PLEDIS Entertainment
July 29, 2020 12:12 PM EDT

They were going full steam ahead in their world tour schedule, fresh off the North American leg of Ode to You and slated to perform in several more cities across Asia and Europe. But after their concert in Pasay, the Philippines, K-pop powerhouse SEVENTEEN canceled the remaining shows in February and March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the change in plans, the 13-member group from South Korea still found ways to bring fans together. “Left & Right,” SEVENTEEN’s new title track from the latest album Heng:garae, created the perfect opportunity for a quarantine TikTok dance challenge. With an easy-to-learn chorus routine—choreographed by main dancer Hoshi and members of Team Same, a choreography team SEVENTEEN works with regularly—and a catchy refrain resonant of the Cupid Shuffle, “Left & Right” drew fans from around the world, and a large number of K-pop artists, to groove along.

Heng:garae’s success did not stop there. The album—whose title is the Korean word for throwing someone into the air in celebration—sold more than one million physical copies in its first week, according to the music chart Hanteo. BTS is the only other Korean act to have surpassed this number with its first-week sales. Heng:garae now ranks third in all-time weekly album sales in South Korea, behind BTS’ Map of the Soul: 7 and Map of the Soul: Persona. SEVENTEEN’s path to this milestone—and, more broadly, to becoming one of the top K-pop groups internationally—has been a slow and steady rise since the act’s debut in 2015. The 13 members’ skills range from songwriting to choreographing in addition to their expertise in singing, rapping and dancing, hence establishing their strong reputation in the K-pop industry as self-producing idols.

In May, Big Hit Entertainment, home to BTS, became the largest shareholder of PLEDIS Entertainment, SEVENTEEN’s label. While PLEDIS is expected to retain its independence, the move has prompted SEVENTEEN’s fans to discuss what changes this might bring to the group.

Here is a primer on SEVENTEEN, including the background behind the group’s name, who’s who among the members and where to start with their music.

Why are they called SEVENTEEN?

The number is the sum of 13 members, the three sub-groups they break into and the one team they form when they all come together.

What are the sub-groups in SEVENTEEN?

In a group of this size, showcasing individual skills becomes challenging, as most three-to-four-minute songs are divided among 13 members. SEVENTEEN’s sub-group system helps solve this problem. The hip-hop unit (S. Coups, Wonwoo, Mingyu, Vernon), vocal unit (Woozi, Jeonghan, Joshua, DK, Seungkwan) and performance unit (Hoshi, Jun, The8, Dino) specialize in rapping, singing and dancing, respectively. On most albums since 2015, the members record songs in these units in addition to recording as a whole group. Different combinations of the artists are regularly formed, including a “Leaders” unit—featuring the leaders of the three sub-groups—and the special unit BSS, consisting of comedic trio Seungkwan, DK and Hoshi.

What makes SEVENTEEN different from other groups?

SEVENTEEN has promoted itself as a self-producing group since debut. This does not mean that the members create their material entirely on their own, as they have repeatedly recognized the producers and choreographers with whom they work closely. Nevertheless, it is rare for K-pop acts to be so heavily involved in the direction of every album and performance, especially from inception. In the act’s first mini album in 2015, 17 Carat, vocalist Woozi contributed to the writing of all five tracks and Hoshi worked on the choreography for two songs, “Shining Diamond” and “Adore U.” Since then, both members have retained leading roles in their respective areas.

Over the past five years, Woozi has co-composed most of SEVENTEEN’s songs alongside PLEDIS’ in-house producer Bumzu, and takes on a directing role in the recording studio. Other members are frequent contributors to the music production, with the four rappers of the hip-hop team writing lyrics for their sub-unit’s tracks. By 2017, all members of SEVENTEEN had writing credits. And while Hoshi has co-choreographed most of SEVENTEEN’s title tracks to date, the other three members of the performance team regularly create choreography for their sub-unit’s songs and other projects.

SEVENTEEN also sets itself apart for being larger than most Korean idol groups. The size creates opportunities for visual storytelling through the act’s formation in performances. In the recent release “My My,” the artists’ moves paint the picture of main vocalist Seungkwan riding on a boat in the splashing sea. In the 2017 hit song “Don’t Wanna Cry,” their positioning creates the image of two members walking under street lamps. These scenes would be much more difficult, or impossible, for smaller groups to execute. Despite its large size, SEVENTEEN has also earned recognition as one of the most synchronized K-pop acts. The choreography video for “Don’t Wanna Cry,” for instance, shows all members dancing with extreme precision and near-perfect timing.

Who are the members of SEVENTEEN?

S.Coups (Full Name: Choi Seungcheol), 24

Unit: Hip-hop Team (Leader)

The leader of both SEVENTEEN as a whole and the hip-hop unit, S.Coups shoulders the most responsibility. His leadership strength lies in his ability to find opportunities for all members to shine, sometimes by stepping back himself. With a stage name that combines “S” for the first letter in his name, Seungcheol, and “Coups” for “Coup d’état,” S.Coups has a dominating presence onstage as he raps and dances. Last November, PLEDIS announced that S.Coups would take a hiatus due to symptoms of anxiety. In the recent documentary SEVENTEEN: Hit the Road, which aired in May, he opens up about this experience. The oldest member has since returned, fully participating in the album promotions for Heng:garae and posting multiple messages of thanks to Carats—the name for the group’s fans—on the community platform WeVerse.

Jeonghan (Full Name: Yoon Jeonghan), 24

Unit: Vocal Team

The vocalist with an airy voice, Jeonghan’s verses in SEVENTEEN’s songs are often soothing. He’s apparently self-aware when it comes to this quality, having started the live radio series “Glass of Warm Milk” on the streaming platform V Live in 2017. “When you drink a warm cup of milk and close your eyes, you go to sleep right away,” he said in the first show, expressing that he wants to help listeners fall asleep more easily. Jeonghan frequently provides a mischievous comic relief in the group’s variety show appearances, creating chaos in any setting from mafia games to mini quadricycle races.

Joshua (Full Name: Hong Jisoo), 24

Unit: Vocal Team

Hailing from Los Angeles, Joshua moved to Korea as a teenager to become an idol. Although he is one of the group’s more soft-spoken personalities, Joshua takes on the unofficial roles of the translator and the spokesperson—along with fellow Korean-American Vernon—when SEVENTEEN is in the States. Joshua’s gentle voice is highlighted in the group’s tracks, and he also plays the guitar after being on the musical worship team when he attended church in the U.S. The vocalist carries an air of sophistication—he has introduced himself as “SEVENTEEN’s gentleman”—and hosts “Wine and Cheese” live broadcasts where he makes song recommendations.

Jun (Full Name: Wen Junhui), 24

Unit: Performance Team

Born in Guangdong, China, Jun launched his career in the entertainment industry as a child actor. He starred in multiple TV series and films before joining SEVENTEEN. An animated performer, Jun is nimble with his body and displays a wide array of facial expressions. The singer released his solo single “Can You Sit By My Side” in 2018, and, beyond the group’s tracks, showcases his delicate voice in covers of Mandarin songs. Most recently, Jun and the group’s other Chinese member, The8, recorded Mandarin versions of songs from the soundtrack of the popular Korean drama “The King: Eternal Monarch.”

Hoshi (Full Name: Kwon Soonyoung), 24

Unit: Performance Team (Leader)

The group’s main choreographer, Hoshi packs storytelling into complex dance moves. Beyond his choreographing expertise, he is a leader in SEVENTEEN’s performances with his explosive energy. His stage name, short for “tiger’s gaze” in Korean, is an apt description of the fierce intensity he exudes when performing. But the artist has effectively turned this persona into a meme. He constantly refers to himself as a tiger, wears clothes that feature tigers and poses with hands that imitate a tiger’s paws at any chance he gets—prompting his bandmates to repeatedly remind him in jest that he is, in fact, human.

Wonwoo (Full Name: Jeon Wonwoo), 24

Unit: Hip-hop Team

Wonwoo’s deep-voiced rapping is easily recognizable across SEVENTEEN’s songs, and he has delivered a number of the impactful opening and closing parts in recent title tracks. Besides his hobbies as a reader and a gamer, Wonwoo has experience in video editing—he directed the 2018 music video for the group’s summery track “Holiday.” In Hit the Road, Wonwoo talks about feeling at home in the group although he has a more reserved personality. “I’m a very introverted person naturally, so I always felt I couldn’t fit in that well, anywhere, since I was young,” he said. “But in SEVENTEEN, I didn’t get any of that feeling.”

Woozi (Full Name: Lee Jihoon), 23

Unit: Vocal Team (Leader)

Besides co-composing the majority of SEVENTEEN’s tracks, Woozi has written songs for a number of other Korean artists, from girl groups to soloists. With a background in classical music, he plays a range of instruments, including the piano, guitar, drums and clarinet. While behind-the-scenes clips of recording studio sessions highlight Woozi’s more serious side as he diligently fine-tunes every member’s part, the many SEVENTEEN reality shows from across the years show him at ease and frequently bursting into laughter at his bandmates’ antics.

DK (Full Name: Lee Seokmin), 23

Unit: Vocal Team

DK, or Dokyeom, is known for his warm and rich voice as one of the group’s two main vocalists. Although he once shared doubts about this position on SEVENTEEN’s pre-debut reality show, DK has developed into a poised singer and a pillar of the act’s vocal performances. Outside of the group’s tracks, he often shares song covers that are recorded casually while sitting on the floor and strumming the guitar. In 2019 DK starred in the musical Xcalibur, playing the lead role of King Arthur in his first venture into theatrical acting. He is one of SEVENTEEN’s key mood-makers, with an enthusiastic and goofy character.

Mingyu (Full Name: Kim Mingyu), 23

Unit: Hip-hop Team

Though Mingyu’s official role in SEVENTEEN is a rapper, he’s more of a renaissance man. His paintings were once showcased at “17’S CUT,” an exhibit celebrating the group’s third anniversary. The 6-foot-something member is often carrying a camera, and recently directed a music video for the track “Snap Shoot” for which he is credited in every role from Producer to Stylist. Beyond the arts, Mingyu has shown talent as a cook. When the members of SEVENTEEN became island castaways for one of the group’s variety shows, Mingyu deftly mastered tasks from gutting and cleaning fish to breading and frying chicken.

The8 (Full Name: Xu Minghao), 22

Unit: Performance Team

With years of experience in Wushu, or Chinese martial arts, and breakdancing, The8 is not only a lithe dancer but a specialist in flips and jumps like the butterfly kick. Hailing from Liaoning, China, The8—whose stage name comes from the number resembling the infinity symbol when laid sideways, as well as it being a lucky number in Chinese culture—is passionate about art and fashion. His canvas paintings make frequent appearances on SEVENTEEN’s social media accounts, and The8 painted the cover art for his two solo singles in Mandarin, “Dreams Come True” and “Falling Down”—both of which he co-composed.

Seungkwan (Full Name: Boo Seungkwan), 22

Unit: Vocal Team

The main vocalist of the group along with DK, Seungkwan excels at steady song delivery in live performances. When he is not hitting high notes or competing with fellow members to hit the highest note, Seungkwan is busy being the group’s “variety king”—a nickname given to those in K-pop groups who have a knack for entertaining the audience. Always ready to poke fun at himself, the artist from Jeju Island has been a cast member of talk shows outside of SEVENTEEN’s own series. He was awarded the “Rookie Award for Music and Talk” at the 2018 MBC Entertainment Awards for his work in two shows.

Vernon (Full Name: Hansol Vernon Chwe), 22

Unit: Hip-hop team

Born in New York, Vernon moved to Korea when he was young and is fluent in both English and Korean. The rapper has an extensive list of songwriting credits across SEVENTEEN’s discography, participating in crafting the lyrics for multiple tracks as well as contributing to song composition—including “My My” on the latest album. Behind his laid-back nature is a quiet dedication to his craft. Hit the Road shows Vernon, after midnight, setting up his recording equipment and rapping in the solitude of a hotel room.

Dino (Full Name: Lee Chan), 21

Unit: Performance Team

Though he is the youngest member of the group, Dino has been one of its boldest performers. He does not miss a beat when prompted to dance in unfamiliar settings, and confidently busts out moves on the streets. Dino has played an active role in choreographing SEVENTEEN’s performances over the years, and notably created the six-person dance for the track “Flower.” In 2018 he started “Dino’s Danceology,” a series of routines he choreographs to songs by other artists. A standout is the video for Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker,” where Dino displays his trove of facial expressions and sharp moves as he dances by the beach.

Which variety shows help introduce the group to newcomers?

Variety shows are a key way for members of K-pop groups to show parts of their personalities that are often different from their onstage personas. To get started, SEVENTEEN PROJECT: Debut Big Plan is a reality series following the 13 members as they carry out missions in the final days leading up to their debut in May 2015. One Fine Day—13 Castaway Boys and One Fine Day in Japan—which aired in 2016 and 2017, respectively—test the members’ survival skills as they navigate life on an island in the former and complete assigned quests across Japan in the latter. The ongoing reality series GOING SEVENTEEN is a mix of games, challenges, behind-the-scenes moments and more edited into weekly episodes released on YouTube and V Live.

On a July 2020 episode of GOING SEVENTEEN modeled after America’s Got Talent, member Wonwoo sang two words from “Curry,” a Korean song released by musical duo Norazo in 2010 that has lyrics containing stereotypes about South Asian culture. The song has been played and performed in various Korean variety shows over the years. After fans expressed concerns about the insensitivity of “Curry” on social media (and pointed out that members DK and Vernon also sang lines from the song in a video from April 2020), one singer in Norazo posted an apology for the offense caused by the song. PLEDIS responded to TIME’s request for comment by saying it has no official statement regarding the incident.

Where should I start with their music?

SEVENTEEN’s title tracks are a good place to begin, as they span genres and set different moods. The dance-pop number “Left & Right” has the kind of simple, groovy hook that’s prime for a TikTok challenge, with melodies that add complexity. While the earlier works “Adore U” and “Very Nice” are SEVENTEEN canon, they are fresh and youthful anthems that contrast with the more introspective, emotional releases that have followed, such as “Don’t Wanna Cry” and “Thanks”.

For ballads, try “Smile Flower,” featuring all 13 members, or fan-favorites from the vocal unit like “Don’t Listen in Secret” and “Habit.” For hard-hitting performance-centric tracks with some of SEVENTEEN’s most demanding choreography, the dance practice videos of “Hit” and “Getting Closer” show the group pushing beyond physical limits.

Write to Kat Moon at kat.moon@time.com.

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