Who are Stray Kids? The record-breaking Korean boy band closing BST Hyde Park

Stray Kids (Getty Images for MTV)
Stray Kids (Getty Images for MTV)

Everything changed for boy band Stray Kids in 2023. Over the preceding three years, the eight-member group had become superstars in their home country of Korea, and made some waves abroad, winning awards and releasing chart-topping music.

But then, in June last year, their fourth album – a hip-hop-pop-electronica Korean-language record titled 5-Star – arrived. Made up of 12 songs, the album was a global hit.

Stray Kids broke K-pop records, with over 5 million people pre-ordering the album. It went to number one in the US and in France, and number two in Australia, Germany and Japan.

“Stray Kids are flying so high above the crowd that they’re in a galaxy of their very own, where the parties are endless and the vibes are always five-star,” said NME in its review, heralding the album as a pivotal moment for the band.

The months that have followed have been a whirlwind: Stray Kids went on a tour of Japan and Korea, won the Best K-Pop award at the 2023 MTV Video Music Award, were listed as one of Time’s Next Generation Leaders, attended the Met Ball dressed by Tommy Hilfiger, and some of its members have become ambassadors for global fashion brands.

Now they’ll be closing BST Hyde Park, London’s massive concert series, boasting a 2024 lineup of Robbie Williams, SZA, Kings of Leon, Morgan Wallen, Andrea Bocelli, Shania Twain, Stevie Nicks and Kylie.

So who are Stray Kids, the K-pop band who might be the new BTS?

Stray Kids (Getty Images for MTV)
Stray Kids (Getty Images for MTV)


The band was formed in 2017 in a reality show called Stray Kids – an unconventional route for a K-pop band (typically K-pop artists are hand-selected and developed behind the scenes, sometimes for years).

The singers competed on the televised show, emerging as a nine-member band after 10 weeks of challenges. Initially, Felix and Lee Know were dropped – but were reintroduced right at the last minute.

Things took off quickly: a month later Stray Kids released their first EP, titled Mixtape, which reached number two in Korea’s album charts. A second EP wasn’t far behind. Another hit, I Am Not landed just two months later and went straight to number four.

In the world of K-pop, artists are expected to produce a lot of music quickly, and Stray Kids and their team knew how to play the game. In 2021, they went on another boy band competition show, Kingdom: Legendary War, which they also won, beating BtoB, iKON, SF9, Ateez and The Boyz to the trophy.

“Of course we did our role of preparing big performances and everything, but the result in general was given by Stays [the name of their fandom],” said Felix, speaking to Rolling Stone in 2021 about their win.

“We’re trying our best to take care of what we started, and of our Stays. Stays are like the root of the tree, and we’re just trying to water [them].”

Who is who?

Today Stray Kids, often written as SKZ by their fans, consists of eight members: leader Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, Han, Felix, Seungmin and I.N. The ninth member, Kim Woojin, left in 2019 citing “personal circumstances”. At the time, fans were bewildered by the decision as it came out of the blue.

Happily, Woojin has now carved out a stellar career for himself, starring in K-drama King The Land and releasing solo music projects. He has still not spoken in depth about quitting: a 2024 interview with Elle, for example, simply says he left the band “for some reasons”.

Stray Kids at the Met Ball (Getty Images)
Stray Kids at the Met Ball (Getty Images)

Aged between 23 and 27, the remaining members have become a force to be reckoned with. Bang Chan, Changbin and Hab also belong to subgroup 3RACHA – a hip-hop crew who write a lot of Stray Kids’ music (alongside other producers).

The sub-unit has dedicated fans of its own, but the lines between Stray Kids and 3RACHA often blur – for example, 3RACHA songs are sometimes released on Stray Kids’ YouTube Channel. The trio were also trainees under JYP Entertainment (the record label conglomerate responsible for the reality show), before joining Stray Kids.

“Loud, honest and disruptive, 3RACHA have dictated much of Stray Kids' sonic identity from the start,” Paper Magazine said in 2022. “They began sculpting the group's distinct sound from their dorm rooms in Seoul. Bang Chan made homemade beats in the midnight hours under the moniker CB97; Changbin and Han worked on lyrics and composition, going by SpearB and J.One, respectively.”

Changbin told Time: "The goal is to continuously pioneer new [musical] subjects and to have our music be recognised as a 'Stray Kids' genre.”

Musical style

The producer has undoubtedly achieved his goals. Stray Kids has an unique sound: an experimental mash-up of genres including hip-hop, rock, EDM, dubstep, heavy metal and dance-pop, the tracks are sometimes created incorporating traditional Korean instruments, sirens, drill sounds and even birds chirping.

Their lyrics, which are most often in Korean but sometimes in English or Japanese, touch on a variety of themes including love, identity, dealing with anxiety, accepting challenges and confidence.

Together, everything works: “Their biggest strength has always been their willingness to experiment while staying true to their bespoke style,” said NME in its 2023 review of their fourth album. “5-Star demonstrates this skillful balancing act through a stacked lineup of tracks that emphasize the size and scale of Stray Kids’ ceaseless ambition.”

Blockbuster sales

Stray Kids performing at the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards (Getty Images for MTV)
Stray Kids performing at the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards (Getty Images for MTV)

Although Stray Kids had been superstars in Korea for years, 2023 was the year they cracked the global market. According to the IFPI, an organisation representing the recording industry, Stray Kids came in second and fifth on their global album sales chart, having shifted 5.3 m copies of 5-Star (June 2023) and 4.2m for Rock-Star (November 2023).

For comparison, K-pop girl band SEVENTEEN came in first position, having sold 6.4m copies of their album FML, while Taylor Swift sold 2.8m copies of 1989 (Taylor’s Version).

Then on IFPI’s list of top 10 global recording artists in 2023, Taylor Swift came first, Seventeen second, and Stray Kids took the third spot (the chart for ‘global subscription streams’ looks different: the only Korean act to make the list is BTS member Jung Kook, with his song Seven with Latto).

Bullying allegations

But things haven’t all been plain sailing for the band: Hyunjin went on a hiatus between February and July 2021, after an unnamed former schoolmate accused him of bullying during high school.

JYP Entertainment said in a statement (in Korean): "He sincerely regrets and is self-reflecting on the fact that he hurt various people in middle school with his rough and unsuitable words.” It said the singer, then 20, would "take the time to self-reflect after halting all of his activities as a celebrity".

Hyunjin also posted an apology on Instagram: "Whether it was intended or not, I don't think I can be forgiven at all for giving unforgettable pain to someone.”

New projects

Felix walking for Louis Vuitton in March 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)
Felix walking for Louis Vuitton in March 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)

Luxury brands have been paying attention to Stray Kids’ many successes: last summer Hyunjin became an ambassador for Verace, while Felix became an ambassador for Louis Vuitton – he walked for Louis Vuitton’s Women's Fall-Winter 2024 collection in March.

And the band is only going from strength to strength, closing BST Hyde Park this Sunday and headlining Chicago’s Lollapalooza in August with SZA.

"We’re constantly seeking new things we can try and we’re always working hard to show the people a new, unique aspect of Stray Kids," said Hyunjin to USA Today earlier this year. "Rather than going for the safe road, I think we’ll constantly push ourselves to try new music and unique performances."

Stray Kids will play at BST Hyde Park on Sunday 14; bst-hydepark.com