thunderous mirrors an issue I have with recent K-pop in general. Rather than focus on being an excellent song, it’s designed as a delivery method for attitude. I might be in the minority, but I don’t listen to K-pop for attitude. When it comes to Stray Kids’ recent career arc, I fear they’re more concerned with being clever than composing the iconic hooks that made tracks like Miroh and District 9 so enduring. Cleverness only gets you so far, especially when the audience comes to expect it.
With that said, Thunderous is still a cut above its peers. While the beat is more boisterous than thrilling, it’s stuffed with interesting samples that bring constant texture to the production. The song’s drop – which should be its centerpiece – only works in fits and starts. I feel like I’ve heard its… erm… thunderous synth a million times before, but the clattering percussion that follows is a nice touch. Unfortunately, the track is devoid of melody, relying on chants and exclamations when it would have been stronger embracing a more diverse structure. I’m so tired of this same “rap verse, bombastic pre-chorus, lumbering drop” template. It’s not new or exciting anymore, and quickly loses its appeal.