Just when I thought it was time for future bass to be permanently weeded out of K-pop by natural selection, SM drops this? I can’t keep up with them anymore. In the middle of NCT’s comeback promotions and their debut in Japan, main dancer Ten has released a new solo track, “New Heroes,” through SM Station (yeah, KAYBOP usually stays away from Station releases, but—but—this song’s so good I can’t help it). And wow. Guys, the song is incredible. The last time Ten got a Station solo was exactly a year ago; “Dream In a Dream” focused mostly on choreography, and Ten sang only briefly. This track is a different story. Not only is “New Heroes” is a fully fleshed-out EDM beauty, it even rivals the excellent singles from NCT’s most recent album. That’s seriously saying something.
It’s been months since a song hit me this hard right off the bat, but my mouth was hanging open within the first ten seconds. Weaved around the thrumming piano that starts the song are these shrill horns, whose bright texture creates a tension with the vividly dark composition. The song then introduces loops of background vocals, harmonies stacked on top of one another, which become a recurring fixture in the instrumental. All these elements, each with their own little tune, overlap one another to construct a kind of melody web. Even the simplest trap high hats in the opening measures turn into a complex component of the production, bouncing back and forth between left and right earphones in a pattern that completely ignores the song’s meter. Then there’s the hook—oof! The sliding synths are sick, but they would have fallen flat without the vocal loop I mentioned and Ten. Ten! We knew the guy could sing, but I don’t recall ever hearing such a wide range from him. His clean, unpretentious tone is so well suited to pop that I can’t believe we didn’t hear more of it sooner.
I’m not kidding when I say that the only improvement that could have been made to “New Heroes” would be to make it longer. It could definitely have used another full-size chorus instead of (better: in addition to) the gorgeously scaled-back rendition of the hook that closes the song. Still, there’s something powerful about that gentler conclusion. It winds down bit by bit, eventually melting away until only overlapping vocals are left. Did I mention that Ten sings the song in English? I can’t get over the barely-audible line “we’re the future,” which appears for the first time in the song just as it’s ending, complementing the tune of the vocal loop and providing this last little punch of mood to round out the song.
I won’t pretend I’m not a little bit mystified as to why this song didn’t get a place on the latest NCT album. Still, whatever SM’s agenda is here, one thing is for sure: NCT is on the up. Until now they had always seemed to me to be seriously underrated for a big 3 group, but it looks like all this promoting is paying off. It’s about time.
NEW HEROES: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? I can’t say “bop” enough.
Take a look at Ten’s “New Heroes” MV below: