Throughout their Clé album series, Stray Kids have been desperately searching for the key to their happiness and success. In the trilogy’s finale, “Levanter,” the members find that they were the keys all along.
“Levanter” is the lead single off the album Clé: Levanter, which also features the pre-release tracks “Double Knot” and “Astronaut.” Levanter is the third part of Stray Kids’ Clé (which means “key” in French) album series, following Clé 1: Miroh in March and Clé 2: Yellow Wood in June.
This trilogy built upon the themes of coming-of-age and identity that were introduced in their I am… album series. While their earlier releases had more of a naive exuberance and earnest determination, Clé‘s songs took a more world-weary and frustrated outlook.
This was reflected in the albums’ titles, with “miroh” meaning “maze” in Korean and “yellow wood” referencing the famous Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken,” which begins: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.”
“Levanter” is the name for strong gusts of wind that blow from the Mediterranean. In Spanish, it means “to rise up” both in the sense of moving upward as well as rising up in rebellion. Whether they are wind or rebels, Stray Kids have had enough of all the stress, self-doubt, and anxiety while trying to choose the right path and navigate life’s mazes.
However, instead of buckling down, tying their shoes in a “Double Knot,” and fighting even harder, in the MV for “Levanter,” the members of Stray Kids… give up. Both the song and the MV are about giving up on blindly chasing a relationship, achievement, or dream that is actually killing you.
The MV begins with the members facing a giant, shiny glass doorway. A glimpse of the world inside shows the members wandering in a dreamy pastel field. Interestingly, the world is not as it seems as storm clouds gather and lightning flashes overhead.
The members have been separated into groups, which each being drawn to different places. Felix is trapped in a room alone, trying to decipher a complicated compass spinning in every direction. Bang Chan, Han, and Seungmin find a broken-down elevator sitting on a median between two diverging roads. This seemingly offers them an easier alternative to making a choice between the two paths. Yet, once Bang Chan pries the doors open, the trio find nothing but ruin and a mysterious “one-way ticket” to a “new world.”
Meanwhile, I.N and Changbin face each other in a tunnel full of wreckage. A chasm opens in the ground between them. Changbin drops the diamond he holds in his hands, a symbol of wealth and success, in order to reunite with I.N . The pair burn their own identical one-way ticket, while Bang Chan, Han, and Seungmin light the elevator on fire. Both groups realize that the paths they were on seemed prosperous but led to destruction.
This realisation triggers a meteor shower that dissolves an invisible barrier that was around the pastel dreamscape. At this moment, a doorway appears, revealing a different way out.
A bruised and bloody I.N, Lee Know, and Hyunjin had fought their way to this door after being led there by an eagle and the two moons in the sky. Despite arriving at the doorway, they had been unable to enter, perhaps because the rest of the group had not been with them. All the members have to overcome their separate obstacles first.
Now all together and free from obstacles, a smiling Bang Chan holds the door open for his members, ushering them toward a world with a calm, blue sky. As he is walking through the door, I.N wistfully looks behind to find that there is no one there, a bittersweet nod to the group moving on without Woojin, who left the group right before this comeback for “personal reasons.”
At this moment, I.N sings, “I was afraid of letting go of you, but I had to let go of you.” In the accompanying choreography, I.N clasps Felix’s hand before it slips away. After Felix lets go, the keyholes light up all around him in his prison, and he is able to break free from his isolation, running in the brighter, hopeful new world with his members behind him.
After abandoning hope of following the compass and breaking free of his trap, Felix gets a dance solo, which is satisfying for those familiar with the group’s history. Along with Lee Know, Felix was originally eliminated from the final lineup of Stray Kids during the group’s making-of survival show. They were both brought back, and the members vowed to always make up for each other’s weaknesses. With his friends’ support, Felix is able to find strength in himself and triumphantly perform on his own.
The MV focuses less on the chorus or key point choreography because it is more concerned with formations that highlight the members’ emotional performances. These dance moments often carry significance for the group, calling back to previous choreographies.
Felix and Hyunjin replicate their duet from “Side Effects” at 1:17, while Han and Changbin have a “Mirror”-inspired moment while mirroring each other at 1:36. The formation at 2:09 is also pulled directly from the dance for “Miroh.” While this could make the choreography feel disjointed, these choices are subtle enough that they flow together naturally and successfully commemorate Stray Kids’ journey so far.
The song itself also builds off Stray Kids’ past work, taking the rock guitar elements of “District 9” and combining them with the mid-tempo melodic style of “I Am You.” “Levanter” is a more vocal-driven song, and with the absence of Woojin, Lee Know and Seungmin both step up to the plate, with Lee Know in particular delivering sweet falsetto notes. The vocal delivery demonstrated in this song shows how the group is already adapting and finding their new path as an eight-member group.
The MV ends with the two moons in the sky coming together and aligning. The message “Step out of Clé” flashes across the screen, signifying the group are moving on to their next phase.
“Levanter” as a track is more generic than Stray Kids’ more experimental and dynamic previous Clé releases, and the MV is more subtle and symbolic than flashy and high-energy. While “Levanter” might not attract many new fans, it will please longtime Stays and act as a satisfying, refreshing palette cleanser. Whatever comes next should be exciting as Stray Kids have learned from their struggles, accepted themselves, and unlocked the potential inside themselves.
(YouTube. Images via JYP Entertainment.)