Stray Kids’ TOP has been rattling around for awhile now, but I wanted to wait until the music video was out before offering my thoughts. Though released in several different languages, TOP is essentially the group’s debut J-pop single – at least when it comes to original material. And as with most J-pop singles, it’s paired with an anime. That symbiotic relationship has pushed the group to revisit their more theatrical side, and TOP feels like a middle ground between District 9 and Side Effects.
TOP isn’t as strong as either of those tracks, but it reignites a sense of bombast that’s been missing in Stray Kids’ music for the past few months. The song opens with a cinematic flourish of strings before moving into its hard-hitting verse. The production is suitably grandiose, bolstered by electric guitar and a gorgeous choral backdrop for the standout pre-chorus. I can’t tell if this is achieved through actual voices or synths alone, but the effect is engaging either way.
TOP’s chorus lets the production do the talking. There’s not much of a vocal hook to be found, but the instrumental does its best to compensate. I love the combination of fragmented electronics and taunting strings. It’s sharp and menacing in a very satisfying way, and doesn’t really need the guys’ voices to be a success. A secondary hook (à la Miroh) might have put this over the top, but I’m not quite sure how they would have arranged that. Hopefully, TOP’s daring nature will bleed into the group’s next Korean comeback. After all, Stray Kids are at their best when they go big.
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