As the leading light and producer behind Stray Kids, the Sydney-raised singer isn’t just one of Korea’s most influential idols—he’s taking the bounds of the genre to completely new places.
Bang Chan, the Australian-raised leader of K-pop group Stray Kids, has spent innumerable amounts of time in the studio wondering how far he and the band’s two other main songwriters—HAN and Changbin—can push the envelope, and listeners out of their comfort zone. “That’s what we did with ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’,” he says with a laugh that’s gleeful yet apologetic, like he’s accidentally revealed a sworn secret. It’s the opener of last September’s IN LIFE (a repackage of their first album, GO LIVE), its frenetic drum & bass instrumental overlaid with hypnotically repeating vocals. It sounds like a wholly unexpected offering from a pop group but that’s what emphatically defines Stray Kids’ oeuvre. “Breaking barriers and boundaries”, as Bang Chan likes to say, is baked into their DNA.
He was just a teenager when JYP Entertainment—one of South Korea’s biggest and long-established idol agencies—gave him the unheard of opportunity to form Stray Kids from the company’s pool of trainees. They doubled down on this autonomy by handing the job of producing the group’s music to him along with HAN and Changbin who, as a trio, were quietly uploading demos to Soundcloud under the name of 3RACHA.
Now twenty-three years old, Bang Chan rarely does interviews without the members – I.N, Hyunjin, Seungmin, HAN, Changbin, Lee Know, and Felix, a fellow Australian – by his side. “I’ve never really gone in-depth into my life before,” he says, perched on Zoom, his hair a rosy pink, “but I’m kind of excited.” He’s fluent in Korean, but the genial, broad Australian accent remains, beloved by the Stray Kids’ fanbase (known as STAY), who number over 15 million followers on Instagram alone.