There’s a lyric in Stray Kids‘s 2017 song “Hellevator” that I think about a lot. It goes, translated, “I’m so unlucky on this path I’m on. I don’t even have a map.” It reminds me that circumstance is a matter of perspective, that it’s easy to feel sorry for myself. But, the map is ultimately mine to make. Only I know the path that’s right for me, and that’s enough. Of course, that realization takes time — and failure — to fully understand. For Stray Kids, who have been carefully carving out their own unique path, paving the way for no one but themselves, that realization comes now.
On Monday (December 9), the Korean boy group dropped “Levanter,” the lead single off their latest EP Clé: Levanter. The release follows October’s “Double Knot,” a powerful digital single that saw the members running full speed into the unknown with abandon. (It’s also their first release as eight members; vocalist Woojin left the group in late October citing “personal reasons.”) But “Levanter” is softer in its approach and more delicate and melodic by design. If “Double Knot” was about breaking free, then “Levanter” is about acceptance — of knowing when to stop running toward something and start living.
“I wanna be myself (I don’t care) / Even if it’s still strange (Just don’t care),” Seungmin sings on the chorus. “After breaking away from you I can see / Everything, all before my eyes.”
Written and produced by members Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han, also known as 3RACHA, “Levanter” marks the end of the group’s Clé series, which began with March’s Clé 1: MIROH — a fearless EP that found Stray Kids confidently charging into the maze of adolescence, ready to fight whatever stood in their way between them and the success they so desperately crave. Now, leader Bang Chan opens “Levanter” with the understanding that “I thought I could reach if I kept chasing.”
June’s “Side Effects,” featured on Clé 2: Yellow Wood, brought them to a debilitating crossroads, self-doubt and anxiety seeping over a thumping bass line. The disorienting track captured the suffocating feeling of second-guessing your choices. On “Levanter,” they choose themselves. “The one I needed has been me,” they sing.
The music video is as layered and sweeping as the song, with visual callbacks to previous releases — the elevator, the twin moons, the tunnel, the bus tickets to a “New World” (now burned to ash). The choreography even invokes past singles; Felix and Hyunjin’s second verse is reminiscent of their verse and delicate choreography in “Side Effects.” It’s a clever way to see just how far Stray Kids have come in two years.
“Levanter” is about letting go of something — of a dream, a feeling, or even a person — but it isn’t a sad song. In fact, it’s full of hope and possibility, and with the awareness that the path is ultimately theirs to define. “I walk as my feet take me,” they sing. “I feel the light.” Sometimes you need to let go of something to find yourself. Because life isn’t about aimlessly running in pursuit of a dream you can’t catch; it’s about stopping to enjoy the journey. Remember: The map has always been yours to make.
Only Stray Kids know where their compass will lead them next. But if the Clé series, for all of its ambitious musicality and maturity, is emblematic of their future direction, then it’s a course worth charting. True growth comes from taking risks, from doing things that scare you and letting go of things that don’t. And when life knocks you down — because it inevitably will — all you can do is get up, trust yourself a little more, double knot your shoelaces, and follow the path that feels right to you.