I went back and forth over which song from Stray Kids‘s latest album, Clé 1: MIROH, to include on this week’s list. In fact, I started writing this with “Victory Song” in mind — a confident, in-your-face track with an explosive EDM hook that boasts the kind of big energy we’ve come to expect from the young Korean group. It’s a song that quite literally commands you to listen. But as I was writing it, album closer “19” started to play… and here we are.
Written by rapper Han last year, “19” is a moody hip-hop track about being, well, 19 — more specifically, that confusing moment in a young person’s life when you simultaneously want to grow up and stop time; you yearn to linger in your teenage years for a just little while longer because the thought of being an “adult” is honestly terrifying. (In Korea, the legal age is 19.) “Twenty years old that I wanted to become so badly,” Han raps. “Did everybody go through this same experience or am I the only one that’s anxious?”
Stray Kids’s greatest strength as a group — other than the fact they primarily write and produce their own music, led by members Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han — is their ability to candidly speak to their generation directly. They can relate to these coming-of-age emotions and anxieties because the nine members are on the cusp of adulthood themselves. So it’s no mistake that an album full of turn-up anthems and bold statements ends with “19.” It’s deeply reflective, yet speaks to their limitless potential. And it puts things into perspective for the group: Dreams that once felt unattainable are finally within their reach. —Crystal Bell