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The future of music and AI seen through SEVENTEEN’s “MAESTRO”

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SEVENTEEN made their latest release on April 29 with their title track, “MAESTRO.” The song’s music video is a performance of grandeur and precision, melding together an array of musical genres. A mix of hip-hop, classical, R&B and EDM, the track culminates in a groovy yet intense act on brand for the performance powerhouse. Having sampled from multiple songs throughout the group’s discography, the track recalls SEVENTEEN’s history of self-production. 

Nearing the group’s 9th anniversary, the team celebrated with the release of “SEVENTEEN BEST ALBUM: 17 is Right Here,” an anthology album which compiles their greatest hits throughout their career alongside 4 new songs. The turbulent track, “MAESTRO,” leads the album as the title track, and its music video looks at SEVENTEEN’s future as it imagines the coming reality of technology and AI’s rapid development. 

Trapped in a science-fictional cyberpunk setting, SEVENTEEN finds that the musical world has fallen subject to the dismal reign of AI as its technological conductors. A brief trailer for the music video poses the question: “In our current reality where anything can be created with AI, who is the real Maestro?”  

The teaser includes a small portion of AI-generated footage, showing poorly developed animations of stiff dystopian orchestras. These images are immediately juxtaposed with the clear dominant gazes of the SEVENTEEN members. Speculating a posthumanist reality where AI has seized control of the human world, the group seemingly claims to possess the artistry and individuality necessary to stand out with their unique style of music and production.

SEVENTEEN is known as a “self-producing idol group,” consistently involved in writing, producing and choreographing their work. Having pulled themselves up from the root of their debut, the team is widely praised for their personalized sound. “We take pride in our new combinations … it’s our thing,” they say in the lyrics of “MAESTRO.”

In their show of power, SEVENTEEN seems to remind us that technology originated as a product of humanity. In a scene resembling Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” group member Joshua reaches out toward a robotic arm as though he is breathing life and vitality into his creation.  

Continuous attempts of infiltration are seen as the members ascend the tower, taking control of their robotic opponents and battling their way to the top. We follow the team in an elaborate mission to reclaim their seized metronome-like tower, witnessing a narrative of seemingly conflicting sides: Humanity and AI. 

Yet there is a distinct level of ambiguity about who within the team is human and who is AI. While some members seem to play tough rebels sneaking their way into the tower, others find themselves already inside, bleeding with eerie perfection as they conduct the orchestra. Tracing a distinction does not seem particularly vital in the end, as this comparison of humanity and AI is not so much of an antagonistic opposition, but a mutual conversation.

The narrative is ultimately leaning into the question of how AI is used. Rather than attempting to create a concrete divide between humanity and AI, the ambiguity of the characters suggest that the greater importance is not in who comes out on top, but how we as creators choose to interact with the tools at hand.

Woozi, one of SEVENTEEN’s members, is widely recognized as a primary composer and producer for nearly all of the group’s tracks throughout their career. Woozi himself says that he has experimented with AI on his own time, attempting to learn where it functions and where it fails. 

“I’ve definitely practiced it a lot rather than just complain about the advancement of technology,” he said in SEVENTEEN’s global press conference. “I think that we have to walk alongside and with it.”

“MAESTRO” arises in an age where AI floats its way around the music community. Many AI-generated covers, in which singers’ voices are artificially replicated to sing other artists’ songs, frequently spread across social media and gain popularity. Some out of intrigue and others to ridicule. Even virtual groups, which are represented by real idols projected through motion capture, have spread through the K-Pop industry, reflecting a parallel pursuit of technology and its evolution. 

It is particularly in these creative industries, however that there remains a consistent disdain toward AI, as it poses a direct threat toward the personal autonomy, identity and efforts of countless creators.

Yet ignoring and actively refusing the forward movement of technology will likely leave artists behind in a rapidly evolving industry. As we continue to engineer new innovations and tools that come to integrate themselves into the industry, artists are pushed to adapt with it, establishing limits and finding a balance that maintains a devotion to their own voice. 

SEVENTEEN’s music encourages hope in learning how to make the most of a changing world. As they unite to conduct an orchestra composed of both humans and AI, they reclaim the title of the true “Maestros,” saying, “As we complete this piece together / I see us finally become one.”

Alaina Retodo is a 2023-2024 Arts & Entertainment Apprentice. She can be reached at aretodo@uci.edu

Edited by Annabelle Aguirre