Sometimes love develops slowly, small moments building into that realization of “oh.” Other times, love hits you full force in the face. 

While some K-pop groups, including Twice, have built their discography on love songs, Stray Kids finally dive into the complexity of love in their latest album Maxident. Although the eight-member group have joyfully let go of love and pondered self-love in tracks like “Levanter,” they never tackled romantic love and its winding emotions in an album—until now. A portmanteau made of “maximum” and “accident,” Maxident establishes its foundation on the “maximum accident” that is love. 

While the “I’m in love” concept is new for Stray Kids, Maxident is still classic Stray Kids. The eight-track EP gives its whole heart to expressing the complexities of love and the emotions that come with this experience. Through this narrative, Stray Kids continue to explore juxtapositions, which have formed the heart of their music since their debut in 2018. As a result, Maxident finds itself at the crossroads of the bright, upbeat heart eyes side of love and the darker, danger-tinged side of it. 

Maxident’s title track, “Case 143,” acts as Stray Kids’ central love story—”143” is code for “I love you.” The song also kicks off the album with a sunshine-and-rainbows, albeit experimental, sound, the kind which many listeners may automatically anticipate when they think about a romantic love song. The lyrics of “Case 143” remain exceptionally relatable, as Stray Kids try to untangle a wide range of emotions, from confusion to curiosity, surprise, and of course, attraction. Felix delivers the lyrical hook with his punchy bass, chant-singing, “Why do I keep getting attracted?”

While Oddinary mixed things up unit-wise and brought listeners brand-new member combinations, Maxident goes back to Stray Kids’ foundations with tracks from 3Racha, Danceracha, and Vocalracha. The latter—composed of the youngest members Seungmin and I.N—present the final unit song on Maxident. “Can’t Stop” emphasizes the joyful and simple parts of falling in love in a lively rock track reminiscent of Day6 (Hong Jisang, who has worked with Day6, collaborated with the two Stray Kids vocalists on “Can’t Stop”).

An unexpected alarm goes off in the beginning of the track before the guitar and their strong vocals kick off. Seungmin and I.N gauge their feelings, similar to “Case 143,” and spend some time normalizing not knowing immediately how you feel, especially with matters of the heart. They follow their emotions to uncertain confessions of “I think I like you” and more sure sentiments such as “I must like you a lot.” Throughout this track of realizations, Seungmin and I.N also demonstrate their vocal growth, not to mention their songwriting maturity as lyrical contributors to “Can’t Stop.”  

Similar to “Can’t Stop,” the strength of Stray Kids’ voices and their development over the past four years is clear in “Give Me Your TMI.” In the track, which was actually created a few years ago according to their Maxident introduction video released ahead of the comeback, Stray Kids tackle glitch pop. With its dynamic pre-chorus and drop before hurdling into the chorus, “Give Me Your TMI” revives the raw energy of Stray Kids’ early discography.

Rough electric guitars and a healthy dose of verberation add to the textures expressed in the lyrics. “All my senses start buffering,” “All new feelings are overcoming me / I’m full of emotions,” and the ultimate question, “Are you feeling the same as me?” are woven throughout the song. This glitch pop track wraps anxiety in screaming, electric colors, a juxtaposition that feels distinctly Stray Kids. 

Meanwhile, “Super Board” marks the center of Maxident and the end of the eight-member songs before the album transitions to the three units. An electronic pulse initiates the nearly overwhelming, yet carefully contained, energy of the track. Produced by Bang Chan and Kimparkchella, there is something about “Super Board” that itches that exact spot and beckons you to take one more listen. A heavier bass stabilizes the instrumental while the members have fun with their “shoom” and “neun” sweeping sound effects.  

Despite the pounding energy of the song, Stray Kids carve into a darker side of love, namely their intense love for their dream. The eight members, currently among the leaders of fourth generation K-pop, possess a diehard willingness to do everything to achieve this dream. There is also a seasoned wryness to “Super Board.” I.N sings, “Knock yourself out, kid, working hard? Sure / Hesitate and that will get taken away too,” the meaning of the lyrics hitting harder as the group’s maknae delivers them. 

Indeed, this is the point of “Super Board”: Stray Kids are rising and expected to rise with each release, and so they keep running faster, keep jumping higher, and keep pushing themselves further because they can always do—always be—more. In the end, however, it is Stray Kids taking that one more step. They rely on themselves, like Changbin raps “Your delivery? It’ll be late / I’m delivering myself to my dreams.” 

If there is something to know about Stray Kids, it is that they relish the sweet spot created through contrast. From wailing sirens to the deep, heartbeat-like bass in “Miroh,” to even Felix’s sunshine personality and his rumbling voice, the complexity and intriguing nature of dichotomy are where Stray Kids reside. Written by Han, the second track on Maxident, “Chill,” juxtaposes upbeat production with darker lyrics demonstrating maturity. 

The opening of “Chill” is sharp, staccato piano chords punctuating an emotion not yet expressed. Meanwhile, the beginning hook of “Case 143” has a greater elasticity and roundness to it. This juxtaposition begins the production tension found within Maxident. In “Chill,” Stray Kids sing of a love cooling—again another contrast with the heat of romantic feelings found in “Case 143.” It is not necessarily a sad song, as “Chill” is another story of acknowledgement and realization. The eight make their cool decision based on careful reflection and awareness that “We are just letting our frustrated hearts, chill out” because “the chance of our relationship continuing is zero,” Changbin raps. 

Heavy member-involvement continues in the Danceracha unit song “Taste,” which main dancer Hyunjin spearheads. According to the three members, including Lee Know and Felix, “Taste” is the next part of “Red Lights” from Thunderous. Danceracha is a sexy, dangerous, and atmospheric track overflowing with sensuality. Although “Taste” is the longest song on Maxident, its pre-chorus is short, thrusting listeners right into the drop of the chorus. 

The three sing of a magnetic yet toxic attraction amid the resonance of a low organ, pleading, “I can’t help but fall in love with blinding love / I’m in trouble, your heart full of lies.” To further emphasize the juxtaposition within this painful but beautiful love, Stray Kids’ Danceracha emphasize their unit’s balance. Lee Know demonstrates the flexibility and range of his voice, shooting to his falsetto and also seamlessly navigating the transition to lower notes. Felix’s iconic bass deals emphatic punches to ground the track, while Hyunjin’s voice sits in the middle. He moves between rapper and vocalist, acting as the core and the glue of “Taste.” The directness of Maxident, however, is a common thread even in “Taste,” which is seen most clearly in their ultimatum: “Kiss me or leave me / I don’t want to stand in the middle.” 

3Racha” maintains the ominous-tinged atmosphere of “Taste,” but focuses on Stray Kids’ and specifically 3Racha’s journey. Bang Chan, Han, and Changbin celebrate what they have accomplished as 3Racha and as members of Stray Kids in this drill track. Changbin kicks it off with “1, 2, 3Racha get spotlight,” the opening line that also appears in 3Racha’s “Intro” track from their first mixtape. 

In the three verses—one per 3Racha member—self-awareness and vulnerability characterize the lyrics penned by the rappers. Changbin captures his personal moral standards as he navigates his life as an idol: “There’s a fine line between pride and self-confidence / It’s all gone in one bit once I cross that line.” It is easy to fall from grace, especially in a profession like his, and Changbin admits that “one can never get used to this lifestyle.” 

Listeners get another peek behind the gilded exterior in Han’s verse, who takes a good chunk of his section to sound off on the group’s accomplishments. Han does not shy from the blunt truth of being an artist, particularly a K-pop artist, as he raps, “Even if I’m out of breath, there’s no stop.” Emphasis on growth closes out his verse: “Even if we’ve changed, we still have spirit, grit, and bravado in our body.” Stray Kids may have evolved since their “Hellevator” days, but the eight still possess those characteristics that set them on this path in the first place. 

Leader Bang Chan wraps up “3Racha” with his verse, anchoring the track with his reflection on the producing trio. “Our copyrighted numbers won’t be ever stoppin’ / ‘Cause we still constructing, keep it comin’,” he raps, noting that Changbin and Han are in the top 15 most credited K-pop idols. Meanwhile, Bang Chan himself sits at number 10 and is the first most credited fourth generation idol with 138 songs registered on Korean Music Copyright Association (KOMCA). A sharpened knife effect leaves a lasting impression following Bang Chan’s iconic line, “They always say the same excuses / While they’re complainin’, we’re producin’.” And that they are. Maxident alone has at least two members credited on each track, whether it be songwriting, producing, or both. 

The Korean version of “Circus,” Stray Kids’ Japanese comeback from June, closes out Maxident. The track strays a little bit away from the love theme but is still imbued with the signature Stray Kids confidence marked across the mini. While this choice may provoke some head-tilts, with lines like “This is just the beginning” and the final lyric, “feeling good right now,” “Circus” rounds back to where Maxident began. Even with a tried-and-true concept such as romantic love, Stray Kids have still found a way to experiment with their own flavors.  If Maxident is any indication, there is nothing but more love—and exciting new horizons—in Stray Kids’ future. 

(YouTube. Lyrics via Genius [1][2][3][4][5][6][7]. Images via JYP Entertainment.)