The word ‘mixtape’ brings me back to high school, when my friends and I would painstakingly compile mix CDs for our secondhand Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics. High on the newfound freedom granted by fresh driver licenses, we found every excuse to cruise aimlessly while blasting playlists tailored to all the boredom and discontent we endured in our dinky hometown.
It’s a restlessness that is endemic to young people, and a mood that can be felt acutely in Seventeen sub-unit SVT‘s mixtape release, “Check-In.” Unlike their highly polished, promoted singles, these mixtapes focus on the group’s self-producing aspects by allowing them to release their own compositions individually, or in their designated subgroups (hip hop, vocal, and performance). “Check-In” places the spotlight on S.coups, and backs him with hip hop members Wonwoo, Vernon, and Mingyu in a song about Seventeen’s intent to progress and grow both artistically and in image.
The song acknowledges the inherent tension that exists in being known as self-producing idols. It’s a label that begs to be mocked: how could a handpicked group of thirteen boys, trained to snap suspenders in unison and melt hearts by winking, also be artists with their own desires to create? The onslaught of glossy pop they’ve pumped out through Pledis Entertainment seems to deny any ounce of artistry. But “Check-In” reveals an ennui that has emerged between their growing popularity and basic discography.
In the first verse, S.Coups raps:
I’m sitting with the clouds floating besides me
12 km up in the air, I’ve been sitting for half a day
My body feels rusty; I’m itching
The setting is laid: being stuck in a plane, body and mind congealing from immobility. They’re lyrics that describe the life of most idols – people who spend excessive hours penned in like chattel, transported from show to show, country to country. They’re also a way to describe the larger listlessness that has come from repeating the same concept over and over. Not that Seventeen doesn’t play to their boyish charms well, but they clearly know how much more there is to explore. As S.Coups complains:
Time is running slow and I can’t fall asleep with all these inspirations
Popping up in my head; hold up…
I feel like I need to spew it out before I sleep
Has any person not felt this way before? When your head is exploding with ideas like popcorn, and you need to do anything – write, draw, run, scream – to make it real before it disappears. It’s this agitated energy that “Check-In” bottles in song form, a stark contrast to the parade of radio-friendly love pop Seventeen has perfected in their singles. There’s a characteristic of rawness here; rather than the slick rhymes and clever lines expected in idol rap songs, “Check-In” is direct in expressing the desire to move. The same sentiment is echoed in the chorus repeatedly:
Oh, to find inspiration, I wanna go right now (I wanna go right now)
Oh, whenever it may be, I wanna go right now (I wanna go right now)
These may not be the most engaging lines to come from pop music, but they’re honest feelings that are delivered without being overproduced. The MV works with the same simplicity by giving straightforward shots of the boys against Hong Kong’s cityscape. Like New York City or Seoul, Hong Kong serves to symbolize an attractive hub of possibility to young adults. The focus moves between the four members huddled in cramped back alleys and narrow streets of the city – illustrating their current feelings of confinement – to them standing along the harbor’s ocean expanse, and the tantalizing hopes of freedom for self-expression. Inserted into the Hong Kong scenes are brief footage of other cities to match the chorus’ shoutouts to urban areas:
I check in Seoul city
Yeah I check in Singapore city
Yeah I check in Manila City
The listing of locations references some of the places Seventeen has traveled to perform. More broadly, it creates a list of places Millennials fluent in Instagram and Jet Blue aspire to travel, a set of goals for the generation that believes quenching wanderlust is a key to self-realization. Checking in to a new city becomes the light at the end of any stifling plane ride or stint of stagnation; it’s the beginning of the stimulus needed to foster creativity.
S.Coups concludes, “After I see, hear, and feel everything, Imma give it to you.” And what we have been given is an open testament to the frustration and excitement felt as the boys continue to develop their own voice. Pop idols they may already be, but artists they are still becoming. And this is something that takes courage and imagination to concede, even in the form of a homemade, two-and-a-half-minute rap.
The admission to Seventeen as a work-in-progress is ultimately what makes the song so refreshing, even if it lacks the catchiness and production values I’ve come to expect from their work. Most importantly, it encompasses the kind of attitude my younger self would have understood and echoed by ripping “Check-In” for her own mixtape – an act reflecting the shared desire to continually move and mature.