To spot a member of Korean pop group Seventeen, you just need to look at their pinky. All 13 members wear a distinct ring on their little finger. Though it doesn’t carry the promise of the Jonas Brothers’ sort, it does symbolize a promise of unity, and an assurance to fans that they always have them in mind. The group was first gifted these rings when they made their 2015 debut, and have gotten new versions ahead of every full-length release since. Now, they wear the tradition’s fifth iteration — silver cut into what looks like two crossing waves, revealing a small diamond, the group’s symbol, in between — ahead of the release of “Darl+ing,” their newest single, from their forthcoming album in May.
“Darl+ing” is the group’s first English-language single, and features many of Seventeen’s signature flourishes. It deftly moves from nearly whispered confessions to beautifully expansive declarations of love and longing. Every element serves to expand the palette of warmth and sincerity developed across the record. The group offers up raps with softened vocals, and lyrics are imbued with double meanings.
“The plus sign placed in front of ‘ing” in the title represents the ‘ongoingness’ of our relationship with Seventeen and our [fandom, called Carats],” rapper Vernon tells Rolling Stone over video call.
It’s with this English-language single that members S.Coups, Wonwoo, Mingyu, Vernon, Woozi, Jeonghan, Joshua, DK, Seungkwan, Hoshi, Jun, The8, and Dino hope to connect even deeper with their fans — especially those overseas. “It’s like a gift to our Carats,” says soft-spoken vocalist Joshua, “because all our international fans, even though they may not understand Korean, love us for who we are and love our music so much, so we just wanted to make a song they can easily listen to and understand.”
Very few Western musicians record in different languages for their overseas fans — call it a western-centric bias where it’s expected that English wil be the dominant musical language — but for K-pop artists, it’s a common part of the job. Most often, groups will release a handful of Japanese records, and more recently, groups have added Chinese, Spanish and English to their discographies. But for Seventeen, doing the work of recording in another language isn’t just about making a global crossover, but about making a deliberate gesture.
“In every language we sing in, we try to show Seventeen as we are,” leader S.Coups says thoughtfully, adjusting the small ponytail poking out of his shock of pink hair. “And I know that people whose native language is not Korean have to work hard to understand our message. So when we record we want to try as hard as they do when they listen to our music so we can share that together.”
This ethos — stretching the limits of their art in order to foster a deeper connection with those who enjoy it — runs throughout everything that Seventeen makes, even beyond just songs. From crafting silly and interactive fan chants that essentially give Carats parts to sing in their songs, to turning their lightsticks and albums into craft projects (fans can bind and decorate the pages of their EP Heng:garæ, ;[Semicolon] included a weaving kit), Seventeen are always looking for ways to make loving their music a tangible, shared experience.
But recording in English is a new frontier for many of the members (only two, Vernon and Joshua, are native English speakers), so there were bound to be a few hiccups. “When we were recording and it was DK’s turn, there’s this part that goes ‘Again I’m diving,” Joshua recalls, laughing.”But he pronounced the word again as ‘gyeran (계란)’, which means egg.” He looks at DK, smiling as he sings “gyeran diving” and the group erupt into giggling fits. “It totally got stuck in my head,” he continues. “But we unfortunately needed to re-record it.”
In fact, even Woozi, who co-composes and produces most of Seventeen’s discography, admits that the line “I want to know our problem, blood type or DNA” wasn’t a deliberate sprinkle of Korean culture. (To many Koreans, blood type is said to dictate that person’s personality type.)
“I actually thought that blood types were a thing in the United States and other countries when I wrote the song, I didn’t know it wasn’t a thing,” Woozi admits, grinning sheepishly. “I don’t particularly believe in blood types, but when I was writing this I thought it would be something fun and cute.. Maybe I should’ve included zodiac signs in the lyrics.” Vocalist Seungkwan, ever the comedian, interjects with his soaring tenor, singing “Blood type or, MBTI,” eliciting another outburst of laughter.
This is typically the vibe when the members are together. More than their perfectly synced, razor sharp dancing, soaring vocals or dynamic stage presence, Seventeen is cherished because they feel like family. Among the 13 members, there are the “parents,” the beloved youngest, the attention-seeking middle children. They support each other and tease each other in the same breath. And it’s not just talk — in 2021, the members unanimously renewed their contracts with Pledis Entertainment a year early for at least another five years, inking their commitment to each other and to their fandom.
It was the same year Seventeen explored the theme of love through their “Power of Love” project, releasing a handful of songs and mixed media, ending with their Attacca EP in October. It spanned a period of time in which things were still uncertain, and finding connection was more valuable than ever. For Vernon, that meant spending quality time, his love language, with friends and members — “just having lots of conversations,” he says. For lithe dancer The8, it meant clear communication with those around him: “Love needs to be expressed for the person to know that they’re loved.” But this next chapter seems to mark something of a tonal shift, and as performance team leader Hoshi teases, the upcoming album will be “hot and passionate.”
S.Coups adds yet another layer to that description: “So far we’ve always been really sincere and honest with our music, but I think especially with this upcoming album, we’re very frank and showing our honest heart.”
People like to say that diamonds are loved for their symmetry and perfection, or because they symbolize wealth and power. But their true value is in the way each different facet reflects the light, sparkling as if wanting to delight all those who get to see it.