NCT 127 released “Limitless” in January 2017. It’s great (although I’m a bit biased — it’s my favorite of their singles). The lyrics are super-inspiring — about pushing yourself and exploring the limits of your talent — and I love when k-pop lyrics bend backwards to focus on their own group instead of singing another version of the generic love song.
The sound mixing on this one is different from a lot of k-pop. It’s dirty, grotty, grimy, built on an unrelenting bass line that creates a layer of underlying noise, which is both transcended by (notably singers Doyoung and Taeil) and mirrored in (Taeyong’s deep rap talent) the vocals to fantastic effect. It’s surprising, ESPECIALLY for a k-pop group out of SM Entertainment.
This comeback came with two music videos, of which the dance performance version is far stronger. The choreography is stellar, and of course the NCT boys perform it flawlessly. Plus, Taeil wears a jacket that looks like a shark.
You really can’t go wrong with sharks.
But apparently something HAS gone wrong in NCT-land, because 127 released a new version of “Limitless” this week and it violates quite a number of conventions.
It’s been over 6 months since the original Limitless comeback, and NCT 127 has gone through an entirely new era of music since then. (Cherry Bomb, for those of you who aren’t stalking them on YouTube like I am.)
The entire concept of NCT 127 was to promote based in Seoul, and this video is in Japanese. In fact, not only are the lyrics changed to Japanese, but the mix is different (bright and futuristic) and an entirely new video has been shot, that keeps the grotty NCT 127 trappings but makes them shinier (and one presumes more friendly to the Japanese market).
Twice has been cleaning up in Japan recently, and I could see SM jumping on that model. NCT 127’s Yuta is from Osaka, and he’s very charismatic in the way that Twice’s Japanese members also are.
NCT 127 is no longer confined to promoting in Seoul. Rather, they’re being sent out farther in Asia to promote. They’ve also been attending fanmeetings in Thailand.
This means that like the defunct concepts of Super Junior (one constantly rotating group of juniors to splinter off new groups each year) and EXO (one group, but two simultaneously-promoting subunits), the NCT concept is also dead. NCT was created to be a group with limitless members, breaking off into subunits based on geographical region and/or other concepts. NCT U was “proof of concept,” showcasing SM’s willingness to experiment with musical styles and their dedication to finding Actual Rappers. NCT 127 was the flagship, promoting in Seoul — but which hasn’t caught fire in Korea yet. (Wake up, Korea, these boys are great.) And then there’s NCT Dream, a SuJu-like group made up of the teenage members of the NCT overgroup.
I suspect that Ten, the Thai member of NCT who so far has only debuted with NCT U, was tapped to be the leader of the NCT-Thai group. SM held auditions in Thailand in Spring/Summer 2016. Nothing has materialized yet. Ten’s behavior in backstage videos (fun, but not necessarily leader material) and his “only” 4 million view SM Station test case, Dream in a Dream, probably put the nail in that coffin.
SM does a lot of A/B testing before they unleash a concept onto the world, and it’s looking like the concept of an ever-expanding worldwide NCT will not happen. Also, NCT stopped introducing themselves with “To the world…” which is sad because it was super endearing.
Anyway, while I’m glad that NCT 127 is sticking around, and I’m glad that SM is putting backing behind them, I’m a little sad to see the weird NCT concept go by the wayside.