Stray Kids' Lee Know, Hyunjin and Felix Express Their Love (In a Sexy Way)

Stray Kids' Lee Know, Hyunjin and Felix Express Their Love (In a Sexy Way)

by Crystal Bell

In the early days of summer, Hyunjin started writing a love song for Stray Kids' forthcoming album. He realized that this wasn't like the radiant love so often depicted in his favorite romantic comedies. It was darker, sexier and a little foreboding, like a beautiful red rose covered in thorns. "I wanted to express a deeper sense of love in the song," Hyunjin tells PAPER, quickly adding, "In a sexy way."

That sexy track became "Taste," a unit song from Hyunjin, Lee Know, and Felix on the Korean group's latest EP, MAXIDENT. There aren't many songs in Stray Kids' discography that are explicitly sexy, but Hyunjin is intent on changing that. "Red Lights," a 2021 collaboration between him and Bang Chan, is currently the group's most-streamed b-side on Spotify. The song is so popular among fans, they added it to their Maniac world tour setlist and reworked it to include all eight members. With "Taste," this genre of sensual, atmospheric R&B is becoming Hyunjin's signature style.

"When I was creating the melody and top line, I wanted to create a profound and mysterious atmosphere," he says. He's joined by Lee Know and Felix to talk about making the track. "In particular, I wanted to capture a longing desire for love in this song." It's not just a song about lingering feelings and desire; it's about wanting something that's bad for you — a love that hurts. Lyrics like, "Kiss me or leave me," and, "Kiss me or hate me," evoke a more mature image, "In contrast to a more bubbly, cute idea of love," he adds. This love burns and he yearns for it, anyway.

After Hyunjin made the demo, he sent it to Lee Know and Felix so that they could add their own personal touches to it. A unit piece is a collaborative effort — a chance for every member to contribute creatively, to craft their own stories and further develop their songwriting skills through various genres. There wasn't much to their creative process. Having written previous tracks together (like 2020's "Wow," an R&B jam you can strut to), they know how one another works best. "I feel like we really know what we're doing now, even though we don't know what we're doing," Felix jokes, his Sydney accent thick. Throughout the interview, he takes on the task of interpreting for Lee Know and Hyunjin, the latter occasionally conveying his thoughts in English. Felix is like that, attuned to other people's needs.


This is just a small example of their dynamic. Even the way they're dressed — Hyunjin, on the right in all-white; Lee Know, on the left in all-black; and Felix, in the middle wearing a black jacket over a white t-shirt — is telling.

Within their unit, there aren't designated roles. No one's a peacekeeper or a project manager. There's just accountability and communication. While working on "Taste," there wasn't even a whole lot of back-and-forth. They each did what they had to do. "This time it was very simple," the freckled rapper continues. "Hyunjin gave us insight into the idea of what 'Taste' should be like, and we went from there." He and Lee Know added additional lyrics, with the elder also contributing some melodies. ("He's really good at that," Felix adds, excitedly.) Lee Know carries an air of nonchalance as he speaks — a calm he brings to professional situations like this. "The melody has to match the mood of the song," he says. "In this song, we wanted to express a more deep, mature love, so I had to consider that aspect when writing."

Hyunjin focused on adding "specific parts that would enhance each member's unique vocal colors." He wanted to build tension, contrast the dirty bass with haunting falsetto. The outcome is both severe and seductive. Lee Know delivers his most impassioned vocal performance ("I'm addicted to you," he roars on the hook) and his most delicate.

"When we were recording, I wanted to express the longing and desire in the song, because that’s what the song is about," Lee Know says, characteristically to-the-point. "I tried to put myself in a place where I was desiring something. So when I needed to shout, I just went for it."

Lee Know

Meanwhile, Felix demonstrates the flexibility of his cavernous voice by launching into a full-scale falsetto war. "Bang Chan always says my voice is like a weapon, so in that sense, I try to make my parts stand out," Felix says. "Sometimes I'll try to make it as deep as I can. I'm the bass guitar of the team. It's a distinct and unique sound, but I also like to show new sides to myself."

As the group's dance line, Hyunjin, Lee Know, and Felix — who affectionately call themselves "DANCERACHA," a riff on 3RACHA, Stray Kids' primary producer trio — put a lot of effort into making a song that would evoke strong visual imagery. "Because our unit is made up of members who are in charge of the performances for the group, we wanted to work on a piece that would create a great performance on stage," Hyunjin explains. "I thought a lot about the performance on stage while making the song and I wanted the lyrics to reflect the changing mood on stage with the stage lights."

Any dancer knows that music alters how an audience sees and experiences the performance; one influences the other in an eternal pas de deux. For that reason, Lee Know says he tries to "focus on the music first" before putting things into motion. They worked on the choreography for "Taste" alongside their performance team at their company, JYP Entertainment, with the goal of expressing "the longing [of the song] in greater depth." It's emphasized through small details and sinuous movements. They add power, and hip thrusts, where it's needed, but the impact lies in where they show restraint — how Felix submissively tilts his head upward, how Lee Know shouts his frustration through subtle gestures.

Lee Know thinks his strength is that he can deliver a performance "in a more personal way on stage, so that it touches someone deeply." This ease comes from more than a decade of dance experience. Before joining JYP Entertainment as a trainee, he was a professional dancer who took on gigs while balancing shifts at a barbecue restaurant. Within Stray Kids, he takes on the role of the group's dance leader, monitoring their dance practices and giving feedback.


If Lee Know's strength is precision, then Hyunjin's is presence. "I focus and engage with the song so that my emotions can reflect what I am trying to convey on stage," he says. The captivating performer is known for his passion and body control. On stage, the emotion pours out of him. Maybe it's the result of being an emotional person himself, or it's the way he sees himself as a storyteller across various mediums of art: Music, painting, drawing, poetry and dance. He's always looking for ways to convey meaning. "I write about my emotions every day," he says in English, referring to his habit of daily journaling. "And I love to listen to songs, so making music has now become one of my hobbies. I want to tell my story to Stays [the fans]. It's fun."

Felix has been thinking about this lately — the ways in which every member of Stray Kids has started to express themselves individually. "We've done a lot as a team, but as time goes by we also want to show other sides to us," he says. "Hyunjin is doing a good job of honestly telling his own story. I feel like that's a very new thing in Stray Kids."

At this point, Hyunjin removes his white baseball cap to reveal the freshly shorn, bleached blonde hair underneath. "I changed it yesterday," he says. It's an unexpected new look to mark the start of another musical era, and for Hyunjin, who has become synonymous with long, wolfish hair these past two years, it's a big change. "It's really very nice this time," Felix says, putting his hand on Hyunjin's shoulder. There's a giddiness to Hyunjin's demeanor. He knows he's hiding a social media-shattering secret from fans, and that it will likely be a week or so before anyone finds out. The thought of surprising people is kind of thrilling.

It calls to mind the real message Hyunjin wanted to share through this song: "Please don’t turn your eyes to anybody else," he says with a winsome eye smile, "keep loving us."

Photos courtesy of JYP Entertainment