YOUNG-LUV.COM is a triumph in confidence

by Toyosi Begbaaji


STAYC girls, it’s going down! On February 21st 2022, 2021 Rookie of the Year girl group STAYC came back with their fourth overall album and second extended play (EP) album, YOUNG-LUV.COM. The EP includes six songs: the opening title track RUN2U and the five b-side tracks, SAME SAME, 247, YOUNG LUV, BUTTERFLY, and I WANT U BABY.



STAYC at the YOUNG-LUV.COM / “RUN2U” Comeback Showcase on February 21st, 2022.

(Image credit: CharacterMedia, with courtesy of High Up Entertainment – https://rb.gy/hhqarg)


I tend to use hyperbole when talking about the music I like from artists I respect. That being said, I don’t think I’m too far off when I say YOUNG-LUV.COM is STAYC’s best work to date. From top to bottom, from start to finish, from initial concept pics to the album drop day, every aspect of this album and comeback have been works of art that showcases the group’s strengths as idols, but also as musicians. While STAYC has yet to meaningfully dip their toes into the world of music production (something I am hoping they’ll start once they’re further along in their career), I believe they still manage to create music that feels uniquely theirs. Despite being a barely two-years-old group, they’ve established a core sound to their title tracks that allows them to explore interesting genres and styles in their b-sides. In short: you know a STAYC song when you hear a STAYC song, even if it might not – at first – seem like a STAYC song.


RUN2U

I wasn’t a fan of RUN2U on first listen. I’d loved the snippets, namely the music video teaser which showcased it’s triplet, 6/8 time signature feel. I’d been cautiously optimistic when they’d released the snippet of the bridge. Then, finally the full song dropped and it seemed…like a departure from Stereotype, their previous title track. I’d been expecting something that made me feel compelled to dance, with driving drums and twinkly musical adlibs. RUN2U felt…different. It felt less lovey-dovey and heart-eyed, more confident, combined with the strong styling of the members in the music video (special shoutout to Yoon’s deconstructed sneaker shoulder pads). All of a sudden, the girls who’d very shyly sung “I think you’re really cool” in ASAP were boldly stating “I’ll run to you!” It was jarring! But, having had the time to sit with the song – and be ruthlessly targeted by videos of dance covers, courtesy of TikTok’s algorithm – I can say that RUN2U might be my favorite STAYC title track yet. It’s cool and edgy, while still being sweet and age-appropriate. Every member has a chance to shine, showcasing their uniquely killer vocal colors in the swift shifts from verse to pre-chorus to chorus and back again. Even when I didn’t like the song, I couldn’t deny the “little bit, little bit” post-chorus sung by Isa was an earworm (and then some). Now that I’ve come around on the song, I can see all of the care that production duo B.E.P (Black Eyed Pilseung) put into every nook and cranny of the song. I get why they really couldn’t have fit in the iconic “STAYC girls, it’s going down” tagline, because then the song would’ve felt too full. RUN2U is nothing short of perfection, a song that either grabs you on first listen or steadily grows on you over time.


SAME SAME

Though I’m not a musician and have no experience with the album production process, I still strongly believe SAME SAME should have been the opening track on Young-Luv.com. And because I’m someone who loves music and the album production process, I can understand why it’s not. The song opens much less bombastic compared to RUN2U, starting with Sieun’s sweet, candy-like vocals over isolated picctaccatto electronic strings. The song is fun and makes use of incredibly on-brand instrumentals, but is perhaps too long to act as an intro song ahead of the title track. Had it been shortened, I’d likely be fighting harder for my corner. But! I know when I’m fighting a losing battle, so I’ll instead compliment the song for how it delivers some of the best early 2000s R&B feel in all of K-pop. Having grown up in the era of Mary J. Blige, Keri Hilson, Beyonce, and other Black R&B artists running the music scene, this song felt and sounded so nostalgic, the kind of song that I would’ve played on my old silver iPod shuffle. I love when artists can take a genre or sound that might otherwise be labeled as “dated” and update it enough for current music trends that it sounds timeless. SAME SAME is that – timeless. It has one of my favorite bridges, as well as a full circle moment of Sieun (who’d opened the song) laying down belts and runs that put her in high contention for best 4th generation idol vocalist. And, as a fun addition for fans, they slip in the “STAYC girls, it’s going down” right at the end! While I think it would’ve been fun to have this then lead into RUN2U, once again – I know when I’m fighting a lost battle.


247

247 very well might be my favorite song released this year. And it came out in February. Like SAME SAME, it speaks to early 2000s R&B, but also 90s hip hop with its strong, jazzy back beat of drums and buzzy synths. The way each member rides the beat during their individual sections sends chills down the spine, evoking the image of sitting in a low-rider with the windows down, glasses on. And then the chorus. Even just thinking about how perfect every element comes together gives me full-body chills. It’s times like these when I mourn that many groups only promote 1-2 songs off an album, because oh, how I would’ve loved to see how they would style, choreograph, and perform 247. This song also has the strongest rap from J, coming in the bridge after deliciously paced build up of the second verse. I don’t normally commend raps in K-pop songs, because I believe most of them…aren’t needed. J’s rap in 247 is not one of those. The more melodic instruments of the mix drop out to leave only the drums, which highlight just how well she rides each and every beat, bringing to mind a female MC with unflinching confidence. On one of my millions of listens to this song, I noticed a strange warbling noise in the background – if you can imagine the sound a large piece of plastic makes when you smack or wiggle it. It’s hidden so deeply in the mix that it’s hard to catch, but now I listen for it every time the song comes on. As the third song on an album of six, the cards were stacked in favor of 247 being that one semi-forgettable song on the album. Thankfully, however, it’s anything but.


YOUNG LUV

In my days as a hater of RUN2U, I argued that YOUNG LUV should have been the title track. In my rage, I tried starting a rumor that YOUNG LUV, in fact, was supposed to be the title track. Because it’s just so damn good. Pop-punk and its sons have been slowly making their way into K-pop over the last year – just look at TXT’s Lo$er=Lo♡er, Twice’s Cactus, and Chungha’s Flying on Faith. In true STAYC fashion, YOUNG LUV is one of the strongest to tackle the genre, leaning fully into the sound that should feel out of place on an album full of pop and R&B. Somehow, miraculously, it doesn’t. Perhaps because of the members’ voices, which have become familiar over the course of the previous three songs. Perhaps because rather than being structured like a title track, YOUNG LUV is allowed to play with its verse structure, opening with the melodic hook from the chorus before transitioning to the first verse. It’s in songs like these that STAYC’s all-roundedness as vocalists gets a chance to shine center stage. As the second song promoted off the album, it’s starkly different from RUN2U and expertly showcases STAYC’s diversity in sound, stage presence, and styling. And, as icing on top of an already massive delicious cake, we’re treated to more of Sieun’s high notes and runs, which soar over the final moments of the song, carrying a coldness colored with the feeling of just returning into the warmth of indoors.


BUTTERFLY

Even as what I would argue is the “weakest” track on Young-Luv.com, BUTTERFLY still fits nicely into the album. Sonically, it sounds similar to 247, but is a slower tempo that feels better suited for a grey-skyed rainy day. The descending synths bring down the mood of the song, before ascending back up in a flourish like a gust of wind. Following YOUNG LUV, there are hints of guitar sprinkled in the mix, adding cohesion. I’m reminded, in some ways, of Rewind by Twice, another melancholic slow R&B ballad of sorts. Unlike other songs on this album, BUTTERFLY makes use of the members’ harmonizing capabilities, sprinkling in adlibs at points that elevate a song that could be easily forgotten after a first listen. In many ways, this song, with its vocal and spoken adlibs, piano-heavy bridge, and smooth ending, reminds me of the kind of K-R&B that I adore, something straight off a Dean album. It’s only by virtue of being on this album that this song is my least favorite.


I WANT U BABY

And now – I WANT U BABY, the final track. This song keeps the moody feel of BUTTERFLY, though with added haunt from the choir sample and PopSmoke’s Dior-esque bass synth. This track feels a bit darker in general, more forceful though still in line with the confidence set up in RUN2U at the top of the album. While I was worried about this album suffering what I call the “Final Song Drop Off,” I WANT U BABY brings a truly unique feature to the table: an interpolation of Just Like Magic by Ariana Grande (from 0:28 - 0:34). Interpolations differ from traditional sampling in that they’re specifically re-recorded for use in a new song, rather than simply being transplanted from one song to another. This makes their use in music, and especially in K-pop, more intellectual. In the case of I WANT U BABY, I believe this is meant to cheekily nod towards the comparisons of different members of STAYC to Ariana by fans, particularly for their singing capabilities. Another reading could be to look at how Just Like Magic — which highlights instances of manifestation in life — might inform the meaning of the lyrics to I WANT U BABY. Another possible understanding could be that B.E.P just liked the rhythm and melody. Either way, this small musical moment adds so many additional layers to this song that it might not otherwise have. I find myself listening to this song for how chill it is compared to other songs on the album. Being the shortest song on the album, it’s also a quick listen. It still manages to be jam-packed with great instrumental and vocal moments (the high notes and adlibs in the final chorus are a treat), and ends just perfectly for an album of this caliber. A soft fade out that, like the cover art and Seeun’s pre-chorus line, disappears like a puff of smoke.


Final Thoughts

Carrying over from their 2021 first EP STEREOTYPE, STAYC’s second EP YOUNG-LUV.COM has a techno-synth heavy feel, both in visual and instrumental style. The album quite literally points the listener, both fan and casual listener, to type the album title into a search bar, leading to a functioning website. The highlight medley released prior to the full album visually blends smoky hearts with metal cages, speaking to a restrained love that fights to be free. The title track RUN2U keeps in line with this techno feel, opening with a “glitch-core” siren that arouses the feeling of a 16-bit “Game Over” screen, and the titular lyric “So, I’ll run to you” carry conviction. This album bleeds confidence. Each of the b-sides takes on the idea of loving, relationships, and being loved and evolves it beyond standard love songs. When I say that YOUNG-LUV.COM is STAYC’s best work to date, I mean it.


TOP THREE
  • 247

  • RUN2U

  • YOUNG LUV

Honorable Mention: SAME SAME
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