Kids who have deviated from the proper path. That’s one of the meanings behind the name “Stray Kids,” which is the name of the boy group (Stray Kids: Bang Chan, Woojin, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, Han, Felix, Seungmin, I.N) that made their debut on March 26 when they dropped their first mini album titled I am NOT. Although people have been labeling Stray Kids as “the first boy group in four years to be debuted by JYP Entertainment” and “the younger brothers of GOT7 and TWICE,” these boys have been paying no attention to such labels. This group is too busy carving out their own path.
10. The group’s image and vibe in person are quite different than they are onstage. Your vibe offstage is much more boyish and enthusiastic.
Han: We try to give off an intense image onstage, but in reality we’re all pretty playful. I guess you could say we’re like beagles. Onstage, we try to show everything we can do, and offstage, we go back to being how we normally are.
10. You’re in the midst of doing different promotional activities after releasing your debut album, I am NOT. What has been a memorable moment for you?
Changbin: Our first music show! It still feels like it just happened yesterday. We went on a music program when we released Mixtape, but it felt different this time around. I wanted our performance to be more perfect. I went onstage thinking, “I’m going to destroy everything. I’m going to turn everything inside out.” I glared at the camera so hard that I started to tear up later (laughs).
10. I am NOT topped the iTunes Albums Chart in 10 countries.
Seungmin: It hasn’t really hit us since we haven’t properly promoted our music overseas yet. But, when we see our domestic fans on music programs, we can tell that we have a lot of love and support. We’re always thankful for that.
10. Mixtape, which was released in January, and your debut album I am NOT both seem to have an autobiographical element to them.
Seungmin: We tried to capture our stories in the songs. I am NOT has a lot of tracks that deal with personal identity. I’ve also often asked myself, “Who am I?” In the past, I gave up on a dream of mine to become a baseball player. At the time I thought, “Will I be able to succeed if I pursue an education? If I do that, will I be happy forever?” That’s when I decided to become a singer. I thought that people around my age would also be contemplating similar things.
Bang Chan: Ever since I was younger, I’ve grappled with identity issues. I’ve always wondered what it is that I truly like. I didn’t think that I would be the only one to have such thoughts. We came up with the title I am NOT to send the message that you need to be able to break free from other people’s opinions of “This is what you have to be.”
10. Although it’s something that everyone experiences, it’s hard to express those feelings in a way that everyone can relate to.
Changbin: That’s exactly right. That was the most difficult part. It’s easy to write exactly what you’re thinking, but there were times when we had to simplify our message since a lot of people would be listening to our music. We tried to write lyrics that were authentic but could still touch people immediately.
10. What lyrics made you feel pleased with yourself after you wrote them?
Changbin: I’m proud of all the lyrics in “3rd Eye.” Also, in the song “Mirror,” the person you see in the mirror is depicted as another person, and there’s a part where you ask the person in the mirror for answers. I like those lyrics quite a bit (laughs).
10. The title track, “District9,” talks about District9 being a hideout for the Stray Kids. Can you describe what the hideout of your dreams would be like?
Han: I would want it to be a place that had wild and rugged vibes because the Stray Kids are a group of kids that break the mould. I want it to be a place that other people could never even imagine, a place where anyone who sees it would think, “This is really intense.”
I.N: I’m the opposite. I would want it to be peaceful. I want mountains and the ocean. I want it to be a place that’s unrestricted and relaxing (laughs).
10. Unlike nearly all of the songs on the album that talk about inner turmoil, “Grow Up” is the first track to send a message to “you,” to another person. Why did you put this song on this album?
Bang Chan: This is a song that I want to sing to everyone. That includes not just other people, but ourselves as well. Although the journey of discovering who you are is painful and difficult, I just want to tell people that the very act of contemplating who you are means that you’re on the right track.
10. “I am not” is an incomplete sentence. What word would you like put at the end of that sentence?
Bang Chan: ”I am not me” with a question mark at the end. I hope this album inspires people to ask themselves, “Is the person who I’m seeing really me?”
10. I’m sure everyone in the group had an opportunity to explore their identities while making this album.
Han: That’s right. I have never learned so much about myself as I did during that period of time. Even now before I go to sleep every night, I try to think about everything I did that day and do some personal reflection. By doing this, I realize what things made me angry or happy.
Lee Know: From time to time, I organize my thoughts from the day and write them down at the end of the day. I haven’t been able to do it much lately since we’ve been busy, but when I look at what I’ve written down, I think, “So this is who I am.”
10. Have you figured out what makes you the happiest?
Han: I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I like the stage. I feel happiest when I’m singing and rapping in front of a lot of people. I also really like the times that we spend with our fans. When we started promoting our album, we were able to come face-to-face with the sincerity of our fans. When I see how much our fans love us, it makes me feel both happy and grateful.
Woojin: I feel the same way. I’m just happy that I can keep doing what I want to do. When I’m completely immersed in a song while I’m onstage, it feels like I’ve become one with the song. That’s when I’m on cloud nine.
Changbin: When the part that I recorded for a song turns out well. I listen to my voice and think, “I’m awesome” (laughs).
10. You’ve all discovered what you want to do earlier than most other people your age. Did you ever feel confused in the process of figuring out what you wanted to do?
Hyunjin: I went for an audition after being street-casted, which is how I ended up joining the company. Although I was interested in this field, I found myself getting scolded a lot in the beginning. I was confused because even though it was my dream to become a singer, I was always getting negative feedback. I was doing what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t happy. On the other hand, the negative feedback also made me become stubborn. I practiced harder because I wanted to be acknowledged. In the process, I gradually learned about more dance genres, and I also learned how to enjoy myself when I danced.
Lee Know: At first, I tried to become a professional dancer instead of an entertainer. I had been dancing ever since I was in school, but when I became an adult, I started to get apprehensive. I wondered, “Will I be okay just practicing and dancing like this?” When I was working as a backup dancer for BTS, I started to think that I wanted to give singing a shot, but I thought it was already too late. I had friends who were training to become entertainers who had already debuted by that point. I gave it my all when I practiced because I thought the only way I would get a shot was to practice harder.
10. Lee Know and Felix were both eliminated from Mnet’s Stray Kids, which was the survival show you all were on before you debuted. That must have been really tough.
Felix: I thought long and hard about where I needed to go from there. Lee Know and I tried to be a source of strength for one another by complimenting and encouraging each other. It was tough for us, but we tried to instill confidence in each other. I believed that if we could show how we worked hard at everything we did, we would both be able to make our debut.
10. Bang Chan, you were a trainee for seven years. What helped you get through the long training period?
Bang Chan: To be honest, I didn’t know who I was back then. My personality and behavior kept changing, as well as the things that I liked. But I think this is something that everyone goes through and is just a step in the process of finding yourself. Things were tough at times, of course. There are times now when I don’t want to do anything at all, but then I tell myself, “This is the path that I chose, so I have to keep going.” Another thing is – this is something I get from my mom – even if I’m worried about something, once I go to sleep and wake up, I forget all about it (everyone laughs)! It’s really fascinating.
10. You have made your debut in the industry as the Stray Kids. Are you confident that you won’t fall into confusion again?
Bang Chan: I still don’t know who I am 100 percent. But, I do feel like I broke down one of the walls when we were making the album. I believe that I’m on the right path.
Styling by Choi Yu-rim
Hair and makeup by Mika and Sim Kyung-mi (COLLABO X)
Translated by Jennifer Earwood