Nearly 100,000 attendees. Close to 200 panels and workshops. Nineteen artists spanning two nights. The stats for this year’s KCON Los Angeles were striking, but many left the August K-pop festival and convention with one number on their mind: Seventeen.
Both in terms of membership and popularity, Seventeen are one of K-pop’s biggest boy bands. Made up of 13 young men in their teens and early twenties, the outfit debuted in mid-2015 and quickly stood out in South Korea’s polished pop scene for their deep dedication to writing, producing and choreographing their own music. If 13 members seem like a lot to keep track of, they helpfully divide themselves into three separate factions: the Hip-Hop Unit, featuring rappers S.Coups, Wonwoo, Mingyu and Vernon; the Vocal Unit, with singers Woozi, Jeonghan, Joshua, DK and Seungkwan; and the Performance Unit, made up of the group’s top dancers Hoshi, Jun, The8 and Dino. Seventeen have not only racked up some of South Korea’s best first-week albums sales ever (rivaling crossover sensation BTS); they’ve also scored impressive chart feats in America, as one of the few K-pop acts with multiple Number Ones on Billboard‘s world-genre charts.
Before they closed out the final day of KCON concerts on August 12th, the guys hung backstage at the Staples Center in comfy T-shirts before changing into their SoCal surfer-boy wardrobe of trendy Hawaiian tees, tropical button-downs and ripped jeans. The members, including L.A. resident Joshua, laid relatively low during their time in town, and one gets the sense it’s because their next trip could be very different. During a chit-chat with the crowd where a snippet of 2015 single “Mansae” played and the entire arena instinctively broke out in the song’s signature hand-wave choreography, it became evident that Seventeen might become the next K-pop act to headline their own American arena show. During an exclusive chat with Rolling Stone, the group discussed their origins, their L.A. visit and what’s next.
How has this Los Angeles trip been?
Joshua: I was very, very excited to go home, meet my parents and meet my friends. The weather was so good that I went out for a walk with Hoshi, saw an iHOP and ate there. My mother actually came in the middle of it and I enjoyed it that much more. But I was so happy to be on the stage at L.A. KCON again, in my hometown. Also, I was all the more happy because so many more fans came than I thought.
Vernon: Really every time I go to L.A., I feel like it makes a great memory. Especially this time, I was very happy to meet Tobi [Lou], an artist who I like so much and listen to a lot. I was so happy to introduce Tobi and the people around me to each other, eat some delicious food together, go to the studio and talk to each other about work.
This is your first visit to the United States since you toured North America last year. How do you look back on that theater tour?
Dino: As they say, “time flies” since it’s already been a year. I think last year’s tour in the U.S. was a fresh experience. I didn’t really feel like I was onstage necessarily, and I remember having a lot of fun.
Seungkwan: It really was an unforgettable tour. It was so good to be able to perform with our songs in a country where there are pop singers whom I have admired since I was practicing to become a pop singer myself. And it gave me goosebumps to know that there are people [in America] who love Seventeen. Next time, I want to meet many fans in a bigger concert hall.
Wonwoo: I actually look back on the tour as a time that was really healing to me. The excited atmosphere and fans, the beautiful streets we visited — I think they were all healing.
The8: It’s a precious memory, for sure. … I’ve learned about a wider and more diverse world, but I’ve also felt that I should work harder.
For those unfamiliar, can you explain how the 13 of you come together as one act?
Hoshi: We’ve been [training] together for a really long time, and I think we can be one [team] because we have respect and trust for each other [laughs].
S.Coups: I think of Seventeen as a family. We really do care and cherish each other all the time. Sometimes we have a fight, but the more we talk to each other, the more we trust each other.
When it comes to boy bands both in Korea and internationally, Seventeen is one of the acts leading the way. Do you have any thoughts to why you’ve been able to connect so well?
Hoshi: It feels great because many people seem to love K-pop and we’ll keep trying to be a leader in K-pop both musically and performance-wise.
Vernon: I think I’m getting more and more excited because many people recognize me more than I think I even realize.
Joshua: And I’m very happy that many foreign fans seem to enjoy listening to our music.
Since you last visited America in August 2017, you released your Teen, Age full-length album, the Korean EP Director’s Cut, your first Japanese EP, and most recently your You Make My Day EP in July. What is your production schedule like?
Mingyu: There was a five-month hiatus before You Make My Day came out, but I still felt like I was in a hurry to work and impatient because I wanted to come out with new music quickly. Still, I think we were more careful when preparing this album with something that would look good to the public.
Jeonghan: Since this album is a summer album, the songs ended up being very exciting and cool and we actually prepared this specific album by freestyle dancing in our practice room while listening to songs.
Seventeen recently debuted in Japan with your first original single “Call Call Call!,” which felt like it had a bit more edge compared to your Korean releases. Woozi, was that going through your mind while producing and writing this one?
Woozi: You said that because it’s a good thing to have an edge, right? [Laughs] Thank you very much. The Japanese song was a new challenge, but I think it was more interesting rather than difficult. I think we had [an] overall good result.
Your group has three set groups — the Hip-Hop, Vocal and Performance Unit — and earlier this year, Seungkwan, Hoshi and DK released music under the name Boo Seok Soon. Will we see more member combinations?
DK: We always think that there can be a variety of units. … I would tell fans to look forward to the various units of Seventeen as well as the overall music of Seventeen.
Hoshi: There are many members, so I think there are many different cases. I would also tell fans to please look forward to it.
Woozi: I think various units are the strength of the Seventeen team. Isn’t there going to be a new and fun unit soon in the future? [Laughs] We’re just as curious and excited as the fans are.
How do you feel the group has grown since your start in 2015, and where do you see Seventeen going in the future?
Jun: Sometimes, I’m surprised when I see the members onstage [laughs]. There seems to be a lot of growth that we’ve shown onstage when I look at our facial expressions, dancing lines and the details. And I think I have grown a lot because I tried to show the public a better image of myself.
Seungkwan: When I was a trainee, I practiced hard until dawn with my members with all my heart because I was so eager to make my debut. But even these days, when we are preparing for an album or preparing for the stage, we still practice hard until dawn. But thanks to the love and support of [official fan-club members] Carats all over the world, I think we grew up thanks their undying efforts.
Woozi: I think we’re growing well right now? [Laughs] We want to be a group who will continue to show great performances and steadily grow so more and more people can find happiness with our music and performances.
S.Coups: We will try to meet you in as many places as possible in 2018. Also, we will continue to show good music and performance, so please expect even more from us and give Seventeen a lot of support and love. Thank you.