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seven years later, K-pop stars are determined not to fade away

seven years later, K-pop stars are determined not to fade away

There is no place on Earth where sunlight does not hit at least once a day, noted SEVENTEEN member Mingyu at a press conference before the release of the band’s fourth studio album ‘Face the Sun’. This, the rapper explained, is the level of influence K-pop supernovas SEVENTEEN have in sight.

Burning this brilliance is no small feat, but the band has never been closer. Just last week, they celebrated their seventh anniversary as a full 13-member group (itself patchy in the K-pop landscape) by crossing over two million pre-orders for “Face the Sun,” quadrupling the number of their previous LPs.

With global reach at hand, it only made sense to usher in a new era with an English-language single, ready to bring Western listeners into the fold. In April, this pre-release single has arrived: ‘Darl+ing’, a syrupy love song that also serves as a message to fans. It was a bit too muted to strike a chord; there’s a moment near the end of the song where the electric guitars rev up, signaling a shift into high gear – then they stall, burn out.

But while “Darl+ing” is anti-climactic, follow-up “Hot” is jam-packed with layers of western guitar riffs, bass, drums, and polarizing electronic chirps reminiscent of a car alarm. AutoTune truncates lines; others are too repetitive (“Yeah, I’m running too hot, hot, hot, hot” goes the chorus). The 8th beatboxes briefly. In this case, it is better to have too many ideas than too few, but there are moments of lucidity – say, Hoshi rush full speed into this post-chorus or jeonghan‘s tricky bridge – which highlight the track’s wasted potential.

However, the list of B-sides far eclipses the singles. The first two play on adventurer archetypes, a choice woozi said to be an intentional nod to the project’s aspirations for growth and experimentation. They roam the city at dawn “like a cowboy” on the mighty rock-tinged “March,” later taking on the role of the Spanish knight-errant in the anthem “Don Quixote,” riding into the sunset and brushing aside opponents. Yet here, an uncertainty rumbles beneath the surface as the verses chafe between swollen-chested bravado and declarations of inner angst. “I know myself,” Wonwoo anything but screams. “I was born out of fear.” The cracks show, even if the determination ends up prevailing: “In My Boiling Heart / Ice and Motivation.”

Because if the sun produces light, it also casts shadows. Warm and melancholy in equal measure, “Shadow” sees them embrace their dark side with tender lyricity. “Oh, now I know you’re part of me / I don’t want to hide, I want to hold your hand” Seungkwan belts with conviction, forward DK keep on going: “Even my darkness will shine brightly.” Stripped-down guitar and shimmering chimes wedge between 80s-style synths and manic breakbeats, a euphoric push and pull. The springy, funky “Domino” slips just as well into its anti-drop chorus – one of co-composer Woozi’s trademarks.

Fingerprints of Woozi’s production style can be found elsewhere as well. ”Bout You’ throbs on organ chords like an anxious spirit – or, a heartbeat sent full speed. “Boom boom boom boom” Dino sings. “For me, it’s like the alphabet or the numbers, HIJK LOVE.” Onomatopoeic pew pews and staccato raps hark back to the band’s earlier works, expressing young love in restless metaphors – the song would fit perfectly into SEVENTEEN’s 2018 mini albums “You Make My Day”, one of their absolute best – as gospel soars the song to new heights.

Closing the album is ‘Ash’, a banger trap with heavy vocal treatment in the style of the group’s previous hip-hop unit cuts: the AutoTune on ‘Chili’ and the droning sirens of ‘Back It. Up’ come to mind. Here, however, all thirteen members feature on the track, allowing even the band’s vocalists to develop their rapping skills. Evoking the image of a phoenix shedding its past (“Born in Fire Then I Fly Away” raps Vernon), “Ash” is the antidote to fears of complacency, pushing beyond their comfort zone. Gone are the days of following in the footsteps of others. “That desert star that shone every night,” comes Joshua’s digital chirp on deck. “Now it’s my turn to become one.”

Now entering their eighth year, the interest shown by SEVENTEEN is veering off the beaten track. This close to the stratosphere “pop star” (also cringe they might find this notion), stagnation is not an option. “New Things, New Form” they buzz on ‘Ash’. ‘Hot’ explodes into new territory with its cheeky sensuality – but, as the familiar yet sublimely inventive B-sides of ‘Face the Sun’ prove, SEVENTEEN needn’t start from scratch.

Details

  • Release date: May 31st
  • Record company: Pledis Entertainment / HYBE


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