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[Album Review] Stray Kids is a class of their own in ‘5-Star’

Stray Kids 5-Star

There are many things you can say about Stray Kids. That they are never in one place and you need eight sets of eyes to keep up with members Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, Han, Felix, Seungmin and I.N. That they never take Tiktok seriously. And that their latest album “5-Star” is worth the hype.

There is a lot riding on “S-Class” as the lead single. After all, the songs “God’s Menu” from “Go Live” (2020) and “Thunderous” (2021) from “Noeasy” held the same honor in the past. Both songs are now recognized as signature of the group with “God’s Menu” as their breakthrough track.

But what “S-Class” has going for it is that it carries the same confidence of Stray Kids like in the previous lead singles. “Luxurious like I’m an S-Class/ Best of the best on first class,” Seungmin and Bang Chan sing in high notes.

Felix and Seungmin continue the hook, “I’m up above the world, so high/ I’ll be there shining day and night/ They wonder how my spotlight is so bright.”S-Class also happens to be the flagship vehicle of Mercedes Benz. The same word refers to the highest tier of classification of heroes in manga. “S” could also stand for superstar or even be Stray Kids given that they are their own top rated class.The group is known for their word play. Sometimes they explain it, sometimes they leave it to fans’ interpretation. But the Korean title of the “S-Class” is “teuk” which means special.

Top class tier

One fan pointed out that it is a shortened slang word for “teukjing” which means characteristic. This still goes back to Stray Kids owning their outstanding uniqueness. The Hangul of teuk also graces the cover of the limited version of the album, as well as their Standard Version A.

The covers themselves are a statement that despite their burgeoning popularity in the West, Stray Kids remain true to their roots. The graphics feature Korean paintings of dragons, tigers and nature. “S-Class” is a genre mix of hip-hop, pop and electronic music. It has an addictive main hook that repeats the word “star.”

Dance leader Lee Know explained that this is the dance point of their choreography. It involves one hand slicing through the air, alternating on both sides of one arm placed horizontally in front of the face before it transitions to a vertical one. This is the movement of a blinking star.

Stray Kids ate in their latest album, “5-Star” | Photo courtesy of JYP Entertainment

Celestial bodies

Galaxy is the theme of “5-Star” as seen in the teasers and their lyrics. The songs are connected through the lyrics as stars, aliens and anything related to celestial bodies are repeatedly mentioned. The album opens with “Hall of Fame” which introduces the album. It mentions luminaries such as Galileo Galilei, Thomas Edison, Neil Armstrong and William Shakespeare. It even features Armstrong’s iconic “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” recording.

Then comes Felix’s line “Shaking the industry/ Quaking reality/ Making it iconic.” The group has always been vocal about wanting to dominate the industry, to leave a mark to remember them by.

The album has a collection of 12 beautifully written and composed songs by their in-house production team of 3Racha. The subunit is made up of Stray Kids leader Bang Chan, Changbin and Han. The album includes the Korean version of the “The Sound,” which originally came out in the Japanese album of the same title, and “Time Out” which was released last year.

Song credits

New album drops are an exciting period for any fandom. But Stays (fandom name) get a little extra during teasers because they are trained to look closely at song credits. The first thing they look at is the involvement of 3Racha and their collaborations. How many solo songs are there? What is the genre? Did other members compose any track? The Tiger JK collaboration in the fifth track “Topline” garnered plenty of interest. They’ve previously performed together in MAMA and the plan to work together was formed there. Han confessed that he has been a fan of the Korean American rapper since he was 12 years old. This song is dream come true for him.

“Topline” can be mistaken for a diss track, but it really just showcases the group’s confidence. Sometimes it’s hard to connect the goofballs you see in their YouTube channel to the self-assured performers you see onstage. But this is the duality that their fans love.

In the song, they talk about karma coming for those who look down on them. Hyunjin declares that “Ain’t nobody can do it like us.” Bang Chan gets the juicy line of “We don’t give a f___.” The last word distorts before it’s completed. Again, very smart. Felix and I.N. smugly say “I can see the heavens beneath my feet/ we’re the topline/ Your neck must hurt from only looking up.”

The song feels more like they are rallying themselves, a pep talk to keep moving forward.

Stray Kids ate

They do have a lot of fun in this album. Changbin’s “DLC” takes you to another place where you just let loose and move. It’s typical of the main rapper to create a song that will disrupt work or study flow with a track that stays in your head. Han’s “Get Lit” joins the dance party.

Another song that you can groove to is “Item” which is another playful word play to the phrase “I ate them” The slang “ate” means to do a great job. This is the kind of intelligence that we’ve come to expect from 3Racha.

Early on, “Super Bowl” has its own following. I.N. revealed that he loved this song so much that he fought for it to be the title track of “Go Live,” only for Bang Chan to tell the maknae (youngest) that this is the original “God’s Menu.”

There are sexy lines here such as Hyunjin’s and Felix’s “Finger lickin’ yeah/ we cookin’ up a Super Bowl/ In the kitchen, Michelin, irresistible/Open wide,/ have a bite/ Make it mine, all the time.”

Tangible emotions

After “Volcano” was released in SKZ Record on Youtube, a lot of fans expected another love song from Han. Instead, he came out with the heartbreaking “Collision.”
The angst is tangible in the lyrics. For example, Lee Know sings “I’m sorry, it’s just my fault/ I don’t want to make excuses, but one last time/ Let’s go back to that time and tell me you love me.” I.N had to ask, “Did you hate me that much? We’re meant to be/I told you, we’re stars in the sky.”

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InspirationalHealing comes in the form of “FNF” that the Aussie line Bang Chan and Felix wrote. It stands for “Fauna & Flora” and it is dedicated to the nature and wildlife lost in the Australian bushfires.

Bang Chan also wrote the English song “Youtiful” which is an uplifting, inspirational song. One could say that it’s another form of love letter to the fandom and even casual listeners. Him telling them that they are amazing and a miracle is moving.

Stray Kids have been very generous in the “5-Star” era because they’ve not only dropped titles and details ahead of time, they’ve also shared the schedule of when videos and photos will be unveiled.

Marketing genius

There were no surprise drops during midnight. Instead, the fandom collectively waited in anticipation as they ticked off days on their calendars. Each time a new trailer drops, the influx of preorders comes in. This was observed by Angel Tongco (@haetbitcart) who has been organizing preorders for the group since 2020.

“The unveil track videos became the basis of the Stays to buy more albums from different stores. Buyers decide after the unveiling if they want to get inclusions based on that video,” Tongco said.

Stays only get blurred photos as hints for these inclusions, but fans are willing to gamble. Tongco notes that the excitement for “5-Star” is also rooted in the fact that this is the first full album of the group in two years. The group came out with several EPs including “Oddinary” and “Maxident” in berween but Tongco said expectations are higher for studio albums because there are more songs.

Record high

The result of ingenious marketing and the success of their recent “Maniac” World Tour led to a record-breaking achievement for Stray Kids. They are now the only K-pop group to have over 5.1-Million preordered albums, surpassing Seventeen’s “FML” and BTS’ “Map of the Soul: 7.” If this is not clear enough, the achievement covers the entire industry, not just the 4th generation cluster to which they belong to.

As of writing, they have already won in three shows namely “Show Champion,” “M Countdown” and “Music Bank,” but the goal of Stays is to win a trophy from Music Core. It’s the show where Lee Know is one of the hosts. Fans hailed “5-Star” as a no-skip album. It’s true. It offers a different flavor of Stray Kids but it is consistent to their brand: original, uplifting and fun.

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