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Tag: NCT (page 1 of 2)

Reinventing the NCT concept

I have so many thoughts about NCT 2018 Empathy. So many. Most of them are not positive, but I remain hopeful.

If you’re just joining this comeback cycle, I was not a huge fan of NCT U’s “Boss” but liked NCT Dream’s “Go” despite my dreamies being all grown up. The more I listen to “Go,” the more of a Haechan appreciator I’m become. His voice is gorgeous and he uses it impeccably. (“Boss” is growing on me, ngl. Listening to it on headphones is like suddenly going underwater and seeing all the coral reefs and fishes when previously you were just been dog paddling above the surface.)

However, that brings us to NCT 127 and “Touch.” Writing about it means that I should post the music video on my channel and for that I hate myself a little bit.

This video makes me cringe.

It’s clear that Dream and 127 swapped concepts for this comeback, with Dream taking the hard-edged grotty urban-inflected hip-hop sound, and 127 covering the squeaky-clean brightly lit bubblegum pop arena. However, unlike Dream’s previous singles (even “Chewing Gum”), “Touch” doesn’t have a twist, or a nudge-and-wink, or a naughty streak. It’s just plain, simple bright smiles and boyfriend material.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that–there certainly isn’t. But it isn’t why I started listening to NCT and certainly isn’t what attracts me to k-pop.

I recognize that I’m not the typical fan (I’m older than most of their target market), because I see the younger fans clearly enjoying the visuals of all the members in this comeback. And yes, they are all very good looking. But I miss the gonzo NCT styling which even applied to Dream when they were promoting. There are no fur hats or eyeball rings and shark jackets or fantasy military jackets. Or Gucci on a hoverboard.

It’s not just the visuals that bother me, though. The actual song “Touch” is really corporate sounding, like you’d stick it into a commercial for an off-brand soda. Frankly, it sounds like a reject from EXO’s winter album that some underling producer got stuck with trying to “funk it up” for NCT.

Which brings us to the Empathy album as a whole, which someone remarked should be called NCT 2016-2018 since it contains all the assorted non-album releases since NCT debuted. “Black on Black,” all of the NCT U songs. NCT U’s “The Seventh Sense” was the first song that drew me to NCT, and if I had discovered it on an album like Empathy, I don’t know if I would have explored more. (Of course it was Dream’s “My First and My Last” that really got me. NCT Dream is secretly everybody’s favorite.)

Specifically, I dislike albums that are all single and no b-side. Even with the intro and outro, there’s no reason for me to listen to Empathy on its own. NCT has always been weak in their discography–partly because they’re still experimenting with their sound but also because they only have mini albums and don’t have a body of work built up like a band like EXO or Big Bang did. Granted, the inherent structure of NCT’s design would make it more difficult to build up a body of coherent work, because they’re built up of subunits with different themes and sounds.

Even more specifically, I’m really disappointed by the song “Yest0day.” Interesting title, not a bad hook, fantastic rap from Mark (who is really starting to hone his chops), all ruined by an idiotic rap from Lucas. One of the main reasons I like k-pop is that even when the rap is simplistic or lacking finesse it’s not dumb. I hate dumb rap where they take a word and then rhyme it five times in a row without any rhythmic variation or wordplay or anything. Mark delivers the opposite of that. So does Taeyong. But Lucas the Usurper? No more dumb rap, please.

Now. Granted. Part of this sounds like the knee-jerk reaction of someone who is protective of a fledgling k-pop group. And that is true, I like NCT and being a person high in openness, I like the idea of an ever-expanding group that can shift to accommodate different musical styles and moods.

But it’s hard to watch SM deliberately crash the original NCT concept. One of the benefits of doing it now is that I know that I won’t have to watch it happen in slow motion, when producers run out of ideas and the concepts all start to morph slowly into each other and enough members leave that all the subunits are consolidated to keep the group alive. At least we don’t have that future.

Maybe (hah) this means that we can get more clarity out of future NCT subunits, who will emerge to deposit a well-conceived package of music into our earballs before evaporating back into the nebulous NCT mothership. (Isn’t that what the concept was supposed to be anyway?)

I suspect that the deliberate switching of Dream and 127’s concepts, plus the cataloging of U’s random singles into one album, serves as a zeroing-out for the group. I think this is supposed to be a new start, a time for all the subunits to develop empathy for each other’s concepts and learn how to work together or whatever. However they promote from this point forward, it won’t be the NCT that we started with.

On the plus side, SM is always A/B testing, so I’m hoping we’ll get something stronger out of this. The concepts for both Super Junior and EXO crashed too, and both groups did alright for themselves.


PS: SM Entertainment, this is my request for an official Mark/Haechan subunit.

NCT Dream grew up

But the dirty grotty basslines that characterize NCT title tracks will never die.

I’m definitely not complaining.

We all thought Mark was ‘graduating’ from Dream because he’s an adult now. I guess that was before SM rethought the entire concept of NCT.

And yet he’s back and rapping better than ever.

There’s a reason he’s my ultimate NCT bias.

Fun with Venn diagrams and k-pop

Twitter is a wonderland. Today’s bounty of wonder came in the form of a Venn diagram featuring the many incarnations of NCT.

The problem (“””problem”””) with this particular Venn diagram is that it’s entirely in Hangul, except for song titles which are deliberately in English.

This is not a problem–this is a puzzle! It’s a matter of cross-checking the members in each song with the other songs that they’re in, under which group. The name in the most-overlapping triangle, for instance, is Mark since he’s debuted with every group so far, and nearly every song. (He’s missing only from the NCT U vocal songs–Timeless and Without You–and the upcoming Tae/Ten release.

Then, I double-checked myself with the Hangul alphabet to make sure I had all of the names right, like in the case of Lucas and Jungwoo who both debuted with NCT U but haven’t yet done anything else, or the Dreamies.

Here’s a version in the Latin alphabet for us Westerners.

It’s a little messy but I didn’t want to completely obliterate the Hangul characters.

This is so much fun to look at. I’m excited for the rest of NCT 2018 and what different combinations they’ll come up with. Perhaps a Venn diagram will be impossible in the future–we’ll see.

Speaking of NCT 2018, we have been blessed with fancam of Taeyong and Ten’s Baby Don’t Stop which isn’t due to be released for a few more days.

300% better than Boss, tbh.

The styling is perfect. The choreo is dope and perfectly suited to this duo. The song is catchy as whoa. Sign me up.


NCT will fight U

NCT U is back y’all.

Honestly? I’m not that into it. It reminds me a little of the pre-debut test Bassbot, but without the musical or choreographic interest.

The Eastern Bloc-inspired uniforms and Ukrainian architecture can stay, but everything else can slide on by.


That doesn’t mean we can’t have some NCT appreciation. Or is it analysis?

Boss sounds like an NCT 127 track, but has the delicate task of debuting two new members. Hence it being a U song.

Like NCT 127’s Limitless, Boss is a rather unsubtle statement of NCT’s goals. The meme behind “limitless” was simultaneously the number of members in NCT, but also drilling the idea for limitless potential into the heads of the members. Same with Cherry Bomb: I’m the biggest hit on the stage.

In a behind-the-scenes video for Boss, Mark talked about how the video starts with all the members fighting over who’s boss, and ends with them realizing that they’re a team. I get the teambuilding exercise, but is it really the greatest idea to meme a fight between Taeyong and Mark into existence when a new members are lurking?

Oh, wait, I forgot this is SM Entertainment. Of course it makes sense to pit all of them against each other, especially as we’re bringing in new members. It’s basically a thematic representation of how some of us feel about the new members.

The Boss video features Lucas the Usurper, who is apparently a 3rd rapper in the NCT crew. Lucas was probably supposed to be the leader of group that would have included Kun and Jungwoo, plus others from the auditions. I wonder if SM wasn’t getting good auditioners? I wish we knew more about the sudden switch to NCT EVERYONE ALL AT ONCE.

Anyway, I’m not endeared to Lucas. He is direct competition for my boy Mark. I am not one of those all-inclusive fans. I want Mark to win, always. Just keeping it real, folks.

Jungwoo has a nice voice. He can stay.


On the style front, let’s appreciate the return of NC-TURTLENECK.

Thank you, Jaehyun, for your contribution.

NCT Batting Order

So SM Entertainment released a couple “video yearbooks” to promote NCT.

(Of course Taeyong is the thumbnail! That guy is so symmetrical his visuals could hurt someone.)

It’s kind of a fun way to introduce the crew, especially since it’s everybody all together, and help people learn names and personalities.

I’ve been trying to identify each of their personas, so this is a great opportunity to see how each member is presented.

Here’s a numbered list because I’m not sure how many of them there are these days:

  1. Taeyong the Most Beautiful Rapper in the World
  2. Jaehuyn the All-American Korean Poetic Beauty
  3. Jungwoo (new)
  4. Winwin the Romantic Angel Prince
  5. Ten the Bond Villain (Dramatic)
  6. Jisung the Bboy (Athletic)
  7. Jaemin (not really new, but might as well be)
  8. Yuta the Mischievous
  9. Haechan the meek lamb schoolboy not the cheeky maknae no sir not a foot out of line
  10. Chenle the Savant (Ingenious?)
  11. Taeil the Inexplicable (Smart but weird, not stable like Professor Doyoung)
  12. Kun (new)
  13. Johnny the Not Sure Why He’s There But He Sure Is Cool
  14. Lucas (new)
  15. Doyoung the Professor (seriously he is prefect for this role it suits him so well)
  16. Renjun, He of the Long Neck. I think they’re trying to push a smart, elegant, classical look with him. He’s such a tranquil person.
  17. Jeno the Lady Killer
  18. Mark who is the best don’t lie to yourself, the most creativest and hardest working

Eighteen, okay! That’s a lot. One more than…Seventeen…

This list is bookended by the two anchors-slash-rappers, Taeyong and Mark. Second and second-to-last is the visual from that leader’s subunit, Jaehyun from 127 and Jeno from Dream. The others kind of weave in and out together, interspersing the newly debuted trainees (Jungwoo, Kun, Lucas) and the guys who had debuted but who subsequently got injured (Jaemin, Ten).

Interesting how Ten still managed to impress a personality upon all of us even when he wasn’t promoting, but Jaemin wasn’t. Jaemin reminds me of people like Lea Michelle who are born and bred in the ~musical theater~ system and who have no personality of their own. To be fair, I think Jaemin had a huge issue with his back and Ten did release a SM Station song fairly recently. But still.

Not sure where they’re going with Haechan’s persona. He was such a troublemaker when he first debuted–the cheeky one–but now they’re trying to brand him as a scholar. My money is still on him for having the most public meltdown, if it comes to it.

SM has been really pushing Mark lately. I don’t mind–he is my bias, after all–but I hope it doesn’t backfire. I want Mark to have a long, successful career.

I was wrong. NCT U has reappeared.

A while back, I gave nicknames to all the debuted NCT units.

NCT U will never see them again

NCT 127 members to keep track of

NCT Dream of getting bigger than EXO someday

I was wrong. (Sort of.)

NCT U just reappeared on SM Station.

Although it’s great to see them back again, I don’t love the song. SM has been doing a lot of thin, light compositions lately. Sometimes they work well, like Red Velvet’s “Peek-a-Boo.” Other times, not so much. This is one of those times. I think it’s because the melody is quite monotonous–not in the sense that it repeats, but in the sense that it hovers around the same note. Taylor Swift does this a lot too.

I appreciate the aesthetics of the music video, although I question the heavy use of filters. The moody lighting and the botanicals are so very delightful. I would like a carpet that is a bed of moss.

All that said, SM Station is the delivery vehicle for one-offs. That means NCT U probably isn’t coming back any time soon. But really, the vocal-centric NCT U is essentially the NCT 127 vocal line so…whatever. We’ll see them again. The rap-centric NCT U is where it’s at but I suspect they are gone for good. :’-(


In other news, apparently various NCT members are in the Ukraine filming a new MV.

Mark, Doyoung, and Jaehyun are in Ukraine. I think that’s Taeil behind them. And then we have Taeyong and some rookies, Lucas and Jungwoo. I don’t pay attention to SM Rookies, TBH, but it looks like we’re going to get some new debuts.

Jaehyun took a leave of absence from NCT Night Night (Red Velvet’s Wendy is filling in), but Johnny did not.

Johnny, Yuta, and Haechan participated in the Idol Athletic Championships so obviously they’re not participating in whatever’s going on in the Ukraine.

I was hoping against hope that rap-centric NCT U (rap) would be making a comeback, but alas. Ten seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth, which also dashes my hope for a Ten-centered NCT unit based out of Thailand.

Maybe we’re getting NCT U-kraine. Hah.

The K-drama Black Knight was recently filmed in Slovenia, now NCT is filming in the Ukraine. Interesting micro-trend.

To the world, this is JOY

Normally I dislike modernized arrangements of traditional Christmas songs, but this one is so full of charm that I can’t say no. This song makes me stupid happy.

The video is merely tepid, but who cares about the video when you can put this sonic explosion of Christmas and joy on repeat all day every day?

Let’s talk about NCT 127

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.

EXO and NCT Dream on KBS Music Bank

SM Entertainment’s team of stylists remain <<<hashtag GOALS>>> on my mental list of all things stye-related. Once again, they concocted another set of outfits that are simultaneously group-oriented, classic, individual, and insane. So many contradictory ideas go into making K-pop group styles. Oh, and each one reflects its group’s current overall concept.

To quote Rachel Zoe circa 2006, I die.

First up, we have NCT Dream promoting “We Young” with a Peter Pan theme. From what I can tell, SM’s idea of Peter Pan is half traditional schoolboy, half found objects with a pseudo-island theme. There are a lot of belts.


Each member is wearing the same silhouette, with different details. We have a bold version of the schoolboy jacket, long shorts all the same length, but three boys in white and three in khaki, and the same red socks, but different shoes for each. Each boy is also wearing some variation a vintage-inspired rhinestone pin. Again we have a cohesive color palette, blue, white, and red.

Renjun has a small red bandana tie and is relatively accessory-free. I feel like he and Doyoung (of NCT 127) get similar treatment as the “smart” ones of their respective groups — relatively simpler outfits, plus glasses and a more preppy overall vibe.

Haechan is wearing three (3!) bolo ties, and of course his red hair brings together the various red ties and socks of the group. He has turned aegyo up to 11 in the performance, and it’s kind of adorable.

Mark gets a striped collarless shirt, beads (?) and a raccoon tail hanging from his belt loops. He also has a fringed grass belt (again: ???). I think they throw absolutely incomprehensible outfits at Mark sometimes to toughen him up. If he can pull off a grass skirt and a raccoon tail, he can pull off anything.

Chenle’s shirt has a face on it, and he gets a full red bandana. His shirt is the most off-palette — everyone else has a white or light blue shirt — probably because he still has fantasy purple hair. Can’t let that hair float out on its own, it has to get drawn in to the whole somehow.

Jeno appears to have a mop hanging from his belt. I like his contrasting collar. He continues to absolutely SLAY this comeback. The platinum hair suits him, and he comes across as more fluid, comfortable, and fun. He’s a great dancer, which I didn’t always notice in past comebacks because he was so stiff.

And Jisung! Jisung with his bright blue hair and his incomprehensible shirt that appears to be a cluster of Union Jacks. He has a lipstick pin and his necklace appears to be tennis rackets (or maybe waffles?).

Just when I think I start to understand the logic behind k-pop styling, it escapes me again. It’s a little like the visual version of “Engrish.” (Which of course is partially why I like it.)

In the same show, EXO performed their newest comeback song “Power.” Please take a moment to appreciate the thumbnail of Xiumin and his fantastic hair before you click play on this video.

EXO is a more group-oriented…group…so their costumes also tend toward cohesion more than individuality-within-a-theme. Each member gets his own version of the sporty jacket, and they all have different undershirts that underline their individual looks, but they look much more like a team and it would be much harder for a newbie to tell the members apart simply by clothing (unlike NCT Dream up above where you could pick out a member based on accessories).

The wizardry in this costuming choice is the SM stylists managed to make pinstripe pants that somehow don’t automatically make their wearers look like bankers or baseball players. I repeat: PINSTRIPE PANTS THAT DON’T SUCK.

Plus, they’re paired with Member’s Only style jackets with pulled-up ankle socks and don’t look like they were ripped straight from the 80s. It’s that vaporwave influence creeping in again. Wizardry.

It probably helps that EXO are now next-level clothes wearers and performers. With that in mind, I can’t wait to see what kinds of batshit outfits the NCT subgroups will get in five years when their members have climbed to EXO’s level.

If you want to see the two groups in action together, NCT Dream stayed out onstage during EXO’s encore. Adorable.

Alert alert: Impending NCT Dream Comeback

K-pop group NCT Dream has finally come out of hiding with a comeback next week!

Teasers are being released, starting with the illimitable Mark Lee.


The vibe of the image is so relaxed and beachy (and basically guarantees that my new styling trick of tying a bandana around my neck will continue through the rest of the summer). Sand, Vans, hammock. Sunny, bright, and relaxed.

I find that to be a curious contrast with the video teaser. The animation style reminds me of Terry Gilliam animations, which tends to skew the feel a lot more dark and intellectual than I would guess from the photo. The color palette is also a lot darker, and the little flying pixie silhouette children make me think of Peter Pan and Edwardian-era decadence.

Perhaps this is where Korean/American cultural differences come in. I’m interested to see how these two competing visual styles marry in the video. SM Entertainment has been doing some interesting things with animation and live action in the recent NCT 127 and Red Velvet comebacks, so I’m sure the video will be a visual feast regardless.

And based on Mark’s rap performance on “Cherry Bomb,” I have high hopes for the NCT Dream album.

We shall see!

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