When it comes to South Korean powerhouse Seventeen, it's easy to become fixated on the numbers. The group has 13 members — you read that right, 13 — who can be separated into three sub-groups: vocalists, dancers, and rappers. But reducing them to digits seems ridiculous the moment you see them perform, or when you're hit with the energy and charisma they bring when they walk into a room.
As their dedicated fandom, Carat, knows, the allure of Seventeen is the fact that the whole wouldn't be as magnetic, dynamic, and boundless as it is without its individual parts. Each member, with his own distinct personality and talents, adds a necessary ingredient to Seventeen — and when put together, they perform seamlessly and powerfully as one. Their diversity allows for the group to offer something for everyone, and is undoubtedly the reason why they’re one of the most successful K-pop groups right now.
Since their debut four years ago with the single “Adore U,” Seventeen has captivated audiences with their palpable joy, raw talent, and creative agency in their own work. Since their very first EP, the band has handled most of their own production, spearheaded by the tireless, spritely Woozi, and have even choreographed many of their own dances (with Hoshi, leader of the performance unit, often at the helm). This kind of control has allowed the band to bridge the gap between artist and fan, and pour their hearts out directly to the people they make music for. It also gives them room to play around, and show different facets of the prismatic group. This was especially apparent in their most recent EP, You Made My Dawn, which showcased a more contemplative, somewhat edgier side to the normally bright, boyish group.
Mere hours before taking the stage at Madison Square Garden for KCON New York, group leader S.Coups, Wonwoo, Mingyu, Vernon (hip-hop unit), Woozi, Jeonghan, Joshua, DK, (vocal unit, though member Seungkwan was absent due to an injury), Hoshi, Jun, The8, and Dino (performance unit) show why they’ve charmed their way into the hearts of both fans at home and abroad.
While they're all dressed in a similar theme, with silk and mesh blacks from head to toe, each exude a different energy — all generally upbeat and sincere, but nevertheless distinct. S.Coups, despite speaking limited English, leans in and nods thoughtfully after hearing a question; DK holds a mischievous glimmer in his eye as he constantly works to uplift his members and get a laugh; Joshua, a Los Angeles native, is polite and earnest, adding context to the conversation so everyone is on the same page. They work together with the familiarity of people who’ve spent the better part of four years together, and who, especially since they self-produce, have a deep knowledge and insight into every aspect of their art. Refinery29 sat down with the group to talk about the rush of performing, their inspirations, and Seventeen’s ever-evolving sound.
What is the main advantage of having 13 members in the group?
S.Coups: “If you watch our performances you can see that we constantly use the number of members on our team to our advantage. It's our strength. We can harness and channel so much energy, and that power is something we can relay to directly to our audience. We think of it as our weapon.”
Joshua: "We also have three units in our group, so we're able to do different types of songs, and combinations of people and styles."
Is it difficult, especially since you make a lot of your own music, to make decisions with so many opinions?
Joshua: "We've lived together for so long that we know how to come to a pretty fair consensus on things." (Laughs).
You guys have a hand in writing and producing most of the music that you make. Why is that important to you?
Woozi: "It's important because at the end of the day, regardless of what is going on, our music is what we sing and what we show our audience. So I believe the music has to be sincere, and reveal our genuine nature. So every album of ours holds the messages and stories that we want to tell the most. And I think that is why Carats like our music."
Vernon: "And another important point — that I feel isn't stressed enough sometimes — is that it's fun to make our own stuff. We enjoy the process a lot.”
You usually have a relatively light concept, but "Getting Closer" is a edgier turn for Seventeen. How, in your music, do you evolve while staying true to what Seventeen is as a group?
Woozi: "I think our music has been maturing as we've grown older. When we debuted, we were four years younger than we are now. Then, we were able to emphasize and maximize the bright image that matched our age at that time. Now, I think we have new possibilities, and themes that we can explore that suit who we are now. All of our members want our group to become a team that continually evolves without stagnating or fixating on one thing. Thus, I expect that in the future we can show many more sides to ourselves."
Vernon: "We naturally grow with our music together."
Mingyu: "And because we produce our music and create all sorts of other things ourselves, the unique color of Seventeen will never be lost."
You take pride in your performance. How does dancing and performing make you feel?
Hoshi: "I feel like another being enters me. It feels kind of like being possessed. And it changes depending on the songs we perform."
S.Coups: "When we do the choreography and perform, we can feel the reactions of the audience directly on the stage. So the bliss that comes from the experience is great, fun, and fresh every performance."
Who are influential women in your lives who have shaped you? In what ways?
Mingyu: "In the end, whenever I think about the biggest influence in our lives, I go back to our parents. Our parents made it possible for us to meet and come together as Seventeen. They're the people who are closest to us, and have directly impacted our minds and thoughts. We always thank our parents, always want to give back to them by doing great performances and by becoming great artists."
Wonwoo: "I also was influenced the most by my mother. Because I think I was able to grow up as a fine, good person that I am now through her teachings."
Mingyu: "The funniest and most interesting thing is that we resemble our parents to the degree that if you look at all of the parents of the 13 members, you can see who belongs to them. We know each other's parents so well, and you can just feel how much they've shaped and live within us."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.