Not a single K-pop group has been more active over the course of this year than SM Entertainment’s junior boy group, NCT. Granted, their unique rotational unit system—not to mention sheer number of members—allows the group to put out more content in less time. Still, consider this: The group has made five distinct comebacks including their Japanese debut, promoted nine different title tracks, and released eleven music videos so far. Subunit NCT 127 alone is on their fourth project of the year. While the unit hit a slight lull in their previous comeback, their new title track makes up all the ground lost and then some. “Simon Says” is everything one hopes to hear from NCT. Not only is it among the group’s best title tracks to date, but it has also solidified NCT’s position as one of the industry’s most significant acts this year.
The new repackage, titled “Regulate,” comes just five weeks after the release of 127’s first full-length album, “Regular-Irregular.” The album’s title track “Regular” represented a break from NCT’s brand: comparatively streamlined, leading with an English version, with minimal musical risk involved. It was a good song, sure. Even so, it lacked the substance inherent in the unique and often experimental sound of other NCT title tracks. “Simon Says” brings back that substance in force.
The song opens with the commanding—you could even say intimidating—sound of a Maori haka chant borrowed from New Zealand. The quirky beat that follows recalls those of past title tracks “Firetruck” and “Cherry Bomb,” but comes together more effectively than both, seamlessly incorporating a playful melodic character that was not present in the other tracks. The song’s vocal melodies hover around a major chord, a compositional choice typically used to evoke a bright or warm mood. Met with the darker, weirder sounds in “Simon Says,” such as growling bass and stuttering mechanical percussion, the melodies take on a sense of irony, almost cheekiness. This mischievous musical landscape is the perfect vessel for the delivery of the song’s message, which embraces the group’s out-of-the-box identity and declares that they “don’t pay no attention” to detractors.
It’s not just the synergy of texture and melody that makes “Simon Says” so good, though. There’s something new going on around every corner: the verses shapeshift constantly, the hook brings a slight variation with each repetition, and the members throw themselves wholeheartedly into vocal and rap performances that are often as eccentric as the instrumental. Simple central melodies built on the major chord are offset by contrasting harmonies, melodies that climb new scales, or even a whole bridge of completely distinct composition. Other songs going in this many directions quickly fall into chaos, but “Simon Says” knows its limits—it is strict with itself, keeping adlibs and complications to the hook at a minimum. The result is a successful, and successfully bizarre, exploration of the boundaries of hip-hop.
I can’t say the same for “Welcome to My Playground,” the other new song featured on the repackage. While it has its strong moments, the production leaves a lot to be desired in comparison with “Simon Says.” If not for this side track, however, there would be no evidence that the creation of “Regulate” was so rushed. The music video’s fantastic, the choreography is polished, and the members are as charismatic as ever. This comeback only raises my expectations further for NCT’s rumored upcoming unit, which I’m sure we’re all awaiting with bated breath.
SIMON SAYS: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? The only bop ever.
Take a look at NCT 127’s “Simon Says” MV below: