The Bittersweet Complexity of NCT 2018: EMPATHY
SM Entertainment started hinting, around mid-February, at one of their most ambitious projects to date, surrounding one of their most brilliant and innovative acts. Supergroup NCT was finally meant to promote all of its units at once—NCT U, NCT Dream, and NCT 127—amounting to a total of 18 idols under the same united project, NCT 2018. The most of NCT’s concept of rotating members was meant to be explored and would result in the release of NCT’s first full album, along with a panoply of audiovisual elements to accompany the project.
And so with 18 boys on board, nearly a month of pre-release promotions, and a whole lot of excitement coming from both NCT and their fans, you’d expect the end result to be phenomenal.
And yes, it was, on many levels…but not quite.
That is not to say that the quality of NCT 2018: EMPATHY, the album coming out of this project, is lacking in quality—quite the opposite, actually. Typical of SM Entertainment’s innovative approach to music, the album brings forward an intricate collection of genres and musical genius through its tracklist, as we had previously heard from NCT U’s “BOSS” and “Baby Don’t Stop,” or NCT Dream’s “GO.” As a whole, the album is a great reflection of NCT’s potential, displayed mainly through their strong, powerful hip-hop style as well as their smoother pop side.
The newest title track of the lot, NCT 127’s “Touch,” is yet another addition to the project’s releases. But despite the high quality of the song, the deception it hides cannot be ignored.
NCT 127’s Nice, Playful “Touch”
Following NCT U’s dark “BOSS,” the sexy duet “Baby Don’t Stop,” performed by Taeyong and Ten, and the powerful “GO” by NCT Dream, no one would have expected NCT 127 to release a bright track like “Touch,” especially as the sub-unit is renowned for its charismatic and tough concept. In a way, “Touch” shatters those expectations completely, and it’s sure nice to see. Following a pop melody, the song is charming and playful, with a sweet romantic feel to it expressed both through the lyrics and the melody. The chorus is definitely a highlight—as the members sing together, it has a very appealing sound to it, making us want to sing along almost by instinct. Happy, lovey-dovey songs might not have been at the forefront of NCT 127’s discography, but they remain a part of it, with tracks like “Once Again” or “Angel.” “Touch” adds itself to this small part of the group’s repertoire, and possibly sits at the top of NCT 127’s brighter songs.
Bright, Colorful “Touch”
Just like the song itself, the music video for “Touch” is bright…quite literally. The video is filled with pleasing colors—blue, pink, purple, and a lot of white—either swarming the set or taking over the members’ clothes. Another bright thing to note: the members’ smiles, wide and charming, making us feel the beat of the music with a grin of our own on our lips. Yuta definitely steals our breath away, more than once; it’s got to do with his smile, or possibly the groove in his moves, but either way, it’s attractive and makes him definitely stand out in the music video.
EMPATHY: A Hidden Deception
“Touch” was a nice, bright, cheerful title track, and definitely makes for a nice surprise. “BOSS” was confident and powerful, “Baby Don’t Stop” made us swoon, and even the Dreamies got to shake things up a bit with the dubstep-influenced “GO.” All in all, the songs that have led up to NCT 2018: EMPATHY seemed to be so promising of the rest of the tracklist, as it surely would contain more of that innovative and addicting music…right?
But the tracklist is also the problem: out of the 13 tracks making it up, five of them have already been released for a long time now—the most striking examples are “The 7th Sense” and “Without You,” which served as NCT’s debut back in April 2016, nearly two years ago. The same goes for “Dream in a Dream,” Ten’s solo SM Station track from April 2017, or “Timeless,” another Station track released in January of this year.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with re-releasing previously released songs; many artists do it, and will keep doing it. But when you have 18 idols to promote on one single album through various units—and the songs they perform—it would have been nice to hear more of what they all have to offer. Why not give the spotlight to newly debuted members, namely Lucas, Jungwoo, or Kun, or members who have been absent from NCT’s frontlines, such as Johnny or Winwin? Why not give the opportunity for members to gather up in more diverse NCT U units the public isn’t familiar with, and showcase some members’ abilities we haven’t had the chance to see up until this point? Why take those possibilities away and instead put forward songs that both fans and the public have already been presented with, a long time ago?
NCT 2018: EMPATHY still explores some of NCT U’s mobile lineup concept, with the songs “YESTODAY” and “Black on Black.” “YESTODAY” has a classic old school hip-hop vibe, with a mellow, steady beat carrying the ambient melody overlaid over it. With the exception of Doyoung performing the chorus, the song stays true to its genre by letting rappers Taeyong, Mark, and Lucas take over most of the track. It’s something we’ve never heard from NCT before, or even from any other SM artist in a long time, and we would have liked to hear more of it too!
Completely different, “Black on Black” is obviously more of a performance song—the presence of lyrics is extremely sparse, save for the “black on black” coming up repeatedly through the track. The song is drenched in varying electronic beats, picking up in speed about halfway through. If the song sounds familiar, it’s because an earlier version of it has already served as a performance track for one of NCT’s stages at the 2016 MAMAs (video starts at 1:27, when NCT’s performance begins).
Overall, NCT 2018: EMPATHY is a solid album—not only were the new tracks fresh with novelty and they managed to bring a new wave of excitement to NCT’s career, but the older songs on the tracklist still remain good ones, too (I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that “The 7th Sense” still remains, to this day, one of my favorite NCT tracks of all time). We just would have liked to hear more of the new stuff, especially with so many members on board, and so much talent to uncover.