Stray Kids are making a huge statement for 2018, and it’s for other groups to watch out: they’re here, and they’re here to here to stay. Their video, District 9, has recently dropped and it’s a two punch combo of a strong track and a strong video.

Stray Kids was formed in 2017 by JYP Entertainment through the K-pop survival program Stray Kids, and has nine members. Although a few of the members were eliminated during the course of the show, they were brought back and have debuted along with the other show survivors. They’ve finally made their official debut with I Am Not, their debut video has made a huge impression.

The song itself is a strong, and is a mostly rap dominated track. It’s really nice to see a group take their rappers seriously, and the singing itself fits seamlessly alongside the rapping. Something particularly unusual is how quickly the song hits the first chorus: most songs build up to their choruses with climbing beats and supplementary rap and singing. But District 9 chooses to use the singing to break up the rap heavy hooks and bridges. The singing is very strong, and it’s nice to see that the song isn’t oversaturated with vocals the entire time. The distorted warble in the chorus is oddly addictive, and the combination of the electric guitar against the synth brings to mind a sort of punk-rock vibe that complements the video’s overtones of rebellion and rejection of conformity.

The video is also pretty cohesive, visually. The video follows shots of the members, dressed in white, well-tailed jumpsuit uniforms. They stand apart from each other by equal distances and do not make eye contact. The lighting is a cool and vivid turquoise with vivid pops of bright red. As the members start to leave messages to each other to help them escape, the pops of red become more intense and vivid.

All these elements eventually transform into the members loading up in the school bus and choosing new clothes from themselves, each of them different and individualistic, shedding the identity given to them by an authoritarian environment. The red becomes more pronounced and starts competing with the blue for visual dominance: in some shots, it dominates the screen, and in other blue dominates. It eventually all culminates to the members leaving through a gate, telling the audience that they “better watch out”.

The use of clothes in this video is incredibly symbolic. The song talks about not letting what others think change who they are, and how pointless and unfair it is to have to observe to social standards. The stray kids who don’t follows to those social expectations are the kids of “District 9”. In Korean culture, the number 9 has a double meaning: power and longevity, but also a mark of decline – the kids of District 9 mark a rise of individuality, as well as a decline in mindless social unity.

The use of uniforms in the beginning is symbolic of a lack of self: it strips them of identity and personality. A uniform is something to wear, so that the wearer doesn’t have to think about it. It’s a standardized article, serving function, rather than expression. But also acts as a symbolic double-edged sword. While uniforms takes away uniqueness and singularity, it can also symbolize unity for a cause. The members of Stray Kids are symbolic of the kids who don’t respect what society demands of them: when they change their clothes, they choose how they are being seen and perceived, and refuse to apologize for how they present themselves because it’s who they are.

The sets are also symbolic: the MV starts out in a sort of institution of sorts, caught between a hospital and a school, before moving onto a school bus. The institution in the beginning divides the members of Stray Kids, refusing to allow them to interact as a group. The blue coloring is unsentimental and cold, intercut with bursts of passionate red. The institution mirrors the structures of society: it forces young people to compete for success and acclaim, and refuses self-expression, in favor for a mindless consensus. The school bus, a physical symbol of the bridge between childhood and adolescence, is the setting where Stray Kids escape to and finally choose their own clothes. They shed the limits of society, and instead choose who they want to become as they reach maturity.

Overall, Stray Kids can count this is a huge win for themselves. This debut video and song are incredibly well made and work together well as a cohesive unit to send a clear and bold message. Other K-pop groups should definitely watch out for them as strong competition for 2018. I’m excited to see what they’re going to put out next!

(Video via YouTube. Images via JYP Entertainment)