Wonwoo and Mingyu‘s “Bittersweet” marks many firsts—the first appearance of this sub-subunit, the first narrative-heavy MV from any member of Seventeen, and the first installation of the group’s “Power of Love” concept which explores different forms of love in everyday life. As a start, “Bittersweet” portrays the dilemma of choosing between friendship and love.
While this is not the first time we hear members of Seventeen’s hip-hop unit singing on a full track, it is still a rare and pleasant treat to see them dabbling (and excelling) in elements outside of their niche. With the addition of Lee Hi‘s rich voice to the chorus and a cinematic MV, “Bittersweet” is a song that conveys the strong feeling of melancholy that results from being caught in between friendship and love.
On its own, the song’s lyrics are poetic but cryptic as they convey snapshots of a distancing romantic relationship. Regarding the process of their lyrics writing, Mingyu had this to say:
For me, I prioritized the overall “temperature”, or the mood of it. I didn’t want the subtle emotions that are usually involved in the “Friendship or Love” dilemma to be too directly conveyed.Mingyu (J-14 Magazine Interview)
The song does just that, with its beautiful imagery that plays with senses, such as how the passing of the romantic relationship is described—”Touch of a season passed by, Scent of a moment fill both hands”—or the crushing nostalgia afterward—”Ruinous imagination consumes me, Makes me dream sweeter dreams”. Instead of a detailed narrative, we get enigmatic sentiments of hesitation (“I get close, it goes farther, Sorry I can’t get closer”), concealment (“Hiding the truth, pretending I’m fine, I’m hiding in the rain always smiling”), and a paradoxical distancing (“Eyes meeting but hearts apart”). The lyrics, along with the basso nova, acoustic nature of the track, and the trio’s husky vocals evoke pure sentimentality which moves listeners.
The MV, with its cinematic feel, adds a narrative layer to the song that is equally enigmatic but slightly more detailed, giving viewers more blank space to fill in themselves. Immediately, the MV’s eye-catching visuals evoke a melancholic feel—a darkening night bathed in bright neon lights and glistening rainwater. There is also an argument to be made that the story in the MV is not told linearly. While the shot starts with Wonwoo, Mingyu, and the girl running down the streets, it transitions to lone shots of the members staring off in the distance, suggesting that they are reminiscing about the past. The light leak transitions and choppy slow-motion shots peppered across the MV are also a popular way to convey flashbacks.
With this in mind, an abundance of different interpretations can be made. For example, Mingyu and Wonwoo both meet their love interest alone, to which she shows different reactions. She offers a smile to Mingyu and a seemingly indifferent response to Wonwoo as she stares straight ahead, which can be seen as her liking Mingyu more than Wonwoo. But taking an earlier shot of her smiling at Wonwoo at the bar into consideration, who’s to say which came first? If the scene at the bar happened first chronologically, it could mean that their initially good relationship had soured. However, the scene at the convenience store could also be their first meeting as strangers, which later deepened into something more. The MV hence uses the same approach as the lyrics by providing the audience with a skeleton of a love triangle and an emphasis on the mood rather than the plot to bring out the pain faced by both.
One of the recurring motifs throughout the MV that appears in the lyrics as well, is the motif of rain. As the three friends run down exhilaratingly, the street is glistening with rain; Mingyu stares wistfully out at the rain while reminiscing about his memories with the girl, and when Wonwoo meets the girl at the convenience store, it is also raining. Since all these scenes are related to their love interest, it is possible to read the rain as a symbol of romance, and the memories of it.
In the final scene of the MV, when all the neon lights have faded leaving a dull monochromic shade, Mingyu steps out into the rain first, with a bright smile on his face, and gestures for Wonwoo to join him in the rain. As the two walk in the rain, fully embracing it instead of watching it from a safe shelter, for the first time, the girl is not in the picture. The rain has taken on a different meaning—one of friendship, and perhaps it was never really about who would win the heart of the girl, but about whether they would stay friends.
Overall, the members have accomplished their goal from the making. The MV successfully evokes the bittersweet emotions of longing for someone and apprehension of losing a friend, by emphasizing the mood of melancholy in the lyrics, the aesthetics, the striking color palette, and of course, the moving voices and instrumentals. The structure of the MV also allows for multiple readings of the narrative. This in turn provides a second layer to the song while effectively conveying the dilemma between friendship and romance.