Exclusive: STAYC Champions Individuality and Self-Expression with "Teenfresh" Appeal

South Korea’s K-Pop export STAYC sends an uplifting message of self-love and authenticity. We caught up with the six-girl band right after their concert in Singapore in this ELLE Singapore exclusive.
Published: March 21, 2024

Forget fleeting trends and manufactured idols. K-Pop's latest wave brings raw talent, infectious energy, and a message of empowerment. Enter STAYC, the six-member girl group from South Korea poised to redefine what it means to be a pop sensation.

With their catchy tunes, bright energy, and positive message, the six-member girl group featuring Sumin, Sieun, ISA, Seeun, Yoon and J is regarded as fourth-generation leaders in today’s K-pop scene. If some of them look familiar, it may be because you’ve caught a glimpse of them in one of your favourite K-drama series: Sieun was in Still 17 (2018) and Mystic Pop-up Bar (2020), while Seeun was in The Guardians (2017).

Managed by South Korean music label, High Up Entertainment, known for crafting hits for TWICE, Apink, and SISTAR, STAYC quickly rose to stardom with their debut in 2020, amassing a loyal fanbase affectionately known as SWITHs (short for Stay With STAYC).

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Exclusive: STAYC Champions Individuality and Self-Expression with "Teenfresh" Appeal
From left: (On Seeun) Jersey shirt; wool pants, H&M STUDIO. Leather slingback pumps, H&M. (On J) Wool blazer; wool pants, H&M STUDIO. Leather slingback pumps, H&M.

Their debut single, "So Bad" (2020), was just the first taste of their infectious sound. It marked the beginning of a string of hits that solidified their place in the K-Pop pantheon. "ASAP" (2021) skyrocketed to No. 9 on Billboard's K-Pop 100 just five months after release, a meteoric rise that showcased their global appeal. "RUN2U" (2022) further cemented their success, landing on Spotify's Top Song Debut Global Chart at No. 8. But STAYC's impact transcended mere chart numbers. "Stereotype" (2021) became a viral TikTok sensation with over 48,100 videos, proving the universality of their message and the power of music to connect across borders.

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Exclusive: STAYC Champions Individuality and Self-Expression with "Teenfresh" Appeal
From left: (On J) Crepe dress, BERNADETTE at Net-a-Porter. Leather heels, FENDI. (On Seeun) Viscose knitted top, TOTEME at Net-a-Porter. Twill flared pants, A.L.C. at Net-a-Porter. Leather mules, H&M. (On Sumin) Wool blazer; wool waistcoat; wool skirt, TOD’S. Leather boots, VERSACE.

The name STAYC itself, an acronym for Star to a Young Culture, embodies their aspirations and stands as a beacon of inspiration and empowerment for the next generation. This relentless pursuit has resulted in their signature sound, a blend of youthful energy, electro beats and catchy, earworm melodies they describe as being "Teenfresh”, which is also the title of their third extended play. It's the sonic equivalent of a dopamine rush, a much-needed dose of optimism in a world often saturated with negativity. “Our songs convey a stronger and deeper meaning; one of hope, comfort, and dreams,” says J.

Confidence is a key pillar of the STAYC brand. Yoon shares her secret: "It’s important to love yourself and pursue your own interests without comparing yourself to others. Otherwise, you can get hurt by trivial things." This mantra resonates not just with their fans, but with anyone chasing a dream. It's a message they embody both on and off the stage, inspiring fans to embrace their individuality and chase their passions.


Exclusive: STAYC Champions Individuality and Self-Expression with "Teenfresh" Appeal
From left: (On Yoon) Viscose dress, FERRAGAMO. Patent leather slingback pumps, ROGER VIVIER. (On ISA) Viscose dress; Le Pliage Xtra leather pouch, LONGCHAMP. Satin slingback pumps, ROGER VIVIER.

Hot off their first-ever world tour—which took them to 11 cities across Asia including Singapore and, in the US, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles—the girls are still reeling from the high emotions of their experience. “The recent Singapore concert was really memorable. SWITHs’ enthusiasm and energy level were overwhelming, and I was really touched when they sang along with us,” says Seeun about the electric atmosphere during their performance. “I think it's great to be able to give and receive energy across borders, languages, and cultures. I feel proud that K-pop is becoming more influential,” adds Sieun.

This global adoration isn't happenstance. STAYC is proving yet again that a potent blend of looks, talent, marketing savvy, and a clear message is what makes a great group greater. Rather than simply ride the K-Pop wave, this girl group is carving their own path, one that champions individuality and self-expression. ISA sheds light on their creative process: "We're constantly searching for a style that makes us unique. Experimentation is key. Trying new things allows us to discover what truly resonates." 

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Exclusive: STAYC Champions Individuality and Self-Expression with "Teenfresh" Appeal
From left: (On Yoon) Leather jacket; leather pants, H&M STUDIO. Leather loafers, H&M. (On Sieun) Wrap around swimsuit; leather shorts, H&M STUDIO. Leather mules, H&M. (On ISA) Polyester shirt; viscose trousers, H&M STUDIO. Leather and mesh pumps, H&M. Bralette, Stylist's own.

A peek behind the curtain reveals the diverse journeys that brought these six women together. Sumin, the leader, started training in middle school, a testament to her unwavering determination. She honed her skills across different companies for five years before finally finding her home in STAYC. Actresses Sieun and Seeun took a different path. Though harbouring dreams of singing, opportunities were scarce, their perseverance eventually led them to the stage, where their talents could truly shine.

The other members share similar stories of dedication. ISA and Yoon diligently trained at various academies, their passion for music burning bright. As for J, convinced that it might be her last chance, she poured her heart and soul into her audition for High Up Entertainment, wowed the company with her raw talent and relentless spirit and secured herself a coveted spot in STAYC.


Exclusive: STAYC Champions Individuality and Self-Expression with "Teenfresh" Appeal
Clockwise from top: (On Yoon) Wool dress, FENDI. (On J) Wool top; leather shorts; leather strap heels, FENDI. (On Seeun) Silk dress, VERSACE. Leather strap heels, FENDI. (On Sieun) Wool dress, GUCCI. Leather pumps, FENDI. (On Sumin) Viscose jumper; mohair shorts; leather pumps, FENDI. (On ISA) Viscose dress, FENDI.

The journey to K-Pop stardom is rarely a smooth ascent. Seeun acknowledges the challenges: "Maintaining a flawless stage presence all the time, especially when you're new, can be incredibly demanding." But overcoming obstacles is what strengthens a group, and STAYC has weathered their share. J recalls a particularly challenging period: "Performing during the height of COVID, without the energy of the live audience, that was tough. Thinking about that time makes me appreciate small everyday things.”

Looking ahead, the girls are brimming with hope. They express a desire to challenge themselves musically and personally, with their hearts set on creating a full album—something their fans eagerly anticipate. "This year, I want to take on new challenges without fear," says Sumin, her voice reflecting the group's collective ambition. J chimes in: "My goal is to bring happiness and hope to more people through our songs, and to stay healthy and happy myself!"

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Exclusive: STAYC Champions Individuality and Self-Expression with "Teenfresh" Appeal
Leather dresses, COACH. Gloves, stylist's own.

STAYC isn't content to rest on their laurels. They're hungry for growth and eager to push their boundaries. Sumin shares: "We have a tonne of new music coming your way, so stay tuned. "We're crafting a full-length album brimming with diverse tracks. Get ready for a fresh sonic experience!" echoes Sieun. ISA adds with confidence, "Our stage presence is only going to get stronger. We can't wait to share it with you all this year."

It’s clear that STAYC is just getting started, and they’ve got their sights on world domination—with their ever-growing army of SWITHs by their side. 

Editor-in-Chief CHARMAINE HO
Photographed by ZANTZ HAN
Video Production JAYA KHIDIR
Photographer’s assistants: ALEXANDER NG; DAVID SHIH; DENNIS ER 
Stylist’s assistant: AMER MOK; KANG DA YOUNG; SON YE JI

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