SEVENTEEN look back on their “unforgettable” 2021: “It made us reflect upon how we’ve been taking things for granted”

2021 was a banner year for the K-pop boyband. The 13-piece discuss with NME the milestones they’ve achieved so far and what else lies ahead in their promising future. Words: Carmen Chin

If there is only one thing to know about SEVENTEEN, it’s that they aren’t afraid of change – instead, they strive to embrace it. The evolution of their musicality has been symptomatic of the members’ own personal pursuits of selfhood as blossoming young adults, and the K-pop boyband’s open-minded approach towards an uncertain future sits at the very core of what has made the past year so “grand and unforgettable”, as Jun describes to NME.

For SEVENTEEN, 2021 was all about growth and continuing to forge ahead as musicians. This single ambition shared by all 13 members gave life to what the group dubbed the ‘Power Of Love’ project at the very start of the year, which set the stage for a new era of transformation through two mini-albums (‘Your Choice’ and ‘Attacca’), a couple of solo endeavours and brand-new unit projects.

If it wasn’t clear before 2021 that SEVENTEEN no longer defined themselves as the same boyish teenagers of their early days, the ‘Power Of Love’ has gone a long way to shake off that image. “The changes in our persona were a reflection of the natural, organic course of change we have been through, with our latest releases closely mirroring where we are today,” Wonwoo says of the group’s authenticity, which is channelled best through their music. Yet, he also notes that their current “style, sound and image” are not things that they “consider permanent”.

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For ‘Your Choice’ specifically, we were focused on the ideas of respect, choices and individuality,” Vernon chimes in, outlining the themes SEVENTEEN had built their two most recent mini-albums around. “With ‘Attacca’, the tremendous power of love and what it pushes us to do were what we wanted to highlight.”

Despite the different expressions of love on the two releases, both mini-albums shared the same secret ingredient that allowed SEVENTEEN and their melodies to resonate so deeply with many: sincerity.

“I think we develop strong personal ties to what we create,” Seungkwan shares. “The great affection we have for our music and performances lead us to wanting all the best things for [what we create],” he adds, also suggesting that the “wholeheartedness” the group so earnestly infuse their music with is what has allowed them to resonate with so many across the globe.

2021 was also a year of introspection for the boyband, with Mingyu calling it a “wake-up call”, following their online concert ‘IN-COMPLETE’. “[It] made us reflect upon how we’ve been taking things like being able to meet with our fans for granted,” he added, noting how the group “pulled themselves together” after their ‘Power Of Love’ concert, held later in the year.

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“We poured our hearts into the show, in hopes of letting our fans watching from home know how dearly we miss them,” he added. The volatile nature of COVID-19, as many of us are familiar with, had thrown a wrench in their plans for some semblance of normalcy – both shows were planned to be in-person and a homecoming of sorts as well. “It wasn’t easy for us to take in at first,” Mingyu admits, but the band eventually found solace by taking things one step at a time.

SEVENTEEN would finally have the chance to come face-to-face with an actual moshpit of fans at the ‘2022 Weverse Con’ earlier this month, where they shared the stage with other HYBE K-pop acts, including fromis_9, Tomorrow X Together, ENHYPEN and many others. It was a “glimpse”, as Dino describes it, of their return to a booming crowd, albeit toned down from what they were previously used to.

“There still were restrictions in place, but the level of energy in the concert hall was overwhelming,” he reminisces, adding that the group wants nothing more than to witness a sea of LED lights in Pantone shades of Rose Quartz and Serenity once again.

The 13-piece are, beyond shadow of a doubt, prepared for that fateful encounter, whenever that may finally happen again. “There will be a lot of conversations, so many stories to tell and the very best of our performances,” vows DK.

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SEVENTEEN. Credit: Pledis Entertainment

As they bid 2021 farewell, SEVENTEEN are ready to usher in a new year rife with potential for creation and expression, no holds barred. “There is an extensive range of creative expressions and interpretations SEVENTEEN can bring to the table,” Joshua says. “The spectrum of characters and creativity within our 13-member team allows us to delve into ideas in greater depth than others.”

The group are constantly looking to push the envelope on who they are and what they can produce, but sitting at the very centre of their modus operandi as a team is an insatiable hunger for reinvention. “We are always in an ongoing process of improving, and returning the love we receive so much of,” states Jeonghan, whose sentiments are echoed by Jun, who adds that the group’s seemingly never-ending pursuit of improvement stems from an unwavering intent to present “new sides” to their fans.

True to their word, SEVENTEEN rang in 2022 with a bang. Their main producer and songwriter Woozi made his first foray into solo music with ‘Ruby’, a pop-rock celebration of the idol’s newfound bad-boy persona. As effortless as he might have made the release seem, Woozi reveals he had his fair share of hitches in the process of polishing his craft to reflect more of himself, rather than a group of 13.

“It took time to figure out an identity and personality for the song that best represents who I am in all facets,” he says. After penning and producing much of SEVENTEEN’s discography for so long now – he’s been heavily involved in every single record since their debut mini-album ‘17 Carat’ – the artist says he struggled to pinpoint where SEVENTEEN’s Woozi ended and soloist Woozi began.

“The fact that I was writing a song for myself to sing on my own also made it difficult to objectively judge where it should be headed,” he adds. But when ‘Ruby’ started to take shape, there came a sense of liberation: “It felt like I had broken another barrier. I think I’ve come to really appreciate that gratifying feeling of a breakthrough, of discovering my own, new potentials in songwriting.”

Woozi is not the first nor will he be the last member of SEVENTEEN to make their mark with solo music – bandmate Hoshi had the chance to do so last with the sublime track ‘Spider’. Other members, such as DK, Jeonghan, Vernon, Jun and The8, have also released solo material in 2021, officially or otherwise.

As SEVENTEEN propel forward, there remains plenty of space left to discover who the others are as artists in their own right, but in their own time. “Each of our 13 members have their own individual strengths and forms of music they would like to explore,” says Hoshi, and there’s truth to his words, too. From Vernon’s hyperpop proclivities to DK’s penchant for soothing tunes, it’s hard to foretell what any of them might do next – all we can really do is sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

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SEVENTEEN. Credit: Pledis Entertainment

When all is said and done, however, SEVENTEEN will always find their way back to each other. Last summer, all 13 members collectively re-signed their contracts with Pledis Entertainment an entire year before their contracts were meant to expire – practically unheard of in the K-pop industry and proving that they’re all in it for the long haul. “We had our mind set on staying as a group of 13,” leader S.Coups declares. “We feel this would be another turning point in our career. We will strive to evolve, with our feet firm on the ground.”

It can be so easy for artists to stay within the safety of a formula they know works, but for SEVENTEEN, the beauty of music is in taking calculated risks. They always manage to uncover something new – be it for the fan or themselves – amid the uncertainty “while enjoying the experience”, as The8 puts it.

Yet, we can be rest assured in the faith we’ve placed in their hands, because at the heart of what they do, is an unchanging passion for their work. As Vernon simply puts it: “One thing we can say for sure is that we will always be us. Since we constantly try to grow as artists, our music will change as we do, but there will always be sincerity at the core of everything we do.”

SEVENTEEN’s latest mini-album ‘Attacca’ is out now.

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