Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!!

As you may be already aware, I am currently on a break from the blog to spend some time with family and friends this Christmas. But this does not mean I can’t celebrate the holidays with you, as well. And I do this by sharing a whole bunch of festive themed songs that our favourite and beloved KPOP artists (and companies) have released this year.

Again, I wish you all a Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays full of joy, laughter and the company of family and friends. If today is business as usual for you or you don’t celebrate the festive season, then I hope today goes seamlessly for you.

And given that from tomorrow we are in an awkward limbo state between Christmas and New Years (honestly, what do we do in during this period?), I will also wish everyone a happy new year.

See you all with new reviews/posts in 2023!

[Review] Candy – NCT DREAM

NCT DREAM is nominated for Best Sub-Unit and Best Male Group in the 2022 KPOPREVIEWED Awards. Glitch Mode is nominated for Best Concept and Best Music Video, while Beatbox is nominated for Best Pop Song, Best Male Group (Choreography). Definitely an all-rounder group. Supper NCT DREAM, their songs, and all your other favourite artists, songs and performances by clicking here to vote today.

NCT DREAM officially makes their comeback today with a special Winter mini-album, titled Candy. The same-titled single (the focus of this review) leads the mini-album. The single is also a remake of H.O.T’s Candy, which was released way back in 1996. This is the group’s first comeback since their Glitch Mode and Beatbox comebacks from earlier in the year.

Given that Candy (NCT DREAM’s version) is a re-recording of the original (cue the comparison), the newer version is fairly same as the older version. The melodies haven’t changed and NCT Dream retains the upbeatness of the original song. However, there are some distinct differences with the newer version that I actually liked more so than in the original. The main difference I could hear instantly is how much more modern the instrumental is. While it is similar enough for listeners to gain a bit of familiarity and nostalgia from NCT DREAM’s version, I enjoyed the extra intensity that the producers had put into NCT DREAM’s version. This definitely helps modernise the 1996 hit to current times and gives Candy a lot more oomph, which in turn makes way for some awesome execution from NCT DREAM. Talking about execution, I also find NCT DREAM’s vocals and raps to be a lot more polished than the original. I guess we can attribute that to advances in technology since 1996 – a lot has happened since then. The second verse gets an extra (super intense) rap sequence and I liked that NCT DREAM did not opt for as much overlap between vocals and raps as H.O.T had incorporated. They do bring that overlap into play later on in the song, but it is a lot cleaner and more refined than the original. Maybe it is a generational thing as I didn’t grow up during that era (I was born a few months after the song’s original release) and I am used to the modern style of KPOP, but I definitely prefer NCT DREAM’s version of Candy by a long mile.

When you think of H.O.T’s Candy, the group’s terrible outfits come to mind. Or at least, I thought they were terrible. It is the main thing that I still cannot wrap my head around until this day – how the colourful overalls and massive oven mitts got approved. I guess it was to fit the more vibrant and upbeat style of Candy, but boy do they look awful. I am glad that NCT DREAM’s stylist did not opt for the same style choices. However, H.O.T’s outfits were iconic in the end, and so NCT DREAM’s outfits were influenced by the look from 1996. Jeno’s massive trapper hat looks like it could have been lifted from that era. But as it is just an influence and their outfits do look fairly tame, I am fine with that. Other than that relief, the music video’s candy manufacturing set reminded me of Glitch Mode‘s technology set. And per usual, I really liked the colours. Some parts however were cringy to me.

At the time of writing, there was no official stage for NCT DREAM’s version of Candy. They are however confirmed to perform the single at the 2022 KBS Music Festival, which is being held today. But from what I can see, the choreography retains some of the key moves from the original version, but also intensifies the moves to match the intensified music we get in the newer version.

Song – 9/10
Music Video – 8/10
Performance – 8/10
Overall Rating – 8.5/10

[Review] 2 Baddies – NCT 127

NCT 127 have made their grand return with their new single and will be dropping their fourth studio album tomorrow, with both title track and album sharing the same name 2 Baddies. This is the NCT unit’s first comeback in the release of Favorite (Vampire) back in October of last year. Since then, we have seen comebacks from NCT DREAM and some of the members undertake solo ventures through the NCT Lab.

2 Baddies feels very comfortable for NCT 127. Described as a hip-hop dance track, this is the main style of music that the group has been putting out for their title tracks and it is pretty much in the wheelhouse of the group. Aside from the questionable main hook of the song (i.e., the ‘2 Baddies 2 Baddies 1 Porsche‘) and the title of the song, I do find 2 Baddies is on the safer side of this style. Just nothing really surprised me with this release. Given that this is NCT 127, 2 Baddies would naturally be heavily rap focused and I believe the song features some pretty decent rap verses. I did think the verses was holding back in terms of energy and dynamism, but each rapper brought their own degree of coolness to 2 Baddies. Per usual, I am more drawn to the vocals and the pre-choruses really showed off the vocal lines of the group really well. The vocals contrasted well with the rappers, allowing 2 Baddies to feel quite balanced. We also get that balance with smooth vocals at the beginning and hype energy from the rappers in the second half of the bridge. However, I kind of wished Taeil’s high note soared higher and longer, as I just wanted a few seconds more of his high note to really give 2 Baddies a wow factor. 2 Baddies peaks with its chorus which is its chanty anthem-like approach and the instrumental does feel relatively more explosive when we reach the choruses. As mentioned, I think the lyrical component of the hook is terrible, but I do find the actual rhythm to have a ring and feel somewhat catchy. And knowing me, this might help 2 Baddies grow on me with more listens. The final sequence of 2 Baddies might also be able to help, as I thought closes out the song on a very fulfiling and memorable note. Overall, 2 Baddies was appreciable for a NCT 127 track and an energetic listen. But it also doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

The whole 15 second intro to the music video was probably one of the best editing works in KPOP to date. The way those individual scenes came together to a flawless sequence was amazing. This amazing editing work continues throughout the video and helps glue the video together. Though, I wished we saw more of that intro style within the video as well. The rest of the music video features neon lights, a lot of car and racing references, fluorescence paint. It all looked pretty cool. All members looked great, with Jaehyun really distracting me throughout this video with his visuals. Some of the members even took off their shirts, which I am sure fans are enjoying!

I didn’t see anything mind blowing or insane in this routine through the music video, but I think the choreography did a great job of picking up the energy and making the song feel more dynamic. Especially that ending, where I felt the routine helped hype up the song in its final moments.

Song – 7.5/10
Music Video – 9/10
Performance – 8/10
Overall Rating – 8.1/10

[Album Review] Glitch Mode / Beatbox (2nd Studio Album / 2nd Studio Album Repackaged) – NCT DREAM

Next album on the reviewing block is NCT DREAM’s 2nd studio album, Glitch Mode, and its repackaged version, Beatbox. It has been a while since these albums dropped, with Glitch Mode dropping back in March and Beatbox dropping in May of this year. And I am finally getting around to reviewing them! A total of 15 tracks are present on these albums, including the title tracks Glitch Mode and Beatbox. This makes this album review a lengthy one, so I am going to get straight into it!

Once again, NCT DREAM delivers on quality and quantity. While it was a doozy to write up this album review, I really enjoyed the final product. I even handed out quite a few 10/10’s whilst writing this review. However, I expected this happen as NCT DREAM always has amazing side tracks that needs more attention directed at them. Let me know if you agree with my ratings of each song below in the comments section after reading through my thoughts, of course.

1. Beatbox (비트박스) (Title Track)Click here to read the full review for Beatbox. (9/10)

2. Fire Alarm (파이어 알람) – Right off the bat, the initial track of the Glitch Mode album grabs your attention. To me, it doesn’t really grab your attention in the same way that a fire alarm alerts you to a fire. But rather, it is fire! Each time I end up listening to the album, I can’t help but groove along to this track. The synth-centric instrumentation was memorable and exciting. The fast tempo of Fire Alarm adds to the excitement and hype energy of the song. It feels relentless without going overboard or overwhelming with synths. The chanty nature of Fire Alarm adds to the memorability if the song, while the rapping was dynamic and the adlibs were effortless. (10/10)

3. Glitch Mode (버퍼링)Click here to read the full review for Glitch Mode. (6.5/10)

4. ArcadeArcade is an extremely satisfying mix of EDM and hip-hop influences. That alone makes Arcade a standout track, as everything felt cohesive and the styles naturally go hand-in-hand with each other. But the winning element in Arcade are the members. From the vocal side (my favourite side of this song), it was so flowy and smooth. It left me floored and I always want to delve back into the song due to the vocals. As for the rapping and the chanty sections, they give Arcade so much oomph and heftiness, balancing out the smoothness from the vocals. Another standout track, in my opinion. (10/10)

5. To My First (마지막 인사)To My First is one of the new tracks on the Beatbox repackaged version. Its position following Arcade was perfect, as it continues those smooth vocals from the previous track. But instead of a EDM and hip-hop hybrid, To My First takes on a R&B sound profile instead. To My First has such amazing harmonies on top of the stunningly smooth vocals and you can feel the emotions that the group pours into this song about their first loves. (9/10)

6. It’s Yours (너를 위한 단어) – Despite being a light track, I really liked the thumping instrumental for It’s Yours. I quite liked how consistent the thumping nature of the instrumental was. It was intriguing, unique and cool. Again, the vocals bring a vibrant factor to the song, whilst the melodies and hooks bring forth a happy and cheerful tone to the song. I particularly like little uptick in melody when one of the vocalists begin their solo part in the chorus. The rapping also gets a tick of approval from me, with the rapping adding a bit of oomph to the song, as well. The simple repetition as the hook was a bit generic, but it caught on quite fast. (9/10)

7. Teddy Bear (잘 자) Teddy Bear delves into R&B territory, even though the instrumental still has a foot within the EDM genre. I liked the punch the chorus had, which really woke me up from the soft and dreamy vocals. Teddy Bear was quite smooth as well, but I am not as excited about this aspect as per the other songs on this album. The vocal work was a bit linear in terms of trajectory and made the song less engaging as it progressed to the end. (7/10)

8. Sorry Heart – The Beatbox repackaged version brings us the second of two unit tracks (I consider this second as the first unit track consisting of the other members initially featured on the Glitch Mode album). Sorry Heart features Renjun, Haechan and Chenle. This lineup immediately means this is a vocal-centric track, and they do not mess around in this track. It was very stunning, emotionally packed and extremely captivating. The best parts, however, were the harmonies, the ad-libs and the acapella harmony sequence at the very end. This was all done over a soothing guitar instrumentation that allowed the vocals to do all of the speaking. (10/10)

9. Replay (내일 봐) – NCT DREAM regroups following the vocalists’ unit track for Replay. Replay takes me back to the 2000s with its old-school boy group style that easily could have been passed off as a promotional single. NCT DREAM fits in with this sound perfectly! The rapping was on point throughout, and the smooth vocals continue on in this song. Great melodies, but I feel the hooks were undeveloped. (8/10)

10. Saturday Drip – The first unit track from NCT DREAM on the album (even though the second on for this review/on the Beatbox version of the album) features Mark Jeno Jaemin and Jisung. Like Sorry Heart, when you look at Saturday Drip’s lineup, you know that this track will be rap heavy and go down the hip-hop hole. Every time I listened to this track when I play the albums, I find myself fighting an urge to dance. As you may know, hip-hop tracks are not really my style, so this urge to dance comes as a surprise and definitely shows you how much I enjoy the track. I also enjoyed the use of their deep vocals, which felt stylish and trendy. (10/10)

11. Better Than Gold (지금)Better Than Gold brings a retro flair to the album with its funky and synth track. This one too gives me an urge to dance, but admittedly not as strong as the preceding track. What I think makes this track appealing is its brightness and upbeat nature. With the brass in the bridge, it is very hard to deny that this track is bright and upbeat. The vocals and rapping make it cheerful. A fun track, overall. (8/10)  

12. Drive (미니카) Drive has this feel-good vibe without stepping into the preppy and upbeat territory. Instead, I find the track to be calming and soothing. But it still puts a smile on your face. It is quite a mature and refined approach to this intention, if you think about it. Again, amazing vocals and rapping takes hold over a simple pop instrumentation. There is absolutely nothing wrong about this song, just one to enjoy. (8/10)

13. Never Goodbye (북극성)  – NCT DREAM almost enters balladry territory with this track. I specifically say ‘almost’, as I feel like the instrumentation doesn’t follow. It remains atmospheric as result to electronic elements and I liked the twinkling detailing the background had. The vocals were very dreamy throughout the song, and the rapping (another not-so-common balladry element) was well executed for this softer track. In terms of me liking this track, I will say Never Goodbye is easily forgotten when considering the bigger picture of the album. But standalone, it is a nice and pleasant track. (7/10)

14. RewindRewind revisits that retro style that NCT DREAM had already touched upon on this album. The piano and synth detailing in the instrumentation definitely brings this retro style to life. The melodies and rapping adds a fun element to the song that I thoroughly enjoy, whilst the vocals brought a youthful appeal to the song. (8/10)

15. On The Way (별 밤) – The final track on the Beatbox album (and the conclusion of the Glitch Mode / Beatbox era for NCT DREAM) is On The Way. It is such a neat ender, summing up the albums in a meaningful manner. I find On The Way had the best parts of the album, such as cool and trendy rapping, smooth vocals and soothing harmonies. The ending of the track was extremely well done, with the harmonies and beautifully sung chanty melodies. There is also a meaningful tinge to this song, which makes it super appropriate at the end. This is all on top of a simple but atmospheric synth instrumental. (9/10)

Overall Album Rating – 8.6/10

[Review] Glitch Mode – NCT DREAM

After a mini-break from tiredness and feeling unwell, I am back to finally review the new releases that started off this week. First up is Glitch Mode, the title of both the lead single and second studio album from NCT DREAM. Without a doubt. 2021 was an extremely big year for the NCT subunit, who returned with their Hot Sauce and Hello Future hits (along with participating in NCT 2021 promotions). It is definitely going to take a lot of work to replicate or even exceed the success of their 2021 promotions. But it appears that NCT DREAM is already outshining their last comeback, with reports that Glitch Mode has already outperformed their personal records for best first day sales and pre-ordered album sales.

I found Glitch Mode to be an alright song. Not too bad, but not that great either. I found the instrumental of Glitch Mode to be lacking substance and oomph. Described as a hip hop dance song, there were some good moments within the instrumental, such as the retro arcade accompaniment they had in the pre-chorus section and the awesome/powerful sounding rock-based dynamic dance break (which was the highlight of Glitch Mode for me). However, the rest of the instrumental felt mediocre and boring. Had there been that substance and oomph as mentioned, Glitch Mode‘s instrumental could have been more fulfilling. But sadly, the version we got was not the case. This issue then flows onto other elements of the song, such as the rapping, which needed that oomph to be more powerful sounding. The vocals, on the other hand, faired a bit better. But they too could also have been enhanced by what I mentioned already. As for the chorus, I don’t mind it as much. Sure, the shouty nature is becoming a cliché for them. But in the first half of the chorus, I thought it was fine. I just wished they changed it up in the second half of the chorus to be a bit more melodic and vocally driven. That would have made Glitch Mode more interesting. Overall, Glitch Mode wasn’t as exciting as I hoped it would been, but it was a fair comeback nonetheless.

Compared to the song component of the comeback, the music video receives a better review from me. I liked that despite the group went with a video game store concept for this comeback, they managed to incorporate the ‘glitch mode’ that they sing/rap about in the song when you are in front of the person you like. It adds an extra level of depth to a pretty random setting that I didn’t think was possible for this video. The icy end to this video was also bit random, but I guess we can say it is a ‘glitch’. I also liked how their outfits complimented the colours of the scene, which helped make the video look visually appeal.

I quite liked the glitchy party of the choreography, which really shows off their dance skills. They made it look so clean. It is quite clever and probably needed a lot of hard work to get it right, but it pays off. On a side note, Chenle is unfortunately unable to fully participating in the comeback due to an injury. A performance of Glitch Mode released today saw him edited/incorporated into the choreography poorly. I wish that if he is part of the stage performances, that they better incorporated him into the routine (like Felix in MANIAC).

Song – 6.5/10
Music Video – 8/10
Performance – 8/10
Overall Rating – 7.3/10

[Album Review] UNIVERSE (3rd Studio Album) – NCT

Another album review that has been a long time coming. UNIVERSE is the next instalment in NCT’s career, with 21 of the 23 active members participating in the release of the group’s third studio-length album (Lucas is on hiatus from his controversy, while WinWin had schedule conflicts, preventing both of participating from recording and promotions). UNIVERSE officially dropped mid-December, on the same day that Beautiful was officially released as a promotional track. Another title track, Universe (Let’s Play Ball), dropped four days prior. In addition to these two tracks, there were another 11 tracks on the album (3 of which were based on the group’s standard units – NCT 127, NCT DREAM and WayV, while the other performed by their rotation unit, NCT U).

Overall, I would say this is a very good album. There were some standout tracks mixed throughout the song, and NCT definitely showed themselves off strongly throughout UNIVERSE. But that is just my thoughts on the album. Check out the tracks and my review of each song below to see if you agree!

Universe Album Cover

1. New Axis – Impressively kicking off the third studio album was Taeyong, Mark and YangYang with this short track. New Axis takes on a hip-hop profile. The focus is purely on the three members, with the instrumental opting for a minimalistic approach. The trio definitely opened up the album in spectacular fashion with their dynamic and immensely powerful rapping performance. They don’t hold back in this track! (9/10)

2. Universe (Let’s Play Ball) (Title Track)Click here to read the full review of Universe (Let’s Play Ball). (9/10)

3. Earthquake – NCT 127 shakes up the world with their side track Earthquake. If you want a really powerful and intense dance track, Earthquake is the song you are looking for. Such words are usually what you associate with NCT 127 already, so it should not come as a surprise. I really enjoyed the amped up nature of this hip-hop track. It is quite a noisy one (which may be a flaw to some), but this just made Earthquake even more impressive to me. As for the members, they did a great job with their vocals and rapping. I found they fitted right in with the noisy and intense environment that is the instrumental and their delivery made the song even more dynamic. (8/10)

4. OK!OK! is brought to you by Taeyong, Yuta, Ten, Mark, Hendery, Jeno and Yangyang. With a line up like that, I think it is clear that OK! also encroaches into hip-hop territory as well. OK! is a satisfying listen, with another strong display from all the members who participated in the song. There is also a memorable ring to the ‘OK!’ in the chorus. The bridge was my favourite bit, especially when some of the members bring a faster pace to their delivery. The instrumental was quite minimalistic, with a few added details that I thought gave OK! an intriguing nature to it. The metallic xylophone percussion is a good example of this. The flutes, however, reminded me a bit too much of NCT 127’s Favorite (Vampire) for my liking. (8/10)

5. Birthday Party – Johnny, Yuta, Jungwoo, Hendery, Jaemin, Shotaro, Chenle and Jisung come together to give us Birthday Party. Based on the initial seconds of the song, it appears that Birthday Party takes on a more energetic tone. I liked the rapping in this song, with the members bringing a bit of a playful tone to the mix. The elongated ‘Woooow’ was questionable, but I think it can be overlooked. The vocals were superb when they were in play. For the instrumental, I liked how colourful it felt. I also appreciated the attempts to change up the song towards the end as Birthday Party was borderline repetitive at that point. (8/10)

6. Know NowKnow How features Johnny, Doyoung, Mark, Renjun, Jeno, Jaemin, Yangyang and Sungchan. It starts with (and ends with, completing Know Now as a full circle) some scratchy gospel samples that made for a cool opener. Following that opener was a fun melody and a bright instrumental piece. I like how that melody was a consistent piece in pretty much all the elements (for most of the vocals, rapping – to a degree, and the instrumentation), which cohesively pulled Know Now together. Know Now was such an enjoyable listen for me. (9/10)

7. DreamingDreaming is performed by the members of NCT Dream. I liked its mix of softer tones for the verses vs. the harsher nature of the chorus. The softer moments of the song had this music box-like focus piece, which felt very nice. The harsher chorus features a funky synth EDM piece, which provided a decent rush of energy to the song without taking it too far or making it feel too different. I also liked the layering of vocals and rapping throughout, regardless of the backing piece. (9/10)

8. Round & Round – Taeil, Ten, Jaehyun, Xiaojun, Haechan and Sungchan comes together to bring us Round & Round. It is a decent mid-tempo R&B track. The instrumental had a dynamic touch to it, with the various effects added in to increase the momentum of the song. I quite appreciate that, as it didn’t make Round & Round a typical mid-tempo track. But aside from that, nothing else really stood out at me. (7/10)

9. Miracle – The final NCT fixed unit track on this album belongs to WayV (sans Lucas and WinWin, who I already mentioned didn’t participate in this release). Miracle also opts for a mid-tempo R&B profile. But I felt Miracle was more impressive. The song came off as quite sophisticated, expensive, classy. This was felt most in the instrumental, which was smooth. The guitars were definitely the icing on the cake for me. It also effected the rapping in this song, with the rappers really jumping out at me due to the energy they put into their delivery. The vocals were clear and crisp, and the layering of both vocals/rapping at the end was extremely satisfying. (10/10)

10. Vroom – The album takes a turn from here with its sweeter sound. Kun, Jaehyun, Jungwoo, Hendery, Shotaro, Chenle and Jisung features in Vroom, and it’s a nice melodic track (for the most part). The pre-chorus really stuck out, mainly because it didn’t go with a sweet sound, or can be described as a ‘nice melodic track’. Instead, it intensifies briefly before reverting to a sweet sound in the chorus. It is interesting and different, and unexpectedly work. Still a bit foreign after all this time, but not detrimental to the track. (8/10)

11. Sweet Dream – Wishing the listeners a ‘Sweet Dream’ are Taeil, Kun, Jaehyun, Haechan and Chenle. Extremely velvety vocals are the centrepiece of this song. They are present on top of a warm R&B instrumental. It started off like a piece as you would hear in a coffeehouse, but the instrumental built over the course of the song. I liked the addition of the subtle brass in the background. I do think that coffeehouse impression was still maintained throughout even as the song built. (8/10)

12. Good Night – Taeil, Doyoung, Xiaojun and Renjun sings us a soft and delicate ballad. It starts as a lullaby, with a slow swayable melody – one of the highlights of the song. The instrumental does build over the length of the track, and this does bring it back a soothing ballad territory. Not complaining though, as it helped maintain Good Night as a decent piece. Elsewhere, the vocals from the quartet were also quiet soothing and captivating. The emotional input from them made the song even better! I also loved the way Renjun ended this song. (8.5/10)

13. Beautiful (NCT 2021) (Title Track)Click here to read the full review of Beautiful. (9/10)

Overall Album Rating – 8.5/10

NCT 2021 Teaser Image for Universe

[Review] Child – Mark (NCT)

I will continue my focus on lesser known acts on Sunday (I was unfortunately ill last night and had to take the night off from the blog). As for today and tomorrow, I will be focusing on a number of solo acts, as I feel they have been neglected over the last few months, as well. There are a few in mind that I really want to cover. But tonight’s review is actually a new release from none other than Mark from NCT. Mark has been a busy artist from the day he debuted as an NCT member, boasting the most extensive resume out of the all the members of his group (i.e. one of the two most recurring members in the various NCT units, had debuted more times than other artists – just to name a few). So it comes with little surprise that he is the first NCT artist to release a single under the new NCT Lab, a new SM Station series that focuses on solo tracks from the NCT members. Mark’s single is titled Child and it officially dropped today.

Child takes on the hip-hop genre, which comes as no surprise, as Mark is a rapper in his group activities. What did come as a surprise was how much I enjoyed the track upon the first listen. I know I sound like a broken record when I say that the hip-hop genre isn’t something that I enjoy. But there are a few elements within Child that really stands out for me. The deepness of Child stood out for me. Even before considering the lyrics, you could feel the heaviness of the song. When you read through the lyrics, you can get a sense of the deep thoughts that were put into Child. And from these lyrics you can feel his struggles as an artist and being lost as a person. Aside from the emotional side of the song. I really enjoyed the instrumental for Child. The song starts off with electric guitar riffs, before completely changing up the dynamic for the chorus with a heavy thumping beat and trap-like synths. This continues into the second verse, before opting for a much more energetic and upbeat tempo for the second half of the verse. Mark then takes Child back to the thumping chorus and the same electric guitar at the start for the bridge. When you think the song had wrapped up, Mark brings back the thumping chorus to close out the song on a more dynamic note (which works well with the conclusive endpoint in the lyrics). Mark himself was quite impressive with his delivery. His rapping was very captivating, while his vocals touches to the song were melodic and soothing. Overall, Child is a solid launching pad into this new NCT Lab series. But it also serves as an insightful view into Mark, his thoughts and experiences thus far as an artist.

Like the song, the music video has a lot of meaning behind it as well. Mark spends a lot of this video running away from hooded figures. My guess is that these people represent the hardships that Mark is experiencing in his life currently (i.e. the people putting pressure on him to be a certain way), as expressed in his lyrics. Honestly, this can be a range of people, including his company, managers, members, family, fans etc. Mark just wants to find himself and express himself freely. And him running away means makes a stand for himself, as he mentions at the end of his song. The ending where he is running in the darkness might suggest that he doesn’t see himself escaping these pressures anytime soon, but he is still making an effort to stand up for himself. Other than my proposed meaning behind the video, I liked the urban look of this video, which matches up with the hip-hop influences behind the song.

Song – 9/10
Music Video – 9/10
Overall Rating – 9/10

[Review] Beautiful – NCT 2021

NCT’s subunits, NCT 127 and NCT DREAM, are nominated in a number of categories for the 2021 KPOPREVIEWED Awards. Support NCT 127 and NCT Dream by clicking here to vote for them today!

A year on from their epic Resonance single and promotions, NCT has regrouped as a full group (sans Lucas and WinWin) for their 2021 promotions. Leading their latest album, Universe, is the single Beautiful (the focus of this review) and the NCT U track, Universe (Let’s Play Ball). Previously, we have seen majoirty of the members of NCT active this year, including NCT Dream promotions with Hot Sauce and Hello Future, NCT 127 promotions with Sticker and Favorite (Vampire) and WayV with Kick Back.

Beautiful lives up to its title. My first impression of the song when I heard it upon release was that it was beautiful, uplifting and inspiring. Beautiful takes on the form of a pop ballad, a very different sound to what the units of NCT usually put out. It isn’t the first time we heard a pop release from NCT’s subunits, but Beautiful hands off as refreshing vibe to me, which is thanks to the vocally driven nature and the notable absence of electronic synths. Instead, the instrumentation of Beautiful opts for a collection of pop strings, drums and piano. It isn’t anything mind-blowing, but it definitely works in tandem with the vocals and the messaging. The whole idea of singing as one reiterates their bond as a whole group, who for the most part appear very separated throughout the year unless it is a NCT full-group promotion. It also aids Beautiful‘s message, which ‘expresses positive energy with a warm message to those having a hard time that they are all special in their own ways’ (from Soompi), as it felt like there were 21 people already behind/supporting me as I listened to the song. The vocals in the verses were also nice, but they did not have the same level of impact for obvious reasons. The rapping was concentrated into just the bridge and felt toned down enough and had the right level of energy for the song. Taeil’s high note also comes in just at the right time, as if it was the ‘icing of the cake’ for this song. I wished the official audio retained that whistle sound following the rapping bridge. I really like the stilling presence it had in the song, and definitely brought up the aesthetic. But apart from that, Beautiful was a stunning song that was well-thought out and sounded amazing.

The music video was shot in a way that felt relatable. We didn’t get any crazy flashing sets or expensive props or outfits in this music video. Instead, the members were all dressed casually and we saw them in everyday settings or jobs. Jaehyun was a college student, Chenle was an office worker, Renjun and Jisung were café workers, some of the members were baseball players (a nice and subtle nod to the Universe (Let’s Play Ball) music video), and Ten was hanging out on the roof of a building. Practically a broad range their audience. I liked how the music video showed the all the members dancing together (along with the dancers) for the chorus, which really emphasise that idea of being in unison with one another like the song had done. I did wish we saw choreography solo shots for all the members throughout the video, like in the first part of the final chorus. As cheesy as that might like, I liked the idea of it. I also like the ‘reset’ for the choreography formation that they did in the final chorus.

The choreography looks quite nice. It looked artistic, and wasn’t anything too much for the pop ballad. It doesn’t feel too constricted and had a nice breezy vibe, which also fitted the song.

Song -9/10
Music Video – 9/10
Performance – 8/10
Overall Rating – 8.8/10

[Review] Universe (Let’s Play Ball) – NCT U

NCT DREAM and NCT 127 is nominated for Best Subunit, while NCT Dream’s Hello Future is nominated for Best Pop Song in the 2021 KPOPREVIEWED Awards. Support either NCT DREAM or NCT 127 in the Best Subunit category, and Hello Future in the Best Pop Song category by clicking here to vote!

NCT is back as a full group (aside from two members, Lucas and WinWin) with the new album, Universe. The new album is not out yet (its formal release date is 14 December 2021), however, the first lead single from the album has already dropped. It is titled Universe (Let’s Play Ball) and features NCT members Doyoung, Jungwoo, Mark, Xiaojun, Jeno, Haechan, Jaemin, YangYang and Shotaro. This full group comeback comes a year after the NCT 2020 promotions, which saw the group return with 5 title tracks, including Resonance.

Universe is a very intense track. So intense to the point that it felt very ‘in-your-face’ type of intense. There is nothing wrong with that however. If nailed, like Universe did, then it can be a fantastic track. And that’s the impression I get from Universe. It isn’t 100% perfect, however. I will return to that in just a second. The song starts off with the song’s shouty hook. Personally, I don’t mind the ‘Let’s Play Ball‘ hook. Admittedly, it does feel a bit childish and I didn’t know if it went with the intensity of Universe. But subsequent listens to the song have helped justified it. The hook repeats on a loop through some iterations of intense instrumentation, a ‘What You Got‘ loop (courtesy of Jaemin) and some vocals (courtesy of Doyoung). While I like overlapping in songs, I felt that Universe went an extra unnecessary step when the hook overlapped with Doyoung’s vocals. It felt a bit much when it got to that point and was hard to focus on Doyoung’s vocals. I wished they held back on that additional iteration. That was the only part of Universe that I did not enjoy. Other than. the song gets a big tick from me. Universes showcases interesting vocal and powerful rapping throughout the song. There is a lot going on in this department, but I was not disappointed with the variety! The chorus melody was actually pretty solid and had a smoothness with counteracted with the the rougher textures brought through by the synths. In addition to the synths, there was some pretty good elements that made up the instrumentation, such as the synthesizer guitars and I also felt a bit of a rock influence at point through the presence of actual electric guitars. The overlapping returned at one point in the second verse and at the end of Universe and sounded fine, simply because they didn’t overlap with any vocals. Overall, there was one minor hiccup to Universe, but otherwise a great song that showcases a lot!

Part of the music video takes on a baseball game, which makes sense given the main hook being ‘Let’s Play Ball‘. The casual wear elsewhere in the video, like in the outdoor scenes and some of the closeups, felt fitting enough as well. However, I am not entirely sure of the direction of the choreography scenes in which the members were wearing suits and wearing those full face masks. They look good though, and I presume they have a reason for being in this video. But it just didn’t feel obvious. Over than that, a pretty typical music video.

What impresses me with the choreography for Universe is the speed at which the moves were performed at. There as a lot of fast moments in the choreography that made the performance looked pretty cool and much more impactful.

Song – 9/10
Music Video – 7/10
Performance – 8.5/10
Overall Rating – 8.3/10

[Album Review] Sticker / Favorite (3rd Studio Album / 3rd Studio Album Repackaged) – NCT 127

As mentioned earlier this week, I would be fast-tracking the album review for Sticker and Favorite this weekend. Sticker (both album and title track of the same name) was released mid-September, while Favorite (the repackaged version) and Favorite (Vampire) (the title track from the repackaged album) was released at the end of October/a week ago. In total, 14 songs were released on these two albums. As a bit of a spoiler, NCT 127 shows many different sides of themselves on this album. I am sure there is something for everyone out there, even if you despise Sticker (the title track). I found some hidden gems on here myself, so no doubt you will as well.

1. Favorite (Vampire) (Title Track) Click here to read the full review for Favorite (Vampire). (9/10)

2. Sticker (Title Track)Click here to read the full review for Sticker. (5.5/10)

3. Love On The FloorLove On The Floor is one of my favourite sidetracks from both the original and repackaged album, and I highly recommend it. This hip-hop synth track is so sleek and feels quite stylish. The beat and particular synths used in this song have this ‘don’t mess around’ type of attitude to it, similar to the demeanour of a model on a runway. With this in mind, I feel that Love On The Floor is a background piece to a fashion show of some kind every time I listen to the song, with the models being NCT 127. That would be a cool concept, and I am sure NCT 127 would nail the visual component and the choreography component as well. Vocally, I think there are some amazing vocals and harmonisation in this song, while the rapping adds edge and intensity to the song that would make this a song not to miss, especially if you are after something with a lot of styles. (10/10)

4. Lemonade Lemonade is an interesting song and is a bit complicated to explain. In earlier drafts, I have attempted to break down the song in layman’s terms, but it was a bit too much and I don’t think I did Lemonade justice. The best way I can think of to describe the song is that it is a bit of a rollercoaster. The trap hip-hop track has some slow points, and then more intense and explosive sequences that seemingly come out of nowhere. But despite it being a wild ride, the song sounds more cohesive and fleshed out compared to Sticker. Extra points are given the rapping, which added to the already dynamic nature of the song. The vocals also stood out, with the harmonisation added definition to the repetitive one-hook, ‘Taste like lemonade’, making it more memorable for me. (8/10)

5. BreakfastBreakfast diverts away from EDM and hip-hop for a funkier tune. The instrumentation to this song is very cool and has a fair bit of energy jammed into it. It doesn’t explode, but instead is exuded when the drop in the chorus comes into play and as instrumental literally bounces it out. Vocally, it is a strong song with smooth vocals throughout. I wished the rapping had a bit more to it and wasn’t held back, as I think this would have boosted the song up. (8/10)

6. PilotPilot features another bouncy synth instrumentation, but it feels a bit more refined. It might be because Pilot is steered towards more of an R&B nature. It is still a fun and bright song, highlighting their vocals. Once again, harmonisation is used in this song, and I quite liked its presence in this song.  It makes the song appear tighter and cohesive, overall. The rapping takes a bit of a backseat for this song, with it being there but not as memorable as the vocals were. Personally, I don’t feel much listening to the song. But breaking it down for this review, Pilot seems decent. (7/10)

7. Focus (같은 시선) – To me, Focus and Pilot are quite similar. The major difference with Focus is that the smoothed-out instrumentation and overall delivery from the members are more mature and sultry, whereas Pilot has an upbeat nature to it. Once again, the vocals are very impressive throughout Focus, with the element doing a fantastic job of captivating and charming me. The rapping at the end was also quite good. Unfortunately, the rapping in the bridge was the song’s weakest element. It just didn’t sit right with me and I don’t think it went with the rest of the song. (8/10)

8. The Rainy Night (내일의 나에게)The Rainy Night is an amazing ballad. Firstly, it activates the swaying effect that I mention comes from good ballads. Secondly, the vocals are stunning throughout The Rainy Night. I hate to be a broken record, but the harmonisation in this song makes it dreamy and captivating. Thirdly, the piano instrumentation is rather delicate and stood out from underneath the vocal work we got from the members. It added a more beautiful touch to the song, on top of the vocals that we got. (9/10)

9. FarFar returns the album to the very more familiar EDM territory that NCT is known for. It isn’t as intense as their more well-known tracks, and Far is a bit slower than those tracks as well. But Far is definitely intriguing. It sounds adventurous and unfamiliar, but dynamic and strong as one would expect from an NCT 127 dance track. The rapping has oomph to it, with the abrasiveness of the rapping standing out. The vocal ad-libs in this song are amazing and show-stopping. (9/10)

10. Bring The Noize – As cringy as the spelling of ‘Noize’ is, it was quite obvious what direction this track would go in. It is powerful, intense and definitely a song that would naturally come from NCT 127. The members sound fantastic in this song, with both the rapping and vocal delivery really selling the song for me. Jaehyun is the standout member in this song, with both his solo parts sounding very cool. His second sequence, in particular, was definitely something on the next level! The shouty style of the song’s main parts and the bass in this song are also icing on the cake for me. (10/10)

11. Magic Carpet Ride – It is amazing that seconds before this track, NCT 127 was in very ‘noisy’ territory as some might say and within seconds of this track, they are in very different territory. The first word that I thought of when I heard Magic Carpet Ride was dreamy. And that word has remained as an accurate description of the song with every listen I have given it. I really liked the softer instrumentations and the overall vocal package in this song. A highly recommended song on this album! (10/10)

12. Road TripRoad Trip has nice mellow instrumentation and brings out a youthful sound from the group. It is nicely upbeat and has this cute tone that feels wholesome. It isn’t a standout track, but it definitely is charming. If you want really want a break from the intensity that NCT 127 usually brings to the table, then Road Trip will be a pretty decent way to cut that tension and energy. (8/10)

13. Dreamer – A similar comment as the final sentence in Road Trip’s paragraph can be applied to Dreamer. But I think Dreamer nudges ahead by a point for various reasons. I liked the slightly funkier vibes that Dreamer exudes, especially during the verses. The instrumentation is memorable and fun. The sing-song nature of the song makes Dreamer super easy to get into. I also feel like they did a good job of showing off vocals. The rapping was also a solid element to the song, adding to the fun and upbeat dynamics of the song. (9/10)

14. Promise You (다시 만나는 날)Promise You is a very atmospheric synth-pop retro track that is a beautiful ender to the album. I liked the beat of this song and the dreamy/soothing nature of the vocals. The fast and continuous motion within the instrumentation keeps the song going. Johnny’s rap-speak sequence is unique but has its own merits to be in this song. The other members sound hopeful and warm throughout the song. As I said, a beautiful ender. (10/10)

Overall Album Rating – 8.6/10

[Review] Favorite (Vampire) – NCT 127

Also making their comeback today is NCT 127, who returns with Favorite (Vampire). This comeback sees the release of the group’s repackaged version of their third studio length album, which also shares the first name of the title track. It follows the release of Sticker, which I didn’t enjoy and actually have forgotten about since reviewing it back in mid-September. Let’s see how Favorite (Vampire) fairs, Also, on a side note, with the release of the repackaged album, you can expect an album review for both Sticker/Favorite this weekend!

Without a doubt, I would choose Favorite as my preferred track between the two releases from the group this year. Favorite flowed a lot better and felt more cohesive than the earlier track. However, this doesn’t mean I am 100% into the song. I am more so 99% into the track (plot twist much?). The issue lies within the instrumentation, as I don’t really like the wispy synth whistles in the instrumentation. They get better as the song progresses, and they might very well grow on me. But when I hear it for the first time every time I have replayed the song, I find them to be unsettling. Aside from that, I think Favorite was a really great track. It taps into R&B pop and has this smoothness to it, which I enjoyed. I also liked the more profound and normal whistling in the song (even though they did bring a certain level of dullness to the song), along with the trap elements that make up the background for the more rap-centric (rap-spoken) sequences, which added both and edgy vibe and kick to the song. They could have used less of the whistling, but it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. I think the worst thing in the world in the context of Favorite would be the dubstep breakdown. I am glad that didn’t make it into the final cut of the song (it was only in the music video, and I presume in the upcoming performances as well). If it did, it would have been unnecessary and obnoxious to listen to. Moving away from that, I thoroughly enjoyed the vocal works. Again, the smoothness comment can be applied here, and to the melodies which the members bring to life. The harmonies take it to the next level, while the two-syllable delivery they used at the end of the choruses made the song memorable for me. Overall, Favorite is definitely the superior track in comparison to Sticker, and is definitely a strong improvement from the mentioned last release.

The members (or at least some of the members) are vampires in this music video. The idea of it works really well with the music, from how I see it. The R&B pop song was very mature sounding, and I feel that the portrayal of the members as vampires was also quite mature as well. We don’t see any Count Draculas, and we don’t see any stereotypical portrayals of vampires as per folklore or stories depict them to be. I guess this mature vibe comes about because the song is about a relationship that is inevitably going to end, even though their partners are everything to them. While I think the vampire idea is great, I would like to see the concept be a more prominent feature in this music video. Also, I didn’t like the use of CGI in this video. It wasn’t the case across the board, but some parts looked noticeably synthetic. Thankfully, the dance sets balanced it out and made it seem less so.

The performance aspect of this comeback looks quite good. I really liked the two lines of members during the final moments of the chorus, and how they seemingly got into that formation. The dance break was quite dynamic, led by Taeyong, Mark and Jaehyun.

Song – 9/10
Music Video – 6/10
Performance – 8/10
Overall Rating – 7.9/10

[Review] California Love – Donghae (Super Junior) ft. Jeno (NCT)

In preparation of the upcoming return of Super Junior’s most active subunit, Super Junior D&E, with their first studio-length album (which also marks their 10 year anniversary as a unit), Donghae and Eunhyuk have released their first major solo songs since their debut over 15 years ago. Today, I will be reviewing their solo releases ahead of their official comeback in November. First up is Donghae’s California Love, which features Jeno from NCT.

California Love is another one of those songs that is riddled with a case of excessive autotune. For this R&B pop track, it didn’t feel needed. Donghae has proven himself to be a capable singer without the autotune in other tracks, so I am not sure why all his vocals had to be autotuned throughout the entirety of the track. Sure it could have been used to be an intriguing element, but at least use it sparingly. It just sticks out for the wrong reasons. It is interesting to note that Jeno, who features in the second verse, isn’t as autotuned as Donghae. His rapping does have a bit of filtering to it, but it isn’t as excessive. And I find Jeno’s part to be more appealing as a result, thanks to both the lower degree of the autotune and also the mature vibes he gives off in the song (which compliments the R&B side of the song). For the rest of the song. California Love doesn’t ping as a memorable track. I did like the smoothness of the song overall, and enjoyed the melodies we got from Donghae’s lines (despite the autotune), especially when we got the choruses. It was all enough to make the song pleasant and appreciable, but California Love is not a mind-blowing song.

I think the video does well in the visual department. It definitely shows off the handsome features of Donghae via his closeups (his pink hair just sticks out and is quite a memorable feature of this video), and the city landscape behind him while he drives and dances looks stunning. But I don’t see it being any more than a visually appealing piece. It is definitely nice to see Jeno feature in the music video. As mentioned many times in the past, featuring artists don’t really make it into the video due to unavailability etc. But when they do, I quite liked it. And I feel Jeno does a good job here.

The live performance definitely makes the song much better. On stage, his vocals are not as filtered, and this made the song smoother and pleasanter. He does a good job handling the rapping sections, as well. I guess with the song’s style, we are restricted with the routine’s opportunity to be creative. But it was definitely fitting for the music and pleasant to watch, nonetheless.

Song – 6/10
Music Video – 6.5/10
Performance – 7/10
Overall Rating –

[International Song Reviews] Ten (NCT), Jackson Wang & Internet Money, Ten & YangYang (WayV), Yuqi ((G)I-DLE) & 2PM

It has been a while since I focused on the International releases of KPOP, so I will spend the rest of today looking into these releases. If you want to read my review from the last time I covered International Songs from KPOP artists (TWICE, ATEEZ, SHINee, Jackson Wang and Rocket Punch), you can click here for that review. In this particular, I will be covering Ten’s SM Station release, Jackson Wang’s collaboration with Internet Money, WayV’s subunit release, Yuqi’s solo debut and 2PM’s grand return to the Japanese music market.

Paint Me Naked – Ten (NCT)

Early August saw Ten release the all-English single Paint Me Naked. It is a super energetic and expressive solo track that seems to take on a mixture of pop and punk. Personally, I thought the more pop-centric moments (i.e. verses and bridge) were a bit dry, but the punk side comes through via the chorus and definitely kicks the song up a notch. I liked how the song progress, with the final chorus giving us a satisfying blast of energy that helps peaks the song in a very strong manner. This vocals were consistently good throughout Paint Me Naked, showcasing his potential for the industry. The music video was okay. It channeled some of the energy from the song, but not entirely. It also wasn’t memorable and didn’t give you much reason to return to. The performance that came along with this release was a lot better and did a much better job of channeling the energy that we got from the song. Ten sang live on his performances, so unfortunately this hindered the energy he could have put into the performance. But this didn’t mean that the performance didn’t come off as fun or had a satisfying kick to it. (7.4/10)

Drive Me Home – Jackson Wang & Internet Money

Jackson Wang has consistently pushed out new songs this year and has featured in three of the six ISRs posted by me this year (not including this one, which will be his the fourth appearance this year)! Back in July (I know, a long time ago), Jackson released the English single Drive Me Home with Internet Money (a music producer). This isn’t Jackson’s most impressive song of the year, but it definitely one of his most heartfelt and emotional releases yet. Once again, his husky and raspy vocals are on full display. I really like how he used his vocals in this song to deliver that emotional side, especially during the choruses. I liked the consistency of the instrumental. It bubbles away in the background. It isn’t special (actually more typical than anything else), but it added necessary drive and substance to the song to make it more engaging and Jackson more expressive with his vocals. The music video was an interesting story. It began with the future, with Jackson being a successful applicant in a job. I noticed his workplace felt sterile and typical. It is like whatever happened to him lead to this outcome. From then on, we see the events of his life happen in reverse. Jackson is drunk, thrown out of the club after smashing it up, all the while crying his way through the club. Then we see him in rags on the road, stopping and slowing traffic and looks quite injured. The ending showed the unfortunate events that occurred, which explained everything that happened prior in the video. Jackson had fallen in love with the girl in the picture frame. So in love that he is distracted by her while driving, causing him to crash and accidently kill his lover. It is a heartbreaking story that was creatively and uniquely told in this video, and matches the emotional side of the song. (7.8/10)

Low Low – Ten & YangYang (WayV)

After releasing and promoting Paint Me Naked, Ten returned soon after with YangYang for the release of Low Low, another all English song. Low Low is a pleasant track, with smooth melodies and a somewhat fun and upbeat dance instrumental that carries hip-hop influences. I quite liked how Ten and YangYang sounded in this song, but I wished they were more striking with their vocals. I think this could have taken the song to a whole new level and not by limited by the ‘pleasant’ descriptor. For the vocals to be more striking, the instrumental would have needed a bit of a revamp as well to support any attempt for bolding, in my opinion. I did notice the producers seem to add a bit of inclination/build towards the final chorus by adding a bit of electronic synths into the the bridge for a dance break. And I would have liked it, had the final chorus continued that momentum. For the music video, I watched it once and didn’t even bother returning to it again since its release. It was also a pleasant video, but not memorable whatsoever. Like Ten’s earlier song, Low Low faired a lot better with the choreography. It isn’t anything grand, but it was a fun choreography overall, especially that brief dance break/battle we had between the pair. (6.8/10)

Bonnie & Clyde – Yuqi ((G)I-DLE)

The oldest release on this list is Bonnie & Clyde, one of the solo debut singles from Yuqi, who hails from the female group (G)I-DLE. It was released way back in May of this year. Bonnie and Clyde is a fantastic song. I really liked the uniqueness of the instrumental here, combining the likes of trance and rock. It is of a low register and it is bounces forward continuously, which kept the song moving towards its end. It pairs with Yuqi’s vocals extremely well, who also took on a much lower tone for this release. Altogether, the elements of this song really gets me reaching for the replay button. How it took me this long to actually review it is a concern that I need to reflect on! For the music video, Yuqi goes on the run after finding some diamonds. But first. she takes the diamonds to a very risky game of chess and wins back her diamonds which she had bet with. Then the police comes and she makes a run for it. We also see another version of Yuqi. I am not too sure what the relation here, but my wild mind says she has a split personality. One side is the risk taker, while the other side of her is more proper. But both are aware what happens when the other personality takes hold. (9.2/10)

With Me Again – 2PM

I end this ISR with With Me Again, the most recent track on this list.. It also doubles as 2PM’s grand return to the Japanese industry, which they had spent a lot of time in before the group had to enlist in the military. With Me Again encapsulates all the mature and sexy vibes that they are known for into one track. It comes off as stylish, classy and trendy. I liked the vocals throughout and I quite enjoyed the higher note that the main hook is in. I also liked that subtle tango tinge to the song’s instrumentation and the funky touch from when Taecyeon raps. I wished the rest of the verses were more memorable, as I don’t remember them as much as that main hook (which is quite striking over the classiness of the instrumentation). The music video was fine to watch. I really want to say ‘Nothing was memorable’ with this music video (as for the most part, this was the case). But unfortunately, one member’s scenes just stuck out for all the wrong reasons. I am not too sure how Chansung’s bull riding scene fits in with the entire concept and thought it looked ridiculous. I would gladly like to press the erase button on that and hopefully never want to think of it ever again. Thankfully, no bulls appeared in the performance version of With Me Again. Instead, the group reverts back to that stylish and classy manner that I had already mentioned. (7.5/10)

[Review] Sticker – NCT 127

NCT 127 is back with their new single and third (!) studio album, which shares the same name, Sticker. This the unit’s first Korean comeback since their participation in NCT’s 23-member lineup promotions for their 2020 album, NCT 2020 Resonance (Part 1 and Part 2). Since then, NCT 127 have regrouped on two occasions – for the release of their second studio length Japanese album Loveholic (which featured Gimme Gimme as the title track), and for the collaboration with Amoeba Culture (Save). They have also been confirmed for future promotion via a repackaged album for this release. There is not confirmed release date yet, so I guess we have to wait around. Until then, here is my review for Sticker.

Without a doubt, Sticker is an interesting song. I don’t know what I was expecting for this release, but I honestly did not expect this – a dulled, oddly pieced and disjointed release from the group. When I first heard the song yesterday, I was making some really weird faces towards the instrumentation (think of faces when someone trying a certain dish or food for the first time, and you know based on their expressions that they do not like it – that was me). I attribute to this to mainly one element in Sticker, the shrilly and almost-screechy flute in the background. It was an element that remained throughout the song and hence that screechy impression remained throughout the song for me (though I will admit that I am slowly becoming desensitized to it – not entirely sure if that is a good thing or not). In the verses, I felt a disconnect between vocals and instrumentation. It was quite noticeable, though it isn’t the end of the world for me. One positive of this disconnect is that the vocals and raps were on full display, and it was an impressive and clear display. The disconnect also evolved into disjointed, when we speak about the specific segments of the song (i.e. verses, chorus, pre-chorus, bridge etc.). Sticker was just not cohesive. It tried to be, that was clear. But it just didn’t work out, given that every part appeared distinct from one another. Something to blend everything together would have been nice The chorus was slightly better thanks to the melodies, but that screechy flute reappeared and brought back that initial feeling I had about the song. I am also not a fan of how they delivered the title, Sticker, as the main hook in a drawn out fashion that took any potential fun out of the hook for me. But it isn’t all bad news for Sticker, however. I thought the orchestral pre-chorus and the bridge (which for me includes the ‘Roll up to the party‘ dance break) were promising segments of the song. The orchestral touch was an interesting backdrop for the rappers, but it worked somehow and the bridge has clean vocals and rapping, whilst the background was smoothed out sans the flute (the instrumentation in the bridge masked the shrilly nature, which helped). Overall, the disjointed and disconnect within Sticker made it dulled and incohesive.

The music video for Sticker was much better than the song. Futuristic cowboys seems to be the concept that NCT 127 had gone for this comeback. Their outfits brought the western cowboy image to life, and more so in a modern way. Cowboy hats, boots and lassos were all present in the music video. Even Mark’s spinning guns at the end were quite reminiscent of cowboys. The sets of the video brought in that futuristic side, thanks to the neon and city lights we see in the video. The cinematography and post-production for this music video was definitely on the cool side, and helped made the video feel dynamic without going too crazy elsewhere.

Knowing how KPOP likes to relate choreographies to the entire comeback, I wasn’t too sure how Sticker would have been be portrayed in the choreography. It appears that NCT 127 represent Sticker as the slow ungrasping of hands, which I guess might hint towards sticky hands. They also mimicked the pulling up of stickers from the release liner (I had to google what that smooth backing was called) with their hands towards the start of the chorus with the zoom in and zoom out sequences. I thought these worked really well. The rest of the choreography looked fine to me.

Song – 5.5/10
Music Video – 8/10
Performance – 7/10
Overall Rating – 6.6/10

[Review] Hello Future – NCT DREAM

Also making their comeback on Monday is NCT Dream (apologies for the long delays in getting this review out). The NCT subunit unveiled their latest title track, Hello Future, and the group’s first ever repackaged album which shares the same name as title track. Hello Future follows the release of Hot Sauce (both title track and name of the group’s first ever mini-album). The full-length album featuring both Hello Future and Hot Sauce will be reviewed tomorrow as part of the Album Review focus this weekend. In preparation for that, I will need to write my full review for Hello Future, so here are my thoughts on their new song.

Hello Future finds that middle ground between their very youthful tracks that they began their careers with and their more mature sound that they have opted for in their more recent releases. How so? Well, the pop instrumentation that sits in the background gives off a refreshing and pleasant vibe that feels like a throwback to those early days. And it feels like a great Summer track, overall. Hello Future may not start off in this manner (thanks to that deep gurgling-like effect), but it does give off such impressions when we get to the chorus. It actually took me a few repeats to warm up to the opening verse because of that gurgling-like effect in the background, but getting through it to reach the chorus was definitely worthwhile (more on this in second). In addition to the youthful reminder via the instrumentals, the groups vocals in both rapping and singing brings forward that matureness. Compared to their early releases, NCT Dream’s voices (particular the rappers) have gotten pretty deep, which I assume is the reason why NCT Dream ended up going down the mature route of KPOP releases. For Hello Future, I liked how they capitalised on this unavoidable change. The singing vocals brought this insane level of smoothness to the song and kept the song grounded in a positive manner. The melodies we hear in the chorus are so captivating and stunning, and this is all thanks to the vocalists in NCT Dream. For the rappers of the group, their sequences provided some interesting contrast that made the song memorable and well-balanced. In particular, the sequences we get after the second chorus have the song some nice brief punches of intensity, which acted as a superb offset to the song’s pleasantness. But while Hello Future is an awesome song already, I do feel that the song had opportunities to be more dynamic, especially when it came to the ad-libs at the end of the song. It felt pretty safe and ‘in the box’. What they needed was to venture out of the confines of said box to ensure this song hit a home run. But as of now, it was still a very enjoyable song from the group.

To me, the group are portrayed as hippies in this music video. From their outfits, to the ‘natural’ accessories, to the peace signs we see on their posters and signs, everything felt very influenced by the hippies we associate from the 60s. Note that everything has been modernise to fit this era. I doubt hoodies and sweatpants were the 60s hippies go to attire. But I think this was a smart concept for the group to follow through with. The song’s message was ‘overcoming struggles to grow together with love and trust’ (taken from Soompi) which is a very hippie type of messaging. And they did so by crashing a very competitive Soccer game, bringing the two teams together to join them in their pursuit for love and trust.

I really enjoyed the choreography for this comeback. It might not be their best work out there, but I feel like it was a good fit for the song. I liked the incorporation of – what I like to call – the royal hello (cupped hand and a slight turn of the wrist). I also liked their ending sequence, which brought a rush of intensity to end of the song with. This is a nice example of contrast, as I note their choreography beforehand was quite slow and mellow looking. But this intense rush at the end reminded us that the performance was a NCT performance nonetheless.

Song – 9/10
Music Video – 8/10
Performance – 8.5/10
Overall Rating – 8.6/10

[Review] Hot Sauce – NCT Dream

It is a new week and a new lineup of comebacks! First up this week is NCT Dream, who makes their grand return with their very first studio album since debut five years ago. The group has defintiely gone a long way away from their Chewing Gum days. Also based on a food item, this comeback’s title is Hot Sauce, which is the shared name of both the studio album and title track. Their first studio album also marks the return of Mark, who previously graduated from the group back in 2018 as he no longer fitted the age criteria for the group. But in 2020, it was confirmed after the unit’s last comeback (Ridin’ and Reload) that NCT Dream would abolish the graduation system and that the group’s lineup will become fixed with the re-addition of Mark. It also appears that NCT Dream’s comeback is hugely anticipated, with the group already selling more than 1.7 million preordered albums.

After all, we have been deprived of some form of NCT Dream for over a year. And with the re-addition of Mark, it will be interesting to see what direction NCT Dream would take. And based on what I am hearing, it seems like they went with a more trendy number as their main title track. The song taps into the hip-hop genre and it also features Latin influences. While this combines very typical music trends in the wide-ranging genre of KPOP nowadays, the resulting song is actually quite refreshing to me. What makes Hot Sauce really unique is that descending background vocals everytime the chorus comes into play. It adds a unique tinge of colour and texture to the song, but also keeps the instrumentation interesting. The energy that comes from Hot Sauce packs a punch and is quite intense. Just take the instrumental sequence in which they use for the dance break that they peak with as an example. This intensity also compliments NCT Dream’s more recently noticeable asset, their deep and raspy voices (hence my comment about their Chewing Gum days before). The member’s deep vocals have been around since Boom, but I felt Hot Sauce really utilises this asset very well and brings out the raspy side of Jeno and Jisung in their rap sequences. In addition to intensity from the hip-hop and dance side of the song, the Latin influences were also very memorable. I really liked the acoustic guitar that was prevalent during the verses and pre-chorus. It too kept the instrumental mix interesting and gives Hot Sauce some extra ‘spice’ without it just relying on EDM and synths. If I was to pick one thing that I wasn’t necessarily a fan of, that would be the shouty vocals in the chorus. It was a good way to captialise on the energy that was coming off the song, but it overwhelmed me unfortuately. But overall, Hot Sauce delivers a flavour-bomb. Just sometimes, there is that one distinct flavour coming from the mouthful that I am not entirely keen on. But maybe if I keep on tasting, I might grow to like it.

When I first watched the music video earlier today, I thought we were teetering on the edge of a Ko Ko Bop situation. But now that I have rewatched the music video, it appears to be more innocent than what I thought. Essentially, the lyrics say that the members’ charms are addictive as hot sauce. And the video shows the members becoming addicted to the hot sauce (i.e. Haechan and Jaemin’s eyes bulging after consuming some hot sauce, Chenle watching the hot sauce on his phone, the members helping out with the supply chain for the hot sauce, even being part of the commericals for the hot sauce). They even go out of their way to stop Mark from having some straight up, knowing how addictive it could be. In addition to the storyline, the music video also features cool effects that felt appropriate for the concept.

Based on what I can see in the music video, the choreography looks very intense and powerful, which is fitting for the song. I can’t wait to see the entire routine in full, especially when it comes to the dance break! I really like the ‘mixing bowl’ move for some reason. It looks cool, when it doesn’t really sound as cool.

Song – 8.5/10
Music Video – 8/10
Performance – 9/10
Overall Rating – 8.5/10