I never thought I’d say that I can’t stop listening to JYP’s new boy group’s predebut track whose concept is based off a bad pun, but I have had Stray Kids’ “Hellevator” on repeat for the past hour. I’ll go ahead and say it, because I can’t wait to and I’m sure you’re all waiting for it anyway: RAP! Where the hell did JYP pull these rappers out of? So far we’ve only heard this track from them, and nothing live yet. Still, I’d say that Stray Kids’ rappers have impressed me enough with this single song to earn an automatic Bop rating. That’s not to say that the song was perfect, because it certainly was not. However, given that it’s not even an official track (these guys’ survival show, which will form the final group, hasn’t even aired yet), the only goal was to catch people’s attention, not craft a masterpiece. And “Hellevator” has definitely caught K-pop stans’ attention.
The track opens with a moody low vocal over cloying piano, the kind that makes you roll your eyes and think, “Typical K-pop,” even though you secretly like it. But the rap kicks in right away, and before you know it, you’re entranced. The main rappers of some of today’s most popular groups have nowhere near the capabilities of these kids. Speed isn’t their only strong point. These rookies are already creatively engaging the beat, switching from rhythm to rhythm multiple times in the same line. Interestingly, I was not able to differentiate any of the rappers from one another in terms of style—all of them maintain a medium-pitched tone and a similar speed as far as I could tell. While I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, it certainly doesn’t feel like a good thing. Regardless, it’s clear that we can expect big things from Stray Kids’ rap line.
Compositionally, the song also had me satisfied. The lengthy prechorus is dramatic but its melody is pleasing, looping prettily across the scale instead of sitting complacently on one or two notes as K-pop is in the habit of doing lately. The vocalists did the melody justice, and I look forward to hearing how they sound live. I also enjoyed the chorus as much as I can ask for from a predebut track. The thrumming, honey-sweet synth in the instrumental fills up all the space available to it, which I like here because it permits no extraneous electronic noises.
Aside from all that, the song is also painfully real: “I have nothing, no one cares about me, no one worries about me. Just stone-cold ‘Give up on your nonsense dreams.’” The lyrics describe the difficulty of following your dreams without support, and they are seriously dark. That’s sort of a weird move considering that the group is brand-new and has no established fanbase that will sympathize with it, but hey, it’s better than 4 minutes of hearing “I like you” repeated over and over again.
There were some weaknesses, for me mostly in structure: why didn’t JYP add a slow or quiet moment before the final chorus, providing the opportunity for another buildup and drop instead of keeping up a constant energy level that ultimately became stale? Why didn’t they write more lyrics into the chorus, to keep the rhythm interesting as well as to give the boys more individual shine time? At the end of the day, the song did what it came to do—no more and no less. Whether the lineup will change over the course of the survival show remains to be seen, but under a label as big as JYP, Stray Kids will certainly be going places.
HELLEVATOR: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? Bop.
Take a look at Stray Kids’ “Hellevator” MV below: