Over two years since they last met their fans at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey for the opening stop of the North American leg of their “Ode to You” world tour, Seventeen finally made their triumphant return with the closer of their latest and first in-person North American production since then, “Be the Sun.” 

Since their last face-to-face performance in front of Tri-state area fans, things have certainly changed for the thirteen-piece boy group (although luckily, much has also stayed the same). For one, “Ode to You” was cut short in early 2020 as the impending threat of COVID-19 halted nearly all of Seventeen’s future plans and in-person activities — unbeknownst at the time to them and their fans, known as “Carats” — for the next two years. 

As with all K-pop acts and the industry as a whole, that distance at first served as a barrier between Seventeen and their fans, as the world collectively navigated retaining a sense of closeness while remaining physically apart. Once they found their groove again, starting with the release of Heng:garae and title track “Left & Right” during the summer of 2020, that distance didn’t feel so wide anymore. The group’s variety series, Going Seventeen, then took off, going so far as to build a growing fanbase of its own (“Cubics”), and Heng:garae earned them their first “million seller” title since their debut in 2015. 

A blazing path to stardom quickly followed, much like the title of their world tour, “Be the Sun,” suggests. With every release since Heng:garae, Seventeen has achieved said coveted “million seller” honor, now placing them as seven-timers as 2019’s An Ode later sold over one million albums in mid-2021. During their time away from live audiences, they released six albums, made their U.S. television debut, put on two large-scale online concerts, held four online fan meetings, and renewed their contracts as a complete thirteen to ensure that the fiery, hot momentum they built for themselves over the past several years was nowhere near ready to die out. 

As part of their quest to shine as the brightest star in the sky, “Be the Sunserves as a continuation of that pursuit — only this time, alongside fans. So, in front of a sold-out crowd in Newark on a rainy evening on September 6, Seventeen lit up the stage hotter than ever with an electrifying opening performance of “Hot,” the experimental lead single off of their recent full-length album, Face the Sun. The explosiveness with which all thirteen members pounced on the opening choreographed move and with which Mingyu erupted into the song’s opening lyric (“All eyes are on us”) after having only just entered the stage only emphasized that Seventeen were finally back where they belonged: all eyes on them, dominating center stage. 

As expected from a group of Seventeen’s fervor, the heat of the show’s opening sequence didn’t merely end with “Hot.” In the spirit of the theme of riding to the top and straight toward the sun (which the rest of the setlist also so deliberately revolved around), the group launched straight into booming “March,” immediately followed by one of their most demanding choreographies in 2019 title track “Hit.” Even for a group of their size, spanning members with their own unique talents and individual strengths, Seventeen never fell short in their precision, making even the hardest and most intense of back-to-back performances look like a breeze.

Fresh out of breath, the group then embarked on their opening remarks. Known outside of their powerful stage presence and knack for synchronization as “variety kings” who will never say no to a good-hearted bit, ments are always something to look forward to from a Seventeen concert, online or offline. In the case of witnessing the group’s introductions live and in person, it’s a little like laughing along with your friends — Seventeen and Carats included. Even if you’re not always in on the joke, the members ensure that you feel like you are, between their silly antics amongst one another (like Joshua referring to The8 as Squidward due to his bright blue hair and in reference to a series of Weverse posts by Vernon from the night before), or between them and the crowd (like Hoshi telling the entire arena to put their “tiger signs” up while chanting his famed “Horanghae” line). It’s safe to say that when you’re with Seventeen, it feels as though that’s exactly where you’re meant to be.

Before splitting up into their highly-anticipated unit performances, the group descended onto the stage once more for an energetic and extraordinarily synchronized rendition of “Rock With You,” which felt grander than the studio version thanks to its pairing with a live band. To keep the pop-rock train chugging along, the group’s English speakers, Joshua and Vernon, topped things off with an impassioned performance of their all-English, 2000s-inspired track “2 Minus 1,” before the first set of VCRs began to roll.

The next series of stages showcased a different kind of togetherness, albeit togetherness nonetheless. Seventeen is also comprised of three units — performance, vocal, and hip hop —- each with their own unique color and style that exists adjacent to one another and to the collective group’s typical musical canon. First to the stage was the Performance Unit, who cooled the ferocity of the beginning portion of the concert with suave and sensual performances of “Moonwalker” and “Wave.” Clad in all-white, semi-sheer outfits, the Performance Unit members’ laser focus contrasted with the striking ease and fluidity of their motions (most notably from Jun) and breathy tones propelled their performance to a status of high art. Next was the Vocal Unit, who brought the warmth back into the arena with heavenly renditions of “Come To Me” and “Imperfect Love,” which included a moment for fans to sing along during the final refrain. From cool to warm to hot, the Hip Hop Unit turned the heat back up to the max with “GAM3 BO1,” which was paired with autotuned mics, visuals of computer codes, and flashing lights to reinforce the song’s futuristic yet cheeky tendencies. The unit finally brought the house down with an explosive performance of “Back It Up,” growls and snarled raps galore.

When the full group emerged next — this time in semi-matching red jumpsuits and white graphic tees —- it was clear that the rowdy hijinks were about to be never-ending (another hint for what later was to come, too). This stage, which included performances of older hits, like “Mansae” and “Aju Nice,” served firstly as a celebration of their younger days, but also as a showcase of the theatrics that brought them where they are today. “Where is Vernon?”, the members yelled out while huddled together in front of a backdrop of street signs and a chain link fence, much like in the “Left & Right” music video. While in their own worlds (Mingyu on a bike far too small for his stature and Wonwoo wiggling back and forth on a skateboard), Vernon suddenly appeared from behind the rest of the members to finish out the skit, singing a snippet of Rihanna’s “Work” as an unexpected but hilarious tribute to the show’s location (“New-work”). 

The inclusion of their older hits in the setlist clearly wasn’t just for the sake of performing them or to appease older audiences, and the group didn’t sense a need to completely reinvent them to prove that they stand the test of time either. That they did, and still do, and the members’ easygoing, mostly joking approach to them made it easy to feel as though everyone and anyone can be a part of their legacy, regardless of their degree of familiarity with them in the first place.

The “final” and following stage, which included meteoric performances of “Shadow,” another selection from Face the Sun, along with “Crush” and the group’s latest title track, “_World,” was yet another 180-degree shift in the chaotic energy of the previous set of songs. As the members lit up the Prudential Center in their metallic silver jacket and pant sets and for some, sheer black tanks, the arena could hardly contain its own volume, between the crowd’s screams and Seventeen’s own thunderous vocal and dance performances. They then took a break from back-to-back songs for another ment, this time rehashing the show’s contents up until that point in a format half-reminiscent of something out of an improv-heavy episode of Going Seventeen. While telling a story of how the group journeyed from their early days of opening KCON at the Prudential Center back in 2016 to performing their own concert in the same venue that evening a full six years later, Hoshi put forth a friendly reminder before the group performed their “last” song of the night, DJ Khaled-style: “We started from the top… but… you’re now rocking with the best… No cap.” 

And that you are. Even after a two-year hiatus of live concerts, Seventeen’s shows still have an iconic status to them that continues to grow bigger with each concert. That’s especially thanks to their encores, including the infamous “never-ending ‘Aju Nice,’” as it’s now lovingly referred to by Carats and netizens alike. As the final stop of the North American leg of their tour, it came as no surprise that the Newark show’s encore invited every range of emotion, including comfort with a tinge of nostalgia and sadness (“Darl+ing,” “Our Dawn is Hotter Than Day,” and a special rendition of “Smile Flower” sung by the crowd for the final show), and pure, euphoric joy (“Snap Shoot” and “never-ending ‘Aju Nice’”). 

As with the rest of “Be the Sun” in Newark, the encore portion had an especially intimate way about it. That didn’t only come in the form of Seventeen’s habit of and affinity for interacting with the crowd, including a freestyle dance battle between Seungkwan and a Carat who came to the show from Paris and another fan deep in the crowd dressed as a light-up stick figure who Hoshi affectionately named “stick girl” during “Snap Shoot.” There was also the choir teacher who schooled Seungkwan on his own high note during “never-ending ‘Aju Nice,’” plus the last-second arrival of a fan made blanket with a meme of Joshua’s face onstage during the final iteration of the song. 

Playful antics aside, the encore also became an even deeper look inside Seventeen’s world, not only as a collective whole, but of each individual member. During ending ments, all thirteen gave an account of the emotions and thoughts running through their minds with the leg of the tour rapidly approaching its end. Some shared their gratefulness to fans for taking the time out of their day to spend it with them and that they could all finally be together again (Seventeen included, especially after four Covid cases during various stops of the tour). Others gave a hopeful peek into the future, with Jeonghan expressing, “I want a year to pass by and come back again.” As a parting gift, Woozi, the group’s main songwriter, gave another hint as to what the future holds, assuring the crowd that he was “going to go to Korea tomorrow and going to make a new album thinking about you guys.”

When the last “Aju Nice” ended and the final curtain closed a short three hours later, all was not gone. Like Seventeen themselves, “Be the Sun” had a lasting impact, proving a lot of what the world already knew — that they belong on stage, with each other, and in the presence of those who love them and whom they love too, their fans. Although not their home, they made the Prudential Center feel as such —- not the easiest feat for a group of their rapidly blazing reach.  

Much like the sun, Seventeen’s presence proved itself to reach near and far, first row to last row, rain or shine. Yes, they wish to “be the sun,” but perhaps they already are.

(Forbes. K-Odyssey. Naver. Images via Pledis Entertainment and Seoulbeats.)