Kulture Kolumn: It’s Time To Stop Sleeping On Seventeen
While stanning a group of 13 people can seem daunting, here’s why you shouldn’t let that number get in the way
This past week I’ve been on a Seventeen binge. Of course it started with the release of their third LP An Ode on September 16th and then blended into an epic revisit of their entire discography. Every single day I cruised through at least one of their albums all over again, and it reminded me that this particular group has never really had a bad comeback. I literally cannot pick a comeback concept that hasn’t worked for them. Now, it could be because I’ve always held a certain fondness for Seventeen that’s different from what I feel for other K-pop artists–maybe it’s because they’re the first group I followed from their debut when I got into K-pop, or perhaps it’s because of their consistent discipline, creativity and involvement in the process of every album that ensures excellence. Either way, what bliss.
Seventeen debuted in 2015 with the bright and perky “Adore U,” leaping into the K-pop scene with big smiles and an even bigger lineup–consisting of 13 members, they became one of the largest groups to debut at the time. The group was presented as having three sub-units: the hip-hop team (leader S.Coups, Vernon, Wonwoo and Mingyu), the vocal team (Woozi, Seungkwan, Jeonghan, DK and Joshua) and the performance team (Hoshi, The8, Jun and Dino.) On social media, I remember discussions that were a mix of wonder, excitement and doubt at the significant risk their company Pledis Entertainment was taking. Because while being a 13-member group wasn’t exactly a new concept in K-pop–Super Junior and EXO both started out with a dozen or more members each when they debuted in 2005 and 2012 respectively– it was staying together that posed the real challenge. Super Junior and EXO have had a few members leave either due to conflict with management or the odd scandal here and there. The Chinese members in particular were harder to hang on to, but Seventeen has so far (fingers crossed) managed to dodge the bullet and keep their two Chinese members, Jun and The8, close.
I think my love for Seventeen was born from foundation of respect. Right from debut, the entire group was extremely involved in the production of their own tracks, including the music, the songwriting, album conceptualisation and choreography, earning the tag ‘self-producing idols.’ What especially drew me to pay attention to them was their choreography. I don’t think there’s a group that’s more in sync. Not one member is weaker than the other, and their teamwork stems from a brand of positivity I haven’t really seen anywhere else. Over the years, fellow journalists, producers and artists who have met Seventeen have told me about the group’s impeccable conduct and bright attitude–and it makes me pretty proud.
My fanfare for the group began right around when they debuted and dropped their 2015 video for “Mansae”; it was a colorful, feel-good, high school-themed affair of sharp moves and cheesy, first-love tableaus. It was wholesome, laugh-out-loud and jam-packed with talent, an entertainment package that I couldn’t help but replay whenever my mood happened to dip. Seventeen immediately became an instant pick-me-up, the boys next door who know exactly how to fix a bad day with their fresh sound and endearing personalities. I remember when they released their hilarious reality variety show One Fine Day in 2016 and I got to know each of them a little better–the members were taken on a mini-vacation, divided into teams and given hilarious competitive tasks with extremely entertaining results. I would usually catch an episode before bed, go to sleep with a smile on my face, and it’s something that still happens today whenever I watch a show featuring Seventeen.
I think they held their image of the sweet boys next door right up until 2017, when we saw the first major shift in their artistry and aesthetic. We got a taste of this impending aesthetic evolution with the hip-hop team’s mixtape Check In towards the end of 2016, but it was January 2017’s “Highlight” that marked the beginning of a brand new era. Presented solely by Seventeen’s performance team, “Highlight” was a smooth, fast-paced and dynamic electro-trap number with powerful choreography that tapped into the members’ sex appeal. I remember holding my breath in awe of the sleekness of it all, with suits and darker makeup adding an elegance to Seventeen I hadn’t quite seen before. Subsequent unit-based releases like “Change Up” (by team leaders S.Coups, Hoshi and Woozi), “Trauma” by the hip-hop unit, “Pinwheel” by the vocal unit and “My I” by the China unit focused heavily on aesthetics as well as individual talents, each team getting more prominent introductions with more solo screen time. After creating a solid base of interest with these new, grown-up avatars, the group dropped one of their most successful singles till date, “Don’t Wanna Cry.” Anguished, dreamy, and packed with tight choreography, the video propelled Seventeen into new levels of popularity in 2017. All these videos were highly conceptual, generally darker and bolder and it was kind of like witnessing Seventeen’s coming of age–creating the perfect segue for their second LP Teen, Age later that year.
Since then, we’ve seen a myriad of powerful releases from Seventeen, complete with outstanding visuals; 2017’s “Clap” was confident and sexy, while 2018 and 2019’s mellower singles “Home,” “Thanks” and “Oh My!” explored a more vulnerable and emotional side to the group. “Getting Closer” surprised fans with its assertive choreography and dark, grunge vibe. But little did we know that 2019 would signal an even more significant level-up.
In August, the band released “Hit,” a rebellious electro-pop anthem that raised goosebumps with it’s soaring falsettos and bold group chorus. The video was sleek, energetic and packed with fast-paced choreography I knew dance crews around the world were going to have some real trouble with when they do covers. It all kind of blew me away. Did I know Seventeen were capable of this? Yes. Was it still a shock? Absolutely. Which brings me to the latest single, “Fear.” It’s the video that finally inspired me to write this piece because I knew I couldn’t let it go. It’s the best music video I’ve seen from Seventeen and probably one of the best K-pop music videos in general this year. My mouth was hanging open during the entire time I was watching it and I legit had moments where I lost my breath (Jeonghan’s icy interlude at 1:09 is an obvious example.) There’s a sense of danger, sex, death and mystery to it all and in this current trend of dark comebacks in K-pop, Seventeen have managed to find a way to stand out simply because we didn’t see it coming from them. I wrote about the video earlier this week so I won’t get into the intricacies of it, but just know that it’s the one that needs to win them a Daesang.
Seventeen are all about reinvention, drive, kindness and teamwork–things I personally value with all my heart. They’ve had several struggles over the past couple of years, including complications with their company as well as anti-fans, but they’ve managed to rise above it all with positivity and their heads held high. When I re-watch their videos on YouTube, I see their views aren’t as high as I’d expected and it surprises me, since they offer artistry that’s created with such passion and proficiency, so I’m hoping “Fear” (which is blowing up online currently) finally gives them the hype they deserve.
I’ve heard that a lot of people’s hesitancy to stan Seventeen comes from the number of members–and I totally get it. Even if you’re a K-pop fan, 13 members can seem a little overwhelming and with fandom culture being what it is, there can be a lot of pressure around the process of learning their names, their roles within the group and their personalities. I’ve heard exclamations like ‘it’s too many of them!’ or ‘I can’t focus or tell them apart!’ from my own friends, and my advice to them is always this–when you first see Seventeen, don’t worry about the individual members or who stands out, watch them as a unit. It’s kind of like how single pixels of different colors come together to build one big picture on a TV screen, and it’s an art Seventeen have mastered. As time passes, you’ll automatically know more about each member’s bright personality (and trust me, it’s worth it) but it’s not something that you should let weigh you down. Over time, it’ll all click together and once you’re familiar with them, you’ll wonder why you let fear get in the way of it. So, in conclusion, stan quality. Stan dedication. Stan talent. Stan… Seventeen.