Ahead of their ninth anniversary, Seventeen released an anthology album, 17 is Right Here. They have chosen “Maestro” to lead off this project, which might seem curious to those anticipating a more sentimental look back at their careers, or a callback to more familiar musical styles. In contrast to the bright, energetic “freshteen” sound and style of 2023’s “God of Music,” “Maestro” is decidedly “darkteen,” with a cyberpunk aesthetic and EDM-heavy sound. Both songs, however, express confidence about the power of music and Seventeen’s abilities as musicians. 

In his commentary live about the album, Woozi shared that he incorporated samples from seven previous title tracks into “Maestro.” The plucky guitar from Seventeen’s debut song “Adore U” is most readily apparent, as it forms a prominent part of the instrumentation in the intro and first verse. According to Woozi, “Maestro” also includes the organ from “Very Nice”, the synths from “Fear” and “Rock WIth You”, the choir from “Oh My!”, the drum roll from “Cheers”, and the VOX sample from “Super”. The presence of the samples, while mostly subtle, conveys that no matter how much Seventeen experiments, they are still Seventeen. Apt for the 17 is Right Here album, “Maestro” is both retrospective and futuristic. 

The word “maestro” can apply to any type of artistic genius, but is most often associated with a skilled conductor. Fittingly, the “Maestro” MV includes imagery related to classical music and symphonies, from the metronome-shaped building and the orchestra playing in some scenes, to the conductor’s baton that performance leader Hoshi mostly wields, but Mingyu, Jeonghan, The8, and Wonwoo also possess at moments. Similarly, the song’s lyrics incorporate musical terms (scherzo, sonata) that aim to emphasize the group’s artistic grandeur.

The lyrics of “Maestro” are relatively straightforward, but just as a conductor’s movements can signal speed, beat, and dynamics, so too the lyrics cue changes within the song. After DK sings “accelerando” in the pre-chorus, the beat intensifies, thumping at a faster tempo until the chorus hits. In the second verse, Wonwoo raps, “I changed the rhythm like this / Mix it techno, sky is the limit” over a propulsive techno beat. The song is self-referential, and also shows off the experimentation that Seventeen is capable of. S.Coups admits that their approach is “unconventional,” while Joshua and Vernon assert: 

Doesn’t matter either classic or new thang
We take pride in our new combinations
From the beat to the melody
Mix and match, it’s our thing
Crazy is the new normal
Because we change the world, ah

The song continues to illustrate the “mix and match” between beat and melody by alternating singing and rapping in both the verses and the bridge. Meanwhile, masterful editing for the MV reinforces the genre and tempo shifts of the song. For instance, after Seungkwan sings “accelerando” and belts a high note, the foreground remains consistent, but the background quickly flashes among the different sets. 

As a whole, the cinematography and editing heighten the experience of the song, especially for parts that may feel lackluster initially. Following the soaring vocals and pulsating beats of the pre-chorus, the anti-drop chorus of “Maestro” feels comparatively empty, especially with its lyrics consisting of “la la la’s.” In the MV, though, the dynamic camera movements and editing highlight the group’s choreography, with cuts on the beats.

It is fitting that synchronized dance sequences accompany the “la la la” sections, as they illustrate the chorus’ final line, “Following the maestro’s lead.” The MV team wisely chooses medium-long shots to frame Hoshi waving the conductor’s baton and Jun gesturing both hands to the camera. Set to punchy brass and drum sounds, these images show these members as “maestros” in command of their surroundings.

The MV is set in a dystopian world in which humans wrestle for control with technology. The MV teaser announced that AI was used in its production, sparking controversy about ethics of AI to criticize its use in the arts. Fortunately, the actual MV employs artists to create its imagery, and ethically and visually is all the better for it.

The discussion around the teaser, however, frames the issues played out in the MV: in a world in which seemingly anything can be created with artificial intelligence, who is the artist? At times, forces threaten the members, as when black-clad humanoid figures menacingly surround Hoshi, or when Wonwoo single-handedly fights at least a dozen of these figures. 

Aside from these depictions of conflict, the MV portrays a range of experiences of humans with technology. At times, the members appear to be in control, as in scenes with Vernon and Dino holding robotic dogs by leashes. At other points, members dance and robots appear to mimic their movements, perhaps reflecting the reality that AI learns through observation and pattern matching.

In other scenes, however, there appear to be forces of surveillance and control that the members resist. In particular, large animated hands hover over the members during choreography sequences. Meanwhile, a warning message states: “Moving Too Fast: Content will remain hidden until you slow down.” Just prior to this scene, Jeonghan crouches and smirks to the camera, suggesting the members’ plan to escape control by exploiting the flaws of the technology. 

In a more ambiguous shot early on in the MV, Joshua is posed with a mechanical arm, with its finger meeting Joshua’s, in an allusion to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. The robot may have the position of God in the original painting, but it is Joshua who is completely in frame, and who looks knowingly at the camera. He is the one who is full of life.

By the final sequences of the MV, however, it is clear who has artistic control. In the bridge, The8 beckons, “Look at us in harmony,” while S. Coups and Dino declare in their rap that they will “push harder and harder, rise to a crescendo / A tempo for our final movement.”

As they promise, the “final movement” of the song goes hard, with the rapid EDM beat from the second verse returning. The accompanying dance break is a showstopper, with fast, complex footwork from Woozi, Hoshi, Dino, Jun, The8, Mingyu, and Wonwoo. The song ends with the members all gesturing for one more measure, confidently conducting while the robots kneel. 

The “Maestro” MV elevates the song’s ideas, deftly matching visual imagery and film-making techniques to music and lyrics to demonstrate how intentional Seventeen are with their artistry. Nine years into their career, Seventeen continue to push their creativity. The resulting song may not be what some listeners expect from them, but that is precisely the group’s point with “Maestro.” In a world where generative AI can quickly churn out a song or a video, artists should strive to innovate – and Seventeen commit to doing just that. 

(YouTube. Weverse. Lyrics via Genius. Images via Pledis Entertainment/Hybe).