Behind the Board of NCT 127’s Regular-Irregular
There’s no doubt about it: NCT 127 is taking over the world, one release at a time. With their eyes set on the United States this time around, the group has just released its brand new album Regular-Irregular, following a series of promotional activities in America. But there’s more to the album than meets the eye… or the ear.
To celebrate the release, The Kraze has spoken with the team behind the album. Let us take you on a tour behind the board of Regular-Irregular, with the people who have crafted some of the key songs on the record.
Regular-Irregular is NCT 127’s fourth release to date, but it is their first full studio album and their first release with a 10-member roster, after vocalist Jungwoo joined the group in late September. The album is meant to follow the band as they transcend from a “regular,” reality-based state to an “irregular,” dreamlike world, the two tied together by the interlude “Regular to Irregular.”
With its strong Latin influences and an addictive trap beat, “Regular” is a perfectly suited title track for the album. Its lyrics, flowing with confidence and style, speak of achieving success—which is more than appropriate for the group and the point they’ve reached in their careers.
“The song is basically about working your way to the top, making money, having fun, and not being afraid to enjoy your wealth but at the same time remaining humble,” said Vedo, the young singer-songwriter behind the lyrics to “Regular.” At 25 years old, Vedo already has 10 years of songwriting under his belt, having penned songs in the recent years for EXO and SHINee, amongst others, while also working on his own music.
“A friend of mine sent me a beat that was produced by these guys, [...] Mike Daley and Mitchell Owens,” Vedo explained. Owens previously worked on NCT U’s “BOSS,” as well as the song “Come Back,” which also appears on Regular-Irregular.
Upon receiving the song, Vedo immediately got to work. “I heard the beat and instantly fell in love with it. At the time, I didn’t know that it would be an NCT cut, but I knew I had to murder this beat.”
The first verse and the hook were all freestyle, he added—and the rest was history.
“The inspiration came from where I am in my life now,” the singer added. “That sparked my creativity to write a record that’s not bragging, but a record that’s basically saying that I didn’t have this fame or money before, so I’m going to enjoy it now.”
And how did it feel, hearing the guys of NCT sing his own lyrics in English? “I absolutely loved the final versions! I honestly was surprised that the boys were able to pull off the English version the way that they did, simply because English wasn’t their primary language. I knew they would kill the Korean version.”
Writing for K-Pop wasn’t always a goal for Vedo—but with time, it has become one of his strengths, and there’s a reason for it: writing for K-Pop allows for more creativity. “K-Pop doesn’t really follow a music structure guideline, which would typically be a verse, hook, verse, bridge, hook,” Vedo explained. “K-Pop is much more complex; you have to know what part goes where, but at the same time, not following the U.S. standard of song structure.”
This creative leeway is something that also attracted Swedish songwriter Andreas Öberg to the genre, whose first gig in the K-Pop business came with the song “Starlight” by VIXX. “Since the song had quite musical elements, I realized that my style would be a good fit for many artists in Asia,” he said.
Öberg also played a role in the making of Regular-Irregular, being one of the people behind the track “No Longer.” Written in 2016 with Simon Petrén, OneStar, eSNa & Gustav Karlström, the song is a piano-led ballad, a style that NCT 127 has rarely explored before.
“We wanted to create a timeless ballad inspired by some of the greats like David Foster and Brian McKnight,” Öberg recalled. “The song starts very minimalistic with just vocals and piano. Then it grows [...] with bass, drums, and other ingredients.”
“It turned out great, a cool blend between Swedish and Korean writers. We wrote ‘No Longer’ from scratch in just a few hours,” he added.
Despite ballads being far from NCT 127’s usual charismatic hip-hop style, Öberg said the boys still pulled it off. “[NCT 127] did a great job performing it, and I'm very happy to be part of this album. They captured the original vibe and the emotional feel of the song.”
“No Longer” is Andreas Öberg’s second song to date for NCT 127, the first being the cheerful “Once Again” appearing on the group’s first mini-album, NCT #127. But Öberg isn’t the only returning songwriter on the Regular-Irregular tracklist. Sibling duo Double Dragon, who were behind the rap track “Mad City,” has also penned quite a special song on the new album: the bonus track “Run Back 2 U.”
From Vancouver, Canada, Double Dragon is comprised of brothers Roy and Elmo Chong, and they have been making music since their high school years. “We fell in love with the process of producing and composing music in our music technology class, where we could use computers and keyboards to make hip-hop beats,” said Elmo.
That led the brothers to burn CDs with their own beats, and hand them out—and one day, it paid off. “One of our CDs ended up into the hands of a legendary Korean hip-hop artist named Tiger JK,” Elmo explained. “He plugged us into the world of Korean hip-hop and we started working with artists like Drunken Tiger, Yoonmirae, Rain, Leessang, YDG, and Bobby Kim. From there, we started to send music to big companies like SM Entertainment.”
Working with SM Entertainment eventually led the brothers to work with NCT—or, rather, SM Rookies, back in 2015 when the boys were still a pre-debut team within the company. As the group was leaning towards a hip-hop based style, Double Dragon was contacted by the agency. “[They told us] we should collaborate on that project together. As a result of this collaboration, NCT 127’s ‘Mad City’ and ‘Run Back 2 U’ were born,” Elmo said.
However, “Run Back 2 U” is much different from the cypher-like “Mad City”. “The intention of this song is to showcase NCT 127’s overall ability as a unit,” Elmo described. “The song is special in that it combines many musical genres and sounds, but [fuses] them cohesively into one song, using switch-ups and transitions. So the listener may hear a combination in no particular order: trap, EDM, tropical house, dirty bass, hip-hop…”
If “Run Back 2 U” sounds familiar, it’s because the track was already presented to fans in a dance clip, back in 2015—but the final result, Elmo warned, is bound to be more interesting. “Since that time, the song has gone through many changes and renditions to bring the fans the best full song.”
But while the song is obviously special to both the group and its fans, it is also very precious to Elmo himself. “In 2015, I was feeling creatively and spiritually uninspired, living in Korea and was contemplating returning to Vancouver,” he recalled. However, returning to Vancouver also meant leaving the music industry altogether—and so, the producer was hoping for a sign.
At that time, Elmo said, hearing back from SM Entertainment would be like a sign from God to pursue music—and so when the reply came, it was definitely a game-changer. “I was amazed by the timing of this event and very excited at the musical possibilities.”
“Because of where I was in my life at the time, I couldn't get the themes of God, faith, redemption and love out of my mind. So, I came up with two phrases that could make the song about all of them.” The first one was "I'll Always Love You", and the second, "Run Back 2 U." To Elmo, those represented the strength and feelings towards his faith.
“The listener will hear these lines repeated over and over again,” he explained. Though he hopes his own story can inspire others, he also sees in those lyrics a possibility for another universal theme to transcend: love. “Since art is a subjective thing, in the end, the song can mean whatever the listener wants it to mean.”
Sarah Boumedda is a freelance journalist based in Montreal, Canada. Her work includes writing about social issues, arts, and music, as well as photography. An avid music lover, she has a strong love for Korean music, especially K-Indie and K-Hip-hop (and a big, soft spot for EXO). You can follow her on Twitter (@bmdasarah) or Instagram (@sxrahbk).