Stray Kids (SKZ) is a group that never ceases to amaze. Since their debut, they have been sending a very clear message: regardless of what other people may say, you have to stay true to yourself. That is precisely what they have been doing, and their newest album, “5-STAR”, shows that more than ever. SKZ have built their own identity, and now they feel more comfortable and confident to show their true sound while having fun with it. In this album, they set themselves at the top, knowing that there is still a long way to go, but with the spirit and ambition to keep on soaring to reach new heights. So, buckle up, and let’s join them on this journey through the stars.
위인전 (Hall of Fame)
This song serves as the perfect intro for an album that is all about ambition and leaving a permanent mark. It speaks of the wish to leave a legacy that will inspire others, the same way they have been inspired by those that came before them. They already see themselves in this “Hall of Fame”, but at the same time it is a work in progress, something they keep working on, a never-ending journey of self-improvement; in other words, their biography, as the title in Korean indicates (위인전). The sci-fi-like atmosphere created by the music and the beat of this song produces the image of a spaceship going at the speed of light on an interstellar journey, with the crew, Stray Kids, fighting through the obstacles, but with the confidence that they will reach their destination.
This comeback’s title track, “S-Class” is once again a perfect representation of the group. It is chaotic, messy, and has a mix of seemingly conflicting sounds and styles, which is reinforced by the collage of scenarios in the MV (music video). It has all the power to leave the audience stunned, but it is sewn together so masterfully that it works. This is their genre, the unique sound they have created, and their message, like themselves, shines through once again. They see themselves as the most special star in the sky, the odd one, shining from the inside and spreading their light. At the same time, they encourage their fans to do the same, to “be the one who shines, instead of chasing after what is shiny”, as HAN concisely declares during the second verse of the song. The title as well reinforces the group’s ethos, both in Korean, as 특 means ‘special’, and in English, where the ‘S’ stands for ‘special’ and is also reminiscent of the highest grade awarded in Japanese universities, a symbol of excellence achieved through perseverance and hard work.
Next up is this song that brings nostalgia with sounds reminiscent of vintage arcade games. The group compare themselves to Pac-Man, stating metaphorically that they can deal with everything and eat the world. However, while Pac-Man may need special items to reach the top score, Stray Kids are their own item, self-reliant to bring themselves from humble beginnings to the very top where they shine. This is an energising song to raise self-esteem, sending the message that one can be good enough on their own without the need of boosters. It is highlighted in the chorus with the line “Item-dependent? I’m self-dependent”, and driven home by their powerful delivery through the use of plosive sounds, and the contrast with the beautiful tones and soft melody of the pre-chorus.
“Super Bowl” is a song that is full of flavour. Not only are Stray Kids reinforcing the notion that they are a group that does not conform to what is established, but they also establish themselves as masters in their innovative and assertive approach to music. They present their music as an exquisite culinary banquet, full of surprising flavours, textures, and freshness. This may be reminiscent of another very popular SKZ song, and for a good reason, because this song was supposed to be the original “God’s Menu”, that song being meant to serve as a follow-up. However, the group decided to keep “Super Bowl” simmering for a few years until the time was right to release it. That time has come and the result is this superb dish, full of complexity, mature undertones, and enhanced flavours; made extra special, considering this is the first original song in English in any of their albums. The fierce delivery, the impact of the lyrics, and the playful effects of the verses sung in unison or in whispers make this a truly addictive and goose-bump-inducing song.
TOPLINE (feat. Tiger JK)
Speaking of firsts, “TOPLINE” is the first song in a SKZ album to include an artist feature. Counting with the talents of South Korean hip-hop legend Tiger JK, this track brings back classic hip-hop rhythms with a laid-back and easy flow. The song is a bold declaration that the artists are at the top, a showcase of the confidence that has come with all their efforts and constant self-improvement. It also sends a message to their antis, through mentions of karma and Felix’s line “We can see the world under our feet, WE’RE THE TOPLINE, your neck must be stiff from only looking up”; it is a reminder for them to stop wasting their time spreading hate, because Stray Kids is sitting up high, unaffected by those words, since they have achieved a spot in the top line through effort, hard work, and passion. And they do not plan on stopping.
In a change of pace, “DLC” (Dance Like Crazy) brings out the softer side of Changbin with smooth dance-pop tones on a piano base. This song feels like a summer anthem, the perfect soundtrack for beach days and warm night adventures. However, despite the cheerful vibe, the lyrics evoke a certain sense of melancholy. They speak of the moment of feeling extremely overwhelmed and just needing to do the things you like and that make you feel good to relieve stress. The MV encompasses the simultaneous sad, hopeful, and upbeat feeling with some beautiful dance scenes and the serene atmosphere of Paris, making this a therapeutic and liberating song.
죽어보자 (GET LIT)
Going back to the party vibes, “GET LIT” embodies the spirit of carpe diem amid tones of existential anguish. It could be considered the evil twin of “DLC”, where the first deals with burdensome feelings and situations in an artistically graceful liberation, whereas this one goes to the other extreme of expression, letting go in the noisiest and most disordered manner. Despite this fact, the song is full of meaning. It speaks of passion, of pouring your whole soul into what you love doing, all the while having fun in the process.
This is perhaps the most sophisticated and adult song in the album, a Jazz R&B song about the beginning and end of a relationship, which illustrates HAN’s maturity as a songwriter. In keeping with the space theme of the album, this song compares a relationship to the intense attraction between two planets to the moment they collide and explode, scattering their fragments across the universe. “Collision” brings out the more melodic and emotional side of SKZ, and demonstrates the extensive vocal ability of all the members.
Here is yet another emotional song. “FNF” (Fauna and Flora) is a love song of sorts, but it is also a song about grief. The lyrics were written by members Bangchan and Felix, about the devastating bushfires in Australia during 2019-2020 that severely affected the unique flora and fauna of the country. These events were especially heart-wrenching for both Aussie members, who were already deeply missing their home country but were now facing an additional layer of grief. The song works on two levels: first, it is an ode to Australia’s diversity and beauty and a reminder that what has been lost will not be forgotten; and second, it expresses the feeling of missing something (or someone) you love, the longing to return to it, and the uncertainty of how much it will have changed. Despite the partially sad atmosphere, the song has a hopeful vibe.
Speaking of love songs, this one is clearly a love song to STAY, their fans. Stray Kids have a very close relationship with their fans, which is based on both-sided support and encouragement. SKZ and STAY are each other’s fuel, so Chan wanted to mirror back all the messages of love and support they receive to gift this song to STAY. This is the second original English song in the album, most likely recorded in the international language to make sure fans all around the world will easily understand the message. English is also Bangchan’s native language and the one that feels more personal for him to express his emotions. The title is a blend of the words ‘you’ and ‘beautiful’, with the message that we are all beautiful just the way we are, that we are enough, and that we should embrace it. It is a heart-warming song, intended as a self-esteem and strength booster. The delicate melody and gentleness of the members’ voices show how much of their soul they have put into the song, which will surely lighten up STAY everywhere.
THE SOUND (Korean ver.)
This song, originally released in Japanese for their previous album of the same name, showcases SKZ’s attitude towards music. The chorus states that this is their ‘음악장’, a ‘music arena’ where they get to experiment and have fun with different sounds and styles. Through an electronic rock base and an electrifying choreography, “THE SOUND” illustrates the members’ passion for their craft and their wish to inspire others.
Previously released as part of the Mixtape project, “Time Out” is another fun summer song. It speaks of leaving your worries behind, letting the past be the past, and focusing on enjoying the present. Additionally, the beach-holiday themed MV helps convey a sense of freedom that washes over the audience when watching and listening to it. The fun punk/pop-rock vibe of the song with the occasional sound of the sea in the background makes for a refreshing and energising wrap-up to the album.
After this exciting adventure through the galaxies created by Stray Kids, there is no wonder why these aces of K-Pop shine so bright in the sky. This album leaves us with the promise of many more surprises and masterpieces to come, and it is safe to assume that SKZ will deliver. For the time being, they have left us with plenty of songs to listen to again, and again, and again. Which songs from “5-STAR” have you not been able to stop listening to?
Personally, “DLC”, “S-Class” and “ITEM” will be playing non-stop in my house this summer. 😘
Written by: Anna Franco Ucar
Revised by: Luisa Quintero
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