On March 18, Korean boy band Stray Kids, formed by JYP Entertainment, officially debuted in Japan with their first Japanese album SKZ2020. Stray Kids is represented by Japan’s largest music label, Sony Music. Concurrently, the group also unveiled the official Japanese version of their music video for “Levanter” on their official YouTube channel.
Stray Kids made their official Korean debut on March 25, 2018, through a reality show produced by JYP Entertainment with the intention of breaching into the international market. After a grueling selection process and backbreaking pressure, Stray Kids, originally a nine-member group, came to the light with eight talented artists: Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, Han, Felix, Seungmin, and I.N.
Sadly, according to JYP Entertainment, there will not be any local stage shows to promote the group’s Japanese debut due to travel restrictions in response to ongoing COVID-19 issues.
This 27-track album, simultaneously released in South Korea, also represents a refreshing pivot of their previous energetic but uninhibited public image. The album includes 24 previously released tracks — starting from “Hellevator” released in January 2018 all the way through “Levanter,” the group’s most recent comeback title track. Together the whole album depicts their transition and growth through trials of reckless experiences and struggles from different stages of life.
The impressive rap verse and chaotic mashup of animal roars in “Miroh” demonstrate the rushing excitement of the teenaged members as they are ready to spread their wings and soar. As the album progresses, these energetic and even overconfident feelings are suddenly substituted by an aggressive and nightmarish soundscape, with depressing and rapid drum beats.
The abrupt and frightening twist in style in “Side Effects” generates an impending sense of desperate doom, symbolizing the struggles that the group has experienced: self-doubt, regrets, and even self-negation.
Fortunately, with another powerful drop of dynamic vocal and uplifting EDM background in “Hellevator,” the album shifts towards a hopeful note.
“My life’s at a rock bottom’s cliff/I’m walking in a dark tunnel/I’m holding up/I’m going to find out where the exit is/I’m on the hellevator, I’m going up.” The positivity flowing throughout the lyrics reconfirms their never-give-up altitude. Meanwhile it reminds listeners that there are ups and downs in life, and encourages fans to keep fighting even in darkness with the repeating phrase: “I’m on a hellevator/my hellevator.”
The album prepares for closure with a vindicating sense of relief in “Levanter,” written and produced by members Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han, also known as 3RACHA. At the end of all the savage attacks from outside and painful setbacks, after experiencing the cheerfulness and upset in the maze of adolescence, they finally reach the stage of self-acceptance.
“I wanna be myself (I don’t care)/Even if it’s still strange (Just don’t care),” Seungmin sings on the chorus. The album ends with the understanding that the path of growth is full of thorns and roses. The true meaning of life is not about chasing dreams while missing your true self; it is more about taking a moment to enjoy the lovely scene on the road.