Band of the Month: NCT

Band of the Month: NCT

Welcome to Band of the Month, a new series here on Mouthing Off which aims to introduce our readers to some of our editors’ top music picks – both old and new.

At a time when live music may seem a faraway memory, we want to recapture the excitement for music and performance. It doesn’t hurt that we’ll be spicing up your playlist while we’re at it.

Our pick this month takes us across the globe to Asia, where we meet South Korean idol group, Neo Culture Technology (NCT). Characterised as a “global group”, the band seeks to break the norms of mainstream K-Pop with an experimental sound and image.

And with twenty-three members (and counting), NCT are anything but mainstream.

Who are NCT?

NCT are a K-Pop group signed under SM Entertainment, a label known for producing some of the best-selling groups in the industry (think Exo, SHINee, Girls Generation, and Red Velvet). Unlike its other artists, however, SM wanted to base NCT’s concept around the idea of growth and change, resulting in a group with an unlimited number of members who could participate in multiple sub-units.

Since their debut in 2016, NCT has grown from six members to twenty-three. With a mixture of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, American, Canadian, and German members, as well as an age range spanning from mid-teens to late twenties, NCT has set itself up to be a diverse representative of K-Pop within a global community.

While known collectively as NCT, the members take part in four sub-units (set to become six by the end of 2022). Each sub-unit has a unique concept within the wider “NCT universe”, with the first three building upon the group’s main traits.

Let’s start with the first sub-unit: NCT U. As the first of NCT’s groups to debut back in April 2016, U is a rotational unit meant to demonstrate the core ideas behind the NCT project. Being ‘rotational’, the unit can see any combination of members team up to promote a song, ensuring that the possibilities for sound, concept, and style are limitless. Since its conception, NCT U has been used to promote all of the members in various promotions and singles.

The second active sub-unit is NCT 127, a Seoul-based group currently made up of ten members. The group debuted shortly after NCT U in July 2016 and highlights the next phase of the group’s concept: geographical reach. NCT 127 is considered the starting point of NCT geographically, with the intention of branching out to create sub-units that will represent other countries across the world. NCT 127 currently consists of Taeil, Johnny, Taeyong, Yuta, Doyoung, Jaehyun, Winwin, Jungwoo, Mark, and Haechan.

The third sub-unit in the NCT franchise is NCT Dream, who debuted in August 2016 with seven members. Rounding off the first wave of NCT units, Dream started out as a teen-based unit that promoted a youthful image in line with the fresh aesthetic of NCT as a whole.

In its early years, Dream had a rotational model, with members ‘graduating’ from the unit after they reached adulthood. This system was later abolished when Dream’s eldest member, Mark, left the group in late 2018. Fans petitioned for SM Entertainment to make Dream a fixed unit, and in 2020 the label announced that Dream would promote as seven members going forward (with further opportunities for the members to take part in other sub-units). As of 2021, NCT Dream features members Mark, Renjun, Jeno, Haechan, Jaemin, Chenle, and Jisung in its lineup.

The most recent division to stem from NCT is the China-based unit, WayV (previously known as NCT China). WayV debuted in early 2019 and follows the same concept as 127, emphasising geographical reach and cultural identity, but with a focus on the Chinese music market. The group sings primarily in Mandarin and undertakes the majority of their promotional activities in mainland China, although the members are all fluent in Korean. Of the seven members, only four were pre-existing members of NCT. By adding three new members to the overall unit, NCT highlighted its determination to maintain its growth concept. WayV’s current line-up includes Kun, Ten, Winwin, Lucas, Xiaojun, Hendery, and Yangyang. 

All of NCT’s members have come together to promote as a collective on two occasions so far, forming the groups NCT 2018 and NCT 2020. In both cases, NCT released full-length albums compiling new music from all current members: NCT 2018 Empathy and NCT 2020 Resonance.

NCT’s full list of members can be found below:

NCT Members 2020 – Image Copyright SM Entertainment
NCT Members 2020 – Image Copyright SM Entertainment

Sound and Musical Influences

NCT’s growing membership has enabled the group to try out almost any concept – they’ve performed classic pop, hip hop, ballads, rock-infused house music, and 90’s dance-pop, to name a few. Their willingness to try out any genre has facilitated an eclectic portfolio of work, which is threaded together by the themes of youth, growth, and success.

This isn’t to say that NCT don’t follow any popular K-Pop tropes, though. Popular releases like ‘Superhuman’, ‘Chewing Gum’, and ‘Boss’ all capitalise on the shiny glamour of Hallyu boybands with energetic rhythms, bright visuals, and catchy half-English half-Korean choruses.

But, as we now know, NCT aren’t meant to be a carbon copy of other K-Pop acts. They aren’t BTS, and they don’t want to be.

The majority of NCT’s discography revolves around a more experimental sound that infuses the typical K-Pop formula with heavy guitar riffs, erratic rap verses, and bubbly sound effects. Tracks can come across jagged and fractured due to abrupt changes in pace and rhythm, making the listening experience feel disjointed – or like you’re listening to multiple songs all at once. The result is fondly referred to by fans (NCTzens) as ‘noise music’.

Future Units: NCT Hollywood

In May 2021, NCT’s label announced that they will be debuting their first unit outside of Asia. The group will be formed in the United States as a collaboration between SM Entertainment and MGM Worldwide Television Group, taking the form of a survival music programme that will be broadcasted globally.

The new sub-unit, NCT Hollywood, will recruit American boys aged 13 to 25. After the audition process, the selected group will be relocated to SM’s headquarters in Seoul to take part in a K-Pop style ‘boot-camp’. The boys will be tested on their singing, dancing, performance, and presentation, with the current members of NCT acting as judges and mentors. Those who make it to the end of the show will have a place in NCT Hollywood.

The project has received mixed reviews from fans, who have argued that SM Entertainment needs to first nurture and perfect the sub-units already active in NCT. The current management system – as well as the growing number of members – has left little opportunity to promote some members.

For example, Kun debuted on a B-side track for NCT U in 2016, but wasn’t officially promoted as a member of NCT until late 2018 when all of the members came together for the first time. He also didn’t receive any other opportunities to join promotional activities until he joined WayV in 2019.

The recent addition of NCT’s newest members, Shotaro and Sungchan, in 2020 only caused further concern. With neither belonging to a sub-unit despite having been NCT members for over half a year, many fans have been left anxious over the group’s future prospects as a whole. Are there practical limitations to a conceptually never-ending group? How do you maintain the popularity and promotion of current members while debuting new ones?

‘Hot Sauce’ Track Review

NCT’s most recent release comes from NCT Dream’s latest album, Hot Sauce. The album was released earlier this month, marking the first comeback in which all seven members were present since 2018.

The lead single from the album, also titled ‘Hot Sauce’, is a Latin-inspired pop track that asserts the unique ‘taste’ of NCT’s music. Referencing ‘meals’ and ‘dishes’, the song emphasises that the boys have a certain *spice* that makes the consumption of their music stand out from the rest.

Packed with acoustic guitars, a heavy drumbeat, and a chipmunk-like murmuring of the words “Wiggle it down low, and wiggles it down low”, ‘Hot Sauce’ feels a little bit like the spicy fever dream you get after one too many cocktails – but for all the right reasons. The song is fun and definitely capable of eliciting some head-bops and hum-alongs, building up to anthemic choruses with fast rapping and soft melodies.

The music video is nothing to scoff at, either. SM Entertainment are well-known for the production value of their music videos, often investing hundreds of thousands on a single video in a bid to raise views and streams. The ‘Hot Sauce’ MV uses its visual weight to its full advantage, presenting a trippy visual journey that plays on the lyrics of the song.

Moving between multiple sets, ‘Hot Sauce’ relocates the members of NCT Dream from what looks to be a Mexican restaurant, to a supermarket heavily overstocked with hot sauce, to the back of a building supposedly located in the South American desert. While singing about being the ultimate flavour on the market, the group are shown running the restaurant, messing about with bottles of hot sauce, and dancing to the beat of the song.

The video is littered with pulsating patterns, over-saturated colours, and CGI effects (look out for the buggy cartoon eyes Jaemin and Haechan get after chugging a bottle of hot sauce). Bigger effects and visuals are interspersed with attention to tiny details, like the branded bottles of hot sauce or the ‘Neo Cooking Technology’ channel playing on the TV. Hot-rod flames or no, the video packs a visual punch that only serves to hype up the song and get fans invested in its message: there’s nothing else quite like it on the market.

Listen to NCT below!

Looking for more music to spice up your playlist? Head over to Mouthing Off’s Music Section.

About The Author

Charlie Colville

I’m Charlie, a digital journalist and Mouthing Off's Editor in Chief. You'll find me exploring galleries, listening to podcasts, and using the gift of the written gab to get my opinion out to the world.

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