[Review] Stray Kids are cheeky & brash on the wonderfully produced “CHEESE”

Stray Kids have had an … eventful 2021, and they’re closing it by bringing new music in the form of album ‘NOEASY’, pronounced “noisy”, a nod to a common criticism of their releases.

With their single “Thunderous” I felt they fell rather flat, surprisingly not committing to a concept and getting mediocre release as a result. Thankfully, they decided to give a music video to “CHEESE” as well, which is a far superior song, if not one that isn’t as poppy.

While I understand Stray Kids’ tip of the cap to people calling them noisy, I never quite understood the charge. I get that some of their tracks are unconventional for pop, but even “Side Effects” doesn’t come close to noise music to me. Perhaps a history of listening to metal and things of that nature have made me immune, but they’ve still maintained melodic moments within a sound that is still relatively softer than hardstyle EDM.

Anyway, when listening to “Cheese” it’s hard not hear the industrial-laced hip-hop influence that has gone from Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” to Bewhy’s “Gottasadae” to this. The pounding industrial-ish drums carry so much weight, and since it’s a sound that I absolutely love, it attached me to “CHEESE” immediately. The gritty, wailing guitar riffs layered over the beat are an element that deserves to be highlighted in itself, as it helps cement it as its own thing, and that’s already an undeniable foundation. Stray Kids do well to mostly not distract from the excellent production, but also generate highlights of their own with the way they play off each other flawlessly in the verses, and their screeches of “cheese!” that drip with sarcasm quickly become addictive.

Another layer to it is the lyrics contain clever wordplay to work around the theme. The aforementioned pre-chorus itself was amusing — “index (thumb), middle (index), ring finger, pinky” — with the lyrics counting down the fingers on an open hand to form a “hang loose” sign and eventually a thumbs up, but if one listens to the order of the background echoes it forms a middle finger instead. It encapsulates the whole energy of “CHEESE”, which exudes a cheeky and confident demeanor that’s not always credibly accomplished in a K-pop effort like this.

The exact criticism that Stray Kids are pushing back on with “CHEESE” is effectively why they’re noteworthy to me, as they don’t tend to shy away from going outside of the box, but also still manage to release material that maintains pop appeal. With “CHEESE” they’ve found another success, showcasing something brash and different but with production roots from undeniable bonafides.

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