Editorial: Why Stray Kids makes me stay

by Langa Mohlala

Trigger Warning: Mentions of depression

From left to right: Stray Kids members Lee Know, HAN, I.N, Felix, Bang Chan, Hyunjin, Seungmin & Changbin at their press conference to promote their new mini-album ODDINARY. Source: AllKPop

Nowadays, a conversation with me is not a conversation if Stray Kids and/or K-Pop are not mentioned. While it seems like this group and music genre have enslaved my entire personality, that was not always the case.

At first, I loathed K-Pop with a passion. As a bitter Directioner who was still gutted over and in denial about One Direction’s hiatus, I was deeply offended when people referred to BTS as “The New One Direction”. Some even said that BTS was better than my beloved British boyband. After months of BTS hype and talk from my fellow Directioners-turned-ARMYs, I decided to humour the universe and watch the FAKE LOVE music video. Delighted, intrigued, and slightly addicted, I streamed more of their music and came to adore songs such as MIC Drop and Intro: Singularity. While I did not become an ARMY, I admire their work and I accept the fact that yes, BTS is better than One Direction (even though one cannot and should not compare apples to oranges).

Stray Kids promoting their 2020 comeback single God’s Menu. Source: The Korea Herald

Last year, I accidentally discovered Stray Kids. One random August afternoon, I was scrolling on TikTok and encountered a clip of a handsome young man with luscious locks dancing to catchy music. This man was Hyunjin from Stray Kids, and the video in question was a clip of Stray Kids’ God’s Menu Dance Practice. Delighted, intrigued and very much excited, I watched the God’s Menu music video (skip to 1:19 and thank me later). I would watch and rewatch this video religiously for over a month in tandem with their Back Door music video. On Friday the 10th of September, after a month of casually watching their videos and listening to their music, I became a STAY and started to binge Stray Kids content.

Second year was not kind to me, especially regarding my mental health. There were days when submitting assignments felt like climbing a mountain and pretending to be okay was even more difficult than recovering from a serious injury. As of 2022, I have had depression for six years. I have seen my fair share of dark days and lonely nights, and some of my worst depressive episodes occurred in the last quarter of 2021. It sounds cliché, but Stray Kids literally saved my life. Their music may initially sound like unintelligible babble arranged on noisy pop-trap beats, but Stray Kids’ lyrical content is powerful and meaningful.

I am YOU, the title track from their EP of the same name, sounds like a run-of-the-mill K-Pop song (to me, it sounds like the Korean version of an *NSYNC song). However, when you read the translated lyrics, you come across beautiful words such as “You filled up my emptiness/ Only you could fill it up/ Just by being by my side/ You gave me strength”.

Silent Cry, from their second album NOEASY, is another example of a seemingly upbeat pop song with a deeper meaning. The lyrics tell the story of a listener who is deeply troubled but hiding their feelings and pretending like they are okay. The English translation of the chorus is as follows:

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’

There is a silent cry that only I can hear

The silent cry that you’ve been hiding for a while.

As much as I enjoy fangirling over Stray Kids’ visuals and laughing at their hilarious antics, their music means the most to me. I can find myself in it and connect with the lyrics, even if they are in a different language. As of March 2022, I am also casually listening to NCT, TXT and ATEEZ, and I am well on my way to joining their fandoms. For now, though, I will always be the loudest and proudest STAY who cannot go five minutes without talking about Stray Kids. After all, they made me STAY.

Source: @StrayKidsGlobal on Twitter

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