Song Review: Stray Kids – Maniac

Stray Kids - ManiacEach time I write about a Stray Kids comeback, it feels like the group’s popularity has grown by leaps and bounds. It’s daunting to watch these idol fanbases multiply. For my part, I’ve been a rather casual Stay. I loved their debut, absolutely adored their 2019 material and thought that 2020’s Go Live album was excellent and varied. But amongst the standouts, there’ve been songs that haven’t fully connected and it’s been a while since I fell hard for a Stray Kids title track. New single Maniac is unlikely to change that, but the song offers a few welcome surprises.

For as long as I’ve been a K-pop fan, the industry has thrived on its willingness to bend genre in service to a catchy hook. Stick around long enough and these musical mash-ups won’t feel nearly as experimental as they once did. Too often, today’s K-pop comebacks are simply disparate pieces clanging together. Sometimes, they’re not even trying to connect. Given the debut of JYP Entertainment’s new group NMIXX, the agency seems intent on this fractured approach. But, Stray Kids have always had more creative freedom and it’s interesting to hear them forge together Maniac‘s ornery ingredients.

As always, the sum is only as strong as its parts, and Maniac is a mixed bag. Its chorus is a winner, creeping over undulous synth and once again utilizing Felix’s cavernous tone as its ace in the hole. I think the track could have gone bigger here (especially as we move toward the climax), but it’s cool to hear the group try on a new texture. The first half of Maniac’s verses is also successful, perched over a wholly different synth riff. The energy is lighter and funkier, with the synth melody working as a springboard rather than a template for the vocals.

I’m not a huge fan of the pre-chorus (?) that’s wedged between these two segments. I mean, it’s pretty much Stray Kids being Stray Kids, but it feels like the most generic portion of the track. It’s also two times longer than it needs to be, providing an awkward transition between two wildly divergent pieces. If Maniac had woven all its ideas into an aural tapestry for a knock-your-socks-off finale, its disjointedness would have had a bigger payoff. Instead, the track reveals most of its tricks in the first minute and doesn’t grow much from there. Lucky for us, they’re highly entertaining tricks!

Hooks 8
 Production 8
 Longevity 9
 Bias 8
 RATING 8.25


42 thoughts on “Song Review: Stray Kids – Maniac

  1. Totally feel you on how fast Stray Kids’ popularity is growing, even as a relatively newer fan. 1.3 million pre-orders for this album…crazy.

    Anyways, the song. I don’t think it really hit me that the chorus and verses were really all that different, but now that I listen again I suppose they are – I guess the transitions weren’t really all that jarring to me. Though maybe it helps that the chorus was already spoiled in the teasers so I was expecting it when I was listening haha. Definitely agree that the pre-chorus rap segment is not my favourite, it totally drags on too long.

    Overall, I’m not quite sure how to feel about this one yet. I like it, definitely better than Thunderous (and I’m generally glad they’re not doing another God’s Menu/Thunderous) but I’m not too sure how it’ll age. Will check out the mini later, I don’t really remember much music-wise despite the numerous unveil track teasers so I’m going in blind :p

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Honestly, I’m super disappointed. I realllllly dislike the verses – i cannot with the instrumental here and the melody isn’t great. I was really hoping for some epic dark EDM track but oh well. Also this is my least favourite SKZ album. Ouch…

    At least the chorus is pretty fkn good.

    Liked by 3 people

      • Yeah, exactly. ‘Maniac’ is great for the most part but I think the verses just killed it for me. If the track simply tweaked the lead instrument sound for the verses I would have enjoyed it FARRRR more. If I had to pick and choose, I would say the pre-chorus of ‘Venom’ is great, and the Skrillex type of dubstep drop in ‘Freeze’ is also cool. Some decent stuff in ‘Charmer’ and that’s it, I can’t really find much else to compliment really.

        Liked by 3 people

        • I don’t think that’s the reason why I dislike that part. It’s because the riff is just really fitful and noisy, It also sounds quite generic honestly.
          I would find it better if they used an industrial-like beat in the verses, Stray Kids’ aggressive rap style could’ve gone perfectly with the clobbering instrumental. And then added some synth in the pre-chorus so all the elements could’ve felt more cohesive.

          I don’t know, I just wish K-pop would make a cohesive rhythm/style but add things along the way. That “Snowball-Structure” Wonho used in “Lose” is the perfect example for that.


          • Totally agree with you here! I’m just accustomed to very melodic pre-choruses and when groups do the total opposite it’s quite off-putting. I also think that yeah, the sound they chose for the verses wasn’t cohesive with the chorus, nor was it great.


            • It’s weird for me too. It’s even more strange that these pre-choruses feel so boring and filler, like they’re just there for too long. I think having non-melodic pre-choruses can be good, I mean, just look at Miroh. I may be wrong, but it does precede the chorus.
              “Maniac” can be re-written in a lot of ways, in my opinion. We could have added a bit of gutsy rock, maybe an industrial beat? What “Maniac” needed was a bigger, satisfying climax. I selfishly wished this track would’ve been more ambition with the textures it showcased in the teaser, something like Monsta X’s Gambler.
              Oh yeah, 2021 K-pop was awesome.

              Liked by 1 person

              • The thing about ‘Miroh’ is that the prechorus sets up the drop/chorus so well. It filters out the bass and leads in a way that teases the drop/chorus so that it isn’t jarring. The hype from the instrumental is also matched by the rapid pace of the rappers. In ‘Maniac’ however, it’s restrained in a way that doesn’t feel satisfying to me. As for the chorus, I think it’s up there with one of their better ones, but it isn’t supported in a way that makes it stand out as a highlight.

                Yeah, I wish they added more interesting percussion and perhaps some rock. I hear the resemblance in Gambler and Maniac with the awesome, edgy synth bass. In fact, I wish Maniac did exactly what Gambler did.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Yeah, Miroh’s pre-chorus is such a dynamic segment of the song. The ferocious trade of lines, that melodic chant fading into the background, the tease of the beat drop. Everything feels so perfectly built.

                  In Maniac on the other hand, the rap feels much closer to sing-talk (Even though it isn’t really sing-talking) and like you said, feels very restrained. On top of that, it sounds off-beat. Then some random chirpy birds come out and then we’re lead onto the chorus. Kind of disappointing honestly.

                  Also, you know that part in Gambler, where the multiple melodic pre-choruses were used as some a bridge section for the finale. I wish that happened in Maniac, It would’ve sounded so cool.

                  Liked by 1 person

                    • Brilliant! This definitely could have functioned as the song’s chorus! And if it didn’t, it could’ve served as the song’s finale.
                      You should really be going into hiring my man, Music is feeling a bit mid nowadays and you definitely know how to produce something awesome.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Haha wow, thanks a lot. Yeah, I’m very busy with university commitments at the moment but I’m definitely working on my craft to become a producer – perhaps for K-Pop. I always do find K-pop very refreshing when songs go the extra mile and ‘pop off’ with their instrumentals. E.g. songs like ‘Superhuman’ and ‘Hello Future’ feel complete to me.

                      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s okay (okay-pop) and better than most of their songs after 2020 but they need to go back to working with American DJ DJ Dank because we need another Miroh.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I think that this less intense title track is highly welcomed, especially a song with such a catchy hook!

    But the verses and pre-choruses could be more innovative imo, since the members are talented enough for more rhythmically complex flows or memorable parts. That said, I enjoyed this song as a whole and it’s a welcomed addition to their discography.

    My favourite song of this album has to be muddy water though — the old school hip hop instrumental matches well with the jazz influence (also prevalent in older hip hop), and the rappers sound great!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. It will not be so wise to stubbornly bring another song that follows God’s Menu direction (and they can be in a dilemma for declaring that they were born to be oddinary).

    When the teaser was released I thought it was a verse and the song could’ve developed into a powerful chorus but in fact, it’s a deep and hold-back chorus. I personally enjoy the song and like the smooth transition among the parts, the bridge is quite unpredictable. I think they took the idea from b-side Domino last year to build Maniac. The album this time doesn’t convey anything climax but anyway it’s not too long to drain me entirely (some songs are edgy, they lack solid cores though).

    Liked by 4 people

  6. SKZ is one of my ults so I will admit I do have a positive approach to them.

    I thought the song was interesting. Especially the instrumentals. I know it had some peculiar noises, but I was reminded of the instrumentals of many other songs that I like. (A bit of inst.of Blitzers Bobbin and for some strange reason inst. of Infinite’s Bad. I may be wrong with this one so plz don’t smite me…. 😂)

    The structure was also different from their usual songs but there was a surprising cohesiveness to it. The Chorus drop is pretty cool!

    I was expecting it to be more intense and the slightly chill vibe was surprisingly welcoming! My favourite part after my first listen is I.N and Lee Know’s back to back parts ❤️ But I think every member caught my attention this time and I remember multiple parts with them except maybe Bang chan who I lost sight of after the intro 😂

    This could turn out to be pretty catchy and I can only compare it to their previous cbs after a few more listens! 🙂


  7. The song has it’s moments, but I feel the performance is lacking somewhat. I don’t know why, but I don’t like the members shouting(???) in the chorus. Except Felix, he suits it quite well.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Does this comeback mark the end of the shouting chorus era of them? The day they revealed the track lists and I saw Maniac paired with Versachoi, I didn’t set my hope that high. As the result, I’m okay with my decision. There are some small details that captured my ears but the song itself was created to loosely flare.


  9. So……’s just me who thinks this is their best title track since 2019?

    It hardly feels like different pieces for me, even though on their own they were very different sounds – it somehow sounds cohesive to me. Idk, maybe I’ve been so starved for good music that even the OK ones sound incredible to me. 8.75 for me.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. This is definitely one of their best title track. I was so worried they were going to do down the thunderous route. God’s menu is a classic but I don’t want to hear another version of it again so maniac is a breath of fresh air thankfully. I love the chorus and everything fits in.

    Could it be better? Yes definitely. There were some part of the song that I felt could have done with a bigger climax, the raps weirdly felt slightly underwhelming to me this time since it is usually one of their strongest in their song. It is not bad, just not one of their best rap segments.

    The album on the other hand is not a personal favourite. But it is a mini album and they seem to be exploring different sounds which is good but I hope the next album will reflect some progression

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I love the song and the album (except for Lonely St, which seems to me a failed crossover between Phobia and SLUMP). I have no formal knowledge but it seems something really interesting musically is going on there. I would not listen to it to get out of bed and start the day in a triumphant fashion, but geez, what a feast for an intellectual sunday afternoon on the couch.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I will agree that the song is not what I was expecting. I do think the verses and chorus are rather disparate, maybe just because I’d heard the chorus in the teasers and was expecting the rest of the song to be more in the same vein. But it is, as others have said here, really a grower. (I’m not too surprised by that— “Thunderous” also took some time to grow on me too. And by comparison, this has grown on me more quickly in a shorter time.)

    I’ve come around to thinking it’s a very good title track, and I like that they never give me quite what I’m expecting. That said, the album as a whole is not their strongest material I think. The lowest point is “Lonely St” which is a vocal processing nightmare (obviously a stylistic choice, but not one i vibe with). I like “Charmer” too.

    I’m surprised to say my two favorite tracks by far, at least for now, are the two unit tracks, and I’m curious to see if either of these will get a buried treasure. They really are very straightforward genre pieces, which is what I think sets them apart from the rest of the album and from a lot of recent material in general. “Waiting for us” is a solid alt-pop-rock song in the vein of Coldplay or something a little more emo like Jack’s Mannequin. “Muddy Water” is old-school hip-hop in the style of a cypher but with a cohesive chorus. They’re both very cool.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Oh and I just want to say that I disagree with Nick about the pre-chorus, I really like it actually. This is my subjective opinion as a stan who likes the line “If you think I’m just pure and innocent you’re wrong” paired with the hip thrust choreo, and anticipates seeing Felix execute this flawlessly once his back has fully healed, live and in-person in Newark.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Though this is not my favorite title track from Stray Kids, I do like it more than literally any song they released last year so I’m satisfied. I appreciate that it’s more fun than Thunderous (which just seemed plodding to me), though maybe it’s a little lightweight as a result. My favorite part is definitely the opening melody of the verse, and I wish it came back at the end with some “na na na’s” for a big anthemic final chorus!

    (also, when are we going to get another i am you/levanter style title track? i far prefer melodic stray kids to cool/edgy stray kids)

    Liked by 4 people

  14. It doesn’t top 2019-2020 SKZ, but it’s an improvement on 2021, so that works for me! Like others have said, “Thunderous” was a grower and this is too, but whereas “Thunderous” took a couple of weeks to really wiggle into my brain, this one had me once I was two or three fancams into their Music Bank stage. I really love the ad-libs behind the chorus and was surprised to see that at least one of the high notes was Bang Chan rather than Han.

    I don’t know how many of you are following the relentless COVID news out of SK but Changbin tested positive after Music Bank recording so they’re out of commission for who knows how long. Obviously that sucks given the amount of work that goes into preparing a comeback, but I don’t see it being much of a setback given how big they’ve been getting. Starting a comeback with two injured members (Felix and Han) isn’t a great look anyhow.

    For the EP, I really like “Waiting For Us” even if it is a little basic. The other songs have bits I like but nothing quite clicks the way “Cheese” or “Star Lost” did. Apparently I need to give “Muddy Water” another listen, as I wasn’t super fond of it the couple of times I listened to it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, the Covid news sucks… Not even a day into their promotion too. I’m pretty sure they will still do well on the streaming and charting but it certainly would be disappointing for them after all the preparation. But I’m confident that when everything works out we will get Maniac and a bside as well! This cb is certainly different from their recent ones so I’m pretty sure they are hyped about performing it as well!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Why all the emming and arring? It actually is a solid base hit double.
        The way we’ll go on is as if it barely makes it to first after a 3 and 2 count. Sheesh,after all the teasers which went on forever, I am happy that it is actually not bad. Ok sure, the chorus is stealth drop chorus, but I’ll take the “throw it Felix” style.

        I’m am not I overthinking it. Mid 8 for me.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Have no clue, I somehow want to say they haven’t completely overcome the state of getting motivated and inspired mostly from haters though. Constantly dream of them bring a bombastic song about enjoying the youth 🥲.

    Their later songs (since 2020) are often spinning around being being attituded rather than jumping on real experimental sounds. Next time I really hope they will drop another love to hate madly at first but later hate to be loved deeply song like Side Effects.

    Both Noeasy and Oddinary trailers seem to be so enormously epic but both their title tracks are one being an empty metal box and the other one being a shallow hole (this not-so-enigmatic hole is being more compelling because of having some little glittering stones in).

    Liked by 1 person

  16. That “chirp chirp chirp BUZZZZZ” pre-chorus might be the ear-wormiest ear-worm of the year. Lives in my head rent free, as the kids were saying five years ago or whatever.


  17. I am about a month too late, but this song finally reached me under my rock.
    I really like it! Many parts of the song sound familiar, which is what this review touches on as well.

    Also, I’m just going to leave this here: “”


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