Stray Kids’ ODDINARY: Album Review and Press Conference Coverage
A recap of Stray Kids’ press conference, their new album, and why ODDINARY is the most classically Stray Kids album yet
Photo: JYP Entertainment
Press Conference Overview
The overall ODDINARY comeback trailer kicked off the night’s programming. Its deeper meaning and symbolism will be dissected on an upcoming 17 Carat K-Pop episode, but to summarize: the video follows Felix’s journey through room after room, dealing with confrontation after confrontation, until he is pushed out of a window by Hyunjin’s villainous character. The glass window is not the only thing that breaks into many pieces; a padlock does too. The padlock is the key symbol to keep in mind for this comeback, representing how unleashing one’s true self is inevitable; originality has a desire to burst out, and this desire to “break the lock” is within everyone. After all, as they sing on “MANIAC,” “When the lock is released, we're all the same.”
After the premiere of the “MANIAC” music video (which, again, will be covered in an upcoming podcast episode!), the band held a Q&A session. The group addressed a wide array of topics, including being on Kingdom, their upcoming tour, their past musical eras, and their fans, STAY. Although the members looked grown-up in their black ensembles and showed a new level of poise and maturity while answering questions, their more serious moments were interrupted by their signature giggles and expressions of joy and pride. This joy was the clearest when talking about STAY. Bang Chan even turned a question about breaking an album sales record into an opportunity to say what matters most is not metrics but impact. In particular, he mentioned how touched he feels when he hears from fans about Stray Kids’ music leaving a positive impact on their lives.
Photo: JYP Entertainment
“VENOM” is the perfect choice for an opening track. Its rapping intensifies towards the end, when the sirens kick in, leaving listeners on their toes, excited to hear what happens next. The action-packed adventure that is this album kicks into high gear from the start, with “VENOM”’s fierce raps and busy instrumental.
“MANIAC” is a classic Stray Kids song for other reasons, like its dramatic moment of silence before an unexpected sound is heard (in this case, birds chirping) and the fast pace resumes. The lyrics are also the epitome of Stray Kids: embracing the thought of being authentic to an unflinching extent (“Like the seam of a torn doll… Eventually, you'll expose your real self”) while also acknowledging how hard it is to truly be oneself in a judgemental world (“In this not-easy life / It ain't ‘live,’ it's ‘holding on’”) and pointing out how universal the struggle to express oneself is (“Everyone lives hiding themselves like a sealed tornado”). “MANIAC” is both an earworm and an example of simultaneous introspection and criticism of society at large. Addressing these broad themes alongside each other makes ambiguity in meaning inevitable, and this ambiguity manages to feel anything but sloppy. A particularly poetic example of this ambiguity in the lyrics: “When a favor continues, people think it’s their right.”
A unique flute and whistling steal the show on “Charmer,” which is made even more fun with lyrics like “Chitty-chitty bang” and a confident tone (“You can't stand it, I'm the charmer”).
“FREEZE” keeps the thrill ride going, with more powerful rapping and Stray Kids’ signature moment of tense silence prior to an unexpected interruption (in this case, someone yelling “FREEZE!”). “FREEZE” also impresses by managing to be both rapid and suspenseful. The drama lingers over prolonged pre-choruses, and this buildup lasts long enough to make an impact but doesn’t overextend its welcome. Room for a rising action prior to the song’s climactic choruses is ensured without sounding forced. “FREEZE” is anything but traditional storytelling, however. The song’s tone fluctuates unpredictably, with details that range from reverberating shouts to sinister whispering.
“Lonely St.” is a uniquely Stray Kids take on a rock ballad. They personalize this song with a mix of poignant and metaphorical lyrics (“The shoe soles that are all worn out are left behind / Footprints won't last long, they'll be erasеd”) and lyrics with a humorous double meaning (“I'm lonely, but I'm the lone king”).
“Waiting For Us,” naturally, slows things down. This guitar-based song by Bang Chan, Lee Know, and Seungmin pivots to emphasizing sincerity rather than another bold, loud declaration, with the straightforward reminder they will be “here always” to provide comfort and support.
Rather than end the album on a, for lack of a better term, typical note, Stray Kids close with a sound that resumes their energetic eccentricity. Felix’s husky rap commands attention over the sounds of a funky piano and mid-tempo drumming. ODDINARY concludes with another bold declaration (“I'll change all the standards of the world”) and another veiled swipe at society at large (“Everyone's too good at avoiding the blame at the high level”).
ODDINARY spreads several messages, often within the same song. On one hand, Stray Kids boast about ignoring preconceived notions and truly embracing their originality. They refuse to put on an act and encourage listeners to join them in committing to be who they truly are, regardless of what anybody else thinks. On the other hand, their lyrics acknowledge the broader societal forces that make this goal easier said than done. This allows them to both empower individuals and be critical of the broader norms and prejudices that squash individuality. They critique a status quo that defines individuals by cut-and-dry labels and assumptions and recognize the enormity of trying to overcome these. Yet they maintain an endless optimism, a firm belief in the possibility of proving naysayers wrong.
Connections to Previous Releases
With ODDINARY, Stray Kids serve up fresh sounds that show off impressive musicianship and versatility. However, ODDINARY is also just another building block on a foundation they have already created. Stray Kids have been addressing the same themes again and again, and ODDINARY furthers a story that began years ago.
One routine theme in Stray Kids’ music is the passage of time. “19” expresses concern with how fast time flies, and songs like “Side Effects” and “Voices” embody the emotional turbulence of young adulthood. Songs on ODDINARY that address getting older and feeling like time is moving too fast include “Waiting For Us” (“I'm running in the blocked time”) and “VENOM” (“Why are you in such a hurry?”). Additionally, conflicting desires of wanting to grow up and stay young clash in “FREEZE”: “There’s no time to wait / For this huge iceberg to melt / It’s blocking my way, so just break it / Even if I slip and slide on / This cold slab of ice… I’ll just shake it off my shoulders / And stand back up.” These mixed feelings are even represented visually: in the ODDINARY comeback trailer, Felix faces a birthday cake covered in black icing, which has a baby picture on it.
A related recurring theme in Stray Kids’ songs: feeling lost. References to being lost in a mental maze and feeling stuck without a metaphorical map are brought up in “Hellevator” and “Mirror.” The lack of a map is referenced with a different tone on “Astronaut” (“Draw a map as I want, I don’t need it anyway”) and on the new track, “VENOM” (“I got caught again pretending not to know… my way”). The narrative has changed as Stray Kids’ confidence has grown. They have gone from practically begging for someone to give them directions to drawing their own paths, and on ODDINARY, they feel totally removed from their old, insecure selves, to the point where they deny ever needing help with directions.
Sonically and lyrically, Stray Kids have really come into their own, and this desire to push through fears and be original has been consistent. They address this mentality on “My Pace” (“Such comparison is meaningless”) and “Double Knot” (“go brace yourself;” “My decision, my life”), and they do so again throughout ODDINARY. In “Muddy Water,” they assert, “I suffer from the words you throw at me, but [it] makes me tougher.” They sigh at expectations of conformity on “MANIAC”: “back to cosplaying [at] what society / Defines normal to be…” And on “FREEZE,” they remind themselves, “You can’t get anything done / Focusing on what others think.”
The theme that most directly ties together their past albums and their new one is the fact that, ironically, everyone is different, so being different is what everyone has in common! This is the main message of one of their early eras, I am YOU, and at the ODDINARY press conference, Bang Chan’s concluding remarks included the following: “We want to bring out the message… everyone in the world has their own special ‘odd’ inside them,” which is what makes it ordinary!
Stray Kids’ Broader Message
Overall, Stray Kids continue to use their music as a vehicle for lighting a spark inside listeners. Their music fuels the desire to break out of one’s shell and be unapologetically original. A few factors allow this message to resonate: the unconventional and hands-on approach Stray Kids take to making their music, which proves they practice what they preach, and their realistic perceptions. Their encouragement does not ring hollow because it is rooted in a genuine understanding of what listeners need to hear. Listeners are not receptive to just “You can do it!” messages; elaboration is needed to truly resonate. Stray Kids’ ultimate message: “You can do it, but we know it’ll be a challenge, and we promise to keep striving towards success if you do too. We can get through tough times together, despite the odds stacked against us.”