After taking over the global charts with its pre-debut release, Stray Kids, a new boy band under JYP Entertainment, finally made what could be the most intriguing K-pop debut of the year.
The nine-member group was formed through an Mnet competition show of the same name that aired last year. Equipped with talents not only for vocals but also song writing and producing, Stray Kids had garnered attention even before its debut as it was JYP’s first boy band in four years.
And rather than gradually unveiling itself for a grand appearance, Stray Kids had proved its strength through both the show and its pre-debut album “Mixtape,” which had landed at No. 2 on the Billboard’s World Albums chart in January.
Consisting of Bangchan, Woojin, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunji, HAN, Felix, Seungmin and I.N, the group debuted Sunday with its first EP “I Am Not,” poised to make a splash on the competitive K-pop industry.
“As a boy band that follows 2PM and GOT7 under JYP, we are very grateful for how our seniors have paved the way for us. Our biggest goal for this year is to win a rookie award,” said band leader Bangchan during a press debut showcase titled “Stray Kids Unveil [Op. 01: Iam NOT]” held at Jangchung Stadium in Seoul on Sunday.
The entire eight-track album is written and composed by the members themselves, a rarity in the K-pop scene where professional producers are usually at the helm of making songs.
And this talent would be the act’s biggest strength, said the members.
"While there are many groups that make their own songs, I think we are special in that our album tells our own stories. I wish our songs could represent thoughts and minds of our generation,” Seungmin said.
The album is fronted by lead track “District 9,” a hip-hop-laden EDM track that embodies the group’s ambition of breaking the mold in the scene in its own innovative way and in its own “district.”
Overflowing with frenetic bass and aggressive rapping, the track is probably the most powerful song ever created by a JYP boy bands. The song also shows a major sonic departure from GOT7, another leading boy band from the agency that has been gearing toward comparatively softer pop-EDM these days, and 2PM, which debuted in 2008 with an emphasis on its masculine image.
Stray Kids’ hip-hop based album is also filled with messages of self-reflection. In tracks “Mirror” and “3rd Eye,” the members talk about struggles of finding one’s true self, while stressing the importance of fighting one’s way out of a shell in “Awaken.”
“People of our age will ask themselves, ‘Who am I?’ We wanted to share our own stories,” Bangchan said.
The nine members, handpicked by JYP’s head producer Park Jin-young through the 10-episode show, said they had dinner with Park after “Stray Kids” ended.
“What Park emphasized the most was that we should be sincere, diligent and modest,” Woojin said.
Chosen as one of Billboard’s five K-pop acts to watch this year even before its debut, Stray Kids has ridden on an ongoing trend among recent K-pop acts like KARD and Loona, which garnered wide international fan base during their pre-debut period by releasing songs.
Stray Kids has also followed in the footsteps of the group’s predecessor Wanna One, a project boy band formed through the second season of another Mnet competition show “Produce 101” that has been making waves in the scene.
But the new JYP band is the first to rise to great fame, with its “Mixtape,” led by lead track “Hellevator,” appearing in the top 15 of the US iTunes album chart within the first day of its release.
The act’s debut showcase for fans took place on Sunday at 6 p.m, while "I Am Not" will be released Monday evening.