Stray Kids’ ROCK-STAR Return Brings “New Aspects of Our Group”

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It’s been an especially wild year for K-pop group Stray Kids. Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, HAN, Felix, Seungmin, and I.N have checked quite a few accomplishments off the bucket list this year, and after a debut performance at the VMAs, the eight-member group bagged the trophy for Best K-Pop. 2023 also saw the largely self-produced act take on an encore of their “MANIAC” tour with two sold-out stadium dates in Los Angeles, roll out an impressive amount of new music, and continue to establish their stateside presence with an appearance on the Billboard Music Awards.

This week, they secured another accolade by cracking into the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time with their latest high-powered single, “LALALALA,” off their new LP, ROCK-STAR. The eight-track project follows this summer’s 5-STAR, a similarly high-powered, ultra-confident listen driven by Stray Kids’ 3RACHA, the unit name under which Bang Chan, Changbin, and HAN work. Now, with the release of ROCK-STAR, Bang Chan also crossed a major individual threshold — he is credited on writing 180 songs, making him the third most-credited K-pop idol in the Korean Music Copyright Association.

While Bang Chan was most excited for fans, known as STAYs, to hear that focus track, he loves the “really diverse” listening experience offered in ROCK-STAR. HAN recalls “Blind Spot” as his favorite of the bunch to have worked on, while Changbin denotes album opener “MEGAVERSE” as the track that gets him the most amped. “When you listen to it, you’ll be like, ‘Why is my body moving?’ It’s that kind of song,” he explains.

Stray Kids often favor a wild, experimental beat that can pair well with a wild and somewhat experimental performance — “COMFLEX,” for one, features a siren-like intro, a genuinely sassy pre-chorus, and rap trade-offs between Changbin and HAN, the latest example of Stray Kids “toss it all in, hit record, and see what happens” strategy. But for how playfully noisy they are onstage, their idol personas easily melt into more relaxed spaces, too. “I enjoy watching videos — especially cat videos,” says Lee Know. “He’s a genuinely wholesome idol,” Seungmin confirms knowingly.

It’s not just their collective musical footprint helping Stray Kids grow in recognition these days; brand ambassadorships, like Felix’s work with Louis Vuitton, have continued to push the group’s name into more and more high-profile spaces. “Of course that’s [something I’m proud of], but I’m really looking forward to our comeback,” Felix notes. “The year is almost over, and I’m really happy that we’re able to end this year on such a positive note. We’ve worked hard up until the end of this year to prepare for a solid comeback, and the fact that we can show so many STAY new aspects of our group has been making me feel very proud these days.”

I.N, the youngest of the bunch, describes the members as the one thing he’s especially grateful for as of late, which prompts his older bandmates to ask if he wants to treat them all to dinner that evening. “Let’s move on to the next question,” is their maknae‘s cheeky response.

Now in their fifth year of activity together, the eight members seem to be more in tune with one another than ever before, and maintain an easy, warm, and highly watchable rapport. Hyunjin excitedly chatters about the concert he plans to attend with Seungmin and I.N, along with the song they’ve had on repeat to pregame for the event (Kim Dong Ryul’s “My Tipsy Confession”). When Changbin gets in the weeds describing his gym routine as of late, Bang Chan and Hyunjin pretend to fall asleep, snores and all.

HAN, to the delight of his bandmates, even talks through a memory from their early days when things weren’t so amicable, back when all eight members were living under one roof. “I told you to properly throw out your daily disposable contact lenses,” Seungmin recalls. “So I threw my wallet at him. It was a really fast throw,” HAN explains. Hyunjin, for one, describes it as a cherished memory.

“It’s not just these days, but I like to call Stray Kids family,” leader Bang Chan says — but before he has a chance to get the sentence out, Seungmin calls him a liar and Hyunjin adds, “No.” But despite some joking protestation, it certainly does look a lot like the way a band of brothers might act.

Revisit our 2022 interview with Stray Kids:

Stray Kids’ ROCK-STAR Return Brings “New Aspects of Our Group”
Mary Siroky

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