The South Korean pop band Stray Kids are clustered around a laptop for a Skype interview, pale in the screen’s glow as heavy rain turns New York City to grey. It’s a fitting backdrop for the group: from their 2017 pre-debut release “Hellevator” to the latest single, the snarling, trumpeting EDM of “MIROH”, the K-pop group have made similarly dystopian environs their visual backdrop, where neon and CCTV screens flicker and the group are hemmed in by skyscrapers, tarmac, and tunnels as they attempt to escape or defy their surroundings.
This concept – of attaining freedom – is central to the group, and it’s an idea that’s rooted in reality. The group’s leader, Bang Chan, handpicked each member for the group from their parent label JYP Entertainment’s roster of trainees, a process unheard of in K-pop, where that power lies with executives and creative directors. Stray Kids write and produce all their material, too, and are one of the few idol groups to do so. Their music focuses unflinchingly on their youth – the anger and frustration, the ecstatic highs and ragged lows – while questioning their own shifting sense of identity.