SEVENTEEN: Teen, Age Review

SEVENTEEN’s “Teen, Age” was one of my most anticipated releases of this comeback-stacked week. After May’s excellent EP “AI1” and the series of remarkable unit projects the boys released over the past two months, it honestly looked like the 13-member group were on track to own November. And the album, SEVENTEEN’s second full-length, was impressive as expected (more on that in a second). But title track “Clap” left me cold. It’s okay, but it’s nothing great, and it doesn’t nearly measure up to the amount of potential we know SEVENTEEN has—talent potential, growth potential, song quality potential, or any other type of potential. May’s “Don’t Wanna Cry” used an aesthetic melancholy concept and a lovely melody to show off SVT’s vocal and dance talent—at the time an unusual move for the group, which up until then stuck to fun and rhythm-driven pop sounds. This title track in comparison showed no character development. In fact, it was a regression. “Clap” might as well be “Boom Boom” with a lurid electric guitar riff slapped on. It’s not that what SVT was doing before “Don’t Wanna Cry” wasn’t working; it’s that “Clap” doesn’t do what SVT was doing before “Don’t Wanna Cry” well.

Rock is all good and well in K-pop. Some of the best songs of the year—“Spring Day” by BTS, for instance, or “I Wait” by DAY6—have fallen halfway or completely into this genre. However, “Clap” uses elements of rock in a way that’s cheesy-sounding, almost tacky. The stadium guitar might have worked if it weren’t the only noticeable sound throughout most of the song, but it stands alone almost completely, only letting the listener breathe in the (very good) vocal prechorus bridges. The instrumental of the chorus is pretty much bare aside from the guitar and some heavy percussion. Compared to the crystalline “Don’t Wanna Cry” or the jazz-pop delight “Very Nice,” the instrumental of “Clap” is absolutely boring, which honestly shocks me given that member Woozi produced all three of them. The melody of the chorus doesn’t do much to make up for this, though it’s admittedly catchy as hell (“jjak-jjak-jjak-jjak!”). Likewise, the line distribution is painful—not because it’s unbalanced, but because the song is already so short (it’s less than 3 minutes long!) that few of the members get a chance to really show up. For example, I always look forward to hearing from main rapper Vernon, but his only part in “Clap” lasts literally four seconds. Even the striking talents of main vocalists DK and Seungkwan, which do shine bright on this song, only shine briefly.

It’s almost like SEVENTEEN wasn’t concerned with showing individual talents on “Clap” because they knew that they would have an entire album’s worth of time to do so. SVT has been breaking up into units (the 5-member vocal unit; 4-member, rap-focused hip-hop unit; and 4-member, dance-focused performance unit) for B-sides of commercial releases for some time now, a rare occurrence among young K-pop groups. However, this is the first time I’ve seen SVT release duets as official tracks—in fact, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen that among top K-pop groups at all. It’s smart, because it provides fans with more than enough content while removing the pressure of participating in 13 songs’ worth of album preparations for each member. The members who appear on the most songs on “Teen, Age”—unit leaders Woozi, S. Coups, and Hoshi—each participate in 6 out of the 13 songs (or out of 11, if you don’t count the intro and outro).

Because of this, it’s almost more appropriate to speak of the highlights of “Teen, Age” member-by-member than song-by-song. I was particularly impressed with Seungkwan, whose already stunning vocals seem to get more and more powerful with each comeback, and performance unit leader Hoshi, who, aside from dancing and singing as he always has, rapped for the first time on “Teen, Age” and proved that he can do anything. Not only is Hoshi an extremely talented dancer and choreographer (if you still haven’t watched the music video for performance unit project “Lilili Yabbay (The 13th Month’s Dance),” you’re missing the choreography of the century), but he sings and raps just as well as SVT’s lead singer and lead rapper positions.

At the end of the day, the best songs on “Teen, Age” were neither the full OT13 songs nor the duets, but the songs featuring a handful of members. If it isn’t already clear how much I loved performance unit’s “Lilili Yabbay,” I’ll admit now that it is easily my favorite track on the album, and definitely one of the best. It ventures somewhere SVT has never gone before, which is into dark concept territory, and performance unit is as mysterious and alluring as K-pop’s darkest dark concept groups. “Lilili Yabbay” opens with a sinister synth repetition that soon bursts into a full atmospheric production. The verses are some kind of genre-bending miracle, dream-pop meeting house sounds and a warbling electric guitar to utter ambient success. The stuttering beat of the chorus is one of the most interesting in the past year of electronic K-pop, with a wonderful single-beat delay into the second half and a catchy rap-to-melodic vocal hook. Plus, the choreography really is phenomenal, and phenomenally executed (I’ll just say it one more time and then stop)—go watch it now, you won’t be disappointed.

Unit leaders’ song “Change Up” is another one of my favorites. The production stitches the instrumental’s wandering horns into a circling, winding embroidery whose rhythm forms the unique beat of the song. Instead of a beat constructed by bass and percussion and supported by instruments, this beat is constructed by the horns and backed up by the bass and percussion. The effect of this structure is a bright hip-hop sound that the leaders make their own—especially Woozi, whose buttery vocals are impossibly suited to the mood. I also enjoyed hip-hop unit’s “Trauma,” whose stylistic choices impressed me even more than the rap itself did. Small details such as S. Coups’ low, understated delivery or the layering of Wonwoo’s part, where his quiet talking is slowly drowned out by his own voice shouting, add a chillingly cerebral touch to “Trauma” that is hard to shake off.

The most exciting track on this album for me which had not already been revealed in the pre-“Teen, Age” unit projects was “Flower,” which borrowed two members from each unit and put together an absolutely fascinating hip-hop-house track with some of the most compelling vocals and melody on the entire album. Some other high points on the album included the brazen “Bring It,” a duet between Hoshi and Woozi, and of course the breezy, sweet vocal team project “Pinwheel.”

All that said, I would like to add that the music video for “Clap” is 100% my favorite out of SEVENTEEN’s titles. It’s ridiculously bombastic in the best way, a little strange, and quintessentially SEVENTEEN. At the same time, it’s massively aesthetic. There’s no story here the way there has been in past music videos, but the meta “we’re inside your computer screen” concept doesn’t need one. And honestly, one could argue that SVT’s members’ energy is unmatched in the industry, so it’s impossible not to have fun while watching this video. SEVENTEEN certainly made good with this comeback if not 100% with the title track. The long-awaited “Teen, Age” pulled through with plenty of depth and no shortage of surprises, without losing their characteristic SVT sound. The unit approach SVT has been taking is working out brilliantly for them, and I hope they don’t ever give it up.

 

CLAP: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? I mean, I hate to call anything by SVT a flop, but I wasn’t feeling it.

 


Take a look at SEVENTEEN’s “Clap” MV below:

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