Onstage, SEVENTEEN Burns Hotter Than The Sun
The K-pop group is at their best performing for thousands of fans.
SEVENTEEN’s latest tour title, Be the Sun, seemed appropriate as the heat blazed down on long lines of eager Carats (the nickname for their loyal followers) at Inglewood’s Kia Forum on Wednesday, Aug. 17. “LA is hot every time we come,” declared Hoshi, kicking off the fourth North American date on their 2022 world tour. He wasn’t just talking about the reading on the thermometer, nor the show’s pyrotechnics, ones so fiery they warmed the cheeks of those in the nosebleeds. And nope, he also wasn’t pointing to his own whirl with a flamethrower, although it was heated in more ways than one. Rather, Hoshi referred to the intense energy of the crowd, matched by the twelve boys onstage.
It’s been two and a half years since SEVENTEEN’s last performance in LA, vocalist Joshua’s hometown. Since 2020, they’ve renewed their contracts as a full, thirteen-member group (the unanimity of which is an anomaly in the world of K-pop), gone conceptual with their May studio album Face the Sun, sold millions of albums, and continued to endear themselves to a global fanbase. “Sold out again,” they brag on the Hip-Hop Unit’s 2019, bravado-filled “Back It Up,” which proved to be prophetic when performed live in the jam-packed arena. This time, though, SEVENTEEN didn’t just want to command the stage, as they have before; they wanted to burn it.
There’s no better way to set out toward that goal than with the searing intensity of opening trifecta “HOT,” the anthemic “March,” and the powerhouse choreo of “HIT,” leaving SEVENTEEN panting through their opening remarks. A brief angsty, pop-rock interlude accounted for the raspy vocals of “Rock With You” and the all-English “2 MINUS 1,” where Joshua and Vernon fully lean into the genre’s unabashed melodrama.
Playing to each member’s strengths, the next three stages were divided between SEVENTEEN’s units, each with their own specialty: dance, vocals, or rap. As the mood shifted, light sticks clutched in the concertgoers’ palms turned an icy blue, welcoming the Performance Unit to the stage in white, sheer fits and partially hidden behind clouded panes of glass. The star of the set (“Moonwalker,” “Wave”) was svelte Jun’s sharp gaze and fluid movements, but The8 and Hoshi held their own, strutting the extended stage like a catwalk and body-rolling with the best of them. Then, set against a wall of lush greenery, the Vocal Unit belted out a couple of sentimental ballads. Finally, the Hip-Hop Unit brought it home with the ironic, glitchy hyper-pop of “GAM3 BO1.”
Following a VCR (aka pre-recorded visual teasers), all twelve re-emerged clad in fire-engine red jumpsuits and matching sets, launching into a couple of throwback hits (“Mansae,” “Aju Nice”) and a skit that epitomized why SEVENTEEN has been christened “the theater kids of K-pop.” (Truly, no one engages in improv as often or as willingly as them.) DK, ever the showman, beamed his million-watt smile, posing as drill sergeant to lead into “Left & Right.”
And, of course, it wouldn’t have been a SEVENTEEN concert without one ment — the time built into K-pop setlists for groups to address the audience — going totally and completely off the rails. Likely lasting far longer than originally planned, the members went in a round-robin of accidental setlist spoilers (thanks, Vernon), not to mention blasts from the past, and Jeonghan playfully swinging his post-op arm sling. Just when one member began to wind down from their speech, another goaded them into some new bit. (I’m nowhere near complaining, especially with this fancam of Hoshi performing his solo song “Spider” now in my back pocket.)
Putting a slight damper on the night, though, was the absence of maknae (the youngest) Dino, who was confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the day. Wonwoo had somewhat of a solution. “How about Carats shout and scream Dino’s parts?” he asked through an interpreter, to which the others hyped him up in English: “Good idea, Wonwoo!”
A joke often repeated by the fans is that Carats themselves are debut-ready. They’ve already been put to the test with fan chants that go beyond spoken word, calling for singing and choreographed moves. For this tour, SEVENTEEN constructed a new cheer, which involves everyone stretching their arms in a circle above their head, like a sun. It’s silly and fun; it gets everyone to participate, even those up by the rafters in the Forum. That’s part of SEVENTEEN’s clear ethos — their music is an experience to be shared, and it’s made all the better for it.
You could see it in the way Woozi used ASL to sign “jump” during what’s been affectionately termed “never-ending ‘Aju Nice’”— the song is played over and over again until the curtain finally falls — while the other members yelled to do the same. It was present during the rush of Seungkwan sprinting into the crowd with security guards scrambling in tow, or when the group selected audience members to freestyle to the serotonin-producing “Snap Shoot,” while the idols watched, rapt, as if they weren’t the headlining act. (Seungkwan’s face of abject shock and awe at the sight of a Carat twerking on the big screen is the stuff of immediate memes.)
For thirteen people who have known each other almost half their lives, there’s remarkable ease to how they’re able to make you feel in on the joke. They want you to laugh — with them, and at the spectacle they’ve so lovingly crafted. Time spent clowning missed cues or Mingyu’s yeehaw adlib-of-choice for the night (“When I was listening through the earpiece, I thought that was a horse,” S.Coups quipped) is just as valuable as time spent on the music. More often than not, the two dovetail together: seeming to take utter delight in the ribbing, Mingyu brought back the exclamation during the encore.
Live performance is a way to show off what SEVENTEEN does best, yes, but it’s also a space for them to connect. Making a room that holds up to 17,000 feel this intimate is no ordinary feat. “There’s actually the Sofi Stadium near us,” Hoshi said at one point during the night, eyes blazing. The complex, with nearly four times the concert capacity as Kia Forum, is just across the street. “Let’s meet there next year.”
It’s the obvious next step for a band whose size has started to outpace arena tours. Still, with SEVENTEEN on the stage, it’s not hard to imagine the cavernous stadium feeling just as small.