Album Review: NCT 2018 – ‘Empathy’
Written by Chyenne Tatum on April 4, 2018
Album: NCT 2018: Empathy
Label: SM Entertainment
Release Date: March 14, 2018
When the concept of NCT was first introduced back in 2016, K-pop fans were lost, confused and just plain dumbfounded at the thought of having a group with a limitless amount of members spanning from across the globe. Many compared the idea to EXO-K and EXO-M, a concept that seemed quite brilliant at the time, but gradually began to fall apart within 2-3 years. However, I was optimistic from the beginning that this time, SM would get it right.
NCT, currently a group of 18 members, finally released their full-length album, NCT 2018, and it’s been one heck of a roller coaster leading up to its release. What fans thought would be a full album with all new music, turned out to be more of a compilation album with a couple new tracks from each unit: NCT U, NCT 127 and NCT Dream. I’ve seen countless complaints about how SM marketed this album all wrong and the pointless need to add tracks from NCT U that were digitally released two years ago. However, I personally enjoy knowing that I can finally own songs like “The 7th Sense” and “Without You” on a physical copy of the album, especially since U is the only unit without an actual album or EP to their name. So, apart from the two songs and I just mentioned and “Dream In A Dream” (released in 2017), I will only review the newest tracks from Empathy and highlight its best and not-so-best moments.
I confess, this album has been on repeat since its release, including the four tracks that were released prior to Empathy. First up, is probably the intro of the century (don’t @ me), titled “Neo Got My Back”. We first heard this intro in the NCT 2018 Yearbook #2 video, which was the second introduction to all 18 members and showed them in their own settings with their names highlighted in some of the most creative ways. With a distorted hip-hop flare and laid-back tone, the song lasts nearly two-minutes with a voice chanting, “Neo got my back, culture tings, tech-tech on my mind.” This lyric serves as a play on words for the meaning of NCT, which literally stands for “Neo Culture Technology”. The intro became so popular, that NCTzens started tweeting it as much as possible and even made the phrase their new Twitter bio. When I saw that the song would be included in the final tracklist of the album, I was over the moon. What better way to start NCT’s first full album as OT18?
The first two full tracks, “Boss” and “Baby Don’t Stop” had already been pre-released on YouTube with its respective music videos just weeks before the album dropped and I’ve been eating them up since. It’s the first time we’ve seen NCT U as an actual unit in two years, so imagine my surprise when Ten revealed that he would duet with another member (Taeyong). I’ve reviewed and compared both songs already on my K-Pop Frenzy blog, so I’ll save some time and let you read more about it there.
Okay, now I want to talk about the two songs that completely took a 180 for both units and flipped everyone’s world upside down. “Go” by NCT Dream and “Touch” from NCT 127. By now, we should all know that the concept of Dream has been very cute, sweet, and innocent, considering they’re composed of NCT’s youngest members who are now between of the ages of 16-19. Personally, I’ve loved their cutesy, kid-like concepts since “Chewing Gum”, but for some reason, Dream was just one unit that most people couldn’t get into. A lot of that has changed since the release of their new, harder song, “Go”. The Dreamies noted that the song represents teenage rebellion and shows a mature side of the group that fans definitely did not see coming. Nonetheless, “Go” turned out to be one of the best songs on the album and I was very impressed with how well Jaemin fit right into the concept after being on hiatus for over a year, suddenly transitioning from a bubbly teen to a mild juvenile delinquent. Haechan always shines in this unit, considering there less members and he’s undoubtedly the best vocalist in Dream. His falsettos and harmonies throughout the song give me so much life, as well as Renjun and Chenle. Yes, I am the proud mom of seven talented sons and maybe it was time for them to grow up–but not too much please.
On the other hand, NCT 127 has always had an edgier concept and style since debut, but it seems as if they were jealous of how cute and adorable Dream was and decided to take on a cute sound of their own. “Touch” is a refreshing pop song, reminding me somewhat the 90s pop era, which transforms the nine members into the types of boys you would bring home to meet the parents and low-key a couple Brady Bunch references in the music video. I can’t tell you how much I missed Taeil’s voice, it was like a breath of fresh air to hear him belt that last chorus and throw in his famous ad libs towards the end. As amazing as this comeback was, there are still a few setbacks that hinder this song from being the best it could be: the dreaded line distribution. Johnny and WinWin have been NCT members for a while now, yet in every comeback, there are never given a fair share of lines to sing and end up being pushed to the back. Although WinWin did get a nice amount of screen time in the music video, Johnny hardly got screen time OR lines, which frustrates me both as a Johnny stan and an NCTzen, in general. It’s getting old, SM.
The last track I want to highlight is “Black on Black”. Long story short, it’s THE dance break song of the year. It’s a mix of hip-hop and dubstep that creates a hyped up anthem for NCT to show of their powerful 18-member choreography. I knew the title look familiar when the tracklist was announced, so I decided to YouTube it because it was driving me insane and I was pretty sure I’ve heard it before. Low and behold, they performed a shorter and slightly different version of it at 2016 MAMA with only eight members, which was only a sneak peek back then. The current version begins with raps from Taeyong and Mark, before diving into a and sick breakdown where the line, “Neo got my back” makes yet another appearance. However, the best part doesn’t come in until almost two minutes in when the beat drops and Mark repeats the words, “black on black.” I was surprised to see Lucas rap in this song, but also not really since he seems to be the most hyped of the newer members. Part of me still wishes they could’ve given his part to Johnny, just so that he can have more just than just one line in the whole album. Both the beginning and end of the song ends with ferocious roars and gives me flashbacks of EXO’s “Wolf”, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been listening to this album on repeat for the past week and it deserves all the praise in the world, thanks to the hardworking members of NCT.
Based off the music alone, this album deserves a four out of five stars because SM is just always so on point with how well they put a song together and successfully experiment with so many different genres. However, if we’re talking fair line distributions and equal representation for each member, I would give it a two out of five. It’s the sheer negligence that SM has shown towards WinWin, Johnny, and Kun throughout this process that irritates their fanbase and we’ve all had enough. There are so many opportunities that the writers and producers could’ve given the three of them in terms of singing or rapping, but once again, JohnWinKun are hidden in the shadows of Taeyong, Mark, Doyoung, Jaehyun, and basically everyone else. But, I digress…musically, the NCT 2018 project is magnificent.
My Top 3 (at the moment):
- Black On Black