SEVENTEEN’s FML: Album Review
In their new album, SEVENTEEN embrace adventure, teamwork, and fully coming into their own.
While the topics in SEVENTEEN’s new songs are familiar to long-time fans, FML has novelty through its pacing and “손오공” (aka “Super”) music video. This new era mixes the dependable with the surprising, highlighting their vulnerable yet self-assured stance in new ways. In FML, the broad brushstrokes of SEVENTEEN’s artistry remain the same; what changes and expands is the full picture.
In contrast to some of their more cheerful album intros, FML begins with the dreary and low-tempo “F*ck My Life.” Its pain-filled, pessimistic lyrics and vocal delivery align with its steady lull. It’s the soundtrack for feeling stuck in a gloomy haze, one that feels more permanent than the one mentioned in 2017’s “Pinwheel” (“this damn world,” as opposed to “F*ck My Life”’s “this f*cking world”!).
Although SEVENTEEN’s sadness is more pronounced now, their confidence also shines brighter than ever. “Super” is a rousing song about feeling like anything is possible with the right team. There is stronger connective tissue between “F*ck My Life” and “Super” than it first seems: both songs are repetitive, with temporal consistency that goes with the relentlessness of the extreme emotion on which each lingers. Also, both songs are about being stronger together. “I love my team, I love my crew / We already made it this far… I love my team, it’s all thanks to you,” they declare in “Super.” They feel newly emboldened to handle all of life’s challenges when knowing that they have other people to rely on to get there. The source of their “F*ck My Life” funk is isolation: they are “getting tired of the dream [they have been] dreaming alone.”
They make a reliance on others literal with the “Super” music video, which has teamwork-requiring choreography and tight synchronization on a larger-than-ever scale. Their music has conveyed the “strength in numbers” message before, but never with a dance routine quite as impressive!
The first couple of songs in FML each stick to a consistent tempo, but the unit songs are the surprises inside! Instrumental layers are unevenly stacked up so that lower- and higher-tempo elements stay distinct. Each song has irreplicable eccentricities. “Fire” is a prime example, with next-level noisiness and a more liberal usage of autotune than is typical for them. It is a carefree celebration of the hard times that made them the unbeatable team they are today: “Even if I go back ten years… I have the confidence to rise again my way / We are [a] masterpiece… Win, win, win, win.”
The harmonies in “I Don’t Understand But I Luv U” enter and exit at unexpected times, the members’ pained voices backed by electric guitar riffs make for quite a juxtaposition, and the percussion goes from sounding like it has all day to leaving with a quick rattle. The song strays from past SEVENTEEN formulas sonically, but its lyrics have strong parallels to previous eras. They revisit the innate human desire to love and to be loved, and they wrack their brains trying to figure out how to do both the “right way.” In their early days, their songs focused on the agony of picking the right words to articulate affection for someone. Now, they sing about realizing some feelings are too strong for any words to suffice: “It’s enough for just the two of us to know… You know there are more important things than words between us, right?” In 2019’s “Good to Me,” they express exasperation at a lover not instinctively knowing how they feel without them having to say it: “Pass with the password / What in the world do you know about me? / Are my deep feelings seen by you?” Now, they make peace with the “Password that only the two of [them share] in secret.” Even if there is a “language barrier,” they now understand that all they truly need to feel a connection is authentic love, hence the song title.
“Dust” keeps things unpredictable with its high pitch, last-minute moment of harmonizing, and wide array of instruments. But in other ways, it is a classic SEVENTEEN song about memories overextending their welcome. In 2016’s “SIMPLE,” they sing about a monotonous and monochrome existence sans love: “It’s like this every day / In this big world I know I’m like a particle of dust / Nothing is easy / In this exit-less, maze-like world / Happiness is only a word / It’s just a dream that everyone wants.” They used to compare themselves to specks of dust and now use dust to represent the lingering remnants of a past relationship instead. They question what feelings have “piled up on top of” a past love’s photo that is still in their wallet and jacket that is still in their closet. The sentimental value given to those items remains, because the memories come “back like dust / And say ‘I still love you.’”
“April shower” balances a gentle tone with a powerful sound, a bouncy and fun combination produced by layered synths, piano, and drums. The song’s lyrics counteract the previously bitter ones and remind listeners to keep their chins up for the “May flowers” that “April showers” bring. This is the perfect choice for the album’s conclusion: it balances out the gloominess that starts the album and recalls previously-used symbolism in new ways. In the older song “Lucky,” SEVENTEEN say, “After the rain stops / Life is so beautiful,” and they revisit that belief in “April shower.” Their assertion that a tumultuous journey is worth appreciating as much as a dream destination is born anew: “When the April shower falls in late spring / Put down your umbrella and walk in the rain / We are like flowers that bloom in May / We go from waiting to beauty / We will go bloom more, more, more.” Their persistent belief that things will get better has been a hallmark of theirs, and it rings true in the FML teaser video, which encourages people to “Break free from the perfectly unhappy world” and make a future for themselves for which it’s worth fighting.
The refrain in “April shower” is the epitome of SEVENTEEN’s ongoing message: “Even if I walk a little slow in this rain / Even if the lights change freely / It’s like directing everything; it seems like a stage just for me / The curtain rises up, just like in a musical or a play.” In other words, if life is not going well, one always has the ability to rewrite the script and change the course of action. This line brings home how FML is more of a true-to-SEVENTEEN release than it first appears to be: it involves stormier seasons than in past albums, but the rainbow at the end shines as brightly as ever, thanks to the group’s ability to channel fear and grief into purpose, teamwork, and determination to keep going back to the drawing board. Their directing role in their own life stories is filled with both missteps and sources of satisfaction, and they would not have it any other way. They feel like the possibilities are endless because they are; the world is their stage, and the public is their captive audience!
When feeling lost in “F*ck My Life,” they sing, “My disappearing self, I just want to find it again / When I was young, the main character in the animation…” In “Super,” they once again feel like invincible cartoon characters: “This is the cartoon’s credits song.” Their future lives are limitless, and they have used the power of love and camaraderie to actualize that potential. (The movie and cartoon metaphors will be explained further in a separate essay). They literally expand and create new worlds in music videos like “DREAM” and “_WORLD,” a trend that goes well with the FML teaser video’s monologue about fighting for a new way to live.
FML is like a look through one’s closet. Some outfits have been reworn countless times, while other pieces one might have no memory of owning. Through SEVENTEEN’s latest release, they give fans comforting lyrical and thematic familiarity while bringing to the forefront aspects of their soundscape and visual storytelling about which fans had never known. SEVENTEEN are shining brighter than ever and showing off more of what’s been inside them all along. FML is unsurprisingly catchy and unexpectedly take-charge, a testament to the group’s tremendous growth in ways both internal and external.
Stay tuned for more SEVENTEEN-themed writing and a podcast episode about the new album!
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Revisit previous essays about SEVENTEEN below!