The power of one’s own voice
Myungseok Kang: The first track off FEARLESS, LE SSERAFIM’s debut album, is “The World Is My Oyster,” and the opening lyrics are made up of the three different languages the members of the group use in their everyday lives: “The world / sekai / sesang.” Later in the song, the subject becomes the entire sentence: “Na-neun / I / watashi wa.” The magic spell that can change the subject from the world to “I” is the words “I’m fearless”—the power to make oneself the subject in a world that “judges me” and “tries to change me.” It is inevitable, then, that the second track, “FEARLESS,” should begin with the self as subject as well: “I want to touch the very top.” It doesn’t matter what the world has in store for them, because they already tell the world what they want, and easily proclaim, “I’m not scared at all.” The world can attack or even judge them and call “that trouble that everyone had already known from the past” a “scar,” of course. But the first time through the chorus of “FEARLESS” starts by addressing “you” as the subject—“What you lookin’ at”—and finishes with, “I’m fearless.” Those words—“I’m fearless”—encapsulate the process of triumphing over the opinions of others and are the highlight of “FEARLESS.”
At the very core of that process is the first-person speaker’s voice. “FEARLESS” opens with a hook that feels like the members are marching along as they sing—“Bam ba ba ba ba bam”—with the arrangement progressively changing as the voices of other members arise. It starts with a minimalistic rhythm made up of bass and drums, but intricately evolves as each member takes their turn to sing by adding to the drums bit by bit. Other than the electric guitar, which makes a brief appearance during the chorus, there is no easy sound to pick up on throughout. Instead, it’s the voices of the members that lead the changes in the otherwise empty space of the song, and the dramatic change in vocals between parts leaves a lasting impression. Leading into the chorus, they sing, “Step on the pedal on the highway / Hit the cool ending / If my scar is a part of me / Then I’m not scared at all, at all,” showing off their most powerful vocals to lead the song to a climax, but by the time they reach the words “what you lookin’ at,” their voices become low, deep and emotionless—a turn for the cynical. The catharsis one usually finds from a climax is nowhere to be found. Instead, at the moment that would normally announce the coming climax, a single voice—the lowest in the whole song—sings out; then, the repetitive, catchy earworm, “What you lookin’ at,” lodges itself in the listener’s mind and finds it way back out through their mouth. This is when the idea of “I’m fearless” comes full circle. As the audience is “lookin’ at” the members dance to the repetitive rhythm, the song eventually moves on to the part where the listener hears the members sing, “I’m fearless.” By using others’ perceptions of the members to create repetitive lyrics, the group sublimates those perceptions into the form of a dance song that people in “the world” can sing along and dance to in the club. While “FEARLESS” is, for the singer—that is, the artist—the most efficient way to convey their message, it is also paradoxically a reconstruction of commercial music that you—the masses—can easily enjoy anywhere. Cynicism creeps in again during the bridge just before the last chorus with the words, “There is no more defeat / My payback is ready / Bring it to me right now.” But that cynical voice is finally met with the marching-like hook as they sing in high spirits through the chorus, confident that they will overcome.
The lyrics on FEARLESS are largely based on interviews held with the members of LE SSERAFIM, including CHAEWON SAKURA. Parts of the lyrics to “Blue Flame” were written by CHAEWON and YUNJIN, for example. CHAEWON and SAKURA, who have already had the world’s eyes on them for some time, have experiences that are a perfect encapsulation of the message of FEARLESS: that they will reach for their desires irrespective of the perceptions and judgment coming from the outside world. The meaning of the lyrics “What you lookin’ at” becomes clear when SAKURA sings it for the first time. When a short-haired CHAEWON next sings, “You should get away,” staring ahead with a mysterious smile, the position of LE SSERAFIM becomes that much clearer. In that respect, the personal histories of each LE SSERAFIM member, and their stance toward the outside world, come together to form one continuously expanding world of their own. The girl group sings a message that is knowingly filled with their own worldly experiences, creating a connection between itself, the way they sing, the tone of their vocals and the entire concept and tone of the album.
It speaks to the layout of the video, fully titled “FEARLESS TRAILER ‘The World Is My Oyster,’” which returns to the beginning of itself after reaching the end, even if this wasn’t the intention of the production crew. The CHAEWON at the end of the video looks the same as the CHAEWON at the beginning. However, she is now “fearless” inside as she experiences all-new things during the video. The same can be said for both her and SAKURA in their real lives. They are debuting once again, but because this isn’t their first time, what they will offer the world will differ from expectations. In the BLUE CHYPRE teaser photos, the members are in the water and bring to mind images of mermaids, playing on the theme of another of the album’s tracks, “The Great Mermaid.” But unlike the Little Mermaid in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Great Mermaid” isn’t living in fear of losing her voice; she screams out that she refuses to lose anything at all instead (“I don’t give a shit!”). LE SSERAFIM just debuted, but they are more than just a debuting girl group. Its members are restructuring the familiar elements of K-pop and girl groups and heading in a different direction. Even on “Sour Grapes,” the only track off the album that’s relatively light-hearted, the members betray hints of cynicism in their sweet voices as they worry about the sour taste of love that can bring them to tears. In the words of English novelist Mary Shelley, “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” But the importance of that quotation doesn’t stop at the word “fearless.” Only when fearlessness becomes one’s personal stance—the stance “I” hold onto—can one find the power to take on “the world.” The moment they send their fearless voice out into the world, they rewrite their own story.