SEVENTEEN, Autism, and Me
How SEVENTEEN’s new album exemplifies why I connected with their music in the first place.
SEVENTEENTH HEAVEN is an homage to SEVENTEEN’s past eras, a reiteration of their discography’s core values, and a galvanizing call to stop hiding one’s light. Its eternally relevant themes and “come as you are” ethos can strike a particularly effective chord with autistic listeners like me. Their discography has always addressed the desire to be seen and heard, but SEVENTEENTH HEAVEN makes that desire more overt than ever. SEVENTEEN make themselves clear: Everyone is invited to their party, and the power of music to reach people who otherwise feel excluded is something they deeply value.
Life as an Autistic Person
As I have written about previously, it is a lifelong process to remind myself that being autistic is not a problem that needs fixing; it is an inherent part of my identity, and what needs changing is a world that can be hostile to neurodivergent people. While being autistic means I have struggles that others do not, like being overstimulated very easily and freezing up when forgetting how to respond to social cues, my struggles come from societal factors more than autism itself. I can handle public spaces and conversations, but it is more challenging for me and requires more patience and compassion than many are willing to extend. Keeping a stoic face and reacting to things in abnormal ways are interpreted as me being rude, cringeworthy, and/or bored, when I actually listen to and feel what people say deeply. I am just unable to outwardly show it, since my inner world is often too loud and hard to regulate to have the bandwidth for showing my emotions “properly” in the external one. While many people can filter out and modify certain sensory stimulation, I do not have that ability, making concentration while communicating much more difficult.
Because my sensory issues make communication difficult and tiring, I prefer outlets other than speech for venting. One of my channels for expressing myself is through writing, and another is letting others do the talking for me, which is what music does! It adds texture and depth to the emotions I struggle to articulate.
SEVENTEEN’s music routinely references the ability for music to help when words alone fail: In “Circles,” they suggest, “Let's sing together / To cover the sadness with the powerful song;” “THANKS” is about gifting someone a song because merely telling them “Thank you” feels inadequate; “Don’t listen in secret” gives permission to let out sad feelings during a listening session (“You can listen to sad songs / And shed tears / Music is like that”). They also routinely talk about struggling to put intense emotions into words, like in “Mansae” (“My head is filled with things I want to say / Can someone say them for me?”) and “Love Letter” (“write down the words I had deeply swallowed”). To me, their message is not just “It’s okay to not know what to say or how to say it,” but also “You’re not failing by not finding the ‘right’ words; no words would suffice anyway!” SEVENTEEN’s songs about a kind of understanding that runs deeper than language strike a powerful chord with me. As someone with less on-demand access to communication skills, I value music to an extent that not many understand but that SEVENTEEN do.
SEVENTEENTH HEAVEN starts with “SOS,” a cry for help finding “the way out” that brings to mind the “SOS” cry in “Pretty U,” a song about feeling frustrated not knowing what to say or do to convey the utmost sincerity. But while “Pretty U” shows persistent frustration with feeling tongue-tied, “SOS” includes lyrics like “This song is so easy, you and I both know what I wanna say,” suggesting they are at peace with never finding the right words, letting the music say it all.
Regarding people like me, who have to consciously work harder at communicating than neurotypical people do, SEVENTEEN are not deterred. Past releases and this new one both express a “take your time” message: “No need to rush, you’re doing fine,” they sing in “My My;” “[S]low down / It’s okay to think about it more,” they sing in “Do Re Mi.” Now, in “SOS,” they assure listeners, “Don’t worry, I’ll be waitin’ here,” promising to show up emotionally no matter how long it takes to express oneself. They believe in people’s ability to find their “way out” of confusion eventually.
“God of Music”
The main single from SEVENTEENTH HEAVEN, “God of Music,” is an inclusive invitation for all to join SEVENTEEN’s carefree jam session in whichever ways they see fit. The people in the music video rock out in different outfits, places, and formats, but they all sing and chant along to the same song. Even little creatures get the chance to rock out with everyone: WOOZI offers an ant a miniature microphone to go with its mini-guitar, and later, a snail wears headphones! Music is a gift that connects people irrespective of background or language, and “God of Music” is SEVENTEEN’s expression of gratitude for that gift:
“If there is a God of Music / I want to give you a hug of gratitude / A universal language / Different alphabets, but no matter, as long as there’s music / We can’t communicate with words but with music / We can be best friends from now on / We’ve just met, but we can dance together.”
I have many days when I feel like an ant, an often-overlooked presence, if not an overt nuisance. Other days, I definitely feel like a snail, going through life at a pace for which neurotypical people do not always have the patience. But even the ant and snail are invited to join SEVENTEEN’s celebration! Even they are seen and given the supplies to listen to the same song as everyone else! The “God of Music” video makes sure no one of any shape or size misses out on the fun!
“Diamond Days” and a Trip to the Past
“Diamond Days” is an overt follow-up to “Shining Diamond,” a song from SEVENTEEN’s debut EP. Both songs use a diamond metaphor to explain how time and pressure create something that shines after a period of being buried “under the dirt.” Both songs also mention a “shining promise” and describe “every minute” and “every second” as precious jewels. SEVENTEEN’s grit has given them a shine that will never fade, although that ability to shine has been in them since the start. In “Diamond Days,” they sing, “We’re still the same as we were at the start,” something they reemphasize every time one of their lyrics nods back to a previous one.
SEVENTEEN’s commitment to staying true to themselves is reiterated throughout the “God of Music” video. From all-white outfits followed by scenes wearing colorful ones to 2D animations popping onto the screen, the video shares many elements with their debut song’s video, “Adore U.” Further reminding fans that they are still the same SEVENTEEN from their early years are indirect references. For example, 2016’s “Pretty U” includes the lines “Got so much to say / But can't organize myself / Help me, S.O.S,” and a new song is called “SOS.” Also in “SOS,” they answer a question from 2020’s “HEY BUDDY”: “Where are my friends?” They now sing, “Don’t worry, I’ll be waitin’ here / All the time, ‘cause I’m your friend” (emphasis added).
By revisiting conversations that started in previous eras, SEVENTEEN simultaneously take pride in where they have been and celebrate where they are now. They show that people can shine brighter over time, but the ability to shine has been there and worth uplifting all along. Like a diamond that never loses its value, everyone has intrinsic worthiness and can shine at their brightest in due time, a message that resonates with me and potentially many others who feel obligated to conform in a world not designed for us. I am capable of more than people think; I just need certain tools and extra time to prove it.
“Back 2 Back”
“Back 2 Back” mentions the “excitement that has broken through the field of view” while trying to walk through “cold wind and darkness” alone. This brings to mind songs like “Smile Flower,” in which they sing, “The chilly wind… You’ve become a part of the scenery that I take for granted.” They express a desire to better appreciate a loved one’s presence in their lives, pledging to be a “spring” that brings back one’s smile. “Back 2 Back” revisits SEVENTEEN’s long-used weather metaphor to talk about the new lens through which people see the world after letting in and fully appreciating those around them. This song seems to personally target my tendency to put walls up, assuming everyone will see me solely according to stereotypes.
“Monster” adds a quirky twist to the premise of a party invite, telling listeners to embrace their inner strangeness and “put [their] claws up”! “Monster” is arguably the most fun song on the album, but it still fits alongside the more substantive tracks through its message about embracing what others consider off-putting.
“Yawn” is about a feeling of profound emptiness that follows a loved one’s absence. This song returns to their go-to weather metaphor (“a wind that I have drawn”) and highlights the ways life lacks joy when lived in isolation. When lonely, music just becomes noise, a sentiment MINGYU expresses in his “13 Inner Shadows” video from last year. In that video, called “Harmony-Discord,” MINGYU worries that he is just making “noise,” not music, but now that he is around other people in “God of Music,” SEVENTEEN see that “even noise is music to us / We each live by our own boom and pow.” Relatedly, in the older song “Super,” they sing, “Misstep or not, the backbeat still goes pow” and make time to thank their team and “you” for helping them get this far. In these instances, SEVENTEEN learn how to both march to the beats of their own drums and become members of one big band! Alone, they feel like they are just making “noise,” but in a group, their different styles are mixed into musical magic!
The last song is “Headliner,” which expresses a sense of honor over getting to witness people get the shine they deserve. They promise, “Even if it rains again, I’ll be in your first row.” They have said as much in previous songs: “After the rain stops, life is so beautiful,” they remind listeners in “Lucky.” In “Flower,” they promise “To block the falling rain.” In “All My Love,” they sing, “I'll become your umbrella in the rain.” There is a subtle but key difference now, though. In “Headliner,” rather than reiterate their promise to be an “umbrella” to help someone withstand stormy days, SEVENTEEN promise to be there from a distance. They will still be there for the rainy days, but they have confidence in their loved ones’ abilities to handle those days on their own. They have gone from singing about offering hands-on support to sticking around just for moral support. Their message remains protective but not overly so, a fitting conclusion for a song that moves the spotlight away from themselves. This evolution is particularly touching to me, because autistic people are used to being underestimated. We want our unique needs met, but there is a way to meet those needs without “othering” or patronizing us. I love SEVENTEEN’s message that there is a middle ground between micromanaging someone, implying a lack of confidence in them, and staying hands-off to the point of appearing to no longer care.
The Story Continues
While the story SEVENTEEN tell through SEVENTEENTH HEAVEN ends with “Headliner,” listeners’ stories are just getting started! As usual, listeners are the final puzzle piece; SEVENTEEN’s releases always include a participatory component, making the audience active contributors to the final product. From the do-it-yourself album-assembling kit of the Heng:garae era to the underscore in “_WORLD” that is there for fans to fill in the blank, SEVENTEEN always promote personalization. They continue to validate each person’s creative input in this new era, both by singing about everyone being welcome to rock out with them in “God of Music” and by giving every album purchaser a wristband that serves as a festival invite. All kinds of people are encouraged to add onto SEVENTEEN’s story.
SEVENTEENTH HEAVEN is a celebration through and through: a celebration of SEVENTEEN’s discography throughout the years, of everyone’s inner light, and of the ways music brings people together to cherish the latter.
When people ask why SEVENTEEN’s music resonates with me so much, showing them SEVENTEENTH HEAVEN and the “God of Music” video answers that question for me! This era is the epitome of SEVENTEEN’s ability to move people. They double down on their go-to reminders, ones that everyone benefits from hearing but that I personally do at another level: Everyone deserves to feel like they belong, everyone has an inherent value that can never be taken from them, and everyone deserves to feel the relief that comes with knowing someone is rooting for them. SEVENTEEN’s music says, “We’re here for you and not going anywhere,” and that message of support and acceptance is refreshing and comforting to me.
Read my past essays about SEVENTEEN’s discography here, and hear more of my thoughts on SEVENTEENTH HEAVEN in the corresponding podcast episode!
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