Rookie group Stray Kids have made their highly anticipated first comeback. Though the group technically has had two albums before this one if you include the predebut “Mixtape,” the new EP, “I am WHO,” feels very much like a sophomore effort. It’s just that the debut album “I am NOT” set the bar so, so high. Most rookie groups’ albums can’t top any of Stray Kids’ albums so far, but if we’re holding Stray Kids to their own standard, “I am WHO” doesn’t quite measure up. The story is no different for title track “My Pace,” which struggles to cover new ground and ends up straying from the core of what made Stray Kids’ past music so great.
While Stray Kids’ other singles—“Hellevator,” “Grrr,” and “District 9”—have been unapologetically full of angst, “My Pace” is more about fun than weight, as we can see in the “na na na”s of the hook. The issue isn’t the “na na na”s themselves, but the fact that the rest of the song fails to match their high energy. In fact, those “na na na”s are perhaps the best part of the song, full of Stray Kids’ trademark brash attitude. If the song had been built around this exuberance, it might have worked. However, the rest of the slow, synthy hook feels dull compared to the driving “na na na”s instead of connecting them to the rest of the song. The verses, mostly the first one, suffer from the same issue. It would have taken the song a long way to see more of the energy of the second verse providing connective tissue between the “na na na”s, but too much of the linking material feels like filler.
As far as the album goes, all the tracks are more coherent than the title. But for me, only the intro track “WHO?” and the excellent “Question” really feel like Stray Kids-caliber songs. When you’re going up against such strong tracks as “Rock,” “Mirror,” and “3rd Eye,” “I am WHO” is just slightly a disappointment. It’s not that the production is off, it’s just somehow not as gripping as “I am NOT”; the EDM is less effective, the sound-experimenting less emotion-heavy. I do give them credit for exploring new territory with this comeback, but I hope that their next concept deals more with finding their identity than interrogating it.
MY PACE: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? For me, a flopper.
Take a look at Stray Kids’ “My Pace” MV below: