As Seventeen prepare for their summer comeback with “HIT”, we take a moment to stop and look back at their debut era, specifically their standout debut song, “Adore U”. Released in 2015, it marked Pledis Entertainment’s first attempt at a boy group since the debut and unsteady career of their seniors, Nu’est. Luckily for Pledis, Seventeen would go on to become one of the most consistently popular boy groups of their generation.

The 13-member group’s debut song is a fun, melodic pop number with a catchy guitar riff, groovy basslines and bright, soulful vocals. In contrast to the darker, edgier hip-hop style more favoured by boy groups of the time, “Adore U” was a breath of fresh air that, true to the group’s name, exuded youth and boundless energy.

Lyrically, “Adore U” is an innocent and open confession, perfectly in line with Seventeen’s refreshing, youthful concept. Delivered in bright vocal melodies or fun rap lines, they express how much they like the subject in simple, direct words typical of a teen their age:

I feel weird, I’m not talking as much
My friends are all worried (these days)
My heart races only when I’m in front of you
So I’m sorry about my clumsy actions

The lyrics are light-hearted and straightforward, but the composition, production, and performance are what make the song special. The melody and underlying chord sequence of the chorus make the song sweet, uplifting and very catchy, while the interjections of rap add a bit of attitude and mischief. The bridge is especially lovely, with a minor-to-major twist and thickly layered backing vocals which are literally heavenly.

Meanwhile, the production focuses on classic pop instruments such as drums, guitar, and bass, with a refreshing lack of hip-hop or trap influences. Member Woozi was responsible for the production and arrangement along with Bumzu and Yeon Dong-geon, and for a rookie, the song is immaculately arranged and mixed. The many instrumental parts knit together closely without stepping on each other’s toes, and the sheer variety and intricacy of the sounds and melodies used make even the instrumental of the song a joy to listen to. No sound is repeated too much, and there is just enough variety and live instrumentation (such as the live bass) to make it sound human and not overly computerised.

Seungkwan and DK – some of the strongest vocalists in boy groups today – deliver their lines effortlessly and with spunk and soul, and the rest of the members easily keep up in terms of vocals too. Seungkwan’s growl at the beginning of his verse is sure to make you sit up and listen, especially in an industry where rookie groups often mean vapid vocals.

While the song is an undeniable hit, the MV is nothing special. Primarily shot in a studio and using green-screen visual effects, it transports the members to various locations, including a desert, an 80s-style sci-fi scene, and a wrestling ring, among others. There seems to be no connection between the locations and the lyrics, and the slightly cheap-looking special effects come off looking tacky compared to more polished MVs.

The video has a frame which is supposed to mimic looking through a crystal, but it only serves to add a sense of claustrophobia. Add to that some dull lighting and low-contrast colour correction, and the MV is far from the kind of visual feast we’ve come to expect from Seventeen’s more recent MVs. The best parts of the video are where they showcase the dance in a large, wide-open studio space, allowing the group’s choreography to speak for itself.

Despite being under a large company, Seventeen’s style is so instantly unique and organic that it seems inappropriate to attribute their success to Pledis. The popularity and accolades that they would eventually gain seemed obvious even from the release of “Adore U”, despite the somewhat cheap-looking MV. Anyone taking a glance at the credits would see Woozi’s songwriting contributions and Hoshi’s choreography credit, while rappers Vernon and S.Coups are listed for writing lyrics. Whilst “self-producing” idols were popping up here and there, back then it was rare and refreshing to see a group that seemed to have almost complete creative control over their art, choreography included.

Still, this wouldn’t mean much if the song itself wasn’t insanely catchy and the choreography spectacularly polished. Seventeen’s debut was one of several that helped raise the bar for dance performances, with high-intensity, intricate choreography, and knife-sharp execution. While the MV showcases the dance to an extent, Seventeen’s practice video is where the group’s charm, teamwork and dance prowess really starts to come through.

Even considering that “self-producing” idols were on the rise, Seventeen’s case stands out because of the sheer quality of their work. Creating eye-catching dance formations that smoothly morph to highlight different members is not easy – especially when there are thirteen of you. Likewise, writing a coherent song and using production software is hard enough, without having to make sure it’s an iconic pop hit as well. The quality behind “Adore U” was amazingly high for a group of teens without any professional experience, and they would go on to show that it was no fluke with consistently catchy songs and polished performances in the years that followed.

(YouTube [1]. Lyrics via Pop!Gasa. Images via Pledis Entertainment. The Korea Herald [1].)