It’s about time NCT U were back on the scene. Boy group NCT’s original unit has come back with “Boss,” its first song in almost two years. To speak frankly, that doesn’t really mean much, given that at this point, there’s little distinction between NCT U and separate unit NCT 127, either in sound (this track is more 127 than any of U’s previous songs) or in membership (NCT has established its unit system as rotational rather than fixed, and most members of 127 and U overlap anyway). Still, it’s been six months since NCT’s last comeback, and even longer for the group’s older members who don’t enter into NCT Dream activities. Thankfully, unit U has released “Boss” ahead of the full group’s comeback in March, and it’s one of their best songs yet.
More than anything, “Boss” serves to cement NCT’s identity. Characteristically of SM, it plays with the contrast between catchy hooks and big, atmospheric moments, often bridging the gap between the two. “Boss” also adds new rap and vocal talents onto the group’s already stunning roster with the introduction of new members Lucas and Jungwoo, and stretches the genre of hip-hop in a way that recalls recent NCT 127 singles. In fact, it sounds like SM bred a hybrid organism by crossing genetic material from “Limitless” and “Cherry Bomb.” Like both, it has a complex and varied structure that takes turns highlighting vocals and rap. The chanty hook recalls the “Cherry Bomb” chorus, but this one’s less staccato and more sing-along-y in the vein of “Limitless.” The difference is that it’s simpler than both, which simultaneously makes it feel slightly more run-of-the-mill and ups the catchiness by a factor of at least two. If this simplicity gave me any doubts at first, they were quickly erased. The pure talent exhibited in the verses and bridges would alone be enough to carry the song, not to mention the uniquely NCT instrumental, which leans heavily into a few select sounds to maintain that frenetic, burned-out-speakers atmosphere without ever getting messy. But the song’s peak is towards the end, cumulating in a bridge where rappers Mark and Taeyong pass the baton back and forth at lightning speed. The huge moment is led up to by a high note from Doyoung (spookily reminiscent of Taeil’s “yeah” into Mark’s bridge from “Cherry Bomb,” a similarly straight-toned single note) and followed up quickly by a hyperaddictive final chorus that overlays the sing-chanting with a new vocal melody for maximum grooviness. The only part of the song that doesn’t have me fully convinced is the closing, the “oh-oh-oh”s we heard in the teaser. While I’m not sure that it fits in completely with the rest of the song, it doesn’t actually detract from it in any way, so no harm done, I guess.
At the end of the day, there was no better way to tease NCT’s upcoming comeback than with “Boss.” It’s miles better than “Cherry Bomb” and easily the most exciting thing the group has done since last winter. And this is just a taste of next month’s full comeback. If “Boss” is any indication at all, “NCT 2018” will be one of the defining comebacks of the year, between the participation of all NCT units and members and the release of six music videos (six? 6 music videos? How is that even possible?). Until then I’ll be anticipating with bated breath while “Boss” plays on repeat.
BOSS: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? Strictly bopful.
Take a look at NCT U’s “Boss” MV below: