Stray Kids Are Growing Up & Finding Their Way Through Touring & 'Clé' Album Series

Stray Kids
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Stray Kids performs on stage during the 8th Gaon Chart K-Pop Awards on Jan. 23, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea.

Last year, Stray Kids started out their career with the release of an informal Mixtape in January followed by their contemplative I Am… EP trilogy. With each new album, they shared a bit more of their dynamic energy and their skill as a rebellious K-pop boy band that features nine members who are hands-on in songwriting and crafting its messaging -- especially production trio 3Racha, AKA members Bang Chan, Han, and Changbin.   

Over the year and a half, the men of Stray Kids have grown up a bit and have spent much of 2019 setting forth a more mature side to themselves, starting off with March’s Clé 1: MIROH album. The EP, which features a title, and pulsating titular single, derived from the French word from “key” (clé) and the Korean word for “maze” (??, miro), debuted at No. 3 on the World Albums chart dated April 6, and put forth the act’s evolving sound and determination to come out victorious as they come into their own as both adults and artists.   

The album preceded their recent Unveil Tour: ‘I am…’ in USA, which saw the act hold their first solo shows in the country in Newark, Los Angeles, and Houston earlier this month. During each concert, the nonet relayed the story of what it means to be Stray Kids through a setlist that walked the audience, full of their loyal fandom Stay, through their discography in chronological order, showcasing how they have grown rapidly in the early days of their career.   

While in New Jersey for two nights of shows, Stray Kids sat down with Billboard to discuss their artistry, touring, and more.   

Billboard: You had your first show at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center last night and have another there tonight, so how are you all feeling today?  

Bang Chan: We’re good. We had the show yesterday and we’re excited for the second show today. It’s our first time doing consecutive shows.

Are you finding that hard to deal with?

Bang Chan: Nah, we’re alright. We’re okay.

How does it feel to be kicking off your first U.S. tour in such a way?

Felix: Last time we came it was at KCON New York. Back then, just being on stage, we left a lot of good memories so we felt that we promised our Stays to come back and perform our own solo stage. So we really do look forward to today.

How does it feel to be holding a solo world tour?

Felix: It’s a bit nerve-wracking that we’re back here for the second time. But we also do look forward to showing Stay a different side of Stray Kids. So we prepared a lot and we look forward to it.

How do you think Stray Kids has changed since you were here last year?

Changbin: Everyone got a lot more good looking. [Laughs]

Bang Chan: It’s been nearly a year, hasn’t it? Well, I don’t know if we can say it ourselves, but I think… Being on a lot of stages and stuff, we feel a bit more comfortable on stage. The fact that every stage there are Stay as well, we feel we can communicate [with them] better. That has improved a lot.

Felix: Even now, we get to perform our own stage. We get to show a much more different side. We get to show our own colors on stage, and together with Stays.

Overall, which member of Stray Kids do you think has changed the most or improved the most since your debut?

Felix: I’m saying I.N. Definitely when I look back from then till now, he’s got a lot more good looking. When he looks at the camera, he has a certain angle that he does. His facial expression, right? He looks much more confident on stage.

You most recently released your Clé 1: MIROH album. What inspired it?

Bang Chan: Our I Am series was all about finding who we are and it was all about questioning ourselves. But with this Clé 1 album we wanted to express our being comfortable with the nine of us all gathering up, feeling more confident and showing how we can accept new challenges and go into new worlds. I guess that’s why we chose to show that kind of vibe for this album.

How do you express that through the songs?

Seungmin: In our lyrics.

Bang Chan: Music-wise as well, with the title song "MIROH," it’s not the usual song structure we usually go to. We kind of did experiment with it and I think that was a challenge with itself as well. Also, we have a lot of music videos that came out with our album to help us show what we want to express.

Seungmin: Along with "MIROH" we have “Chronosaurus,” "19," and "Victory Song" videos. Especially with "19," we just want to express how we’re going from our teens to our mature adulthood.

Bang Chan: That is all like going to a new world, so that’s what I think we wanted to express through our music videos.    

What are you guys looking forward to as you progress towards adulthood? [T/N: In South Korea, the age of legal adulthood is 19.]

Bang Chan: I.N will answer because he’s the youngest.

I.N, (who turns 19 in February 2020): I’m excited to go watch a movie without a guardian or caretaker after my birthday next year. And I also want to go online shopping, since in Korea it requires a guardian’s signature.  

What was your creative process like for this album? How did you determine what songs you wanted to feature on Clé 1 versus any follow up releases in the Clé series?

Changbin: In the I Am series, we were talking about the anxiety we had, questioning each other. Since Clé 1 has a bit more confidence, song-wise we knew we wanted to do the intro, then "MIROH," and then "Victory Song.” We added in a confident vibe of songs.

Bang Chan: Clé 2, we are working on it. And we do want to continue on with the story. We’re thinking about what Clé 1 was about and thinking about Clé 2.

If Clé 1 was about confidence and your maturing, what would you like to show your Stays through the rest of the Clé series?

Han: If we say something wrong it may be a spoiler. [Laughs] Whatever you’re looking forward to, it will be better than that.

Bang Chang: We don’t want to raise your expectations too much.

Are there any themes or musical styles you’d like to explore on future releases?

Hyunjin: Going back to the creative process, we do make our own music. Especially [Bang] Chan, who sometimes writes a lot of our tracks. He writes for all of us and I’ve personally always wanted to try working with him to pursue a R&B style of music. Not just me, but everyone among us has our own styles as well. Later on, we’d like to have an album where we could all just have nine songs where each of us share our own stories and sounds.