In the saturated and competitive world of K-pop, no group sticks to a single sound, look or in other words, concept. Seventeen is no exception. Back when they were known for their upbeat, boyish energy in their early days, they released “Don’t Wanna Cry” in 2017, an emotional departure that still kept their performance-centric roots. While this song has become one of their trademark songs till today, back then it was considered “another dimension to their abilities”, our writer, Margaret writes. Considering their wide array of discography over their six-year career, it comes as no surprise that the group is still experimenting with new genres and music styles in their latest mini album, “Your Choice”.

However, the group’s experimentation in the album falls on different levels with different songs. Most notably, the title track, “Ready to love” feels like a departure from the group’s sound that has gone too far, to the extent that the song sounds foreign. The less experimental group tracks sound more familiar, and though the remaining unit-based songs dabble in genres new to their units, they still manage to retain the group’s color.

But first, to situate this extended play in Seventeen’s discography, “Your Choice” is the second installation of the “Power of Love” project that threads across Seventeen’s works for 2021. The first, rappers Mingyu and Wonwoo‘s “Bittersweet”, talks about the heartwrenching struggle between friendship and love. While their song described feelings of hesitation and holding back, in contrast, “Your Choice” conveys the powerful pursuit of romantic love, yet while respecting the loved one’s decision.

Now, with the group’s eighth mini album, Your Choice, they continue the narrative of courageously confessing their romantic feelings to the person who brings those feelings out in them.The title of their eighth mini album, Your Choice, is given from the perspective of someone who values another’s choice above their own.

HYBE labels

The album starts off with “Heaven’s Cloud”, written by Bumzu, Mingyu, Nmore, S.coups and Woozi. Aptly titled, the airy song’s multi-layered vocals and subtle beats immediately transport listeners to a fantastical “heaven out in space”. While it is a galactical place filled with the glowing sunset and “blue galaxy”, it also contains a simple form of everyday happiness (“watch a pair of bubble[s] pop”, cooking a dish of “unknown ecstasy”). At the same time, the song is extremely romantic and sweet, describing this world as an exclusive and secret getaway, which is only so beautiful “Because my world is you”.

Starting the album off with this song could not have been a better choice. It’s a song that arguably reflects the “Seventeen sound” the most in the mini-album, sharing lyrical themes and a fantastical music style that is similar to “My My” and “Beautiful”, thus welcoming fans back with a familiar sound. Its inviting message shown in the chorus’s repeated lines “Give me your love (cloud)” further pulls listeners in, as if inviting them to discover more of this paradise as well as their album.

In contrast, the next song, title track “Ready to love” is an R&B-driven electronic pop song. The song is created by a team of extraordinary producers and writers, most notably the CEO and founder of HYBE Corporation, otherwise known as “Hitman” Bang. It is not the first time that Seventeen has experimented with a beats-heavy track as opposed to the vocals-centric ones they are known for, as seen from their previous songs like “HIT” and “Fear”.

However, unlike these songs which build up to a melodic and satisfying drop, “Ready to love”‘s drop falls flat. For example, while “HIT”‘s drop creates a huge impact with staccato vocals complementing the rhythm, “Ready to love”‘s drop is announced abruptly by two loud pops followed by electronic beats so hard-hitting, they snuff out the vocals. Instead of having a drop that focuses on emotions (which could be brought out by a focus on vocals like in “Fear”) or on the explosive impact (like “HIT”‘s), “Ready to love” ambitiously chooses to do both, and hence disappoints in both areas. This leaves the song feeling generic, amplified all the more by the newness of this genre to Seventeen.

Where the song lacks, it makes up for in its lyrics and choreography. Its choreography accurately conveys the lyrics’ message of wanting to run away with a lover, where some members run between others that act like pillars hindering the audience’s view. The lyrics also convey the outpouring sentiments of love, using hyperbolic language like wanting to “run away to the other side of the world”.

This brings us to the next song, “Anyone”, a serious but subtler dance song that reflects this same strong yearning and an us-against-the-world type of love:

We make the rules

Not anyone, anyone can change the only rule in the world

Because you taught me all of the reasons I know

No matter where I am in the world I’ll say it’s you

Unlike “Ready to love”‘s experimental nature, “Anyone” is characterized by familiar elements—Seventeen’s melodic vocals, a snappy beats drop, complete with Seungkwan‘s high note—which allows for a comfortable listen. Dressed in black suits and carrying serious gazes for performances, this song shows a more mature side of Seventeen and allows the group to showcase their versatility in one album.

The remaining three tracks “GAM3 BO1”, “Wave” and “같은 꿈, 같은 맘, 같은 밤” (“Same dream, same mind, same night”) performed by the hip-hop unit, performance unit and vocal unit respectively are a pleasant treat for the ears. While the first three group songs encapsulate a strong romance, the remaining three deviate from this theme lyrically and sonically. Perhaps the most interesting choice is how different these songs’ genres are from each other, which allows each sub-unit to experiment with something new artistically—”GAM3 BO1″ is a fresh chiptune song, “Wave” is a sentimental house track, and “Same dream, same mind, same night” is a retro ballad pop song that brings back 2000s nostalgia, reminding one of the hit OST “Perhaps Love”.

Perhaps the most notable song is the hip-hop unit’s “GAM3 BO1”, which uses autotuned vocals and computer references in its lyrics (like NFTs) to add to its video game stylisation. It takes a break from discussing an epic romance to describe everyday life in video games terminology (“From the front door in our house, To the server 05 which is my route, My character is cool”). It also describes the new digital normal of social connection that the pandemic has brought about, with lyrics that talk about an online conversation verbatim, alas ending with “don’t worry, We’ll meet each other soon”. Yet its catchy sounds and chorus keeps these mundane realities fun and exciting.

These sub-unit tracks are ultimately where Seventeen shines the most, even though they are the least aligned with the rest of the album’s themes and more mature sounds ironically. They allow fans to see each sub-unit in a different light, while also capturing their personalities—hip-hop unit’s boyish character, performance unit’s sentimentality, and reinventing vocal unit’s love for ballads.

Thus on the whole, “Your Choice” makes bold strides in the group’s experimentation with musicality. While it is unfortunate that poor instrumentalization jeopardizes the title track, the songs that are more similar to their previous tracks, namely “Heaven’s Cloud” and “Anyone” offer some fallback. The sub-units’ fresh music also show that experimentation can be done well, provided it isn’t overly ambitious and captures the artiste’s personality at the core of it all.

(Youtube. Lyrics via Genius [1][2][3][4]. Images via Pledis Entertainment.)