I’ve made peace with the fact that Seventeen’s funky days are (largely) behind them. International audiences seem to prefer “dark” concepts, and worldwide fame is too tempting to ignore. The danger, of course, is that Pledis Entertainment already has Nu’est, who churn out songs with a darker palette on the regular. With a reliance on the same producers, Seventeen’s sound threatens to become redundant. They steered past this danger with August’s compelling Hit, which upped the tempo to support the kind of bravura dance performance that only they can deliver. New title track Fear sees them mired in the same moody murk that characterized much of Nu’est’s 2019 material.
Of course, this is Seventeen we’re talking about, so they’re going to elevate even the least exciting of K-pop tropes. Fear isn’t a bad track, despite succumbing to too many musical choices I never wanted from the group. Its hard-hitting instrumental melds moments of aimless, bass-heavy hip-hop with a thundering refrain that utilizes distorted bass to provide the kind of impactful palette that wouldn’t feel out of place on an NCT track. I like when the production pulls back for moments of silence, highlighting the vocals to create needed contrast. But, the song never feels like it’s building towards something bigger. This lack of momentum makes Fear come across as restrained and claustrophobic, constantly engaged in a push and pull struggle that doesn’t give the song a chance to open up and breathe.
Luckily, Fear is anchored by a strong chorus. Without this refrain, Fear would hardly be worth mentioning, and I think Woozi and Bumzu know it. We kick off immediately with the chorus, which provides a glimpse at things to come before the track retreats to a fitful blend of rap and rhythmic vocals. Seventeen give a reliably strong performance, though I wish the song didn’t force Seungkwan and D.K. to belt at such a high register. I’ve never found that tone to be pleasant in Bumzu-produced songs. It tends to come off like shrieking. The vocal arrangement is much better when it utilizes harmony and layering, offering a few knockout moments that give Fear unique character. But, now that Seventeen have got their “darkness” out of their system, I hope they don’t forget the musical sensibility that made them so engaging in the first place.
IATFB says: I, on the other hand, have not gotten over that their funky era is behind them. This kind of stuff puts them into random solid boy group release territory, where they begin to lack identity for me.