Seventeen, Dancing, & East/West Ideals

One of the first things we notice when becoming K-pop fans is the influence of western pop. Musically, K-pop blends a whole host of genres otherwise unheard of in the east. These influences give K-pop an international edge allowing it to cater to a lot more fans than their Japanese and Chinese counterparts. This fusion usually comes in a musical and visual form. Hip-hop sounds and visuals are hugely prevalent in the last few years as K-pop senses the US market opening ever so slightly. Where it is not so obvious, however, is in performance. That’s where Pledis’ new boys Seventeen come in, they’ve got something new to show us all.

As we all know, dance is a big part of what makes K-pop special. But what is it that we love about it so much and why has dance not been westernized yet? For the former, I’d say it’s the collective commitment shown by nearly every group to being synchronized, which also hints at an answer to the latter question. That answer is a historic difference in core ideals between east and west.

In the west, capitalism and democracy took strong hold early on in society. In general, it promotes individual freedom and expression. The most powerful and renowned people in western societies are self-made entrepreneurs. In group dances this translates into simple routines with the more complex movements being executed by those who can do it while the rest stay by the wayside. Think of Beyoncé in Destiny’s Child or Nicole Scherzinger in Pussycat Dolls.

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In contrast, Confucianism and communism played a big part in building modern Asia, even in South Korea where it had little actual development. These systems promote the collective over the individual. Confucianism particularly promotes loyalty to seniority. This led to group dances where members work with each other, dance where each member is as good as the next. Nearly every K-pop group fits into this mold, especially any group with a large number of members. The only major exceptions would be YG’s big groups Big Bang and 2NE1. Those groups perform in a looser style allowing members with big personalities to shine, more similar to western musical acts.

So why hasn’t K-pop dance in general been affected in the same way as the music or clothing, emulating western music trends? The move into different musical styles does not actually reflect a great change of ideal within the K-pop community. Genres are merely changing ways of expressing songs that have been heard many times before. With dance, the human body is involved and usually in big numbers. It is a means of expressing societal norms. Changing this would be a fundamental change to Asian values.

This brings us to Seventeen. A group who may not be changing Asian values but are showing a new way of performing the old dance.

The choreography in Seventeen’s two singles up to now, “Adore U” and “Mansae,” has been delightfully inventive. They are pulling off a certain number of moves that I’ve never seen before in K-pop, and all with a youthful exuberance. From the human train in “Adore U” to the human crank in “Mansae,” there’s a lot to be impressed by Seventeen’s dances on a conceptual level. What makes these dances stand out though are the bits in between. When we’re watching great physical feats in the foreground, the background is always littered with other members having fun.

As a group consisting of thirteen members, naturally Seventeen are going to have a lot of big routines. Each of one of these dances are perfectly executed as they come across more like a small army than a boy band. With big K-pop groups big, synchronized routines are usually the extent of what can be delivered. Even dancing kings EXO who like to cut down members on stage at different times are always likely to stay in sync; the group always comes first. In contrast, Seventeen differentiate themselves in these moments. Each member is seemingly encouraged to bring as much personality to the stage as they can. Watch the beginning of “Adore U” where, in groups of three, the members play amongst themselves seemingly unaware that they are performing. In every break they have, members are always active, bouncing off each other, and generally being endearing. When watching them perform, even today, I still see details I hadn’t seen before. Like when, after collapsing to the floor in “Adore U”, S.Coups is revived and carried over to some other members all while the song has continued on another twenty seconds or so.

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These are only a fraction of the details that Seventeen put into their performance. They signal a kind of fusion of the ideals I talked about earlier. The group effort is still there and is more impressive than ever. They move between one whole group seamlessly into smaller groups all while maintaining perfect synchronicity. It’s the blending of their smaller moments that bring in the western ideas. There’s a great sense of personality within Seventeen. Each individual feels like a full character rather than a cog in a machine.

This doesn’t mean that K-pop is going to be completely infiltrated by western ideals in the near future, getting rid of all innately Asian elements. It’s an example of how pre-existing ideas from outside your regular environment can reinvigorate something well-trodden. Western ideas have always been in K-pop it was only a matter of time before someone exploited them for performance. Let’s be grateful that they have been exploited so brilliantly.

What do you think of Seventeen’s dances? Are there any other groups that do this? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, andTumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Seventeen’s ’17 Carat’ Album Review

It seems as if for as long as I have been listening to K-pop, Pledis Entertainment’s latest boy group Seventeen has been teased. With as many members as their name, with an apparent average age of seventeen too, the group was first announced and touted as one of the next big things before rookies began to explode in 2012. But until May, it was just rumored debuts. On May 29, Seventeen finally released its first album “17 Carat.” I had been interested in the group’s debut long before that, because I was into all things Pledis since I’m a huge After School fan. After a while, though, I forgot that Seventeen even existed and when the group finally resurfaced recently I wasn’t too hopeful. With such a long wait and a line up that was less than their name originally suggested (13) interest had dropped off. That’s what makes, at least for me, their eventual debut so surprisingly great.

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Recently, there’s been a trend of K-pop boy bands debuting with a powerful concept. They immediately try to act like men even at a young age. They never really embrace the vibrancy of youth while they still have it, a trend that was popular in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s (ie SHINee and SS501.) With Seventeen aligning their concept perfectly with the members ages, they have created something energetic but straightforward. They did this by also using some of the more powerful, darker concept signifiers like including lots of rap. Each of these elements is incorporated well to give Seventeen a fresh rookie feeling. The lead single ‘’Adore U’’ is especially good and utterly vibrant.

Too bad the rest of the album doesn’t hold up.

The first song, ‘’Shining Diamond,’’ opens with Michael Jackson through the prism of K-pop. The opening whispers and references make this apparent. However, the retro electro verses sound comes off as just dated enough to be a throwback while remaining modern. They move into a fairly standard orchestral chorus with a big hook. Throughout the song, voices are pitched slightly higher in a nice touch to recall MJ.

Of course, this is K-pop so it can’t just be an homage. It is also infused with rapping and seems to announce that it’ll be a big part of Seventeen’s sound. In an environment where more and more idol rappers are coming from underground backgrounds, it’s important to at least sound good if you don’t write your own stuff. The rappers here do flow quite well. I especially like how they can switch between two rappers at a moment’s notice organically. Vocal contrasts like this always adds a layer of interest to a song for me.

That being said ‘’Shining Diamond’’ never rises above being more than album filler. It’s a fine opening but doesn’t come across as anything more than what we are used to.

Not surprisingly, lead single ‘’Adore U’’ is the real shining diamond of the album. There’s something about those guitars that is so effervescent and reminiscent of adolescence that “Adore U” is impossible to dislike. The sounds are so funky and fresh amongst the hyperactive, multi-genre sound that’s popular in K-pop music today. “Adore U” is fun without having to get too complicated.

‘’Adore U’’ achieves a lighter sound while still incorporating a lot of rapping. It’s accomplished and confident without ever sounding arrogant. Again, they make use of different rapping styles in dual verses. Not only does it sound great but the rap actually makes Seventeen come across as even more fun. It seems like the rappers are having a conversation, which adds a sense of camaraderie and energy. The rap also helps to give the individual verses an extra edge, making sure they don’t get forgotten behind the amazing chorus.

This chorus goes for a delightful double hook. The ‘yoohoos’ of the first are sweetly infectious and the brilliant shout of “Oh-kkin-da” (The Korean title of the song,) in the second repetition of the chorus is an extravagant declaration of love. The lyrics here (and throughout) are refreshingly honest and sweet. Boy band posturing has gotten old fast that, at least to me, it’s nice to see a group being vulnerably adorable. There’s a straightforward exuberance to ‘’Adore U’’ that I don’t think even Got7 has achieved lately.

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The third track seems to go against this infectious fun though. It’s far and away my least favourite song on the album. It’s a Diplo-lite style slice of electro rap that does nothing to add to the already massive pile of these in K-pop. The beat is formulaic and the chorus chants are dull. The rapping is not too bad. That’s the best I can say about ‘’Ah Yeah,’ which pales in comparison to EXID’s song by the same name.

‘’Jam Jam’’ follows on from ‘’Ah Yeah’’ with its hip hop tendencies. Its production is altogether more interesting than the previous song, yet not enough to make it stand out amongst the album in the same way that “Adore U” does. The bubbling looping synth holds the song together with a lot of fun, but the bursting adolescence takes a back seat once again for rapping because it’s cool, and serious, and mature.

This would all be so much worse if Seventeen’s rappers weren’t pretty decent. One member, Vernon, especially has a distinctive and impressive flow.

Just when I taught things were getting really bad ‘’17 Carat’’ moves on to the obligatory upbeat, acoustic cute song. It’s better than an obligatory ballad, I guess, but “Adore U” was so addicting with the fun, upbeat, electronic sound that I hoped for more of its ilk.

I liked how Seventeen had been sort of sweet before but that was with a lead single which helped them differentiate from the K-pop crowd. “20” is the sort of album filler that is so prevalent among all groups that the sweetness means nothing past the title track. Songs with cute lyrics about love over an acoustic guitar are second on my list of K-pop things I hate after album filler ballads; Seventeen differentiated itself with the title track, now I want to see something fabulous on the album. The one good thing I can say about this song is the electric guitar stuff at the start is fun. It never comes back though so it may not even be a good thing to tease the listener that way.

We are left here with a strong debut on top of a weak album. Usually lesser albums could be ignored if their accompanying single was good enough but nowadays it’s not as clear. When groups like BTS with ‘‘In The Mood For Love’’ and EXID with ‘‘Ah Yeah’’, are releasing brilliant and complete albums the game is slowly being pushed. Seventeen though, have created an album that is only seventeen minutes yet is tough to stay interested. What started out so exciting quickly turned into a derivative bore. ‘‘Adore U’’ is genuinely a smash though and could prove to garner them a strong young fanbase.

What’s do you think of Seventeen’s debut? Let us know what you think in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.