Seventeen Talks Embracing Ambition, Ditching Their Sweet Image — and the Searing New Single 'Hot'

PEOPLE chatted with Joshua, Hoshi, Woozi and Vernon ahead of the release of the group's fourth studio album, Face the Sun

Seventeen is back with a new album and a new image: grown.

The K-pop group's fourth studio album, Face the Sun, dropped Friday featuring a lead single, "Hot," that lives up to its name. PEOPLE sat down with four of the members — Joshua, Hoshi, Woozi and Vernon — to discuss the new music, leaving behind their "cheerful" image and accidentally setting fire to their hair.

The nine-track album, their first full-length in more than two years, expresses the 13-member group's more mature side: ambitious and passionate, as well as intentionally vulnerable and candid.

"I think this album in general, we just wanted to be more honest with our feelings and more honest with our fears. We wanted to expose that on a personal level," Joshua, 26, tells PEOPLE.

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During a press conference Thursday night, the group also shared their desire to show fans an image their polished appearance might not have allowed in the past.

"People remember us as cheerful artists because we have so many cheerful songs. We've been thinking, 'Oh why are they looking at us only like bright kids?'" said Seungkwan, 24. "Instead of being complacent, we wanted to convey our ambitions, our determination, and our worries as well."

One of the album's early teasers included the phrase, "I am not Seventeen anymore," triggering fears of a disbandment among Carats (their fans' group name), but Hoshi clarified at the press conference it referred only to "shedding our former image and becoming more mature."

Wonwoo, 25, perhaps put it most simply: "We're back with very hot, very sexy music."

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Their new single "Hot" and its accompanying music video certainly captures all of the above.

It features Vernon holding a smoking bullet in his mouth, THE 8, 24, flipping knives in a daredevil act, and Jeonghan, 26, as a sort of steampunk fallen angel, dragging one of his ripped off metal wings through the desert sand.

Wonwoo even seemingly has his George Michael "Freedom" jacket moment when he stomps on his iconic eyeglasses, a symbol of his bookish persona.

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For any viewers who weren't getting the message, Mingyu, 25, shoots out a neon sign featuring the name of the group's sugary sweet previous single, the all-English "Darling," taking out the L, so it reads "Daring."

The video also includes footage of motorcycles, a repeated motif from some of their promo photos. But asked if anyone in Seventeen can ride, Joshua admits, "None of us have a motorcycle license." (For the record, Vernon also confirmed his buzzed-about arm ink from the promos was just makeup: "All of them are fake. I have no tattoos," he tells PEOPLE.)

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There are plenty of pyrotechnics in "Hot," something at least one member might be skittish about after an earlier incident.

"When we were shooting the concept photos, we had to put a flower or a tree branch on fire [next to our faces]," Joshua recounts. "But I think DK put it too close and his hair caught on fire."

"What's even funnier is he didn't even realize it until he got home. It was just kind of sizzled. Kind of melted," adds Vernon.

While much of the album is hip-hop– and rock-inflected, there is still a touch of softness beyond "Darling." "'Bout You" is a followup to their funk-inflected debut, "Adore You." "Don Quixote" is swaggering; the bouncy "Domino" has a House influence; and the ballad "If You Leave Me" is something of a thank you note to Carats.

Every element of Face the Sun is carefully constructed and complex, filled with Easter eggs (check the color of their diamond rings in the "Hot" video) and callbacks for fans to discover. The group released a 13-part trailer called "Inner Shadows," in which each member reveals their deepest fear, and five different versions of the final album, all with the same songs but different visual concepts.

"It was exhausting," admits Joshua of the numerous shoots. "But we're really pleased with the outcome."

Adds Hoshi, "I love all five because of the way they come together to tell a story and the symbolic significance of breaking away from the confinement of your fears, burning them down by becoming the 'Sun' and then marching forward into a new world."

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The group — which also includes leader S.COUPS, 26, DK, 25, Jun, 25, and Dino, 23 — have been together for seven years, and just renewed their contract with Pledis in July 2021, something all 13 members decided to do collectively. And while they typically split up into "subunits" — Vocal, Hip-Hop and Performance — for some songs, they chose to make a show of solidarity on this album instead.

"When we first planned for the album, from the first stages, we had the idea to only include group songs," Woozi said in the press conference.

"[Face the Sun] is our first studio album after our contact renewal. It's going to be our new journey, our new leap," says Mingyu.

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The next part of the journey is a world tour that will come to the U.S. and Canada this summer after their last tour was cut short amid the onset of the pandemic.

"The last two years have been about becoming fully conscious of the value of a stage in front of a live audience," Hoshi tells PEOPLE. "I'm so excited and I can't wait to get back out there and share our energy with Carats."

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