SeventeenVerse of Madness
Myungseok Kang: In the K-pop universe, where the proliferation of fictional worlds threatens to bring about an incursion (in Marvel multiverse theory, a collision between different universes), SEVENTEEN had a fictional world that appeared to exist under no such threat. The reason being that SEVENTEEN and their world are one and the same. The structure of the group—13 members making up three units (hip hop, vocal and performance) to form one team—in conjunction with their history of producing their own music, performances, variety shows and even magazines, is a recurring theme in their albums. One good example can be found on their second studio album, TEEN, AGE, or more specifically, the music video for one of its songs, “CLAP,” which revolves around the concept of a video being entirely produced by SEVENTEEN.
Face the Sun, SEVENTEEN’s fourth studio album, brings their world under incursion with one they’ve never visited before. Their music video for “HOT,” the album’s lead single, is bursting at the seams with images right out of a virtual reality. The members become a gang of biker cowboys reminiscent of the Mad Max movies. There is also a particularly symbolic shot where JEONGHAN, known to the group’s fandom, CARAT, as Angel, moves with one of his machine-made wings dragging across the ground. The music video reinterprets the real-world images that the members of SEVENTEEN have into extreme visual concepts. This can also be seen in the I’m NOT SEVENTEEN anymore teaser videos that hint at fracturing relations within or a total breakup of the group, which were released in conjunction with 13 Inner Shadows, the series of teaser trailers for Face the Sun spotlighting each member individually and which places the group members in surreal situations. Face the Sun places the real SEVENTEEN in surreal, extreme situations with symbolism revolving around the sun and shadows.
It’s doubtful a coincidence that the tracks on Face the Sun mix different genres and push them to their extremes. “Domino” starts off as a bubblegum pop song that takes a sudden turn for EDM in the chorus; “Shadow” is drum and bass at the beginning, then progressively turns to rock. There are also times, as in the pop ballad “IF you leave me,” when the members’ vocal harmonies dominate the entire song over a lone piano. And the song after that, “Ash,” adds effects on all their vocals. But, just like “HOT” mixes Latin rhythm and hip hop in a reflection of today’s pop trends, most of the songs off Face the Sun follow the fundamental K-pop approach of combining various contemporary music trends from around the world. In the same way that WONWOO, who wears glasses in real life, breaks a pair under his foot in the “HOT” music video, SEVENTEEN uses K-pop concepts and writing styles in order to expand their own world: At the heart of “DON QUIXOTE” is a refreshing pop melody that’s distinctly SEVENTEEN; the sudden turn heard in “Domino,” likewise, only serves to further emphasize the poppy appeal of the chorus. As MINGYU’s passionate vocals that accompany the switch to rock in the first chorus of “Shadow” show, SEVENTEEN now knows how to play with the idea of not looking back even more so than they did in “Adore U.” The group is as invigorating as ever—but this time, they’re through invigorating pop music.
The album may appear to document the process of how SEVENTEEN is reckoning with facing madness and perhaps even division as they face the sun. But what the group truly gains from this is the expansion of their world all the way out as far as the sun. The true story of Face the Sun is rather perhaps about SEVENTEEN’s realm coming into contact with and expanding into the rest of the K-pop world and the energy radiating out as a result. Three consecutive songs—“HOT,” “DON QUIXOTE” and “March”—almost act like one extended single for the album: the challenge in “HOT” (“face the sun, set it on fire”), the willpower in “DON QUIXOTE” (“I’m not intimidated”) and the wait for the most vigorous, most inciting moment in SEVENTEEN’s history in “March” (“Let’s roll vigorously / This song is a march”). Face the Sun is less a one-off album concept and more a reflection of the group’s current attitude. SEVENTEEN is ready to move onto a new world, drawing in aspects from outside themselves that they haven’t had much of a chance to tackle yet—a world, perhaps, teeming with more material for TEAM SVT.
SEVENTEEN unfurls their own story
Yejin Lee: “We’ll rise high all of a sudden and become the sun” (“HOT”); “We’ll be the best in the world / I’m taking whatever I want” (“March”): These words, despite feeling like a pure, transparently one-dimensional expression of ambition, are not those of a high-spirited, fledgling idol group, but one moving into their eighth year together with their success already assured. Indeed, this is the first time SEVENTEEN has made such an explicit declaration to press forward as a team without fear. With themes like the indefinable energy of boyhood, the growing pains that accompany budding emotions, empathy and support for all youth and views on maturing love, SEVENTEEN has made their group history and phases of growth plain for all listeners to understand. Now, the group has put an extremely SEVENTEEN-centric message front and center for their fourth studio album, Face the Sun. This is likely also why every track features all 13 members of the group; none of them are unit songs. In “HOT,” the lead single, the members of SEVENTEEN embody the sense of someone who would “face the sun, set it on fire,” whipping their arms around vigorously and emitting an energy like you might expect to see at a massive ritualistic ceremony, and the triumphant music that all wraps together to form the packed melody and its swelling determination in “March” make it the march for pioneering cowboys that it is. As though recognizing their own exaggerated attitude, they then compare themselves to the well-known title character in “DON QUIXOTE,” a man in search of a glorious adventure but who was looked down upon as an eccentric, singing, “I say it doesn’t matter if people shun me, I don’t mind being crazy.” By expressing grave determination and serious emotions in such an outright manner throughout the entire album, self-producing idols SEVENTEEN have made a mirror image of their current selves.
But even though the group has gained so much recognition as entertainers that they even recently collaborated with the popular web series MMTG, they can still express their inner emotions without resorting to humor—because they’re SEVENTEEN. And SEVENTEEN’s music has always been like that. The music in each of their new releases reflects the passion and energy that arises from the chemistry between all the distinct personalities within the group and the strong relationships between members—energy that finds new life in the music of each promotional period. Promotional content released in the lead-up to this album, including the 13 Inner Shadows trailers and official photos that organically tell the group’s story, shows the background behind the process that led them to their lead single, “HOT.” But, more than the metaphors or dense plot, what infuses SEVENTEEN’s story with so much persuasive power is the narrative that SEVENTEEN and CARAT have constructed through their time together. Behind the self-confidence and determination in the songs that make SEVENTEEN seem like they don’t have a single fear in the world are some of the group’s softest, most vulnerable moments (“Domino,” “Shadow,” “’bout you,” “IF you leave me”). Face the Sun concludes with a resolution to head to a new world (“Ash”); in that sense, the whole album could be said to be a declaration of a new start as TEAM SVT, by pulling CARAT within their reaches—their fandom, who they describe in their songs as both their Achilles heel and their whole reason for existing. As always, only SEVENTEEN can tell their own story, and this album finds them doing so while on a new journey.
The road lit by brilliant shadows
Bom Choi: The promotional period for the release of SEVENTEEN’s fourth studio album, Face the Sun, tells the grand saga of a group who escapes isolation and joins together in solidarity as they look to the sun—all told through releases beginning with “SEVENTEEN NEW RINGS CEREMONY: The Sun Rises,” “Darl+ing,” the 13 Inner Shadows trailers and finally the album itself. The story starts in “The Sun Rises” with a depiction of the course SEVENTEEN has been on so far, as they announce they “will now break free from the shadows that shackled us and soar towards the sun.” Then, in the “Darl+ing” music video, shadows emerge whenever the members look anywhere, as when they take off a blindfold or face themselves in the mirror. In the individual videos of the 13 Inner Shadows series, shadows represent each member’s frustrations and fear of isolation, but an image with 13 connected points—one for each member—shows how each of their stories is connected. The connections between those points also form the shape of a sun—a perfect echo of the album title.
The shadow that permeates the album is a symbol representing the fear of isolation. In the 13 Inner Shadows videos, the group members lose their sense of belonging, saying, “I’m NOT SEVENTEEN anymore”; following on that, they look pale in the ep.2 Shadow concept photos, as though they were trapped in darkness for an extended period of time, and the fact that it’s the only run of concept photos without any group shots emphasizes the sense of isolation. The fear of being alone pervades “IF you leave me,” too: “This dark shadow veiled night,” the speaker cautiously describes a hypothetical “IF”—emphasized in the title with in capital letters: the fear of ever having to be alone, through lyrics like, “I want no more tomorrows without you,” “Brief moments spent apart / Throw my heart into a turmoil,” and, “My broken (heart) / So my time (my world) moves once again.”
SEVENTEEN understands the shadows, however, and the members reach out to one another to be together. After “the past where I forgot how we look the same / and denied it all the way” in “Shadow” and recognizing the shadow as another version of themselves (“now I know you are part of me”), it becomes a presence they can “take every step together” and coexist with. While singing, “Shadow cast with my back to the sun turns to light again,” in the lead single, “HOT,” the choreography is reminiscent of someone moving with their own shadow: JUN imitates WOOZI’s moves like a shadow, and the two hold one another’s hands as they walk and WOOZI picks JUN up from the ground. This also seems to have something of a connection to some of the lyrics in “Shadow,” namely, “even my darkness will end up shining bright”—a fun nod to the potential for it to be a prequel to “HOT.”
The story of the sun begins with a shadow, just as Face the Sun, where the group looks back on personal fears before finding their way forward, tracks a trajectory from dark to light and from past to future. In that sense, the path to the sun transcends the distinction between “you and me,” tracking the metamorphosis into “us.” Unlike the dead end of going head to head, seeing eye to eye leads to acknowledgement and understanding, paving the way for infinite possibilities. And it’s here, on a road that “will never end,” that we see SEVENTEEN standing and reaching a hand out—asking us to sing together in “HOT” (“everybody join in”) and march together in “March” (“Let’s roll vigorously / This song is a march”) as we face the sun; it’s here where SEVENTEEN’s story of division, fear and solidarity gives a relatable, universal sense of strength in 2022.
Unauthorized reproduction and distribution prohibited.