“Do you want to be oddinary?” asks the fluorescent green font on the screen stretching across the back of the Honda Center stage. A few songs later, another video plays and a decisive answer appears: “I want to be oddinary.” Screams ring around the venue, the feeling mutual for many present tonight (July 19).
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To be “oddinary” – a portmanteau of “odd” and “ordinary” is the name name of K-pop group Stray Kids’ Billboard 200 chart-topping latest mini-album – is to reclaim your weird qualities and embrace them as normal. It’s a message of self-acceptance and one that is typical of the JYP Entertainment eight-piece, a group that encourages their fans to love who they are via their songs, concerts and off-stage messaging.
Stray Kids themselves, though, are anything but ordinary, as the penultimate show of the North American leg of the ‘Maniac’ world tour proves. For nearly three hours, the eight members put their all into every second of the gig – so much so that the bandage on rapper and singer Hyunjin’s right hand looks like it could come flying off at any second, such is the vigorousness with which he performs. The same is true of the other seven members, too, all singing, rapping and dancing as if their lives depend on it.
From the off, the concert is one of impressive quality, even the smallest details tying into each other. As they open with ‘Maniac’, the group’s outfits are adorned with web-like chains and, minutes later during the off-kilter EDM of ‘Venom’, they’re joined on stage by inflatable arachnid legs, four on either side that are meant to belong to a gigantic spider. As the sensual ‘Red Lights’ begins, the members get ensnared by the beast, leashes of black leather connecting their necks to the circular structure of lights and screens hanging above the main stage.
The group don’t just rely on backing tracks as they put on a mesmeric show. After melodies of traditional Korean instruments play over the PA and illustrations of traditional Korean buildings appear on the screen, a live band rises up from beneath the stage. Stray Kids’ performances don’t need any extra bite, but that’s exactly what the additional musicians bring, transforming the already powerful ‘Thunderous’ and ‘DOMINO’ into crunching rock bangers. There is a level of absurdity to hearing the different varieties of ‘CHEESE’ being listing off over a grinding guitar riff, but the heavier sound also suits the IDGAF message the song sends to the band’s haters, while the beefed-up backing only serves to make the staccato pump of ‘God’s Menu’ hit even harder.
So far, 2022 is Stray Kids’ year, taking all the hard work they’ve poured into the group since debuting in 2017 and in the years prior as trainees and rewarding them in spades. ‘Oddinary’ scoring them their first US Number One was a big moment that seemed to rocket out of the blue – their previous album ‘Noeasy’ didn’t even register on the Billboard 200. This tour, too, feels like a nod to how much the eight-piece have given, marking their first step up to arenas across the globe. Several dates (including tonight’s show) had to be added to meet the huge demand for tickets.
Throughout the course of the show, we’re treated to some moments of reflection on the band’s journey so far, not least after fiery versions of ‘YAYAYA’ and ‘ROCK’. Both are songs that have been part of the Stray Kids story for many a year. “We did these before our pre-debut [release] and did these busking,” ultra baritone-voiced rapper Felix explains. “But instead of busking, we’re here performing in front of thousands of STAYs” – Stray Kids’ fandom name.
The group then splits in half to share their unit tracks from ‘Oddinary’. Bang Chan, Seungmin, Lee Know, and I.N. perform a heartfelt, powerful version of ‘Waiting For Us’, which highlights something that often gets lost in the “Stray Kids make noise music” discourse – that their voices are as stunning as their appetite for inventiveness is insatiable. Moments later, Felix, Changbin, Han and Hyunjin replace them for the snapping hip-hop of ‘Muddy Water’, delivering the message of that a new generation is here to clear the disappointing old one out.
In K-pop, the generation that came before Stray Kids might not have been disappointing, but it’s obvious that this group has no intention of settling for being a footnote in the scene’s story. Instead, they’re forging their own path forward and focusing on making their own inimitable sound and style along the way. As ‘Victory Song’ booms around the arena, Changbin’s roars of “Don’t you know who we are?” bring goosebumps. It sounds like a battle cry for Stray Kids, who look set to level up once again.
After a short interlude, the group return to the stage to close things out with one last burst of energy. Their big finale of ‘Haven’ offers up the perfect last message to share with the crowd. “Do whatever you want / Break the mold together,” Bang Chan, Han and Seungmin sing on the chorus. Stray Kids have done just that so far in their careers, reclaiming their “oddinary” sides to set themselves up as K-pop’s next true greats.
Stray Kids played:
‘If The World Was Ending’
‘Waiting For Us’
‘Maknae On Top’
‘All I Do Is Win’