SM Entertainment’s ambitious international project, NCT, just took another step towards global domination with the debut of NCT’s Chinese subunit, WayV. Teased since last August, the group previously known informally as “NCT China” finally debuted last week with the 3-track digital single album, The Vision, and its accompanying title track and MV, “Regular”.

Composed of NCT members Ten, Lucas, Winwin and Kun as well as three new faces, Xiaojun, Yangyang and Hendery, WayV’s debut comes at a crucial time in the Chinese idol industry, which only took off last year. With the huge success of the (official and unofficial) Chinese versions of Mnet’s Produce 101, Tencent’s Produce 101 and iQiyi’s Idol Producer, numerous groups have debuted in the Chinese market with success greater than that of their predecessors. As such, the timing of WayV’s debut may mean that they face much more competition than expected; conversely, it could also mean that they will benefit from the sudden increase in attention and demand for Chinese idol groups.

So far, “Regular” and its accompanying album bode well for WayV’s future career, although they show a slightly worrying lack of original content. For anyone following NCT closely, the name “Regular” might sound familiar; WayV’s title track is a Mandarin version of the hip-hop-Latin track first released in both Korean and English last October by their brother group, NCT 127 (previously reviewed here). For many fans, the rehash of “Regular” has been a disappointing start to WayV’s career, considering that all the other NCT subunits, such as NCT Dream and NCT 127’s Japanese debut, had their own new material.

Still, “Regular” remains a solid track, and WayV’s version does it proud. As expected of an SM group, WayV’s vocals are consistently strong throughout, with Xiaojun’s smooth, velvety voice being a highlight on the song’s prechoruses. Meanwhile, on the MV, SM thankfully hasn’t let down their new group, with impressively high production value and CGI details.

Whereas NCT 127’s MV had more of a gritty, urban setting, SM opted for a more futuristic and dystopian vibe for WayV’s version; the members flit between scenes like holograms, while screens flash and machines explode around them. At one point, Kun and Yangyang languish in the middle of a busy stock exchange office, while at another Xiaojun lolls on a rodeo bull machine turning in slow motion. It doesn’t make much sense, but visually the MV is full of rich detail and keeps you entertained. Lyrically, the song doesn’t stray far from the Korean version, with the theme of working hard and achieving one’s dreams:

And now we in a zone
Working hard turning stone into gold
Tens, hundreds, millions, it’s still not enough
Yeah yeah falling in my motion splash

The second track on the EP, “Come Back”, is yet another recycled NCT track, previously released on NCT 127’s Japanese EP, Chain, and their Korean full-length album, Regular-Irregular. A catchy, energetic pop song reminiscent of Shinee’s signature style, WayV’s version is as enjoyable as its forerunners. While its rap section makes less impact without Taeyong’s deeper voice and Mark’s punchier flow, it makes up for it with the pleasant flow of the Mandarin lyrics, which sound much less awkward superimposed onto the song than in “Regular”. The lyrics of this version follow the Korean and Japanese versions closely, lamenting the loss of a lover and likening it to a nightmare:

I miss those times when we were together
It was short like a beautiful dream, oh
Only lonely nights were left
Pitch black is my saddest paint
Painting my hesitations

The final song on this extremely short EP is “Dream Launch Plan”, a sentimental R&B track that mirrors the theme of WayV’s teaser videos and the only completely original song on the album. It ends a strong (if disappointingly recycled) album on a high note, with a feel-good, early 2000s style that suits their voices particularly well.

The melodic main chorus is the prettiest and most memorable part of the song, showing off their mid-low vocal ranges and urging listeners to sing along while waving their arms over their heads. Perhaps because it’s a slower, more ballad-like song, the Mandarin lyrics sound the most natural and smooth here, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Korean, English and Japanese versions are also in the pipeline. Continuing the theme of dreams, “Dream Launch Plan” expresses a hopeful and optimistic wish to move forward and achieve one’s goals despite the obstacles, which paired with the lovely melody makes the song quite compelling:

Swinging left and right around the universe
I’m still learning how to steer
Launching our dream straight far into outer space
Even if I lose balance
There’s still a smile on my face
Waiting for my dream to speed up and get closer to success
Oh yeah yeah

Overall, WayV’s career is off to a strong start, with SM playing it safe with tried-and-tested songs and a well-produced MV. Their debut does, however, reveal one of the weaknesses of NCT’s international strategy – the fact that releasing songs in multiple languages is not as exciting or ground-breaking as it seems.

Still, while many fans were disappointed with the excessive recycling, there’s not much to dislike about the songs themselves; “Dream Launch Plan”, in particular, is one of the strongest tracks on the album and bodes well for their future original music. It will be interesting to see how SM’s offering fares in China’s fast-crowding idol market; with their strong performance foundations and experienced production team, WayV should be able to quickly rise to the top. Hopefully, SM affords them the attention they deserve to achieve this – starting with more original content.

(YouTube [1]. Lyrics via Twitter [1][2][3]. Images via SM Entertainment.)