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Stray Kids, 4th Generation Kings

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With K-Pop increasing more and more in popularity around the world, there are enough groups to suit the taste of every kind of fan out there. However, while some are appreciated by a more niche audience, some others manage to break barriers and gather a very large and diverse number of followers. A notable one of the latter is Stray Kids, a group that is dominating the 4th generation of K-Pop and it is not stopping there.

Stray Kids, from left to right: (upper row) Lee Know, I.N, Felix, Bangchan, Seungmin; (bottom row) HAN, Hyunjin and Changbin. Photo taken from: https://www.kpop-today.com/articles/stray-kids-explique-la-signification-et-linspiration-derriere-oddinary-parle-detre-des-millions-de-vendeurs-jyp-et-plus-encore-43598.html

Who are Stray Kids?

Stray Kids is a boy group that was formed in 2017 through the homonymous survival show by JYP Entertainment. They debuted on March 25th 2018, originally as nine members, however one year later one of the members left the band. The remaining eight are Bangchan (oldest member and leader of the group), Lee Know (dancer), Changbin (rapper), Hyunjin (dancer), HAN (rapper), Felix (dancer), Seungmin (vocalist) and I.N (vocalist and maknae, i.e. youngest member.) Their music is mainly hip-hop and EDM, but they often dabble in other genres, such as rock, pop and lyrical, amongst others. Despite popular belief that the band’s success was due to them belonging to one of the Big 3 K-Pop agencies (SM, YG and JYP), that is nothing more than an unfounded rumour, since they actually had quite a rough start and they in fact had to work really hard to meet company standards. However, they worked exhaustively to overcome the many obstacles in their way, and soon after their popularity began to increase.

3RACHA, from left to right: Changbin, HAN and Bangchan. Photo taken from: https://www.envimedia.co/meet-stray-kids-3racha/

Some of the reasons behind their success lie on the fact that the group is self-produced by their own sub-unit, 3RACHA, formed by Bangchan, Changbin and HAN, who participate in the composition, production and/or writing of the lyrics for all their songs, and rather than follow current trends, they prefer to follow their own narrative. Each of the members of 3RACHA has more than a hundred songs credited to their name, which is especially impressive, considering they are all in their early to mid-twenties. Another important factor in their success is that, despite each member having an assigned position within the band, they are all quite versatile and can fulfil every position perfectly, in particular HAN, who has been called an all-rounder and an ace of K-Pop on various occasions. Furthermore, Stray Kids as a whole has a wider vocal range than most other groups, with Lee Know being able to hit really high-pitched notes, and Felix the really low-pitched ones with incredible modulation, which is perfect for harmonisation. Lee Know also counts with over ten years of professional dance experience, having previously been a back-up dancer for BTS, and he is often involved in the creation of Stray Kids’ choreographies.

Kingdom: Legendary War, and rise to fame

Although the group received various accolades, such as their first music show win in April 2019 for their title track “Miroh”, and getting a first-place ranking at Oricon Singles Chart (Japan) for their first Japanese single, “Top” (2020), a feat only three other foreign male artists had accomplished; it was not until the release of their first studio album, Go Live, with the title track “God’s Menu” (2020) that Stray Kids had a real popularity growth. This album sold almost five times better than their debut album released only two years prior, which prompted the release of a repackage album, In Life, shortly after. Once again, this album’s title track, “Back Door” (2020), had a great public reception, and even ranked eighth on Time magazine’s 10 Best Songs of 2020 list.

“God’s Menu” performance, from left to right: Lee Know, HAN, I.N, Felix, Bangchan, Hyunjin, Seungmin and Changbin. Photo taken from: https://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20200617000974

This success streak was no doubt helpful in earning them a spot in the Mnet boy group competition show Kingdom: Legendary War (April 2021), where they would be competing against BtoB (2012), iKON (2015), SF9 (2016), The Boyz (2017) and ATEEZ (2018), almost all groups with more years of experience in the industry than Stray Kids. Additionally, they would have the disadvantage of participating one member short, as Hyunjin had been on a forced hiatus at the time, and was only able to participate in the introductory stage. However, through lavish performances, and the hard work they are characterised for, they managed to stand out, and even impress their fellow, more experienced competitors. A notable performance was Stray Kids’ rendition of “Pray (I’ll Be Your Man)”, originally a BtoB song, where the latter were specially surprised by HAN’s flawless vocals, as he is usually a rapper, and Changbin’s spitfire rap.

Kingdom: Legendary War, de izquierda a derecha: Lee Know, HAN, I.N, Felix, Bangchan, Seungmin y Changbin. Foto tomada de: https://kpoplat.com/2021/04/03/stray-kids-supera-los-4-millones-de-vistas-con-su-presentacion-en-kingdom-legendary-war/

After a few rounds of extraordinary performances, culminating with the specially-for-the-finale-released song, “Wolfgang”, which earned them a spot for the first time on the main Gaon Digital Chart (ranking of the 200 most popular singles in South Korea), Stray Kids were crowned winners of Kingdom. The win skyrocketed their success, leading their next album, Noeasy, to surpass the 1 million sales on release month (August 2021) alone.

Bangchan in Kingdom: Legendary War, during “Wolfgang” performance. Photo taken from: https://www.pinterest.es/pin/699113542159305086/

Philanthropy and dedication to their fans

Stray Kids’ artistry is undeniable, but the group do not only want to change the world with their music, they also want to use their platform to effect change by donating to charities, advocating for LGBTQA+ and women’s rights, and raising awareness about mental health.

Members Lee Know and Felix both regularly support and sponsor underprivileged children through the charity Save the Children to, in Felix’s words, give every child “the chance to live their life to the fullest” and “the love and hope they deserve.” Youngest member I.N donates monthly to UNICEF and donated autographed shoes to help raise money for an educational environment improvement project. In addition, various members have been seen on multiple occasions wearing clothing items and jewellery from charities, like Changbin wearing the Louis Vuitton x UNICEF necklace to save children in need, Hyunjin wearing a bracelet from a charity that saves abandoned cats and dogs, or Changbin and Felix sporting Nike shoes in support of Pride. But perhaps the most proactive member in doing so is Lee Know, who uses fashion as a way to not only look good, but do good as well. He has been seen wearing earrings from a collection that donates proceeds to WWF, one pair of them to preserve polar bears and another for snow leopards, both of which are considered endangered species, and he also has a ring and earrings from Recherche, a brand that donates and helps support a shelter for abandoned animals. Furthermore, he has adopted three cats from the shelter himself. In addition, Lee Know is also known for wearing a safety pin earring, a symbol that has been used for years to show support and allyship to minorities, and essentially means “you are ‘safe’ with me.”

Lee Know’s earring collection: polar bear, snow leopard, and safety pin earrings. Photo taken from: https://www.koreaboo.com/lists/3-times-stray-kids-lee-know-helped-change-world-fashion/

The group also understand the importance of raising mental health awareness, and have therefore dedicated many of their songs to that topic. They often use their own experience battling with mental health issues as inspiration for the songs, which allows them to heal as well as send a hopeful message to all fans who are going through similar situations. The topics of these songs span from depression (“Hellevator”) to insomnia (“Insomnia”), anxiety (“Phobia”), being trapped in a toxic relationship (“Venom”), fear of growing up/time passing (“19” and “Chronosaurus”), loneliness (“Streetlight”), or suicidal thoughts (“42”), amongst others. Additionally, leader Bangchan holds a live every Sunday called “Chan’s Room” to give their fans, Stay, a safe space to express themselves. They put a lot of importance in connecting with their fans and being a good role model for them, following the policy of leading by example, thus inspiring their fans to follow in their steps, and spread the kindness and empathy as well.

Bangchan in an episode of Chan’s Room. Photo taken from: https://www.pinterest.es/pin/28147566411523979/

As a whole, Stray Kids’ message is to be true to oneself, and not be afraid to step out of the ordinary, as they have been illustrating in their songs from debut (“District 9”) to their most recent ones (“Maniac”). Stray Kids together with Stay, from being lost to chasing their dreams and being their true self, STRAY KIDS ALL AROUND THE WORLD, YOU MAKE STRAY KIDS STAY!

Written by: Anna Franco Ucar

Reviewed by: Andrea Ramirez

References:

“3 Times Stray Kids’ Lee Know Helped Change the World through His Fashion.” Koreaboo, 19 Feb. 2020, https://www.koreaboo.com/lists/3-times-stray-kids-lee-know-helped-change-world-fashion/

Adhya, Arpita, and {{author_data.display_name}}. “Stray Kids Felix’s Birthday Charity, Fans Touched by Hyunjin’s Gift for Rapper.” HITC, 5 July 2022, https://www.hitc.com/en-gb/2021/09/15/stray-kids-felix-birthday-charity-hyunjin-gift-for-rapper-touch-fans/

“Kingdom: Legendary War.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Aug. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom:_Legendary_War#Final_Round_-_Who_Is_The_King

“R/Straykids – I Made a Guide to Stray Kids + 3RACHA’s Discography!!” Reddit, https://www.reddit.com/r/straykids/comments/iti1uo/i_made_a_guide_to_stray_kids_3rachas_discography/

“Stray Kids’ Recipe for Success.” Rolling Stone Australia, 7 Oct. 2021, https://au.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/stray-kids-recipe-for-success-31726/

“Stray Kids Reveals the Meaning Behind Their Name and Why They Make Music.” Koreaboo, 11 July 2018, https://www.koreaboo.com/news/stray-kids-reveals-meaning-behind-name-make-music/

“Stray Kids.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Sept. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stray_Kids

Williams, Jazmin. “Fanlanthropy: Stray Kids and the Side Effects of Positive Impact.” The Honey POP, 30 Mar. 2022, https://thehoneypop.com/2021/03/09/fanlanthropy-stray-kids-stayville-charity-department/

៸៸ ៹ Alice ♡’S Tbz. “Stray Kids Are Educated: K-Pop Amino.” K-Pop | Aminoapps.com, AminoApps, 1 Oct. 2018, https://aminoapps.com/c/k-pop/page/blog/stray-kids-are-educated/P2Im_uNeW3m6pKZg6l2Rv6337we3LP

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