Witnessing Stray Kids’ steady emergence as artists has been nothing short of rewarding. They were first properly introduced to the world in 2017 as a motley crew of teenage superstar hopefuls. Back then, Stray Kids were fresh-faced, maybe even slightly unsure of themselves, but there’s no denying that they were always meant to go places.
Stray Kids led the charge of K-pop’s fourth generation upon their debut in 2018, conquering new frontiers for the genre and pursuing a level of creative autonomy over their music none would have been able to fathom just a decade prior. They were never one to opt for the safe route, which is what made them so special. On the backs of experimental, sometimes controversial title tracks like ‘God’s Menu’, ‘Miroh’, ‘Thunderous’ and ‘Maniac’, the boyband have since been recognised as expectation-subverting experimentalists, unapologetic artists and charismatic performers.
Now, the world is Stray Kids’ oyster. Although they’ve long outgrown their naivete as rookies, one thing Stray Kids have so far upheld – aside from their eagerness to push their artistic boundaries with each new release – is the sentiment of their signature mantra: “Stray Kids everywhere around the world,” a line from their 2018 debut single ‘District 9’.
Once a lofty promise, it’s now a self-fulfilling prophecy: four years into their career, Stray Kids are selling out arenas across the globe, breaking chart records and selling millions of albums in pre-orders alone, while 3RACHA (Stray Kids’ production sub-unit of Bang Chan, Han and Changbin) are the most-credited fourth generation idols with lyric, composition and production credits on over 300 songs between them.
As the group enter a brand-new era with the recent release of record-breaking mini-album ‘Maxident’, NME celebrates the group’s illustrious career by taking on the mammoth task of ranking every Stray Kids song in order of greatness – a discography so diverse in style and sound that there is bound to be something for everyone.
This list does not include their unofficial releases – namely their SKZ-PLAYER and SKZ-RECORD series of songs as well as pre-debut material. A special shoutout goes out to ‘Maknae On Top’, ‘Drive’ and ‘HEYDAY’ in particular – they’ll always be of equal importance to us fans.
112‘Maze of Memories’ (2019)
Stray Kids’ rappers (which in this particular song, seems to be almost every member of the group) ride every beat they’re given with ease, but the manic mix of piano, trap beats and siren samples is way too polarising to overlook.
Bang Chan’s English monologue about social conformity might be iconic, but it’s also pretty cringey.
110‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ (2020)
A highly contentious song among Stray Kids fans since its release, and for good reason. This is definitely experimental, but we’re just not sure if it’s the right kind of experimental. Brownie points for the “I know, you know, we know, Lee Know” line.
109‘GO LIVE’ (2020)
If you were listening to these songs in order and wondered why ‘GO LIVE’ and ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ sound exactly the same, it’s because ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ is the full version of the former track, but released on the ‘IN LIFE’ repackaged record. Why does this one rank above the complete version, you ask? Because it’s shorter.
As expected of 3RACHA, the lyricism in this emotionally charged, pensive track off the band’s debut record is exceptional. Unfortunately, the occasionally inconsistent instrumentation and structure of its verses leave a lot to be desired.
107‘One Day’ (2019)
Stray Kids discovered AutoTune and really went for it on this one. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, although they do have plenty of other tracks that employ it in more creative and palatable ways.
An existential crisis anthem for the ages. Our only gripe with ‘WHO?’ is its abysmally short runtime of a minute.
105‘SLUMP – Tower Of God ED’ (2020)
This song was originally released as an ending credit theme song for the anime series Tower Of God, and a Korean version was later included in their ‘GO LIVE’ album. Producing and releasing music for an anime is impressive, but the song itself pales in comparison to the rest of Stray Kids’ discography.
If 2018 Stray Kids were doing one thing right, it was nailing the social commentary through their lyrics. The instrumentation, on the other hand, is all bark and no bite.
‘FAM’ is a prerequisite song for anybody looking to get into Stray Kids – this Japanese track is a playful reintroduction to the group. It’s chaotic, bubbly and endearing, but the delivery of each member’s introduction here is a tad monotonous.
101‘Mixtape #2’ (2019)
Acoustic guitar forms the body of this moving B-side off ‘Clé 2: Yellow Wood’, which might be why it recalls early Taylor Swift. Fun fact: this was originally released as ‘If There’s A Shadow, There Must Be Light’ by 3RACHA before the group’s debut and was later reworked for all eight members.
Changbin has more than proven his mettle as a formidable rapper over his years with Stray Kids (dare we bring up Show Me The Money?), but his verses really stand out on ‘ROCK’. You never would have guessed this was from their debut record.
‘0325’ is a sentimental and special song to fans for many reasons – its title corresponds to the group’s debut date while its lyrics reference their fanbase, called Stay (“Can you stay right with me, with me? / Cause we gon’ do it together, with you”). It’s only testament to the strength of Stray Kids’ discography that this track is all the way down at spot 99.
98‘24 to 25’ (2021)
You can always trust special Christmas K-pop albums to include at least one run-of-the-mill soft pop number with jingle bell samples and some lines about mistletoe. ‘24 to 25’ is that song for Stray Kids’ ‘Christmas EveL’. We suppose we can overlook the predictability a little for Felix and Changbin’s unbeatably dreamy crooning.
97‘You Can STAY’ (2019)
The “you can stay, yeah” lines in the pre-chorus are so repetitive it’s difficult to enjoy the song. We’re sure even the most devoted of Stays will agree.
96‘Mixtape #3’ (2019)
Another re-release originally by 3RACHA (previously titled ‘For You’). There’s something about the vocal delivery here that makes it as smooth as it is therapeutic. The soft riffs of acoustic guitar make the perfect backdrop for Stray Kids’ seamless harmonisations.
Perhaps one of the best examples of Stray Kids’ sheer production ability, ‘Entrance’ is a slick intro track that’s remarkably textured. You could spend all day dissecting the sonic elements they’ve thrown in here – filthy 808s, bongo drums, snippets of vocals from ‘Clé 1: Miroh’… the list goes on. The only problem here is that it should’ve been longer.
Stray Kids have a go at mellow, at times sultry R&B on this ‘Clé 1: Miroh’ B-side. The combination of minimalist production and the boys’ voices on this is so calculated, sleek and polished, it’s no surprise that Bang Chan himself produced this gem.
The immediate dive into Bang Chan’s soft voice in the introductory verse… immediately followed by Changbin’s immaculate, hard-hitting rap? Chef’s kiss.
92‘Hero’s Soup’ (2018)
In Korean, this song’s title directly translates to “hangover soup”. It’s extremely fitting as this song lulls its listener into a transcendental, vulnerable state akin to the comfort and healing from drinking said soup the morning after a rough night out.
91‘Mixtape #1’ (2019)
Yes, yet another 3RACHA re-release. Originally titled ‘Placebo’, this upbeat, feel-good techno track takes a while to find its feet, but once it does, euphoria ensues.
90‘Muddy Water’ (2022)
‘Muddy Water’ is one of their more experimental tracks, with jazzy piano chords and subtle record scratches lining the backing track. But this song toes the line of monotony at times. Felix’s Demon Slayer reference is probably the best part of this song.
This was the song that started it all. Fans watched as Stray Kids – mere teenagers at the time – fought for their place on stage and in the group with this Bang Chan-produced track. Although it might not be among their stronger songs on the musical front, the pure nostalgia and emotion ‘Hellevator’ evokes are indisputable.
88‘Mixtape #5’ (2019)
3RACHA first released this in 2017 as a pre-debut sub-unit song about – as its former title ‘Hoodie Season’ suggests – that sweet spot between summer and autumn. Stray Kids later re-recorded it for the physical edition of ‘Clé 3: Levanter’, which was a brilliant move, because it gave us these Hyunjin lines: “Hoodie, hoodie, it’s like a shelter for me / Boogie, boogie, earphones plugged in / Dance, groovy, groovy.”
This is one of those songs that would absolutely hit live in a stadium – it’s punchy, dynamic and bold, largely due to the strong electric guitar riffs that form its backbone. When you add Stray Kids’ trademark hype vocals and raps, you have an anthem that perfectly encapsulates their wild side.
‘Chronosaurus’ puts a lot of emphasis on the guttural power of Stray Kids’ main vocalists, Han and Seungmin. Their voices hard-carry this song, making it a lot more potent than many other Stray Kids tracks. Unfortunately, ‘Chronosaurus’ risks sounding stale when their voices aren’t there to elevate it.
‘4419’ gets most of its timeless charm from its slow, bittersweet strings. First performed on the Stray Kids survival show back in 2017, this song is now charged with emotion in more ways than one.
84‘My Universe’ (2020)
Stray Kids aren’t known for classic ballads, but when they do them, they do them right – mostly thanks to the powerhouses Seungmin and I.N, who also happen to be the two vocalists on this song. When their voices meld together in the chorus, you’ll understand why exactly this song was called ‘My Universe’ – because their harmonisations are cosmic.
83‘B Me’ (2020)
Some may argue that this song was a little lacklustre on ‘IN LIFE’, an album with back-to-back energetic tracks, but the instrumental here truly allows for Han and Seungmin’s masterfully executed high notes to shine.
Speaking of slower songs, ‘M.I.A’ is similarly refreshing. Contrary to popular opinion, the use of AutoTune on this track contrasts really nicely with the comparatively mellow instrumentation, giving the song a much-needed edge.
81‘Gone Away’ (2021)
This emotive, heart-wrenching ballad may not be something most would expect from Stray Kids, but ‘Gone Away’ has the same level of impact as the group’s flashier songs. Credit goes to Han, Seungmin and I.N’s sheer vocal ability.
80‘TOP – Tower Of God OP’ (2020)
As the opening theme of an action anime series, you’d expect this track to be as vigorous as possible. Stray Kids being Stray Kids, they delivered.
79‘3rd Eye’ (2018)
If there is one song out of the group’s entire discography that best captures their unique brand of non-conformity, it would be ‘3rd Eye’. It has an eerie atmosphere unheard anywhere else in K-pop and completely subverts expectations with unpredictable shifts in energy. Some verses are stripped-back and otherworldly, others are hectic and frenzied, but everything comes together seamlessly and effortlessly. Trust Stray Kids to make something like this work.
78‘Mixtape: Gone Days’ (2020)
As one YouTube comment so eloquently put it: “Stray Kids took ‘OK boomer’ to a whole new level.”
77‘Double Knot’ (2019)
This song is definitely up there with Stray Kids’ more popular hits such as ‘Miroh’ and ‘Side Effects’ in terms of brute musical force. Once again, Changbin’s verses are this song’s bread and butter (which shouldn’t come as a surprise this far down the list).
76‘Lonely St.’ (2022)
Imagine the poignancy and emotion of a ballad but with kitschy pop-punk influences and you have ‘Lonely St.’. It’s comparable to their earlier music in terms of its clear focus on vocals – think ‘Chronosaurus’ or ‘I am YOU’. Stray Kids definitely need to pursue more pop-punk jams in the same vein.
Any song that gives Lee Know’s voice a chance to shine is a win in our books, especially when it’s a dance track as charismatic as this.
74‘School Life’ (2018)
The school uniforms. The snazzy little dance break at the very beginning of the song. Seungmin’s massive backpack. Lee Know singing in the chorus. The full and unapologetic embrace of fleeting youth. Need we say more?
Sometimes, radio-friendly tracks can be good. ‘Astronaut’ is, without a doubt, one of those songs.
Stray Kids have tried their hand at nearly every genre possible four years into their career, but the tracks with roots in alt-rock have got to be some of their best so far. ‘YOU.’ is an exemplar in this category – it begins on an almost haunting note, before picking up the pace with frenetic drums and hard-hitting guitar. Having Hyunjin, I.N and Changbin take charge of this intro track was a genius move; we don’t think anyone could have embodied the grunginess of this track as well as they have.
71‘Spread My Wings’ (2018)
Want to be reminded of how far Stray Kids have come since their debut? Listen to say, ‘Red Lights’, and then revisit ‘Spread My Wings’ and hear the boys sing about how they “used to be a regular at the stationery store”. Cute.
70‘Grow Up’ (2018)
It’s like they knew we would be in desperate need of a comforting song for a mental breakdown at some point.
69‘Red Lights’ (2021)
‘Red Light’ is ‘Drive’’s thirstier but less conspicuous older sibling. And somehow, Bang Chan is at the scene of both crimes.
“I was sick even when I was born / Yeah, I didn’t cry, sick / Even my first step was sick / Even the news about me is sick.” They were so real for this.
Stray Kids get a bad rep for their “noisy” inclinations, but that usually comes from those who haven’t listened to everything they have to offer. Take ‘Phobia’. The way this song balances up-tempo, techno-driven instrumentation and the dreamy vocal melodies that glide over should easily put these misconceptions to rest.
66‘We Go’ (2020)
3RACHA take a trip down memory lane with this sub-unit track from the ‘IN LIFE’ repackaged album, and we’re here for it. They’ve had a proclivity for traditional hip-hop soundscapes well before Stray Kids’ debut, so to hear that signature 3RACHA style return on ‘We Go’ is exhilarating.
It might just be this author, but ‘TMT’ feels like the long-lost cousin of GOT7’s ‘Eclipse’. That’s not a bad thing at all – it’s nice to hear little traces of and callbacks to previous labelmates, whether intentional or not.
‘Booster’ is just not a song anyone should ever want to skip. Under any circumstances. This is not up for debate.
As Tayce, a contestant of Rupaul’s Drag Race UK Season two, once said: The cheek, the nerve, the gall, the audacity and the gumption.
62‘Secret Secret’ (2021)
This pop ballad, written by Han, has to be some of the most lyrically stunning songs Stray Kids have put out to date: “Someday you’ll get used to it / I will live without even this feeling / It’ll be okay if you walk around busy / Like the ground hardens after rain and flowers bloom again.”
61‘My Side’ (2018)
Insert that one clip of Khloe Kardashian going, “I just heard something amazing.”
‘CALL’ is what we imagine the cherry blossom blooming in spring would sound like as a pop song. It’s so light and breezy in sound, so full of yearning in lyrics (“If you still lovе me like / As much as when we met / Just like that time / Call me if I’m still in your heart”).
There are so many layers to this song – from trap beats, Felix’s signature baritone range, to the way Hyunjin so effortlessly delivers his rap – that it’s difficult to summarise ‘Pacemaker’ in a few lines. Maybe we’ll stick to saying the song is good.
In the immortal words of drag queen Alyssa Edwards: ‘GLOW’ doesn’t get “cute”. ‘GLOW’ gets “drop-dead gorgeous”.
How many times are we going to keep praising Han for his songwriting? Case in point: “I’ll come to meet you now, even if this is an empty dream / I want to devote my everything to you / With the memory of you in my heart / I’ll always be waiting, unchanged.”
‘Insomnia’ condenses an entire journey in three minutes. It deceivingly starts with soft vocals and twinkling instrumentals, before gradually working its way up and eventually exploding with chaos on its hard-hitting, EDM-driven chorus. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
55‘The View’ (2021)
“Wherever I go, I’ll be OK.” Cue the waterworks.
A song that sounds strange on first listen but demands you hit the repeat button right after? That’s a Stray Kids banger, alright. Bonus points if they put Han in the biggest, goofiest hat they can possibly find.
53‘Mixtape: OH’ (2021)
This is serenade-you-at-your-window-with-a-boombox material, sugar-coated lyrics and all.
Having achieved as much as they have in only four years, Stray Kids definitely weren’t lying when they said they make it look easy.
51‘Road Not Taken’ (2019)
Meaningful lyrics about forging your own path in life aside, this intro track to ‘Clé 2: Yellow Wood’ still serves house realness.
Yes, this is the extended version of ‘Road Not Taken’. Yes, we put this a spot above it because this one’s longer. Stray Kids, if you’re reading this, we need more bass lines as filthy as this one.
‘Thunderous’ is more than just a showcase of Stray Kids’ genre-splicing skills or Felix’s surprising ability to pull off long blonde hair. It’s a war cry, a declaration of intent and ownership of the term “noise music”. Though many have used this song to put Stray Kids down, the group have flipped it on its head, turning it into their weapon instead.
“In the face of the ‘loudness’ that tries to deter us and get in our way, whether it’s pain, hardship, adversity, disapprovement, or criticism, we won’t be shaken easily, nor will we ever break down in front of it,” Changbin told Teen Vogue last year.
48‘Waiting For Us’ (2022)
The moment ‘Waiting For Us’ begins with the soft strumming of acoustic guitar, the warmth of nostalgia and familiarity enshrouds you. The atmospheric rock ballad, reminiscent of some early 2000s teen music (Camp Rock, perhaps?), is beautifully delivered by Bang Chan, Seungmin, Lee Know and I.N, although Lee Know especially deserves a major shoutout for his performance here.
This is not a typical K-pop ballad – the usual Stray Kids flourishes are present on ‘Sunshine’; some AutoTune, subtle trap beats… you get the picture. But ‘Sunshine’ still manages to feel like a warm hug after a long, hard day. It hits that much harder once you learn Han wrote this one as a confrontation and acknowledgement of his anxieties.
46‘Mixtape #4’ (2019)
Originally titled ‘Broken Compass’ by 3RACHA, this is a lot more hard-hitting and authoritative than the other mixtape tracks on ‘Clé 2: Yellow Wood’. But what really seals the deal is Bang Chan’s sweet rap verse dedicated to his “kids”, as he endearingly calls his bandmates: “It’s been a year and it’s true now / Call me captain, I’ll do it for my crew now / Since 2018, my precious team, my compass.”
Pre-debut Stray Kids had nothing to lose and ‘BEWARE’ is proof, feral instrumentals and all.
44‘Winter Falls’ (2021)
Feelings of melancholy always tend to haunt us like spectres as we approach the year’s end; something about the conclusion of yet another year along with the numbing, bitter cold of winter make them that much harder to shake off. Stray Kids not only embrace these painful reality checks, but offer a glimmer of hope that we’ll all be OK.
43‘Another Day’ (2020)
Contrary to popular belief, Stray Kids’ discography is not always sensory overload. ’Another Day’ is one of (if not) their most minimalistic, laidback tracks to date. They’re not belting over techno beats this time, instead crooning and harmonising over gentle, wispy strums of acoustic guitar. It brings to mind the soft tunes in a sleepy café on a weekday afternoon, although these lyrics are a little more on the sombre side: “Is everyone happy except me?” Han warbles in the outro verse.
Lee Know, Felix and Changbin capture the spirit of summer in three minutes on ‘Surfin’’. Sometimes, all you need is to pause and take in the little joys life has to offer, like the emotional catharsis something as simple as the sea breeze can provide you. They remind us to take it slow and live life to its fullest – that’s what summer should be about.
41‘Victory Song’ (2019)
The maniacal energy of ‘Victory Song’ might not capture everyone’s attention in the right way upon the first few listens. But watch Stray Kids’ performance of this at the 2020 MAMA and you’ll probably understand why this ranks this high on our list.
40‘District 9’ (2018)
Even on their debut song, Stray Kids were committed to the ‘menaces to society’ bit. That’s probably why it only takes true aficionados to appreciate ‘District 9’, grating sirens and all.
We know a few things about ‘Boxer’. First, it’s one of the most challenging songs to tackle on SuperStar JYPNATION, a total ordeal, a complete struggle. Second, it absolutely slaps.
The structure of ‘Questions’ mirrors an actual identity crisis:anxiety-inducing thought spirals obscured byyouthful whimsy. A self-referential masterpiece.
37‘All In’ (2020)
The sheer force with which Changbin delivers his verse (“Mistakes? Don’t give a thang / Like this we bang / I do it with my gang / Hold out my hand / Shoot ’em, and we blow ’em down”) against nothing but electric fanfare of trumpets… Finally, some good fucking food.
36‘Christmas EveL’ (2021)
No one would normally expect a Christmas song to heavily adopt funky syncopations of hip-hop, but this is Stray Kids we’re talking about. When the mischievous inclusion of that familiar ‘Feliz Navidad’ chorus hits in the bridge (“Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad / I can feel the evil coming, but Felix never bad”, Felix talk-sings), you know they have an unorthodox festive hit on their hands.
35‘Sorry I Love You’ (2021)
This writer must admit some bias towards Stray Kids songs written by Changbin, but the man does nail it every single time. The emotional rawness of lines like “I blame myself, I blame you / I don’t know who to blame, my resent grows”, especially when paired with the group’s dulcet tones, is the stuff angsty fanfics are made of.
34‘Your Eyes’ (2022)
If ‘Sorry I Love You’ was angsty, meet ‘Your Eyes’, its fluffy little Japanese sister. Cringey music video aside (we can’t lie – watching Felix slowly inch closer to the camera makes our toes curl): when Han proposes cancelling all plans for a spontaneous date, who could ever say no?
We are well aware of the flak this song has gotten since it came out four years ago. That does not change the fact its lyrics are so incredibly unserious and campy that it grows on you. This writer’s personal favourite: the “Red light green light swag (Swag!) / Bye or wassup man (Wassup).” Heavy on the extra “swag!” ad lib.
32‘Side Effects’ (2019)
The most instrumentally unhinged, deranged song Stray Kids have ever put out. That is a compliment.
31‘Get Cool’ (2018)
Corporate wants you to find the difference between this picture (‘Get Cool’) and this picture (the most absolute form of joy the world has ever seen). They’re the same picture.
It’s always ‘God’s Menu’ this, ‘God’s Menu’ that. Let’s talk about the other title track ‘Levanter’. Sure, this song is a lot more radio-friendly than we are used to from Stray Kids – some might even call it generic – but there’s nothing conventional about the way their vocals glide over the electronic distortions of rock guitar here.
29‘Awkward Silence’ (2018)
The moment the samples of crows cawing set in, we knew this was an instant win.
28‘I Am YOU’ (2018)
After throwing down the gauntlet on their first few releases with ‘District 9’ and even ‘My Pace’, Stray Kids threw a curveball by picking ‘I Am YOU’ as a title track. It trades clamorous rock for restrained mood and sentiment, but the fact that Stray Kids can make something enthralling out of a song that would have otherwise been dismissed as radio fodder is remarkable.
Some people may argue it pales in comparison to other Stray Kids title tracks, but we respectfully disagree – ’I Am YOU’ asserts itself differently, namely through the sublime, chugging bridge performed by none other than resident multihyphenate Han.
The dubstep on this would have instantly obliterated a Victorian child – again, a compliment.
What exactly did they put in ‘Domino’? Because there’s no way a single song can be this addictive in such a short amount of time. The fact ‘Domino’ doesn’t have a full music video is heinous.
25‘Super Board’ (2022)
Synths buzz, Hyunjin goes “nyoom”, and you know Stray Kids have entered their rebellious sk8er boi era. Only the immortal words of Lady Gaga can fully capture what this writer feels about ‘Super Board’: Talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, never the same, totally unique, completely not ever been done before, unafraid to reference or not reference, put it in a blender, vomit on it, eat it, give birth to it.
Perhaps one of the wittiest K-pop diss tracks in recent memory, ‘Cheese’ is a lyrical stroke of genius. The song title itself is an analogy for the way the group’s music gets better with time, while its lyrics make sardonic references to songs like ‘God’s Menu’, ‘Awkward Silence’ and ‘Side Effects’ by directly addressing the hate Stray Kids get for their eccentricities. As Han so eloquently puts it: “Do what you do, out of sight / My downfall is just a stupid dream of yours.”
This writer demands reparations for the emotional damage of hearing Lee Know sing the line, “Look at me before it’s too late, my lover.”
The release and subsequent commercial success of ‘Miroh’ was a watershed moment for Stray Kids. After establishing themselves as a group unafraid to dabble in uncharted sonic waters for K-pop, ‘Miroh’ set a precedent for the band’s signature style moving forward.
Everything about the song is so grand in scale: Felix’s signature spoken introduction, its heavy concrete jungle vibe shaped by deep house influences, a gargantuan beat drop – there shouldn’t have been anything else that could possibly take the bombast to another level. But then, Changbin burst through the gate with his now-seminal rapid-fire rap verse and the rest was history.
We think a special mention of Stray Kids’ remixed performance of ‘Miroh’ on Kingdom: Legendary War last year is warranted here. As their introductory performance on the reality series, the theatrics were executed to perfection – it was no surprise when they took home the trophy in the end.
21‘My Pace’ (2018)
‘My Pace’ may have graduated from the same rock-influenced, rap-focused school ‘District 9’ did, but their lyrics are entirely different beasts. Where ‘District 9’ denounces misconceptions about Stray Kids, ‘My Pace’ focuses on optimism and is a glass-half-full take on living in the moment.
20‘Can’t Stop’ (2022)
A classic rock track through and through, ‘Can’t Stop’ takes Seungmin and I.N’s syrupy cadences to newer, loftier heights. Put this on an anime soundtrack, expeditiously. Preferably a sports series, like Haikyuu!.
19‘Mixtape: Time Out’ (2022)
Those who were raised on the music of 2010s pop-punk stylings of acts like 5 Seconds of Summer and The Vamps will find ‘Mixtape: Time Out’ thoroughly nostalgic. It harkens back to the ‘I Am’ three mini-album series, down to the rock influences and rose-tinted sentiments of its lyrics.
‘Any’ is quintessentially Stray Kids – from the Korean-English lyrical wordplay, AutoTune treatment and Felix getting the fewest yet the most iconic lines. Everything just works in perfect tandem on what is easily one of their catchiest songs to date.
17‘Case 143’ (2022)
“Can I be your boyfriend? / I’ve never faked my attitude towards you, no cap.” Yes, Changbin. Yes, you can.
We consider this understated ‘Oddinary’ B-side (it’s criminal we don’t have a music video for this) to be the final track rounding out the trifecta of Stray Kids hype songs, after ‘SSICK’ and ‘Domino’. All three brilliantly display 3RACHA’s true songwriting talents, but ‘Charmer’ takes the cake.
If ‘SSICK’ and ‘Domino’ shamelessly flaunted the group’s acclaim, ‘Charmer’ explores the darker, less desirable sides of their overwhelming fame – namely the lack of privacy and the pervasive ways stardom can get to your head ( “I shine without even doing a thing / Go a bit crazy and see the stars”). But as I.N mesmerisingly croons on the bridge, “Even if I’m tired of it, it can’t be helped.”
Stray Kids are nothing if not theatrical. This Japanese track is ‘Maniac’’s groovier sibling with a consistent rhythm that makes plenty of space for histrionics. “There’s lots to see and enjoy at our show, like a circus,” Changbin said of the track’s meaning in the intro documentary for ‘Maxident’. He also captured the atmosphere of ‘Circus’ in two sentences: “‘Where are you going? The show’s just begun.’”
On ‘3RACHA’, the producing trio explores the hip-hop sub-genre of drill. We never thought we’d live to see the day where drill would be incorporated into K-pop, but it makes perfect sense that 3RACHA did it.
13‘God’s Menu’ (2020)
It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that ‘God’s Menu’ made it into our top 20 – it is the anthem of K-pop’s fourth generation, after all. It has so many iconic moments, especially Changbin and Han’s rap verses that kick off as soon as the song begins, and Felix’s “Cookin’ like a chef, I’m a five-star Michelin” line.
The choreography of Stray Kids’ ‘Wolfgang’ performance on Kingdom: Legendary War? To me, that’s cinema.
11‘Back Door’ (2020)
When Stray Kids announced they would be dropping a repackaged version of ‘GO LIVE’, this writer was admittedly sceptical it would meet expectations, especially when it was supposed to follow ‘God’s Menu’. When ‘Back Door’ dropped, though, I was hooked from the very first second.
Funky riffs of bass guitar and thumping percussion lay the groundwork for a sweet blend of the familiar and the new, as Stray Kids’ trademark attitude-infused raps climax in straight-up chants. The cardinal rule of Stray Kids’ music: never doubt their ability to outdo themselves with each new release.
This was tailor-made for horror lovers and avant-pop enthusiasts. There’s a tension to the instrumental that elevates ‘Venom’ past predictable and to enigmatic. The glitchy synths and minimalist backing track creep and crawl, evoking the unsettling feeling of something around the corner. The mechanical spiders to oblique The Shining references in its music video certainly don’t help, but maybe we don’t want respite from the unease.
9‘Mixtape: On Track’ (2020)
‘Mixtape: On Track’ is an anthem about the agonising yearning for a romance that will never transpire. Although Stray Kids sing about never straying (get it?) to earn a place with their lover, it remains a pipe dream always within sight yet always out of reach.
“One more step, I will never stop / I’ll always be on track,” they sing in the emotional chorus. It’s a curse: though they are determined to continue their pursuit, they will always remain on track, never to meet the journey’s end.
Lee Know summarised the unmistakable charm of ‘Chill’ perfectly in the ‘Maxident’ intro clip: “I think Han’s songs always make you know that Han made them. I guess that’s the genre of Han.”
7‘Silent Cry’ (2021)
3RACHA are skilled at writing lyrics so intimate they almost feel like a personal conversation with the listener. There are no niceties on ‘Silent Cry’; our own vulnerabilities are laid bare for Stray Kids to confront, address and subsequently comfort. It’s obvious ‘Silent Cry’ was created as a space for fans to find solace in Stray Kids, as they tell us with conviction in the chorus: “I’ll listen to your silent cry / So that you don’t get tired in a lost corner of your heart / Through the cracks in the door of that poorly closed space called ‘you’.” No, they are not offering to alleviate the pain. Instead, they provide a sanctuary, offering to share the burden or simply be a listening ear.
Despite its emotional, empathetic lyrics, ‘Silent Cry’ is no bleeding-heart ballad. It’s passionate, dynamic and full of verve. The result is a song that is both haunting and comforting, sensitive and defiant at the same time. ‘Silent Cry’ is a reminder of Stray Kids’ core as artists and creators – their unwavering devotion to writing music that matters.
6‘Give Me Your TMI’ (2022)
Even before this song was released in full, ‘Give Me Your TMI’ blew up on the Five Nights At Freddy’s side of the Internet for ostentatious electronic melodies so reminiscent of the horror cult classic video game that it even got The Living Tombstone’s seal of approval. The TMI of ‘87, if you will.
It’s not uncommon for pop songs to sugarcoat the painful reality of letting someone you love just slip through your fingers with metaphors and analogies. On ‘Ex’ though, there are no traces of flowery speech, no abstractions of heartbreak – only raw, unfiltered emotion.
The anguish Stray Kids sing of just keeps building as the cracks begin to show, until everything eventually shatters in the chorus. “Curse at me, curse as much as you want,” Han belts. “Do it until your hatred for me turns into anger / As long as you can let it all out and we can go back to how we were.”
4‘Star Lost’ (2021)
In astronomy, a guiding star refers to a specific star used as a benchmark to maintain the tracking of a wider celestial body as the Earth rotates on its axis. It also carries a biblical meaning: the symbol of good things to come. ‘Star Lost’ adopts a similar principle, except our guiding stars here are Stray Kids themselves.
Seungmin promises companionship in the pre-chorus: “I imagine you in the night sky / You comforting me somewhere / Don’t matter, even if I lose everything right now / I’d endure it by thinking of you / I’ll go anywhere.” It’s okay to be star lost, Stray Kids say, because you’re not alone to begin with.
Fanfic writers, the perfect soundtrack for your angsty vampire alternate universe is here. Helmed by the group’s DanceRacha unit (Felix, Lee Know and Hyunjin), ‘Taste’ is a seductive cautionary tale of a love so forbidden it becomes an addictive indulgence.
But above all, it’s a song that provides Lee Know an overdue platform for his syrupy vocal tones and soaring falsettos. Petition for JYP Entertainment to allow Lee Know more lines with vocal variation as diverse as the ones on ‘Taste’.
We like to think of ‘Haven’ as ‘Star Lost’’s older sibling: someone you’re able to pour your heart out to without fear of judgement. Reviving the romance and wistfulness of pop music in the early 2010s, ‘Haven’ is – to us at least – one of the most underrated Stray Kids B-sides and a masterclass in earnest storytelling.
The deep-seated fear of going against the grain and pursuing your passion is universal. It’s isolating to feel so trapped, to be unable to “[feel] so alive [that] everything flutters”. But the way Stray Kids beckons us to let go of these emotional and mental shackles to live each day to its fullest soothes like a balm. “Whatever we do, we’re OK,” Hyunjin tenderly reassures. He’s right – maybe, we will be OK after all.
If you’ve made it here: first of all, great job. Secondly, you probably have already noticed a recurring theme in a lot of Stray Kids’ lyrics. That is their dedication to serving as a beacon of hope, providing a constant reminder to carve out your own place in the world and find the right people to do that with. A lot of our top Stray Kids picks share this theme, and that’s because they do it so damn well.
The EDM material might be louder, but this category of Stray Kids songs hits harder because they have always been champions of this encouraging ethos. Actions speak louder than words, and Stray Kids have proved it every day for the past four years – be it the ways they have sacrificed many youthful years for their dreams, or how they insist on constantly pursuing innovation even when signed to an established label viewed as an industry monolith. They constantly define what it means to be a leader of K-pop’s fourth generation, only to dismantle those very expectations and create new ones all over again.
‘Blueprint’ is more than just an unassuming B-side on ‘GO LIVE’. If ‘Mixtape #4’ (or ‘Broken Compass’) was about Stray Kids’ hunger to reach for the stars, ‘Blueprint’ is the game plan and the recipe for their success. But that doesn’t mean plans, even the most well-laid ones, are foolproof. Sometimes only experience and patience can take you to the top. ‘Blueprint’ is a much-needed reminder that music is art, and that one of the most beautiful things art can do is inspire and touch lives when mere words fail.