Since their first introduction on the 2017 reality show Stray Kids, the K-pop group of the same name have carved out a lane for themselves with their experimental, theatrical “noise” music. They’re known for their vision and energy that overflows with raging against the system, angst about everyday life, and empathy for themselves and their peers — creating anthems about it all, with the band members playing a serious role in guiding the artistic direction.
As one of the most popular K-pop groups of the moment, Stray Kids, also known by the acronym SKZ, have been creating hits since that very TV show, with albums and mixtapes playing a major role in relaying their musical journey.
With their third LP, 5-Star, stylized as ★★★★★, set to drop on June 2 via JYP Entertainment and Republic Records, it’s a great moment to delve into Stray Kids’ discography and take a look at some of their most underrated songs. While no Stray Kids song is overlooked by their dedicated fans, known collectively as Stay, here (in no particular order) are some tracks for soon-to-be Stay who are looking to get a bit more familiar with the hidden treasures that Stray Kids have to offer.
“School Life” – Mixtape (2018)
While working on their very first album, Stray Kids were literally the kids that their name dubs them, with many of the members still in school. School Life is all about hoping school will become a bit less boring, which it assuredly did after they debuted as K-pop stars. Although it’s maybe not sonically where Stray Kids ended up being for most of their career, you see the musical experimentation they’ve come to be known for in the penultimate bridge when near-silence is interrupted by synthesizers, slight keys, blowing breezes, and echoing ad libs. Now, while Stray Kids are so far into their career, it’s worthwhile to take things back and see them as the kids they were at the very start.
“Grow Up” – I am NOT (2018), SKZ2020 (2020)
A fairly straightforward, melodic hip-hop ballad, “Grow Up” is a poignant, uplifting songmade up of inspirational one-liners and empathy-laden raps over whistling melodies and sweet harmonizing. The song’s Korean title translates into “You’re Doing Great,” and when days are tough, this feels like a sweet motivational pick-me-up.
“3rd Eye” – I am NOT (2018), SKZ2021 (2021)
A hazy alt-R&B tune, “3rd Eye” roams with whispers alternating with heavily manipulated, vocoder-esque vocals and raps, dreaming of opening an additional way to see the world. Wailing, broken-off verses come amid drum beats evoking those of the heart, while soft instrumentals twinkle across the overwhelming space of the song. “3rd Eye” may not be as brash or loud as some of Stray Kids’ other most experimental songs, but this is perhaps Stray Kids at their very most exploratory.
“N/S” – I Am YOU (2018), SKZ2021 (2021)
This rhythmic hip-hop track is a playful take on life’s many major decisions, with its title referencing the north and south poles and its lyrics about wanting to live not in the middle, following the crowd, but on the edge. Featuring a hypnotizing melody and quirky trap-meets-electro beats, the members of Stray Kids highlight their rapping skills, with even the group’s most dedicated vocalists showing off their flow. “N/S” and its red light, green light swagger is a must-know.
Since Stray Kids have a habit of re-issuing songs on compilations, “N/S” — and other early SKZ songs — get to live on in two versions, one with the original nine-member lineup and the latter updated one featuring the act’s current eight-member lineup.
“Chronosaurus” – Clé 1: MIROH (2019), SKZ2020 (2020)
Time comes for us all, but on the haunting, rousing rock of “Chronosaurus,” Stray Kids inhabits the daunting questions of moments passing us by. It’s a track kicked off by a series of subtle sonic shifts before rushing forward into a roaring existential anthem, then calming down — only to rage again, as the beast of time surges closer.
“STOP” – Clé : LEVANTER (2019)
An elongated version of the earlier 2019 album Clé 2: Yellow Wood intro track “Road Not Taken,” “Stop” is anthemic, EDM Stray Kids at its finest. Putting it on necessitates a person to dance, and shake out all of the stress of the day, week, month, and this human existence. Stray Kids’ flair for EDM is perhaps one of their most-underrated charms, and nothing exemplifies that more than glory of “Stop.”
“Haven” – GO LIVE (2021)
If there ever was a club-ready K-pop electro-house track, it’d be this one. “Haven” is an straightforward electro-pop tune full of Stray Kids’ feelings of joy and living in the moment, doing whatever you want and going on the path you want. With a bit of a trap drop built in for good measure, early on it feels like maybe “Haven” will go a different route. But no — this is Stray Kids at their most straightforward and ebullient. Join them in this happy place and take a listen.
“HEYDAY” – Street Man Fighter soundtrack (2022)
Produced by Czaer for the competitive dance show Street Man Fighter, “HEYDAY is a glitchy, grimy dance track that finds Stray Kids at their most boisterous. Performed by Stray Kids’ producer trio 3RACHA (Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han), and featuring lyrics written by the act’s members, the song kicks off at 50 mph and soars to 100 pretty quickly. Swerving in and out of effects ranging from keyboard smashes to payday cha-chings, the trio’s dynamic delivery of the intense verses and raps hurl it towards an intense finale.
“SUPER BOARD” – Maxident (2022)
Any song that zooms along with as much fun as “Super Board” does deserves some love. Stray Kids take a bit of a break from their most serious selves on the Maxident album (the lead single “Case 143” is a romance track, which is atypical of their singles), and “Super Board” leaves the listener anything but bored. Along for the groovy ride, “Super Board” is fueled by bold beats, old-school rap-rock and wrapped in exuberant exclamations and chants.
“Battle Ground” – The Sound (2023)
It’s not necessarily a surprise that Stray Kids went full-blown alt-rock on this Japanese B-side — which feels like it could fit right in at a metal festival in the late ‘90s or early aughts. Aggressive rock motifs blend with Stray Kids’ typical playfulness and use of tried-and-true sounds. Its glitchy, stumbling womps, truncated synths, and siren wails reaffirm SKZ’s right to battle things out on the stage, and on the playground of life.