Say what you will about SM Entertainment, but if it’s one thing they understand, it’s how to market their idols. Their latest venture involves a group called NCT, who are featured in various sub-units according to whatever concept SM wishes to highlight.
NCT U opened things up with a slightly sensual vibe in “The 7th Sense.” Next, we got a little grittier with NCT 127 and “Fire Truck” to appeal to the hip hop crowd. Now is the time for another change-up in tastes by targeting their youngest (and probably most lucrative) fans with the debut of NCT Dream.
Young groups in K-pop are pretty ubiquitous, and SM isn’t the first one to push out a group comprised solely of minors. Still, there were fans who balked at the 14-17 age range of the members. Age may be only a number to some, but this is K-pop, where age even dictates how idols address their seniors. It’s a delicate dance to debut a group this young, and the company has few options that would be socially acceptable.
Clearly, a sexy concept isn’t happening because there’s already emerging backlash with lolita concepts, and some opposition to NCT Dream was due to speculation that they would have a shota concept. Nobody wants to feel like a pervert while watching minors sing and dance, so how would SM pull this off without making the public feel uncomfortable about this group?
The solution came with their winsome debut called “Chewing Gum.” The sticky substance certainly evokes images of kids blowing large bubbles with cheeky grins. It’s something a lot of adults associate with their childhood and fond memories of a time when grown-up responsibilities weren’t a concern to them. That’s why “Chewing Gum” worked so well for NCT Dream.
We start off with seeing the boys dressed primly in ruffled shirts and gray shorts, scrambling to get their shoes on before facing inspection by their strict supervisor. The supervisor harasses the boys for the slightest imperfections in their uniforms, reprimanding them with the help of his — back scratcher? It’s SM, so I don’t even bother asking questions with their random prop choices anymore. We’ll just accept that a back scratcher used on one’s head is meant as punishment for chewing gum.
Later on, the boys plot their secret revenge of overthrowing the supervisor because they want to party all night long. Insert several shots of them eating candy, playing in their pajamas, and tying up that stuffy, mean adult who hates fun. Okay, yes, it’s silly and cliched as hell, but it’s NCT Dream. You can’t watch this video with a serious mindset because the cheese factor will surely annoy you. However, if you’re like me and take this for the campy aegyo-fest it is, then you may appreciate it for a few reasons.
For starters, the bright colors are something I noticed is missing from k-pop lately. Things are too serious in videos nowadays. If groups aren’t trying to court us with hardcore hip hop concepts or seducing us with pure sex, then they’re confusing us with dramatic MVs that are more complex than the endings of the Reply series. We get it. Y’all are deep and emotional badasses who shouldn’t be taken lightly on stage, but would it kill anyone to be a little goofy sometimes?
That’s why I enjoyed this debut the most out of the NCT units. We’re seeing bubble gum, ice cream cones, and those fun bouncy balls that adults pretend to use for exercise at the gym. The vibrant aesthetic aids the song’s youthful sound by keeping things light and joyful. I don’t want to see a group of moody teens lamenting about how they can’t get a girlfriend when they’ve barely hit puberty. Let them play around in a tub of plastic balls and have pillow fights! It’s cute and there’s nothing wrong with simply being adorable.
Of course, I’m not only digging this MV for the visuals alone. The choreography is something that made quite the impression on me. While the dance itself may not be the most rigorous one in k-pop, it still manages to showcase the energy and talent of the members. Honestly, I was disappointed in the earlier NCT units for their lack of passion during their performances. SM wanted to introduce NCT as a group that was as strong as their seniors, but NCT U and NCT 127 were missing that something extra to grab my attention.
NCT Dream succeeds where those units failed because the choreography is executed cleanly and sharply. I love the different levels and the fluidity of the transitions between formations. Everyone worked hard to achieve near-perfect synchronicity, which is something we’ve discussed at length in our dance exchanges as a necessity if you expect to entertain a discerning k-pop audience. Baby-faced Chenle caught my eye the most with that cherubic smile and his precise movements.
Given how NCT Dream is meant to represent the exuberance of youth, none of this is surprising to me; however, there was a moment that distracted from their overall theme — Mark‘s rap break (no relation to Seoulbeats writer Mark, our resident battle rapper). He sounded so much older than the other members when he rapped, shattering the illusion that this group is all minors. It can’t be helped because puberty happens, but when you’re marketing a group for a presumably preteen audience, it’s a detail that can’t be overlooked. He also came off visually older, which is something SM should bear in mind the next time they want to stick someone his age with considerably younger members. I’m not calling Mark old; he just stood out as significantly older because of his voice and styling.
Some people may view K-pop as music meant for a specific age group, but really anyone can enjoy it. That’s how fans should look at NCT Dream. They are chewing gum. They’re not here to be try-hard badasses. You can suck on a jawbreaker if that’s what you prefer, but I’m fine with this sweet group of pups that don’t want to grow up. NCT Dream is meant to charm with their youth, so any concept that smacked slightly of maturity would’ve destroyed that image.
This MV is about all things childish — eating candy, playing with toys, etc. Adult fans may not be able to relate to it, but they may feel nostalgic in seeing teenagers enjoy their adolescence. As an older fan, I appreciate when groups don’t stray from their natural charms. You can tell when the members are feeling a concept or not, and NCT Dream appears to be loving this. They get to be silly and juvenile because they are young enough for that. This isn’t a concept so much as a reality for them, and I give props to SM for allowing these boys to be…boys.
MV rating: 3.6/5
(YouTube, Images via SM Entertainment)