Stray Kids’ Felix gazes out into an arena crowd — a strand of jet-black hair bouncing on his forehead — and turns his palms upward. “The new generation is here.”
For hours, the K-pop eight-piece had incited shrieks during a breathless performance at the Prudential Center on June 29, the second night of two back-to-back sold-out shows at the Newark, N.J., arena. Yet the response to Felix’s declaration is particularly deafening. Teens and tweens feverishly brandish their orb-like glow sticks as their parents respectfully applaud. “We are the new generation — we’re born into this world like fresh rain,” Felix continues in a measured tone while explaining the motivational hip-hop track “Muddy Water.” Group leader Bang Chan, gripping a bottle of water to recover from breakneck choreography, picks up the thread with a playful smirk: “So it’s like, we’re the new, fresh water to wash out the muddy water.”
Are Stray Kids — with their high-flying dance moves, bullet-time rapping, chest-thumping lyrics and visuals that suggest eight superpowers forming an unbreakable bond — positioning themselves as the heroes of a new K-pop wave? “That’s a bit too big for us,” says Bang Chan, leaning forward in his chair during a group sit-down in Seattle two weeks after the Newark show. “What I can say is, we’re definitely trying to put on a good impression and be as genuine as we can for people who look up to us.” That includes their millions of young fans, who call themselves STAY and who have found a home in the group’s amplification of separate talents and personal quirks. Stray Kids admit to feeling the burden of expectation but welcome it wholeheartedly. “Our goal ever since we debuted was to reach as many ‘stray kids’ as possible,” Bang Chan continues, “to deliver our music and give strength to people who really need it.”
Read the full Stray Kids Billboard cover story here.