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Stray Kids step into the global spotlight at Lollapalooza

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Midway through their historic Lollapalooza Paris set, Stray Kids’ resonant rapper Felix described their music as possessing “strange but special qualities.” They’ve concocted a word for this. It’s called “oddinary,” a portmanteau of “odd” and “ordinary.” It’s the idea that things considered peculiar will soon become normalized. They named an album after it. You could say an eight-member Korean boy group headlining one of the marquee international events on the summer festival circuit is the definition of oddinary, a radical display of ingenuity on a mainstream scale. 

As K-pop continues to dominate worldwide, its acts are becoming increasingly in demand on the global stage. Stray Kids join artists like BLACKPINK and j-hope in fronting major music festivals in the West — a testament to not only the industry’s growing influence and power but also Stray Kids’ prodigious popularity abroad. With three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200, sold-out stadium shows in the U.S., and hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify, the group is on the precipice of superstardom. On Friday night, more than 60,000 people descended on the patchy grass fields of the Hippodrome ParisLongchamp to witness the fiery octet in action. 

Read more: 10 most criminally underrated Stray Kids songs

“When people think about boy bands, they think about the boy bands from the early 2000s, and it’s not that,” 31-year-old Julia explained on the grounds before their closing set. She’s been a fan of the group for the past few years, and she came from Poland to experience her first Stray Kids show. “Their music and performance, it’s refreshing.” 

[Photo by Kristy Sparow/ Getty]

For Sonja Conrads, a 25-year-old fan from Germany, it was a long time coming. The act hasn’t toured the region since 2019 after the European leg of their 2020 District 9: Unlock tour was canceled mid-pandemic. In traveling to Paris, she wanted to show the group “how loved they are in Europe, how big their fanbase is here, and the happiness they bring to us,” she told AP. She attended Lolla Paris with two friends she met online through their mutual interest in Stray Kids: Laninja, 33, who took the train from the Netherlands, and Nikolina, 25, from Northern Germany. Together, they arrived with the light sticks, keychains, and self-made merch in tow. They had previously attended the group’s Maniac Tour encore shows in Los Angeles in April. But the Lolla performance felt more special because Stray Kids were “so close to home,” Laninja explained, to which Nikolina added, “They seemed even wilder and more carefree on stage than what we were already used to. It was, in a way, a homage to the music they create.” 

Stray Kids don’t limit themselves to one genre. (“It doesn’t fit into any other box, it’s just Stray Kids,” Laninja said of their music.) Fusing elements of hip-hop with EDM, funk, hardcore, R&B, and pop, their signature sound is protean, like eclectic splatters of acrylic paint on canvas — always intentional in its loud disarray. Instead, Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, Han, Felix, Seungmin, and I.N have become known for their undeniable technical prowess and staggering versatility. It’s the result of the creative autonomy they’ve established since their debut in 2018 when many of them were still teenagers. Led by Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han, the primary architects of the group’s diverse catalog, Stray Kids express themselves freely through their music, delivering a barrage of bass-rumbling bangers with incisive lyrical finesse. Or, as Sonja explained, “It’s made by them, for us.” 

For Lollapalooza Paris, Stray Kids curated a lengthy 77-minute setlist that displayed the sheer distinctiveness of their discography and captured their explosive energy. Opening with a ceremonious chant of “Stray Kids everywhere all around the world” — a longtime rallying cry for the group and their fans — they set the tone with “Venom,” a slightly sinister web of trap and EDM that warns against falling for someone’s fatal charms. As eight inflatable spider legs (a Maniac tour prop) appeared on stage, however, it became clear they intended for it to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

[Photo by Kristy Sparow/ Getty]

Joined by a live band, they doubled down on bombast with “Maniac” and “Thunderous,” the latter a potent mix of traditional Korean elements, heavy guitars, and hip-hop — which agile rapper Han called the group’s essence. They donned modern hanbok-inspired robes as vibrant swirls of Korean folk art were projected behind them, appearing through a boisterous sound storm made even more powerful by the live instrumentation. A celebration of Korean culture, it felt more like an anointment for K-pop’s wunderkinds. “They got their spice, their own recipe,” Nikolina said, a metaphorical reference to their hit 2020 single, “God’s Menu,” an aggressive barrage of rap and bass with a pinch of Kendrick Lamar that made the entire Lolla audience shout “du-du-du-du-du-du” at the top of their lungs. 

As Stray Kids drilled further through their performance, the full spectrum of their artistry came into view. “Domino,” a boastful hype track, concluded with a frantic drum-and-bass dance break led by beguiling dancer Hyunjin; the rock remix of “S-Class” showed off Seungmin’s vocal swagger; the debut stage of “Super Bowl,” the delectable English track off their most recent album, 5-Star, gave Lee Know and I.N opportunities to shine; “Topline,” a braggadocious anthem with Latin influences, allowed Han to flex his dexterous flow; and “HEYDAY,” a biting rap performance from the trio known as 3RACHA (Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han), ignited the crowd in a wave of screams — especially when Bang Chan knowingly bared his biceps.  

During “ITEM,” which opens with an 8-bit synth before Changbin bulldozes through the hook, someone from England I had met just hours prior had leaned over and said, “You didn’t tell me they were a nü-metal band.” Watching Felix command the stage with frontman charisma and Han evoke the aura of a rockstar with such ease, it’s not a far-fetched label. Since the group disrupted the scene with their gritty 2018 debut, “District 9,” a song about eschewing social norms and breaking free from conformity, they’ve forged their path as relative outsiders in a music market that frequently embraces trends. Stray Kids shed light on their darkest insecurities; they toe the line between confidence and arrogance, permitting themselves the space to gloat; and, most vital of all, they aren’t afraid to try new things, to dress up their wounds and move forward. The rawness on songs like “Lonely St.” called to mind a rock power ballad, the entire crowd moving in unison and rocking their hands — most of them holding light sticks — up and down. 

“What I love most is that they produce their own music, and it’s the music that they enjoy listening to themselves,” Laninja said. “It makes [the experience] so much more authentic.” 

[Photo by Kristy Sparow/ Getty]

“This felt like they were even closer to us,” Sonja explained. “More like a big family,” Nikolina added. “Being surrounded by [fans] and even the very few people who had no idea who they were but who were still vibing to their songs made me extremely proud… You could see how much they enjoyed the energy.” 

The more relaxed atmosphere encouraged everyone to let loose — “Bang Chan and Lee Know ripping their pants proved it,” Laninja joked after the set — and soak in the party vibes. Encore favorites “MIROH” and “Haven” went especially hard as fans jumped and danced in wild fervor, creating a palpable connection between fans and artists. “Festivals are about enjoying music together,” Nikolina said. “The energy they put out is absorbed and given right back to them.” You could see it reflected on their faces, the kind of joy a smile can hardly contain. It radiates through the atmosphere, bursting in the air like fireworks in the sky as it neared midnight in Paris, tangible and alive — a message conveyed through awe. 

“I wanted them to see that without even having to come here,” Sonja said, “them making us feel like we have someone who is always there for us and supports us is enough.” 

In a press conference before their Lollapalooza set, leader Bang Chan echoed a similar sentiment. “We can’t really say that we accomplished all of our dreams. That would be no fun,” he declared with a grin. “We’re still getting there. One dream that came true is that the eight of us found each other…and we found [our fans].” But their ambition will never be sated. “There’s so much more we want to accomplish. We’re going to keep going hard and see what else we can break.” 



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