SF9 Comeback Review: “Roar”

SF9 really impressed me with their debut last fall.  I didn’t know a whole lot about them because I quit watching d.o.b (their survival show Dance or Band) halfway through.  They weren’t doing so well when I stopped, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that they were going to debut first.  What they’ve done so far shows me that they have a lot of potential.

If you want to learn more about what I look at in my reviews, click here.

*WARNING!* This reviews assumes the reader has listened to the song and/or watched the music video.

Current concept: I’m not sure if SF9 has a specific concept? So far it seems like they’re going for a “cool guy” look, but I don’t know if that’s an actual thing. I feel like instead of a concept, they’re becoming known for polished performances and stylized choreography.

SONG:

SF9’s signature sound appears to be electronic pop dance tracks, or what I would deem “club jams.” I haven’t listened to their whole mini album yet, but “Roar” is very stylistically similar to “Fanfare.”  They have a lot of the same elements, including distinctive percussion, dashes of electronica, and choruses that go hard.  They even share a structure: smooth vocal verses, build up through the rap, and then a chorus with aggressive percussion.

Despite all of these technical similarities, I do think that the two tracks end up with a different sound.  “Roar” has much smoother verses.  The verses are pretty stripped down and have a soft beat with minimal electronic influence.  The boys also sing with a very soft and breathy tone. It’s a little jarring when Zuho comes in rapping because he has such a deep and powerful voice, but it does help build into the chorus.  Overall, I think that there’s a very nice progression throughout the track.

I prefer “Roar” to “Fanfare,” but I do think that there are still some areas that need to be improved. For example, I’m not a huge fan of the chorus.  It’s a little repetitive, but not in a good way. And I think that it could have been more high-energy to provide a sharp contrast with the verses.  That being said, I really like the verses.  Their soft tone is very appealing, and I’m a huge fan of Taeyang’s “Hey.” It’s just so enticing, and it draws you in. It’s definitely the kind of song that makes you want to groove.

SCORE: 16/20

LYRICS:

To continue my idea of SF9 doing “club jams,” “Roar” appears to be about people at the club, or a particularly exciting weekend night. When I looked at the lyrics, I realized how rare it is for K-pop songs to be about partying…at least compared to American music.  Don’t get me wrong, part of the reason that I gravitated towards K-pop was because I was tired of American pop being mostly about dancing and drinking up in the club. But now that I’ve looked up the lyrics to my favorite K-pop songs and discovered that they’re pretty much all about love, it’s kind of refreshing to hear a song where it’s more about having fun.

Although “Roar” is susceptible to some pretty generic lines like “shake it everybody” and “bounce like oh” (that one’s in English!), there are some creative ones as well.  As someone who is a bit of a homebody, I particularly enjoy lines like “Wake up and check the atmosphere” and “Burn your youth.” They kind of make me want to go out and dance the night away.

Lest we forget that this is a group of attractive men singing to us, there are hints of chemistry with a girl.  Taeyang sings “We don’t have much time, don’t mistake it, don’t hesitate.” This probably refers to the fact that they’ll probably never see each other again after this night, so just enjoy the moment and dance. And Youngbin raps, “I ask your forgiveness, hiding behind the youth,” which I also think is about being young and reckless and seizing the day when it comes to flirting.

It’s not really anything super profound, but the lyrics match the vibe of the song.  Plus it reminds me of parties back in college.  It captures the essence of that game you play when you make eye contact with someone attractive across the room and you want them to approach you.

SCORE: 7/10

LINE DISTRIBUTION:

I can’t really find any conclusive information on the members’ exact positions besides Wikipedia, so I looked at the line distributions for their other songs to get an idea.  Here’s what I inferred from “Fanfare,” “K.O.,” and “Roar”:

Vocal Line: Taeyang, Inseong, Rowoon, Dawon, Jaeyoon.  Taeyang is definitely a main vocal. I think Inseong could be a main or lead vocal.  Rowoon and Dawon seem to be the lead vocals, which I guess makes Jaeyoon a sub-vocal.

Rap Line: Zuho, Youngbin, Hwiyoung, Chani.  Zuho and Youngbin are the main rappers (Youngbin might be a lead rapper), while Hwiyoung and Chani are sub-rappers.

Like their other two songs, Taeyang ends up with the most lines.  This time though, I think it’s because he sings “Hey” a bajillion times and has a bunch of small lines throughout the song.  Inseong is the one who has traditional main vocal status, as in he has a lot of lines and some ad-libs at the climax.  Dawon gets some good lines from the chorus and shares some of Taeyong’s “Hey” lines.  Jaeyoon gets slightly less than what he did in “Fanfare,” and Rowoon has the least amount.  This is somewhat surprising, since he had a lot of lines in “K.O.” and he does lead in the song.

As for the rap line, Zuho is the main rapper this time around (Youngbin had more lines than him in “Fanfare”). And Hwiyoung has a decent amount of lines too!  Chani winds up getting the short end of the stick, with about one rap line and the trademark “Roar” before the chorus. But performance-wise he’s center, so he evens out.

Compared to the other two songs that they’ve promoted, this line distribution is fairer.  Taeyang still comes out on top, but the percentage of what he has is much lower than before. And although some members have less lines than in previous songs, it’s a direct consequence of others getting more.  But honestly, I’m just happy Hwiyoung has something more than “You’ll never escape me, right?”

SCORE: 8/10

CHOREOGRAPHY:

(I put both the performance video and a fancam, because the routine caters to the camera)

FNC has constantly promoted SF9 as being their agency’s first male dance group.  I’m not sure if this is the intended effect, but because of this I tend to look at them primarily for their dancing skills.  They do have vocals with potential, but for the most part I’m really only looking at the choreography and the formations.  As long as they deliver dynamic and interesting performances, I’m good.

My feelings about the choreography are very similar to my feelings about the song. I really like what they’re doing in the verses, but I’m not so satisfied with the chorus.  I feel like the key choreography is overly simplistic. It only hits the main beat instead of playing with the different rhythms.  This surprises me, seeing as their arrangement for “K.O.” is so intricate and nuanced.  There’s nothing wrong with easier choreography – in fact, sometimes I like that because it’s easier for me to learn!  But the thing is, their reputation is kind of being built on their performances.  So if they really want to stand out, they really need to deliver on the choreography front.  It’s still an enjoyable routine, but it doesn’t build on the momentum they started with their debut.

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That being said, there are a lot of elements that show off SF9’s established style.  The choreography is mostly fancy legwork accompanied by powerful arm movements.  Although I think they could have worked with the rhythm more, there is a clear distinction between the laid-back verses and the sharp and crisp choruses.  The choreography for the verse is especially well done – it’s very smooth and fluid.

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The whole thing gives off a very cool guy feel, which corresponds with their current image. As expected of a group acknowledged for their dance, the boys are very synchronized and their performance is very clean.  There is no black hole – a rare feat for a large group.

Side note: Watching Taeyang do that flip makes me miss Got7 and their acrobatics.  I always love when there are cool stunts.

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SCORE: 16/20

CENTER AND FORMATIONS:

This is a routine that makes use of cameras.  Normally, I’m not a huge fan of these kinds of performances because looking good for the camera usually becomes the priority over the choreography.  But in this case, I think that it’s really well done.  Although the camera moves a lot, it’s mostly an observer and not a key player. They made a good choice in focusing on Taeyang, who weaves back and forth between the two groups for the first verse and makes the translation look seamless.

Speaking of Taeyang, he is definitely the focus for this song…at least, for the first half. Chani is technically the center because he’s anchoring all three choruses, but Taeyang gets a lot of individual parts. It’s very similar to NCT 127 and “Limitless,” when Taeyong appeared constantly throughout the song but Yuta was the center.  There are other members who get significant center time like Dawon and Jaeyoon, but generally the group does a really good job of showing off all of the members.

Most big groups these days know how to use every single person to create dynamic performances. What I like about SF9 in particular is that they don’t need all members dancing at all times. In “Roar,” it’s very rare to see them all moving at once – it’s mostly during the chorus or key moments.  Instead, they focus on small groups to color the different parts of the song. It does a good job of highlighting each of the members, and it ensures that attention on them is spread evenly across the board.

SCORE: 9/10

MUSIC VIDEO:

“Roar” fits my definition of an aesthetic music video.  It’s a lot of shots of dancing interspersed with shots of the boys in their respective locations. There’s no plot or story, and everything is focused on making the music video – and the group – look visually appealing and interesting.  There does seem to be a visual concept referencing cars: there are tires and flashing lights like in a garage, plus the members can be seen in mechanic outfits.  But that might tie into the overall look of the album rather than anything story-related.

While the music video is aesthetically pleasing, it’s not anything really new.  It actually reminds me of a bunch of other ones that I’ve seen, most notably NCT U’s “The Seventh Sense” with the red background and guys singing in boxes.  I can also see influences from many of the hot boy groups of today.  I’m not saying that SF9 is specifically copying any of these groups, I mean that the music video chooses to follow the popular generic trends of today – without allowing the boys to put their own mark on it.

There are some aspects that I really like. I was very drawn to the bright color palates and the effects done in the chorus.  I think that the music video would have been very interesting (and consistent) if they had chosen one specific color and used the effects to go between that and the black and white.  It would have provided a nice contrast between warm and cold color schemes. Plus it could have visually depicted the balance between the music and choreography that I mentioned.

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SCORE: 15/20

STYLING:

SF9 has generally chosen to stay uniform with their styling.  They usually all wear the same outfit with different details: school uniforms, sports jacket with black jeans, mechanic costumes, etc. On one hand, I really like the fact that they’re promoting one solid image and that they all look like one unit.  On the other, it makes it hard for me to tell them apart.  I know all of their names, but I can only put names to faces because I’ve been spending writing this review.  Before, I could probably only identify half of them.  For a new group that’s trying to attract fans, they’re not making it easy to differentiate the members.  Luckily, they all have fairly different hairstyles to compensate.

STYLE MVP: Hwiyoung, who is just slaying visually with that white hair. Excuse me, how is this person only seventeen years old?

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SCORE: 7/10

FINAL TALLY:

Song – 16

Lyrics – 7

Line Distribution – 8

Choreography – 16

Center and Formations – 9

Music Video – 15

Styling – 7

TOTAL: 78 

CONCLUSION: SF9 was one of my favorite debuts of 2016.  I really do think that they have a lot to show and that they could make it big. Sometimes it’s hard for rookie groups to settle on a distinct look, but they already have a solid foundation.  Their signature sound isn’t necessarily unique, but it is distinctive. Plus they already have the makings of a cool and chic image. The problem lies in being able to attract fans in a market where there are handsome and talented boy groups everywhere you look.

There are a lot of things that can make an idol group great. But if you look at all of the ones out there, you’ll find that they’re all the same to a degree.  They’re all attractive, they’re all talented, they’re all funny and dorky offstage, they all excel in every area, etc. What’s key is that all of these groups, though they share these qualities, have different vibes to them. And that’s what helps them stand out.  GOT7 are the crazy fun extra dorks, and Seventeen are the fun friends with a deep bond.  BTS has their meaningful lyrics and their cryptic music videos.  Some groups rely heavily on concepts, like dark (Vixx) or bright (Astro). SF9’s labelmate AOA struck gold when they did their sexy concept.  None of these things are necessarily exclusive to that particular group.  They’re just what they’ve become known for, and what draws people in to discover more about them.

I personally feel that SF9 could build their image into the cool, chic guys with killer dance moves – especially if they keep that uniform thing going on. Knife-like choreography is pretty much the norm these days, but I think that they could really become known for their performances. If they keep cranking out strong dance jams and backing them up with stellar routines, they’ll be able to hit it big.  Honestly, they have everything they need. I hope that next time they will come up with something a little more unique that breaks them out of the generic boy group tropes.

BONUS: Since it’s Valentine’s Day, enjoy their special dance version of “Roar” – filled with flowers and cuteness.

Sources: Youtube, Wikipedia, FNC Entertainment, M2 (MNET)

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