“One, two, step out! Hello, we are Stray Kids!”
After performing four songs nearly back-to-back, the nine-membered Korean boy band introduced themselves to a screaming audience of fans. Around 3,000 Stays — the designated fandom name — packed into the Pasadena Civic Auditorium to view the third sold-out show of Stray Kids’ Unveil Tour “I Am… in America.”
Stray Kids has only been active as a group for just over a year and have already managed to release five separate albums with a total of 39 songs. As a self-producing group, three members participate in the song-making process, adding to how impressive those numbers are.
Despite the venue being only reserved seating, Stays arrived hours before the concert started. The reason? Purely for interacting with other fans. Months ago, when the tour was announced, a community was quickly formed — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Kakao group chats were made in preparation for the big day.
Should one check the Twitter hashtag, they would surely come across a theme: freebies. The amount being given away was astounding, beyond anything I’d seen at any other Kpop concert. From banners to stickers to photo cards, Stays were eager to gift each other their creations.
The two possible VIP-like benefits that could be bought were group photo, in which ten fans at a time take a picture with the band, and hi-touch, in which the members line up and fans hi-five them from opposite sides of a table. I had become lucky enough to score the latter benefit in the great battle for tickets, and I was incredibly excited for it.
While fans slowly trickled in through security and entered the theater, tracks from Stray Kids’ five albums played softly from the speakers. Despite being difficult to hear, Stays diligently sang along, voices raising during the English portions of songs like “Get Cool” and “Maze of Memories.” As the hour of 8 drew near, the lights darkened and the volume went up.
“Question,” one of their more upbeat and powerful songs, blasted through the speakers as fans gradually stood to wave their lightsticks and sing along.
Then, the venue went dark except for the glow of the lightsticks. A video appeared on the screen, showcasing an image of each member in descending age order, starting with their leader Bang Chan. Fans cheered for each member, screaming extra loud for their personal favorite.
When the video ended, the boys entered. The screams were deafening as light enveloped the nine of them, the entire venue on their feet to see the group they’ve grown to love online in real life. Then began a dance sequence lead by the two main dancers, Hyunjin and Minho (who goes by the stage name Lee Know). They shifted into a rendition of “Hellevator,” their first music video. After three more songs, the boys pause to have a conversation with their fans.
“Hearing your cheers and voices and screams… you guys are HOT!” rapper Han declared in English only 20 minutes into the show. “I’ve heard today’s a really special day… you know why, Felix?”
Felix, one of the two Australian members, happily spread an arm out toward the crowd.
“It’s because we’re seeing Stays in LA for the first time,” the crowd screams, myself included.
The boys launched into another series of performances, full of gorgeous vocals, visuals, and choreography. The sincere effort they put in was evident in their precision and synchronization despite the difficulty of the moves. They did not lip-sync; although there was a backing track with vocals running, they consistently sang over it.
An hour into the show, the group took a pause to give “presents” to fans. Changbin showed off his athleticism with a flip, Seungmin sang a bit of Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend,” Felix and I.N attempted to act sexy, Lee Know did push-ups, Han and Chan rolled on the floor, and Woojin and Hyunjin creatively made hearts directed at their fans. Each action was met with strong reactions from the other members and from the crowd, who laughed and yelled along with the boys.
The Korean born and raised members spoke entirely in English during their ending statements. “I came to LA for the first time and I’m so happy that the first thing I do in LA is performing in front of our Stay,” Changbin said. “This time is very, very, very precious to me.”
Chan promised the crowd that Stray Kids would keep on improving and encouraged fans to chase their dreams. From there they launched into “Awkward Silence” and “Get Cool,” the cute songs in their discography. They then got the audience jumping with “YAYAYA,” a high energy tune that demands hype. Confetti spewed out of cannons over the first floor. “Just don’t forget that whatever age you are, you guys are always growing up,” Chan said in his ending remark, leading into a performance of the bittersweet “Grow Up” where they took their ending bows.
“Until next time, OK?” Chan promised as they slowly walked off the stage. They got a chant of “Stray Kids everywhere all around the world” going one last time before they exited, the lights coming back on and tired fans collapsing into their seats.
One last festivity still remained for those who got benefits. Staff lined fans up to head upstairs where they could either take a photo with or high-five the members. Unfortunately, given the high number of fans, the hi-touch was quite rushed but the members each made an effort to look every fan in the eye and thank them.
“You’re amazing,” I told Han, thoroughly impressed with his performance that night. “No, you’re amazing,” was his response without missing a beat.
I broke down into tears after that.
All in all, May 17 was the best night of my life and if I could relive it again, I most certainly would.