By louka yeoul
Just like I did in the Mark Lee article, I want to take this time to point out instances of cultural appropriation, which Stray Kids recently released a vague apology for amid renewed calls from fans to take accountability. Perhaps this sheds hope for a more inclusive and educated society, as idols aim to be role models…
I also would like to add this: if potentially interested in the songs analyzed in this piece, I recommend listening to “SKZ2020,” in which Stray Kids re-recorded old songs after a former member (Woojin) left the band. Since then, victims have come forward claiming that he sexually assaulted them—and I want to make it clear that I do not support him or condone sexual assault. Since he has not been a part of the band for about a year now, if interested in Stray Kids, please consider listening to the new versions of the songs I am analyzing to support the eight—not nine—of them.
Stray Kids has this catchphrase: “Stray Kids everywhere all around the world,” and the words meld perfectly with their attempts to unite lost youth. As a Peter Pan fanatic, the band’s name always evoked a sense of Neverland, especially considering that some of their lyrics allude to the setting.
I think finding the band was my fate. It definitely helped that Chan, the band’s leader as well as the main producer, and Felix, another Stray Kids member, were both born and raised abroad; that sense of relatability became my fairy dust, and I found myself coming home to their music.
In an earlier article, I mentioned how Han—also a member of 3Racha, a subgroup of Stray Kids that mostly produces and writes their music—desperately wanted time to stop in “19” because of his fears of adulthood. In the same vein, it feels like Stray Kids tries to create a space in which their youth never ends; from “Spread My Wings,” the chorus goes, “I want to live like my age, naturally ey ey / I want to fly with my young wings, spread my wings ey ey / It was nice to pretend to be adultlike but I don’t want to change.” “Spread My Wings,” if you go by the Korean title, directly translates to “Young Wings,” and Stray Kids redefined my—and many others’—meanings of youth. I desperately wanted to grow up and be free from my trauma, as I had always connected adulthood with happiness, but this Neverland gave me that freedom even within my youth.
But the band also helped to confront my pain head-on. When I found myself completely alone, I listened to “Grow Up,” whose Korean title directly translates to “You’re Doing Well.” The song patted me on the back: “...you’ve fallen down for a bit, but it’s okay, I’ll catch you.” Through Stray Kids, I found a source of comfort through similarly-aged teenagers, constantly reassuring me that “It’s alright, it happens” and that “It’s okay, we can get through this and grow up too, don’t cry.” Just as I did with Han’s music, I leaned on their words of support like a friend’s shoulder. To be told, for the first time, that things will end up just fine was almost revolutionary. As a victim, I needed these words. And I no longer had to go on my journey alone.
The chorus repeats “You’re doing well,” becoming a mantra even for those who don’t know Korean due to the slow and mellow nature of the song. Anyone can follow along. Once again, there’s an accessibility to the music, which is perhaps Stray Kids’ defining characteristic. Just like how Neverland, a welcoming, joyful space, lives on in children’s minds, the band’s music is exactly that: our space to find happiness.
As victims, we are often tied to our adolescence and pasts, but given that Stray Kids gives us a chance to free ourselves, we are able to better let go and thus… grow up. It’s paradoxical considering that Neverland is a place for forever children—but because of these songs, now we can be present in our lives.
Stray Kids attempts to rework that preexisting Neverland/escapism into something more positive. In “Mixtape #3,” the lyrics “Blessings wait for you / For you” continue in English, shedding hope for better days by acting as pocketfuls for light for us to hold onto. The song focuses entirely on school pressures, asking, “We’re still young, do you really think [this pain] is the end?” Despite all of the voices and thoughts that we can’t control, both external and internal, Stray Kids lends us a hand. They remind us not to give up, while still managing to validate our hardships: “It’s been really hard throughout all of this, hasn’t it?” and “You’ve gone through a lot and done so well / Let’s only walk on the flower path from now on.” Both lines reaffirm the blessings that will be coming our way. And Stray Kids will be with us—we just have to wait a little longer.
Similarly, “Voices” only continues to lend us hope by deconstructing the negative thoughts that trauma victims have grown up with. Han and Changbin—Stray Kids’ main rappers and producers in 3Racha—plea: “Ya, throw away all the useless thoughts, do whatever you want / Ya, don’t get fooled, you know they’re wrong / Please do whatever you want.” Their tones are aggressive and harsh, ensuring that we will not miss their plea. In offering this support, they become one of the voices that we don’t need to “break free from,” once again offering light and companionship.
Oftentimes, the most lost are the abused, and while pain is universal, being a victim isn’t. But knowing that Stray Kids cares even for us—by creating music that we, too, can find peace in— allowed the group to become my Neverland. Listening to the band, I’ve always felt like Wendy, dragged by the hand by (numerous) Peter Pan(s) to a world beyond my imagination: one where I could be… me. I may grow out of their music one day, memories distant, but nevertheless, Stray Kids gave me the space and the strength to not wish my entire youth away. For once, I focused on the present and thought that there was, in fact, some light in my darkness.
Note: the quoted lyrics have been translated by me, so they may not be 100% accurate.