NCT 127 Comeback Review: “Limitless”

I was pretty ambivalent about NCT as a whole throughout 2016. I like “The Seventh Sense,” but “Fire Truck” just isn’t my thing. And I have no connection with NCT Dream, being at least nine years older than any given member. Basically, NCT was a group that I didn’t closely follow. “Limitless” totally changed all of that. People (including me) make fun of the fashion, but they released a really quality song. I hope that it’s grabbing other people’s attention like it did mine.

If you want to know what I look at when I do a review, click here.

*SPOILER ALERT!* These reviews assume that the reader has either listened to the song or watched the music videos.

CONCEPT: Hip hop/Experimental.  This particular comeback seems to specifically target late 90’s/early ’00s hip hop. (I don’t really know the history hip hop all that well to say, but I know it’s an era I’ve been alive for)

SONG

Music: Kenzie, The Underdogs, Kevin Randolph, Patrick “J. Que” Smith, Brittany Burton, Andrew Hey

Arrangement: Kenzie

NCT clearly draws their inspiration from hip hop, more so than most other SM groups. They have rappers like Taeyong and Mark that are some of the strongest in the agency, and both “The Seventh Sense” and “Fire Truck” relied heavily on Taeyong rap. “Limitless” is somewhere between hip hop and pop, and it’s super addictive to listen to.  In their review, Seoul Beats suggested similarities to Drake and the Weekend.  I hear it in the softer verses when the vocal line is singing, but the chorus and the rap parts go a little harder than what I’ve heard from these artists.  But then again, I really only listen to “Hotline Bling” and “Can’t Feel My Face.”

There’s a really strong beat throughout that amps it up in the chorus.  The vocals are generally very smooth, and keep it from being too aggressive.  There’s a nice rise and fall pattern happening with the verses and the chorus.  It’s really kind of cool because there’s such a strong hip hop presence, but at the same there are classic boy group vocals. NCT 127 showed in “Fire Truck” that they like to experiment.  While “Limitless” is a little more mainstream, it’s nice to see that still happening on some level.  The song is very close to having too much going on, but at the same time I think that’s part of the point.

SCORE: 18/20

LYRICS

Written by: Kenzie

From what I gather, this is a kind of “you and me against the world” type of situation. The object of their affections is the light that wakes them up from their nightmares.  She’s the only one similar to them in a world of boring grey and boring people, and she’s an ocean at the end of a desert.  Together, they make each other “limitless.” I feel like it sounds kind of cheesy now that I’m writing it here out of context, but it corresponds well to the intensity of the song.

I also appreciate the small references to “The Seventh Sense,” because I always think those kind of things are fun.  I must admit that I giggle at the “thirsty for love” part, but that’s more because of the current meaning of “thirsty” – not anything to do with the boys themselves.

SCORE8/10

LINE DISTRIBUTION

I’m Taeyong-biased, so I don’t really mind that he dominates this song. The guy certainly has the talent and stage presence to pull it off. Looking at it objectively though, ome of his parts could definitely have gone to Yuta other members. Taeil gets about the same amount of time as Taeyong according to this video, but I think a good deal of that is ad-libs.  He, Doyoung, and Jaehyun get most of the lines, which is a good choice because all three have very clear and distinct vocal colors that add a nice variety.

Mark ends up in a pretty good position both line-wise and dance-wise.  Johnny seems a little underused, seeing as people have been waiting for him to debut for years. But if you think about it, he and Taeyong are probably doing the “Wake me up” part (the line distribution videos don’t seem to count choruses). So the ones who really get short-changed would be Haechan, WinWin, and Yuta.  Yuta should definitely have gotten more than one line, but he is one of the centers for the choreography.  WinWin also has dance parts, and from what I understand he’s still learning Korean.  Thus the only one I can’t explain or justify not having a lot of lines is Haechan.

SCORE: 7/10

CHOREOGRAPHY

(I chose to put a fancam instead of the official performance video because it’s easier to see the choreography)

The dance here is deceivingly simple.  Most of the moves are easy enough to remember, but it’s very isolation heavy.  The execution has to be so precise.  It’s the kind of performance where your stage presence has to be maxed out to get the best effect. If done right, the smaller moves can still stand out.  For example, I notice during live performances that the fans scream when they do this:

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(Maybe they’re screaming because that’s what fangirls do, but I prefer to think that it’s because it looks cool)

Aside from isolations, a lot of emphasis is put on the upper body here.  There are a lot of arm, shoulder, and torso movements. What I really like are the different rhythms that the dance uses. There are sections that have exact timing with the beat of the song, and there are sections that are more syncopated.  The choreography also really follows the mood of the song.  The key point in the chorus (the “wake me up” part) is really sharp and aggressive, while some of the moves in the verses are a little smoother.

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This is kind of random, but I really appreciate the part in the second verse where they all just kind of casually stroll until the side of the stage.  I don’t know, it just really fits well with Taeil’s vocals.

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A lot of boy groups these days get attention for having “knife-like” choreography and being really in sync with each other.  When you watch NCT you can see that they each put their own individual style into their moves, even in the little things like the GIF above.  When I was a more active dancer, I was a huge stickler for synchronicity.  These days, I actually enjoy variation in performances.

SCORE: 19/20

CENTER AND FORMATIONS

The formations are pretty standard.  There’s a lot of V formations and lines and 5 in front/4 in back, etc.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The choreography is pretty busy, so having simpler formations probably keeps the overall look from being a hot mess.  Especially when the dance has a lot of different levels and floor work this one.

As for the centers, the boys are clearly separated into three tiers here.  The top tier is Taeyong, Yuta, and Mark.  It’s hard to say who exactly is the center here, because it depends on your definition.  Taeyong could be the center because he has the most lines, meaning the choreography focuses on him the most.  But he’s never the center for the chorus.  Yuta is the center for two out of three choruses. Mark centers the first chorus and the ending, which is traditional for a lead dancer and/or visual (ex: EXO’s Sehun). My traditional definition of the center is the person who is in the middle for the choruses, so I would say the center is Yuta.  Also he got like one line, so I want to give him something.

The second tier is Jaehyun, WinWin, and Johnny.  They’re not centers per se, but they all get a significant period of time in the middle.  The ones who got the least amount of center time were vocal line Taeil, Doyoung, and Haechan, but two of those three had a lot of lines. There are obvious changes that could be made (#justiceforhaechan), but over I think the center distribution is pretty well-balanced.

SCORE: 8/10

MUSIC VIDEO

(I’m going to count the performance version here, because I think it’s more than just a choreography video)

SM generally has a standard aesthetic for their boy group music videos. There’s a distinct palette that makes you feel like you’re looking through Instagram filters, and there’s usually some story that gets thrown aside for the sake for looking cool.  Recent examples include Taemin’s “Press Your Number,” EXO’s “Monster” and “Lotto,” and Shinee’s “Tell Me What to Do.” “Fire Truck” falls into this category too.  This music video doesn’t actually have a story, other than “a bunch of cool guys hang out in a warehouse.” But the aesthetic is significantly different, and cool in its own way.

I finished high around when the very first iPhone was released, so I really appreciate the camcorder/home video style and the 4:3 ratio shots. Certain shots of the video actually remind me of being in middle school in the early 2000’s and goofing off with my friends – although the guys at my school certainly did not look like this (visuals or fashion wise). But there is a definite sense of nostalgia that they succeeded in capturing here.

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That being said, I kind of wish that they had taken out all of the other shots.  Aesthetically, all of the shots match.  But technically, I thought that the changes in aspect ratio and cameras (and that one section of strobe) made it look disjointed when it didn’t have to be.  And they don’t need to have dancing shots if there’s a separate performance video. It would have been much more solid if they filmed the whole thing like a home video.

The song itself is so intense and powerful.  Like I said, there’s an “us against the world” theme.  If they made it exclusively a home video or at least focused on them goofing around and filming each other, they could have made it into a story about a group of friends that were on their own away from society (kind of like BTS did with “Run”).  Instead we just get some attractive guys making model stares at the camera, and this awesome song gets reduced to cool background music.  And the guys look at the camera with this weird passivity that just doesn’t match the music at all.  There’s nothing wrong with the music video, but in my opinion it’s a missed opportunity.

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I almost felt like they should have just released the performance video version instead and left it at that.  The black background (with the clouds of color) and constantly moving camera provide a better setting for the wild atmosphere of the song.  The guys are also being extra charismatic as opposed to the other video’s dead eye look, which makes me believe the bold energy of the song more.

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SCORE: 17/20 (average of the 2 videos together)

STYLING

Oh good lord, the styling.  I’ve actually grown accustomed to it, but at first sight it was a different story. Here was my basic train of thought while watching the performance video:

*Who’s that guy with the dreads?

*Oh Taeyong…

*Does Mark’s hair defy gravity or something?

*No seriously, which one has the dreads?

*Oh Jaehyun, you too?

*Why would you make Haechan dye his hair red if he’s just going to make him wear hats?

*OMG WINWIN HAS THE DREADS AJKSDJEWHFEWHSKASDJKLA

And so on and so forth (also add in a healthy amount of giggling at the outfits).  As I mentioned before, this was the cool style for guys to wear back when I in middle school.  The outfits may be hilarious – I seriously burst out laughing every time I watch them perform – but they are so spot on accurate, albeit a little extra.  I personally live for the performances where they’re wearing animal print.  Another highlight is Yuta’s accessory in one Music Bank performance – you have to see it to believe it.  But at least it’s a strong commitment to their concept.

Now the hair is a whole discussion on cultural appropriation waiting to happen.  It does add to the authenticity of the overall look, but I think the outfits accomplish that already. I won’t get on my soap box here, but I will deduct some points for the general and recurring failure of the K-Pop industry to understand cultural appropriation.

STYLE MVP: Johnny. Because of the perfection that is this photo (and also because he and Yuta were the least screwed over stylistically)

johnny-2

Runner up: Music video Winwin (Holy visuals, Batman)

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SCORE: 6/10

FINAL TALLY

Song: 18/20

Lyrics: 8/10

Line Distribution: 7/10

Choreography: 19/20

Center Distribution: 8/10

Music Video: 17/20

Styling: 6/10

TOTAL: 83

CONCLUSION: I really do love this song. I’ve been listening to it non-stop ever since it came out, and I think it has a lot of potential. It’s probably my favorite release of January. I didn’t give them a higher score because they went all in on their concept, and in this instance I felt that it was overkill.  Visually, they didn’t do themselves any favors with the music videos or the styling – and it completely overpowers the quality of the song.  But if EXO can get past those hilarious “Wolf” outfits, than so can NCT.  They’re already bound to become big because they’re from SM. But if they keep releasing good music like this, I can’t wait to see it.

Sources: Youtube, SM Entertainment, KBS Music Bank, MBC Music Core, SBS Ingikayo, Seoul Beats

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