Author: Anna Franco Ucar
In a world that often dictates how we should live our lives and which is the right path to follow, when that path does not feel right for us, it is very easy to feel lost, overwhelmed and like we do not belong anywhere. However, as scary as it can be to be different, Stray Kids (SKZ) have always advocated for being true to ourselves, stepping out of the ordinary, and following our own pace. From their debut with “District 9”, they have sent the message that “being different is not being wrong”, embarking on a journey of self-discovery according to their own rules, and encouraging fans to do the same. This message is itself the essence of the group, and has been mirrored in many songs throughout their discography, illustrating how far the group has come with this path they have forged for themselves. Come wander off into this selection of Stray Kids songs about being yourself.
Let’s begin with the title track for SKZ’s second EP (extended play), “I Am WHO”. “My Pace”, as the name indicates, is a song about following your own rhythm in life, rather than trying to keep up with everyone else. The lyrics relate the anxiety and insecurity from seeing everybody do really well and advance fast in life while you feel you are being left behind, but emphasise that, even though we sometimes cannot help comparing ourselves to others, this does not lead anywhere and that we should “look at the big picture and take our time”. After all, life is not a race, and there should be no rush to reach the end; if you take one step after the other, you will eventually get where you need to be.
This next song, released in SKZ’s first special album, “Clé 2: Yellow Wood”, as a bonus track is, in my opinion, one of the songs that best illustrates the origins and ethos of the group. “Broken Compass” echoes the message of “My Pace”, this time showing more assuredness in following their own path, regardless of what others may do or think. This song takes the form of a sea-voyage metaphor, in which Stray Kids equate themselves to a ship crew sailing the sea of music to reach their dreams. The mention of a ‘broken compass’ references the one used by Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, which appears to be broken, as it never points North, but instead directs the owner to whatever they most desire. In other words, the compass is a metaphor for following your own heart and reaching for your dreams, even if you feel that you are going against the tide. SKZ acknowledge the struggle of finding the right path among all the overwhelming choices and the uncertainty of deviating from conventionality, but ultimately, the way to reach your dreams is to have unwavering faith in yourself and let your heart guide you.
Towards the end of the song, Bangchan (SKZ’s leader) expresses how far they have come following their goals, and that he will continue to lead the group as the captain, since his “precious team is his compass”. In addition, Stray Kids really rely on the support of their fans, STAY, which is why their lightstick, the Nachimbong, is a compass (나침반, nachimban) so that STAY can also help illuminate their way.
With versions in both Korean and English, the title track of Stray Kids’ fifth EP, “Clé: Levanter”, offers a different perspective on the message of staying true to oneself. The melodic and slightly melancholy tone of this piece could make it seem a sad song, but it holds a hopeful message. It speaks of letting go of something or someone in order to find yourself. Sometimes we hold on to certain dreams, feelings or people that, while they may have been an important part of our journey, are there for us to learn something and then move on. It can be really hard to let go, especially if it is of something we hold dear, but that is the only way to grow, and even if it does not seem like it at the moment, what lies ahead are even better possibilities. As Han says during the pre-chorus, “They say it’s darkest of all before the dawn”, which means that, sometimes, when we are in a really dark moment, it just means there is great opportunity for light ahead, we just have to ride through the storm to reach it. The song also alludes to shifting focus from the external to within ourselves, because that is where we will find the key to our own destiny and happiness. Additionally, the title references the Levanter, the eastern wind that blows in the western Mediterranean Sea, particularly in the south of France and Spain, and which symbolises a change or transformation. Once again, as they do in “Broken Compass”, Stray Kids advise themselves and the audience to listen to their heart and let it guide them; let go of what is tying them down to feel the light.
Continuing with a more recent and radical song, “MANIAC”, the title track of SKZ’s album, “ODDINARY”, speaks of breaking the mould and releasing your true self. With this song, Stray Kids have reached a point in which they can be even more unapologetically themselves, and they encourage fans to do so, as well, claiming that we all have something that makes us unique and we should let it show. It also serves as a critique of a society that forces people to put on a mask of normality, when there is no such thing as normal, and remarks that, regardless of pretences, we cannot hide who we are forever, that we should let our inner “freaky monsters” out. Additionally, they highlight the growing toxic behaviours of this society, which no longer values kindness and believes it has the right to take advantage of others, and SKZ express frustration at having to abide by endless nonsensical rules. In short, “MANIAC” declares that hiding your true self is not living, so “relax, everyone, stop pretending to be normal”.
To conclude, here is the main song in SKZ’s latest album, “5-STAR”. “S-Class (특)” elevates the message from “MANIAC” a step further, demonstrating that Stray Kids are not only comfortable being themselves, but also that they are proud to be considered odd, because that uniqueness is what makes them special. They have worked hard to create their own sound and follow their own path, and now they have risen high as the brightest star. Everything they have accomplished is once again a testament to all that can be achieved by having complete faith in oneself and daring to take the necessary risks to follow your dreams. “S-Class” further references a series of luxurious cars, jumping from the marine metaphor in “Broken Compass” to a road trip in this new vibrant track. The mention of ‘Serpent Road’ hints at the long, winding road to success they have been travelling on, with the best car and at full speed, showing that they are fully confident in themselves and will continue to reach for new heights, always defending individuality, uniqueness, and perseverance above all.
This is just a small sample of the path that Stray Kids has travelled so far, and what they still have left to accomplish, always being true to themselves, defending their individuality, and motivating others to be authentic and follow their dreams. What is clear is that, after several navigation metaphors, it cannot be denied that these artists are ‘all-terrain’.
Reading pair: Andrea Ramírez
Revised by: Marisol Montiel
[UPDATE] Stray Kids “S-Class” Lyrics, meaning, song credits. (2023, June 30). KPOPOFFICIAL. https://kpopofficial.com/stray-kids-s-class-lyrics-meaning-and-song-credits/
Bell, C. (2019, December 9). Stray Kids let go and chart a brave new course with ‘Levanter’. MTV. https://www.mtv.com/news/296me6/stray-kids-levanter-music-video
Jack Sparrow’s compass. (n.d.). Disney Wiki. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/Jack_Sparrow%27s_compass
Meaning of “My Pace” by Stray Kids. (2023, June 18). Songtell. https://www.songtell.com/stray-kids/my-pace
Meaning of “고장난 나침반 (Broken Compass)” by Stray Kids. (2023, July 1). Songtell. https://www.songtell.com/stray-kids/broken-compass
Meaning of “특 (S-Class)” by Stray Kids. (2023, June 2). Songtell. https://www.songtell.com/stray-kids/s-class
Nast, C. (2022, March 18). Stray Kids are embracing the ordinary oddity in all of us. Teen Vogue. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/stray-kids-embrace-ordinary-oddity-maniac-music-video