SEVENTEEN Takes the World by Storm with K-Pop
The performance, music, and visuals of SEVENTEEN's new album, FML
Article. Kang Myungseok, Kim Doheon (Music Critic), Lee Jiyeon
Design. Jeon Yurim
Photo Credit. PLEDIS Entertainment
A Performance of soaring up into the sky as one single team
Kang Myungseok: Sun Wukong, who is the protagonist of the Chinese classic Journey to the West, has the power to make clones of himself. He blows away a few tufts of his hair, and clones as many as the number of his hairs appear to heed his orders. The performance of one of the two lead singles off of SEVENTEEN's new album, FML is like a reenactment of the Monkey King’s magical skills on stage. If the member in the middle performing his part is the real Sun Wukong, then the members and the large number of dancers in the mega crew are his clones, moving in unbelievable synchrony. When MINGYU sings “DARUMDARIMDA hop on our cloud and get all around” everyone else run consecutively as if they are one person, after which JEONGHAN sings, “Say say say Hero’s true colors like this” when all but five people vanish into thin air. During JUN’s “Sometimes the truth hurts” the relationship between the member in the spotlight and the rest of the crew becomes clear. While everyone else walks side to side doubled over, JUN is the only one walking with his back straight. Then when he waves his arms about, everyone else’s torso moves with them. This turns the lyrics to the chorus “Feels like I turned into SONOGONG” where everyone dances in unison into a guessing game: who is the real SONOGONG? Coincidentally, the performance to “Super” ends with only the members of SEVENTEEN on stage. When Sun Wukong is the only one that’s left when his cloning magic ends. Likewise, the real SEVENTEEN are all who remain on stage when the performance is over.
“Super” starts with WOOZI calling out “SEVENTEEN Right here” while he’s perched high up, after which WONWOO sings “I looked at the ground and kept going to the top.” To SEVENTEEN, “here” is the top. Interestingly enough, the best-known lyrics in “CHEERS” off of The Leaderz’s song in SEVENTEEN’s earlier album SECTOR 17, was “We build a building from our basement unit.” The Leaderz is the unit that WOOZI is a part of (S.COUPS, WOOZI, HOSHI). Just like Sun Wukong soared up to the sky from the ground, SEVENTEEN shot up to K-POP superstardom from their basement unit. The story of the Monkey King that SEVENTEEN illustrates draws a parallel with their journey so far. That’s probably why they say “we” instead of I in the lyrics: “so that we can proudly stand tall.” It’s no wonder they sing “luv my team, I love my crew.” Sun Wukong is the only real monkey out of all his clones. But for SEVENTEEN to move like one, every member must move for the sake of the team. Putting on a megacrew performance was a choice technique for creating a spectacular visual effect, but it’s also visual proof of how hard the members work for the team. This is a demonstration of their true selves who are hidden behind things like success, notoriety, and criticism. In FML’s first track “F*ck My Life,” which comes before “Super,” HOSHI sings, “When I was young and watched cartoons I wondered why I couldn’t be / The main character like I would see, my heart’s all too blackened.” But by the end of “Super,” WOOZI sings, “This is the cartoon’s credits song.” When SEVENTEEN is “Right here,” they can finally rid themselves of their black heart and become the protagonist of the show; more accurately, of the fantasy world that SEVENTEEN created for themselves. The performance of the “Super” starts off with the large background that is the megacrew. In the foreground where WOOZI looks down from his elevated position, are 20-some people lined up in rows of four through which WONWOO pushes to the front. Where WONWOO is is Sun Wukong’s summit - the sky - and the rows of people are the clouds he is shrouded in. WOOZI is somewhere even higher than the clouds - buildings in the heavens. WONWOO looks like he is moving through the clouds as he comes to the fore with the background to his rear. The song is arranged in a mystical tone as the members of SEVENTEEN use their bodies to create their own renditions of what looks like the opening sequence of The Journey to the West that perhaps would have been created with CGI if it was a movie. These K-pop artists illustrated their self-reflective story through a performance that is a reinterpretation of a classic. This is a monumental moment in which a K-pop performance broke through the boundaries of the genre, yet again. They finally flew up higher than the sky. And once again, they are giving it their all even when they slip up. They don’t know how to give up and they're running riot. They set their passion aflame throughout “this f***ing world” and up towards the sky, and still, they show us with all their might that they will stir up the sky. This is SEVENTEEN. They hold on together like they move in unison when one person waves his arm.
SEVENTEEN is the Best
Kim Do-heon (pop music critic): This f***ing world. There’s nothing left. The passion that could seemingly send the world in flames, crying, “Light the flame towards the sun (“HOT”)”; the diligence to keep going as I put on a smile, bore down, and shouted “fighting.” They're all gone now. All that’s left to do is for me to swear, seeing myself half the person I used to be, staggering about to the backdrop of a bleak, gray landscape.
HYBE label boy groups expressed the particular period of getting hurt and struggling to hold back tears in the world of adults, though the specific circumstances may be different. BTS’ 2017 song “Spring Day” was about dreaming of a tomorrow when they would blossom in a lonesome winter world. TOMORROW X TOGETHER graduated from their teen years in 2021 only to run into an icy wall of reality and froze up themselves in “0X1=Lovesong” and “Loser=Lover.” It looks like FML is concocted with the same formula at a glance, with similar dark nuances. Yet, SEVENTEEN's self-hate isn’t the kind of confusion felt by people who are adults only by law. They already endured through that with jaws taut and blinking back tears. “F*ck My Life” is about an adult straight out of his sandbox of being a student and finding himself thrown in the middle of a society where only the fittest survive. He is forced to find his own way through the thick forest of desolate buildings. His heart became calloused from the mundane repetition but then broke down from the meaninglessness of it all. An idol group with nine years under their belts, who came this far having worked tirelessly with their feet firmly planted in reality, crying, “F*** this world” has a megaton of impact. The level of empathy is on another level. The resilience of people who absolutely paid their dues is bulletproof.
What they question in the lyrics: “When I was young and watched cartoons I wondered why I couldn’t be the main character” is fulfilled in one of their double lead sing “Super.” Sun Wukong in The Journey to the West is born as a sacred being. He ruled over the Huaguo Mountain and the world. He is a hero who sets out on a journey of taoism after experiencing hardships. SEVENTEEN who threw off their stuffy suits they wore in “F*ck My Life” to the energetic and rhythmic chant are reborn as cartoon superheroes who everyone dreams of becoming. The key here is that they’re not alone. Just like Sun Wukong who completed his journey with Tang Sanzang, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing, SEVENTEEN came this far with the power of brotherly love for one another. They completed an epic narrative with just two songs.
FML’s realistic theme and smooth progression of the plot is fully supported by the sophisticated music. SEVENTEEN's units that have proved themselves time and again in the K-pop scene as an excellent production team, along with the collaboration between WOOZI and BUMZU made their latest album their best one yet. The melody that is perfect for singing along, which weaves through the retro hip-hop beat of “F*ck My Life” is a refreshing hymn for those moments you feel down in the dumps. “Super” leans into its Jersey club vibe which makes the song incredibly charming. Jersey club became popularized for its softer feel, but it was originally party music that could whip up a riot. It’s fast and aggressive with the hard kick drums relentlessly beating at your eardrums all the while unique samplings underlie it all. This is perfect for SEVENTEEN’s world of music that is further enhanced with their performance, which is famous for its constant energetic movements. “Fire” is arguably the best Afrobeat K-pop song. S.COUPS, WONWOO, MINGYU and VERNON’s Hip-hop Unit accurately captured the essence of Afrobeat: the primitive rhythms that get you moving, the unique interjections, and the distinct tone used by the artists of African descent. They nailed both the mood and the details. The dreamy alternative R&B number, “I Don’t Understand but I Luv U”; “Dust” with its perfect 1980s synth pop feel; “April Shower” that ends the album on a bright refreshing note after the unique and strong and unique package that the message of positivity was contained in - all of it is flawless.
Let’s give “F*ck My Live” a listen. The swear words uttered by the people who endured through intense reality is an expression of their ineffable sorrows and their will to overcome them still. That’s right. The world is indeed a terrible place. But that's all the more reason for change. We have to survive till the very end and climb to the top even if we get exhausted and hurt along the way. That’s the privilege that is had by youth, and the beauty of those who challenge themselves. They even have colleagues with whom they share unbreakable bonds with. SEVENTEEN learned from their experiences and united as one. They are strong.
To everyone living in this f*cking world.
Lee Jiyeon: FML. Three versions of SEVENTEEN’s official photos that have the same initials with their 10th mini album FML comprehensively illustrate the narrative of this album. Each version - “Fallen, Misfit, Lost,” “Faded Mono Life,” and “Fight for My Life” - reflects SEVENTEEN's attitude towards their lives. Their desire to not “wanna be an embarrassment tomorrow for the me I knew yesterday” even in “this f***ing world” in their first track “F*ck My Life” makes us take a clear look at ourselves and to face our inner selves just like the close-up shots of members’ faces, with no props, reflected in the water with looks of deep self-reflection in the “Fallen, Misfit, Lost” version. Sometimes our inner selves are clear to us, as if looking into the mirror. At others, we don’t stop looking back on ourselves, even if who we are isn’t clearly visible in the rippling water. No matter if we fall (Fallen) or get lost (Lost) in the gap between reality and our ideals. Their cries of wanting to “find myself” are cries to themselves and a message to the people who are leading their lives in “this f***ing world.” In the “Faded Mono Life” version, the members are dressed in suits, seemingly working in a place that is reminiscent of an office. This image expands their message to people who work as hard as possible, in their own walks of life, even now, in this very moment. As they lead their lives, they “get(ting) so tired,” “so numb to this life” at times because they feel: “I’m so sick of it all now, just wanna give up” (“F*ck My Life”). But as we can see in their last version, “Fight for My Life”, they now “just wanna find myself” even if “they're (we're) so used to feeling numb in this world,” and face the world head on after climbing into the ring that represents the intense place that is where we live. Now standing in the ring that bears SEVENTEEN's logo that symbolizes their team, the members have their gloves on and get ready to “Fight for My Life.” “My team” and “my crew” are their rocks just like the lyrics that says, “17 got my life back for 12 years.”
FML is SEVENTEEN’s life itself. Even though they’re on their ninth year of debut, they are a team that chooses to constantly challenge themselves with something new, which is reflected in what WOOZI said: “SEVENTEEN will challenge ourselves to something new again.” They chose “F*ck My Life” and “Super” - which are stylistically polar opposites - as their first double lead single since their debut album. They fully understand the risks that are involved in choosing this particular title, confessing that, “it’s a title that gets people excited for the song and we are aware of the risk that follows, but nonetheless” they chose it anyway “to come back with an album that is as refined as possible.” Like S.COUPS said, they prepared the album as if “they (we) were trainees,” putting their heart and soul into it as always. The narrative starts with the first track “F*ck My Life” and finishes with their 6th track “April Shower.” As their story unfolds, their message goes beyond the songs and visual concepts to finally take its complete form once SEVENTEEN's story comes alive in their songs. This is the power of a team whose albums were about their lives. They still have the strong will to talk about their lives yet again as they wait for the “blossoms that bloom in May” in this “f***ing world.” And just like that, SEVENTEEN reflects their own stories in their albums for that added candid touch and expands it to a ubiquitous story. They embrace all the people who were living and fighting in “this f***ing world” as the agents, which is expressed in the calm narration in their trailer, “F*ck My Life : Life in a minute” as if to console their audience. “You’re not allowed to be happy in this f***ing world. But you deserve to be happy. So, fight for your life.”
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