By louka yeoul
I first found out about Han Jisung—known by his stage name Han—through his singing. Imagine my surprise when I found out that he’s actually the main rapper in the JYP-managed Stray Kids. As well, he’s involved in 3Racha, the group within the band that produces and writes Stray Kids’ songs, so he plays a part in everything they’ve released. (Though in this article, I’ll be focusing on three songs he’s mainly written and produced himself.)
Han is startlingly multi-talented, and he’s always inspired me; he attempts to help others, and his prowess lies in specifically aiming to help those dealing with any level of anxiety, which he has experience with. It’s different when someone—especially when they’re from your same heritage, one that ignores and stigmatizes mental illnesses—gets it. By taking that step forward as an idol to be honest and firm about his mental health, he’s setting an example for those who look up to him. Listening to his songs lends comfort and mutual understanding as a result. He knows, and he’s allowing for those with mental illnesses to find subtle support.
In the album introduction for “Clé : LEVANTER,” Han talks about his writing process for one of his more recent pieces, “Sunshine,” which describes an ideal break; he admits that he wants a rest from work but fears falling behind. Since he understands the difficulty in trying to rest when you’re this strung out, he wanted to write a short song that people could relax to. The song begins and ends with these lyrics: “Sit somewhere with good shade from the sun / Close your eyes and look at me for a bit.” In this sense, the song’s circular nature makes it difficult to tell where it begins or ends, meaning “Sunshine” can last forever in our minds. The song gives us an extended break from our worries as long as we have our “eyes closed.”
The place described in “Sunshine” is one where “The boring/tiresome words all Wash* away…” where Han invites listeners to “come sit with me in a peaceful paradise to talk about secrets.” He continues setting the scene: “Talking with a really old friend / Comfortable and laying down Just chillin’ / Having a good time and Healing until it’s nighttime / Now I’m going without any worries to the place I want / Now I’m doing it without any burdens, whatever I want, Yeah.” Not only is the image warm and sweet, but this heavenly description isn’t even unrealistic. Really, this is the sort of carefree nature that anyone should be able to have, though given the debilitating nature of anxiety, it makes sense that he attributes such simplistic scenarios as being “ideal.” Furthermore, Han shows listeners that happiness doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be as simple as talking with an old friend.
Also, Han’s writing style is achingly poetic and youthful, most evident in “I See,” a song he wrote and produced at around sixteen, where he likens his dreams to an “oasis” in the “desert” of his worries, a “flower” and a “mirage” from an “oral fairy tale” that he promises to catch. We get an insight into his mind by seeing the vibrant metaphors he chooses to use, which is refreshing, since it isn’t often that we, as fans, can ever get to know these idols’ innermost thoughts. But Han wears his heart on his sleeve by being so honest and... himself. He desperately questions, “It’s so hard, so God what should I do? (I don’t know) / To be honest, I’m so close now so if I run away / Do I become a coward?” Many of us understand such fears, meaning that Han’s lyrics give listeners the space to reflect on our own anxieties alongside him. And as the song ends with assurance that dreams can be caught and therefore achieved, we leave with a sense of confidence.
In a talk between 3Racha and JYP, Han mentions that as he got closer to adulthood, he started feeling anxious and wondered whether he was alone, so he wrote a song called “19” in order to express these worries. It starts, “It’s too fast / I’ve been waiting for this moment but how’s it for you / Are you a bit scared? Or are you excited?” He recognizes that this coveted time of adulthood is now here, but his continuous questions aimed towards time itself show that he’s having second thoughts about growing up. The personification functions as a way to confront the reality of growing up. In fact, he hardly believes that he’s an adult now, admitting that he feels more “like a middle schooler going around acting adultlike.” And he admits, “If I were to count to three right here / Everything would disappear like it’s a dream / And only I’d be back there.” He’s intentionally vague in his lyrics at times; perhaps “there” alludes to who he was before—without his bandmates and his dreams. It seems too good to be true, as he worries that his future self won’t ever “see the [him] of now again.” In speaking about his past, present, and future self, and expressing the passage of time again and again (somewhat like how thoughts spiral with anxiety), Han openly shares his struggles, as though venting to a friend.
“I just wanna go / Back, back, back, back, back, back / Back to how it was” repeats numerous times throughout “19.” Those lyrics express the anxiety that Han feels about growing up—even though adulthood is always painted as something we should look forward to, it doesn’t change the fact that you experience a bittersweet parting from your adolescence. All of a sudden, you’re confronted with the foreign challenges that come with adulthood.
In the end, Han knows that he can’t control time, so he shifts to noting how much has changed throughout his youth: “Now that place I found awkward / Has become my home / Now the Seoul I found so big / Has become small to me.” The childhood magic has disappeared, but that shouldn’t be something we fear, as time can change even the most unfamiliar places into home. Coping and adapting are possible in any situation, and “19” reminds listeners that any uneasy feelings they might be experiencing have been felt before by others.
All three of these songs offer different perspectives to safe havens. Not only do these lyrics give us a way to escape (including through a friend-like presence), but Han’s raw, poetic use of language reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles… and that even if we are full of anxiety, it isn’t forever—nothing is.
Note: the quoted lyrics have been translated by me, so they may not be 100% accurate.
*Many K-pop songs incorporate English into their Korean lyrics, hence the seemingly random capitalization.