The eight boys of Stray Kids have always been able to drive at the breakneck speed of idol life, rising at their own pace and marching to the beat of their own noisy drums. In Manila, we saw this in action. The boys had to take everything in stride, adjust their schedules accordingly because of a delayed flight (idols, really, they’re just like us), and host a press conference and fan meet in half a day.
But truth be told, we never expected less from Stray Kids. As global artists, the boys have made the hectic look effortlessly cool and casual. On Jan. 20, the group returned to Manila as ambassadors of local Lifestyle brand Bench, hosting a fan meeting at the Mall of Asia Arena.
They were immediately greeted by the deafening screams of Stay, their fandom, at the venue. It’s been three years since they last met Philippine fans, but it seems like no time has passed as they launched immediately into a high-octane performance of their hit “God’s Menu.”
When the boys finally introduced themselves to the Manila crowd, a swell of cheers ignited the arena, surprising even the most casual of audiences. It was as if the eight had absorbed the crowd’s electric energy, fueling the chaos they were about to bring onstage. The night was just about to start for Stays, and Stray Kids had a lot in store for them.
Bench planned everything for this event, from games designed to bring out the boys’ hilarity to unique and one-of-a-kind experiences for Filipino Stays. The arena was buzzing with excitement, with a fan in front of us even having to slap her friend multiple times because she just couldn’t believe she was finally seeing the boys. Filipino Stays were clad in their best costumes, ready to dance on cam to the band’s intense choreography, giving Stray Kids a run for their money.
Just before the fan meet started, Stays were going all out outside the venue, giving away merchandise, and making sure everyone went home with memorabilia. We met a mother-and-daughter tandem who were dressed to the nines, matching their special Stray Kids plushies. Another fan showed her love for her bias through her outfit, making sure everything she wore from head to toe had member Seungmin’s face on it.
Some fans, like Cleo Rubiano, prepared customized gifts for fellow Stays. Rubiano traveled all the way from Bulacan province for the fan meet and was giddily handing out lollipops that corresponded to each Stray Kids member. When asked why she liked the group, Rubiano had a simple answer: “They’re all talented.” For her, it was the boys’ dedication to their music that left a strong impression and made her a fan.
Heart and soul
With five years in the industry, Stray Kids has made their mark as a self-producing group. Their discography is precious to them, as the members have each poured their own heart and soul into their music, communicating with their fans through their songs.
The event took this into account, and was able to create games tailored to the boys’ discography. Throughout the night, the audience had the privilege of getting to know Stray Kids through challenges inspired by their title tracks.
For “I Am Who,” a play on their song “I Am You,” the boys had to impersonate each other. It ended with rap parodies and a declaration of member Lee Know’s love for the group’s buttocks. “I’ll make sure to touch (my members’ butts) more in the future,” he said so nonchalantly that it’s hard to decide if he’s joking or not.
From toppling giant Jenga blocks to sudden bursts of aegyo (cute), Stray Kids knew how to have fun. They also gave fans a preview of what to expect from a concert, dancing choreography from bangers like “Maniac” and “Domino.” Filipino fans had the best response, making sure to sing each song. This prompted leader Bang Chan to share how he remembered Manila from their last visit in 2019, recounting how the screams of Filipino fans were so loud that it pierced through their in-ear monitors.
A special game that also had the crowd on the edge of their seats was when the boys were tasked to paint their members on a white T-shirt, with lucky fans receiving their works of art.
Still, for Stays like Rubiano, what she’ll remember the most was how the eight members helped in cleaning up after every segment. “I think cleaning up and helping the staff without being prompted is the most memorable for me because that shows their characters. They’re not only talented but also kind to people that they work with.”
This also didn’t go unnoticed by host Sam Oh, who pointed out to fans how the group helped out production staff.
As genuine as they come
Well, Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, Han, Felix, Seungmin and I.N are as genuine as they come. The boys have a preternatural charm that only a tight-knit family could bring on stage, making the crowd feel like they’re joining in on a long-awaited reunion. It doesn’t feel like watching idols do fan service, it was seeing your kuyas do the most ridiculous things to make you laugh, carefree and endearingly chaotic. Stray Kids had a way of melting away your worries with the most simple of gestures, running around on stage like “the kids” that they are. The fan meet showed how they easily riffed with their fans, proving the sincerity of their relationship with their Stays.
It was a cyclone of fun, with the boys tumbling into each other, switching between English and Korean to make sure everyone in the arena understood what was going on. Still, the night ended on a cliffhanger, a taste of what Stray Kids has in store for their upcoming March concert in Manila. The boys performed their most recent single, the addictive “Case 143,” and held a goodbye session for their fans.
It was all easy smiles for the boys, exchanging stares and glances as if they haven’t been together for the past five years. It’s heartwarming to see how the members just couldn’t get enough of each other, along with their affection for their dear Stays. When it was time to finally say goodbye, the eight raced to the barricades on stage with a promise of seeing each other again.
“Stray Kids will be back,” leader Bang Chan declared. If this was a preview of Stray Kids’ next visit to Manila, then make sure to count us in.