Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you NCT Dream’s “Go,” step three of NCT 2018 and the newest installment in this year’s most enthralling K-drama, “SM Entertainment Takes Over the World.” The agency has been explicit from NCT’s inception that the group’s ultimate goal is, if you’ll allow me to paraphrase, world domination. “Go,” the follow-up to last month’s hits “Boss” and “Baby Don’t Stop” by unit NCT U, is the next bulletpoint on that agenda. The song sees NCT Dream, the unit reserved for the youngest NCT members, taking on a brand-new mature concept after two years of strictly cute concepts. If the image change comes as a bit of a shock, the song itself doubles that shock with vicious bass and a shouted vocal hook. But the members rise to the challenge—they’re SM kids after all—and it’s their performances that make the song such a knockout.
“Go” has got to be one of the nerviest songs SM has ever put together. It feels as if it might veer off the tracks at any moment, simply because its sound is so audacious. The first time I heard it, I was on the edge of my seat, fearing the moment where the frantic future bass would devolve into something that would stall. But it never does, not if you don’t count the slight falter in the flow of the bridge between Mark and Haechan’s parts, which is hardly a major failing. There’s a dichotomy between patience and recklessness in this song does wacky things to the dynamics, in a good way. The verses employ a few simple melodies (LOVE the “na na na”s) that are strong enough to stand alone, so the empty spaces around them remain empty. Those empty spaces make you wait for the next big moment, establishing a starting point of low-burning suspense for the dynamics, which quickly tear off into oblivion when the chorus kicks off.
SM’s been quite enamored of talky hooks lately, or I guess forever, ergo the “We be screaming go, go, go” chant of the hook. Of course, talky hooks almost inevitably have weak spots, which is where the recklessness comes in. This hook drives its brashness to the limit, making sure to fill any potential weak spot with a unique sound that compels the energy forward. For example, the refrain couldn’t possibly get anywhere on the slow phrasing of its screamy chant alone, so there’s a chunk of melody built in. You’ve also got the shouts in the background of the chorused “We be screaming go, go, go,” where a single member actually screams “go” at a slightly higher pitch, injecting the hook with texture and dynamic. Even more importantly, new vocal melodies are layered over the hook with each repetition, ensuring that the yelling doesn’t turn stale. It’s no “Naega neor iggeuneun boss,” but it’s effective in its ambition.
So that’s the first ingredient to the song’s success: the suspense built into the instrumental. But “Go” would be nothing without these members’ performances. The bravado with which they meet the song’s screamy hook is of course indispensable—without that pure confidence, everything would have fallen apart in the snap of your fingers. But beyond the hook, the unit’s rap and vocal talents show up like nothing we’ve ever heard from Dream. We’ve always known that Haechan is a force to be reckoned with, but members such as Chenle and Renjun have huge vocal moments, not to mention the unexpected rap by the newly returned Jaemin, who had been absent from the unit’s two previous comebacks due to an injury. Keep in mind, we’re mostly talking about guys born in the 21st century here. It’s interesting, because while the concept change is drastic, it’s not completely removed from Dream’s age range—after all, the members spend a good third of the music video popping wheelies on their bicycles, and the bassy electronica has a more youthful sound than most of older unit U and 127’s music. It almost makes me think that all of Dream’s previous work has led up specifically to this moment—that it’s all been a calculated part of SM’s plan to blow things open with “NCT 2018,” building expectations of cuteness from NCT’s younger members so that SM could subvert them with a mature concept that would shock everyone and double the hype while still appealing to younger audiences. (No disrespect, of course, to what remains the unit’s best song, “My First and Last.”) It’s clear that “NCT 2018” has been in the works for a long time, but who’s to say it wasn’t engineered since day one? I wouldn’t put it past SM, who have been known to pour gallons of cash into purely experimental groups so they could better prepare for their next true moneymaker. Whatever the agency’s intentions, we do know that NCT is capable of anything at this point. The first three title tracks have already made “NCT 2018” one of the most memorable comebacks of the year, and three music videos are still on their way. I can’t wait to see what’s in store when the album finally drops in a week and a half.
GO: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? Bop, what else?
Take a look at NCT’s “Go” MV below: