Article. Kang Myungseok, Oh Minji, Na Wonyoung (Music Critic)
Design. Jeon Yurim
Photo Credit. PLEDIS Entertainment

Decision to Rise

Myungseok Kang: SEVENTEEN’s repackaged album, SECTOR 17, adds four new tracks to their fourth studio album, Face the Sun. It deserves a listen two times through. SEVENTEEN chose to “build an ark” for the “me of tomorrow” and “move onto that world” in “Ash,” the last track on Face the Sun, and that idea is connected to the first line of “Circles,” the very first song on SECTOR 17: “What am I wandering for? What am I looking for?” But then there are the first lines they sing in the second track, “_WORLD”: “Hey, I’ve had my eyes on you / We just met but it’s been fun, I wanna know more.” “Circles” is the start of SECTOR 17, but also the end of Face the Sun; in that sense, “_WORLD” introduces the speaker meeting the person they address for the first time while also restarting the entire story. Coincidentally, “_WORLD” describes an encounter with someone as “like a déjà vu of heaven,” and “Circles” contains the lyric, “It’ll be okay / It’ll spin like a clock’s needle and come back to its place.”


The listener can put any word in front of the title “_WORLD” thanks to the underscore. This property that allows the song to be amended by anyone who listens means that “_WORLD” exists as a tremendous number of different worlds—as many as there are listeners. The speaker in the song, who lives repeatedly across the countless worlds, is aware of a future where “you’ll take my hand.” From this perspective, the line, “Come into my world,” is not simply describing the excitement around meeting someone for the first time; the speaker confesses he “can give you everything you want / Down to your darkest sides.” As the speaker “circles” back from the future and into the past, “come into my world” could be interpreted as an impassioned plea for the two of them to be together, even though he knows how the future plays out. After this confession, the time is coming when the speaker must “bear everything and live only for you” like in this new Korean version of “Fallin’ Flower.”


Even though SEVENTEEN only exists in one world and in this one life, the group has practically already seen the future. Seven years is plenty of time for an artist to know that the bigger they come, the harder they fall, and that more love could easily lead to more fallout. That’s why, even though “_WORLD” is about a first encounter, it can’t lean exclusively into upbeat energy the way their debut single, “Adore U,” did. The line in the latter part of the chorus to “_WORLD” that goes, “Come to me in my in my in my new world,” takes a tonal step downward and adds a perceptible dash of sorrow. “Fallin’ Flower,” meanwhile, opens with a rapid EDM beat and flies forward with equally exhilarating rapping. At the song’s peak, however, everything is suddenly swept away and the mood drops sharply as they sing, “flutter and fall.” These three songs, then, form an arc of melody and energy, from the calm piano of “Circles” and then rising through “_WORLD” and “Fallin’ Flower.” The melody in “_WORLD” already betrays a hint of sadness, and by the time the energy peaks, the whole narrative takes a steep fall.


Nevertheless, the music video for “CHEERS,” a showcase for the hip hop, performance and vocal unit leaders S.COUPS, HOSHI and WOOZI, opens with the camera descending upon them. As the perspective shifts from the sky to the ground, S.COUPS performs on a raised platform, reflecting his ambition to rise up. For SEVENTEEN, who sings, “We build a building from our basement unit,” their fall would take them not just to the ground but even deeper beneath it. Lyrics like, “Too many mouths, what do we do for food, I wondered,” are replies to the sarcastic comments they really heard before their debut. They were trainees with a label that wasn’t particularly big; during a monthly evaluation ahead of their debut, the group had to create their own effects by flicking the lights in the basement practice studio on and off by themselves during their own performance. Seven years later, the same group sold more than two million copies of their fourth studio album in the first week alone and have an upcoming world tour in the wings, including plans to play stadiums in Japan. The matching rings they have worn since their debut have become fancier over time, taking the status of a group symbol, and are featured as a highlight at the very end of the “CHEERS” music video. The SEVENTEEN we see now is that one-in-14,000,605 future come true. With their first repackaged studio album, released after resigning with the label, the group revisits the past, says “cheers” to their present success and looks forward to the future. As SEVENTEEN aspires to reach the pinnacle of SECTOR 17, an unknown place somewhere below the sky but above the underground, the four new songs—including the new Korean version of “Fallin’ Flower,” which gains new meaning in SECTOR 17—bring Face the Sun full circle and allow listeners to speculate on the train of thought behind the group’s decision to rise up to the unknown. This long journey may see certain types of moments repeated—maybe they’ll rush in foolishly again, like they do in “DON QUIXOTE,” or they might lose their way, like in “Circles.” But, again, nevertheless, there is only one way to keep the promise that they make in “Circles” (“Remember that we’re always together / I won’t let go of your unchanging hands”): through their determination to keep on rising closer to the sun.

Flowers blooming on an unknown summit

Minji Oh: In the “HOT” music video, the lead single off SEVENTEEN’s fourth album, Face the Sun, JEONGHAN, broken wings in hand, climbs up higher still, singing, “Sun atop the deep ocean,” in a moment that is reminiscent of Icarus’ wings, which themselves symbolize the limits of humanity and its yearning for the unknown. However, SEVENTEEN’s wings are not a symbol of limitations but of achievement. Unlike the lone Icarus, who flies higher and higher to try and obtain the sun but eventually falls deep into the sea, JEONGHAN can face the sun because he knows he is heading forward “flanked by 12 guys” and has TEAM SVT to support him when he fears he might fall (“CHEERS”). In that way, the repackaged album SECTOR 17 is the new world that SEVENTEEN finally reaches together after they “build an ark and move onto that world” (“Ash”).


The climb in SECTOR 17 to the titular summit (sector here means a mountain peak exceeding 8,000 m in altitude) reflects the group’s seven-year journey, with the fictional SECTOR 17 reaching higher than any of the other 16  and therefore standing closest to the sun. In their NEW HEIGHTS photos, where they’re climbing to SECTOR 17, the group members have to wear white clothing to keep from being detected by enemies in the snowy mountain and are armed with goggles, gloves and trekking poles in anticipation of snowstorms and the rough terrain. Ice from the blizzard begins to cover their faces and whether because of the darkness or the blinding snow all around them, they wonder, “What am I wandering for? What am I looking for?” (“Circles”). This challenging situation could be inspired by SEVENTEEN’s debut and all the longing they felt for an adventure into the unknown and all the meandering and conflict they faced, or even the way they were criticized and ridiculed under false expressions of concern (as they recall in “CHEERS”: “too many mouths, what do we do for food?”).


But this moment won’t last forever. Only after enduring all this—finding the hope needed to face a new beginning in “Fallin’ Flower” (“As the flowers bloom and wither, my wounds heal and you bloom”) and realizing that sorrow and pain will all pass away and they can become happy again in “Circles” (“It’ll be okay / It’ll spin like a clock’s needle and come back to its place”)—is the real NEW BEGINNING possible. This is “déjà vu of heaven”: a “_WORLD” “where there is no sadness,” where you don’t have to camouflage yourself and can dress yourself with any color you want, all the while laughing, playing or lying back in leisure. At the same time, now that all the members of SEVENTEEN have climbed up to SECTOR 17 with the same goals together, this “_WORLD” is a place where they “don’t know how high we’ll rise” (“CHEERS”) and can set new goals that go even beyond their career high of selling 2.06 million copies of the album Face the Sun after all 13 members resigned with their label.


SECTOR 17 is, therefore, rooted in the group’s own experiences and is their way of comforting everyone who dreams of hope in a hopeless world or happiness in painful times, and is also an invitation to TEAM SVT. Here we can see how SEVENTEEN believes that a “beautiful flower can bloom” even after a period of beauty has come and gone (“Fallin’ Flower”) and tells people who thought they could never dream of happiness after a long lifetime of emotional wounds to “come into my world” because they will welcome you with open arms “down to your darkest sides” (“_WORLD”).

The party must go on

Wonyoung Na (pop music critic): After wrapping up the 2010s in the neat package An Ode, SEVENTEEN put a bow on everything they had been through over the two years that followed in Face the Sun. By then, SEVENTEEN had perfected their approach of putting the whole group, individual parts and individual members to good use such as through sharing roles, and this allowed them to present a unified image where SEVENTEEN is represented as a single unit. The album includes tracks that mostly lean toward rock-flavored sounds, rhythms and compositions, including samples of acoustic guitar and simple but solid 4/4 beats like those heard on last year’s EPs (with the exception of “Domino,” which sounds more like the group’s house songs from the 2010s, and some tracks with foregrounded vocals), and the overall effect of putting these all together on one album is a sense of unity. They accomplish this much like they are setting a common goal for the group: the sun, an “object of resistance or something to overcome in their fictional universe” (Mano, “Monthly: May 2022 – Album,” Idology), as the title of the album implies.


SECTOR 17 opens with the ballad “Circles,” enriched by choir vocals, and starts with this poignant lyric: “It’ll be okay / It’ll spin like a clock’s needle and come back to its place” (MINGYU, THE 8), encompassing the shared goal behind Face the Sun with love songs. “_WORLD” takes a page out of the “VERY NICE” book—a well-known SEVENTEEN track by any measure, and one the group wears as a badge of honor—and adapts it into the restrained rhythm of its highly polished disco pop six years after the fact. Rather than flowing out in a refreshing stream, the brass section is there to add flourish to the background rhythm, and the singing and rapping transition between one another more like a leisurely train ride than the ups and downs of a thrilling rollercoaster. Then there’s “Fallin’ Flower,” which has been rerecorded in Korean here, which leaves rock behind for EDM’s alluring drop while still emphasizing the acoustic guitar at the same time, creating a sense of speed more in line with the Face the Sun tracks than the other new ones.


The album conveys a sense of eternity (“Give me your forever, more taste of this bliss”; S.COUPS, “_WORLD”) and the here and now (“We are living the present which is the first and last”; VERNON, “Fallin’ Flower”), and overlaps these with one of continuity found in the seemingly endlessly repeated melody in the chorus of “Circles,” the chorus’ melody and short, repeated disco phrase in “_WORLD” that, like in “VERY NICE,” extends the final moments of a date infinitely (and itself grows longer during live performances), and the production style in “Fallin’ Flower” that emphasizes the regularity of its rhythm. To restate, while the fourth studio album is about facing the sun—a star burning eternal, at least as far as humankind is concerned—SEVENTEEN’s sector 17, as seen in the repackaged album, is quite similar to the sun as well: a way to imagine time and space as it keeps moving back and forth in the “first and last” present. And, with the members not divided up between unit or solo songs but rather acting as a single entity separately and together, SECTOR 17 is a complete package, serving as yet another kind of unit that maintains its own internal consistency and sense of endless eternity.


Naturally, music has always played the role of maintaining permanence, but in order for that to apply to sector 17 as well, the music, musicians and also you, the listener (and, as the album is a collection of love songs and therefore, plausibly, fan songs, the listener here might be assumed to be a fan) must be present. When these conditions are met, SECTOR 17 flies off into space to face the sun and the leaders representing each unit gather as though for a celebratory dinner to mark the launch. In an exciting autotuned trap rap on top of a giant piano, S.COUPS flows with the “freaky” beat with no kick or snare drums while HOSHI raps about his love of songs with 808 bass lines at 160 BPM. It all feels like a love letter honoring the music itself. Finally, WOOZI makes a toast in “CHEERS,” shouting out, “I don’t know how high we’ll rise / Everybody raise your hands up to the sky,” and the endless party thrown by SEVENTEEN and their listeners in this spaceship called SECTOR 17 careens along to the song. The party must go on.