It’s been four years since boy band Seventeen arrived on the scene with its 13 members and refreshing debut single “Adore U.” In the present, they’re one of the most prominent K-pop acts around, with popular hits and international tours to accompany them. Last year’s “Oh My!” was recognized as one of the best K-pop songs of 2018, and helped them make their Artist 100 debut. Now they’re back with their first single of 2019 in the form of the sentimental future bass of “Home.”
Billboard spoke to Seventeen at the end of 2018 and ahead of the release of You Made My Dawn to talk about their music, how last year went, and what they hope 2019 will bring.
Billboard: How do you guys feel 2018 went?
Joshua: I think it was a very eventful year. We’ve been doing a lot of things, such as our tour. We had a concert in Korea, arena shows in Japan.
What did you want the message of Seventeen to be in 2018?
Woozi: We wanted to show our growth without any bells and whistles, so that it was a very clear story about the growth of ourselves until now. We wanted audiences to listen to our music, and make listeners feel touched by hearing our story. It wasn’t that every single song told a distinct story, but that the lyrics reflected us, fit us, and the narrative that we’ve been telling.
Was this different than what you did in past years?
Woozi: Rather than saying that 2018 specifically was different, that is the method that we tend to go about with our music. Since the very beginning, every time before we release our music we come together for a meeting and discuss what story we want to tell, what narrative fits us right now, and what the public wants to hear. We then personalize these ideas. It’s always been like that. It’s not something new for 2018.
Joshua: We always want people to be able to relate to the lyrics of our songs, so we just want to show them that we’re going through the same things that you guys are going through.
Vernon: One of the most important elements of our group is to keep it natural. Every time we come out with a new album, people ask, “How did you get more sophisticated? Was that a concept that you intended?” But as we grow older in real life, that just naturally comes. I think that [maturation] is naturally contained in our music.
You released a variety of singles and songs throughout 2018. Why did you decide to explore so many different styles this year?
Woozi: All are really different, but with “Oh My!” it’s completely Seventeen-like. It’s the type of song that we first started with. It’s a style that our [fan army] Carats really like, it has a bright energy to it that fit us really well. With “Thanks,” it was a sound that we were really confident in and very comfortable in pursuing. The lyrics of it pertains to the things we’ve wanted to say, and it’s almost like a continuation of “Don’t Wanna Cry,” while “A-Teen” was a follow-up to “Change Up.” With “Call Call Call,” it was a continuation of “Clap.” Each time, as always, we wanted to show our growth with each release, and so we produced the songs to fit our sound as best as possible.
It sounds like these each were meant as callbacks to past songs. Is that something you want to keep doing, building one Seventeen song on top of another?
Woozi: Rather than a continuation, we want to show new things continuously. That’s what we’re really focusing on without losing our original sound.
Are there any particular memories tied to the singles from over the year?
Wonwoo: “A-Teen” was tied into a web drama [of the same name], so it had a lot of love here in Korea for being part of the soundtrack, so that was pretty memorable.
Seungkwan: “Thanks” was our first song to go to No. 1 on [South Korea’s] Melon chart. It was actually a message to our fans about how grateful and thankful we are, so the fact that a song like that was able to reach first place… We all gathered at 5am to celebrate that.
Let’s talk about the new album. What’s the meaning behind You Made My Dawn?
Joshua: The theme behind the album is the message of, “You made my darkness into dawn.” So basically, you know how dawn is between night and day? The sun comes in to make the night a little brighter and it progresses into day, right? That’s why we tried to compare the flow of emotions to the sun, and connect this album to the previous album You Make My Day.
How is this album related to You Make My Day?
Vernon: If you think of a story, [Dawn] should be like the prequel of You Make My Day. We want to give listeners a comfortable feel. You Make My Day was released in the summer, and this album’s going to be released in winter so obviously we want to match the seasons. Especially for this album, we tried to show more of our maturity. Just by listening to the sound and lyrics you can tell the difference from our previous albums with this album.
Do you want to do something about the nighttime or dusk too?
Joshua: It’s an open question.
The single “Home” returns you guys to an evocative sort of EDM, leaning into future bass, and you’ve featured similar sounds on other recent singles. Why does this style suit Seventeen so much?
Joshua: EDM is very suited for performances and dancing, so that’s why I think it suits us well. I think for every genre we try to make it into our own style.
Vernon: There are so many types of EDM, like songs that make you want to jump and get you all excited. But “Home” isn’t that kind of EDM, it’s like more comfortable to listen to.
Joshua: It’s mellow.
Vernon: We came up and practiced a performance that matches the song’s mellow mood. Yeah, we’re very satisfied with it.
Joshua: There’s a lyric that’s like, “We’ll be your home, and you’re our home. We’ll be your comfort, we’ll be the place you can cry alone, or the place you can love alone.” The place where you don’t have to care about what other people will think or say.
Vernon: Yea, it has a healing message, the song.
How do you define home? Did you bring your personal ideas of “home” into the recording studio?
Joshua: Home is where your loved ones are, the people you love and care about are. And also a place where you can relax, where you can rest after a hard day’s work.
Vernon: I was born in New York but I came to Korea when I was so little so I have very little memory of the place, so I basically feel that my hometown is here in Seoul. But what home feels like? I don’t know. Whatever feels comfortable for me, it could be my home. So, like, my studio. Wherever I’m with my members.
Vernon: We recorded with the members so the recording studio felt like home to us.
How long does it take for 13 people to record one song?
Joshua: Actually, it doesn’t take us that long. It takes us like a day for one song. That’s really fast. A long time ago, when we were trainees, when we practiced recording it would take us at least three days for one song. But we gradually got better.
Vernon: Now, we can record three songs in one day. We have our effective method. We work better.
Aside from the singles, what are your personal favorite songs on the album?
Vernon: There’s a song called “Chilli” from the hip-hop unit, which I’m part of. It was our first time working with a different producer than Bumzu, his name is Poptime. We just love this track. We love what we did with this track. It’s my favorite song from the hip-hop unit.
Joshua: Me too, I like Vernon’s song. Because there’s a triple meaning. As in chili sauce, as in chilly, and as in just chilling. I like the vocal unit’s song too, but I really like the vibe of “Chilli.”
You released the song “Getting Closer” before the album’s release, and it’s quite different from “Home” stylistically. Why did the album’s release highlight these two songs in particular?
Joshua: Before this album came out we released “Getting Closer,” and the message we were trying to send was the condition one feels in the absence of love. “Home,” our title track, expresses the emotions felt when you’re in the presence of someone you love.
What was it like for you switching to such an aggressive performance style for “Getting Closer?”
Joshua: We just wanted to show something we didn’t try before. We tried “Getting Closer” because it has a more aggressive mood, I guess, from our other songs. But we tried that when we were trainees, so it felt really natural to us.
Vernon: We practiced a lot of aggressive songs and performances, but we never had our own song with a performance to show that was as aggressive as the ones we had practiced before, so it was kind of our first one. We thought it would be a fresh turning point since we had never done anything like it before. I think that’s why a lot of fans really like that song and performance.
Joshua: We wanted to show that we can do many different types of music and many different types of performances. We’re not just fixed on one type of genre or one distinct performance style. We just wanted to show that we’re capable of doing various types.
Since you mentioned how you practiced different styles of music when you were trainees, what’s the biggest change from Seventeen of four years ago and Seventeen now?
Joshua: We’re a lot older now.
Vernon: I guess we have more knowledge and much more experience about this industry. Our mindsets are definitely different since then.
Joshua: We feel a higher sense of responsibility. A long time ago it was like, “Let’s try hard, let’s show everyone that we’re doing really well, we’ve worked hard for this.” Now, we want to show everyone good music and good performances. Also, we used to only produce songs as units but nowadays we mix units, like Vernon and I did a track together. We just wanted to show that each member is capable of producing different types of music.
As you’ve done in the past, You Made My Dawn features songs from each of Seventeen’s sub-units, and last year saw members of Seventeen feature in different groupings on both “A-Teen” and BooSeokSoon’s “Just Do It.” Why do you think Seventeen thrives on these sort of smaller teams?
S.Coups: When we’re performing in units, it shows a different color from when we perform as a group. Each member has their own charm and ability, and through these units we’re able to show different sides to ourselves. It allows the fans and the public to really enjoy and look forward to each of our individual charms.
Joshua: Through our units we’re able to show off different styles of music that we weren’t able to show as a group as a whole, so that’s why I think units are really, really important to our group.
Vernon: We actually look forward to the unit system because that’s how we’re able to show what we can within a 13-member team size. Basically, we have more time to rap or sing within those songs.
Seungkwan: One of the positive sides of being in Seventeen is that we’re able to show these different sides of ourselves through units, but I think we receive the most love and spotlight when we are performing together as Seventeen. So we’re going to show various mix and match units, but we’ll continue to show Seventeen as a whole as well.
Are there any other sub-units that you guys haven’t tried yet that you want to work on?
Vernon: Recently, I’ve talked with DK about this style that we want to try out. I think it’d be pretty fun to do. DK wouldn’t have done anything like it before. It would show a very new part of him musically. It would be fresh.
Many members have a hand in producing your own songs. Where do you draw inspiration from?
Woozi: Receiving inspiration, it doesn’t come from one specific place or thing. It actually just comes from, truly, really, everyday life and everything around us. Since there’s a lot of members, we’ll go out to eat, we’ll hang out, sometimes we’ll get ideas just chilling and spending time together. It isn’t really planned, it just comes from everyday life.
So is Seventeen’s music determined by your daily lives?
Joshua: Our experiences, what we think, and the ideas that just come up from us conversing. That’s directly put into our albums.
Do more members want to get involved in the songwriting process?
Woozi: Every member has been involved in some way or another. Even though I’m the main member involved, even before we make a track we come together and talk about what we’d like. After the track is made I ask everyone’s opinions as well. The outcome is something that involves all the members.
Joshua: Definitely if we have the chance to, I’d like to. There’s a possibility. As for now, I want to focus on what I like as an individual. If I were to make a song, I would want to make an acoustic song.
Vernon: I can’t always be involved in every single song for Seventeen, but I always try to be. It’s just fun to work with members and Bumzu in the studio. Bumzu and Woozi, as the main producers, they have our whole trust and belief. We just follow their steps and what they’re doing. For me, individually, I guess I could work more on hip-hop unit songs or the sub-unit songs, or my own stuff.
Seventeen has a lot of videos you put out there, like your Going Seventeen web series. What’s your aim for putting out this sort of content?
Joshua: Through our performances, we show our stage presence but fans don’t know what happens behind the scenes, what we do for fun, what we do when we hang out with each other. I think that’s shown through these web series’. Fans who don’t know us that well will get to know us more through them.
Vernon: I think it’s a more friendly interaction with the fans and us. Like Joshua said, it contains a lot of our daily life so that’s what they like about it. And that’s what we like about it, because they like it.
Is it important to build a bond between you and your fans?
Vernon & Joshua, at the same time: Definitely.
Seungkwan: Before we were singers, we all liked singers as well. So since we debuted, we all think about what kind of contents we can put out there to share ourselves more, and make people really enjoy us and learn more about us. These days we’re really thinking about that, and that’s one of the reasons several members have created social media accounts.
Joshua: Also, if you watch our web series and what we do behind the scenes you’ll understand our music more.
What were some of those singers you liked before you were singers?
Woozi: But even after we debuted and were promoting at the same time as them, we were able to look upon these artists and learn a lot from them.
Are there any artists you guys would like to collaborate with now?
Woozi: Bruno Mars.
Joshua: Ariana Grande.
Vernon: I recently got to know this guy Tobi Lou, and maybe, maybe.
Seventeen got known for your funky, youthful vibe, but how do you deal with balancing that with your maturing?
Woozi: When we debuted, we showed a lot of our fresh, boyish charms since we were at a young age. But as time passes, you really can’t ignore aging year by year. It naturally just showed a really mature side to the group and our music grew with us. It doesn’t mean that we won’t do any bright songs and that we’ll only do sad songs. We’ll just show what naturally comes to us.
Do you equate adulthood with sadness?
Vernon: I don’t think it’s necessarily that, but since we haven’t shown much sadness musically, that’s how we approach our adultness.
Joshua: I think if you experience sadness, you’ll learn how to get over that sadness and mature a little bit.
You have several members from around the world at a time when K-pop’s becoming a major player on the international scene. How do you feel about K-pop’s global reach & rise?
Seungkwan: We’re really happy that K-pop is receiving so much love from around the world, and I think that people from around the world love it so much is because there is a distinct way that K-pop shows performances in a different way than other pop industries. There’s so much energy in it, and maybe that’s why people all around the world like K-pop.
Vernon: And I don’t know how really, but somehow the generation right now has learned to appreciate this genre.
S.Coups: It’s probably not just in regard to K-pop, but social media is all about connecting fans and artists so that’s probably one of the reasons social media has played such a big role in K-pop’s growth but at the end of the day it’s the music that’s attracting people’s attention.
Joshua: Since K-pop is growing globally right now, we just want to spread it out even further. It’d be cool to go to the BBMAs.
Seungkwan: Yes, look forward to us!
What do you hope for 2019?
S.Coups: In 2019, we’re going to try to be even busier than in 2018 and show new sides to ourselves, we want to be able to meet our fans in various places, and to return all the love that we’ve been receiving. We’re going to show a lot of fun and cooler sides to ourselves and our music. We’re confident that it’s going to be great. We want to be able to perform in various places and show new sides to ourselves.
Vernon: Like the Americas, maybe.
Watch the music video for Seventeen’s newly released single “Home” below: