Since they first debuted in 2016, NCT Dream’s sound has evolved immensely. Their first single “Chewing Gum” was a cute pure sugar rush, while numbers like “Boom” and “Ridin’” gave the members an edgier image. Their March comeback Glitch Mode also brought something different to the table, combining the group’s youthful and mature themes together.

Now, in their latest record Candy, NCT Dream are turning back the clock with a return to their innocent bubblegum pop concept. To be more specific, we’re traveling all the way back in time to 1996 when H.O.T. were all the rage. At the forefront of the album, the septet offers a hip and energizing remake of their SM Entertainment seniors’ iconic hit “Candy.” To raise even more interest, the rearrangement was produced by well-known SM songwriter Kenzie. While the original tune is not much of a Christmas track, the NCT Dream version carries some added elements that are more suitable for the holidays. This along with the winter-themed B-sides result in a sweet, cohesive album that warms listeners amid the icy-cold weather.

Unlike NCT Dream’s first venture in reinterpreting ’90s classics (with “Dunk Shot” from their single album The First being a remake of Lee Seung-hwan’s hit song of the same name), the changes in “Candy” are on the more understated side of things, but with enough differences to give the tune a more modern touch. The playful percussion in the instrumental remains prominent, but the synths here are brighter and more intense. Also, the members’ voices sound more refined and bring a youthful energy to the original melody.

The song’s most evident deviation happens during the second verse where the boys skip over the tricky rap portion and straight into livelier and more individual-centric lines. This is followed up with a softer section spotlighting the vocals as light synths twinkle in the background for a cheerful holiday atmosphere. The recreated version of “Candy” is a playful and nostalgic track that can connect with both new listeners and older generations.

This bubbly and lighthearted energy is also present in several B-sides. In retro synth-pop number “Tangerine Love (Favorite),” the members liken their feelings for their lover to a fresh tangerine. The song’s peppy vocal arrangement and upbeat percussion bounce nicely off one another with sugary harmonies all throughout the song. However, the real star of the track is the funky synth chord progression. Both laid-back and energetic, the variety of synths add a lot of character to this fun tune. The portion right after the final chorus is especially notable as the synths escalate higher and create further excitement and grooviness.

Dance-pop track “Walk With You” offers a comparably groovy sound with synth-filled instrumental also taking a prominent position. Lyrically, the number is a continuation of the innocent story left off in “Walk You Home” from their first EP We Young. After walking their beloved home on a summer night, the boys are finally seeing them again on a winter day, and even mention the same promised meet-up time from “Walk You Home”:

Yeah, my day is filled with thoughts about you

There are no gaps

You’re weak in the cold

So I’ll hold your hands to keep them warm

It’s a relief

Since 2 PM is the warmest time

I promised you, I’m going to pick you up

Although it took five years for the group to meet their lovers again, the vibrant melody and abundance of honeyed vocal harmonies make this spirited tune a very satisfying sequel.

If the lyrics in “Walk With You” weren’t wholesome enough, the boys are even more romantic in mid-tempo pop song “Take My Breath.” Here, breath is a metaphor for feelings of love. With that, NCT Dream make a bashful confession:

My white breath goes up to the sky yeah

I draw you all day long

Breathe in, breathe out

Take my breath

Just as one’s white breath can’t be concealed in the cold winter, their feelings also can’t be concealed. Rather than talking about their affection straightforwardly, they can just let out their feelings with a simple breath. Conversing with their crush and breathing in the air right before they gather the courage to confess, these small actions are all ‘breath.’

Compared to the other upbeat numbers on the album, “Take My Breath” has a more easygoing vibe with the melody being led by an engaging acoustic guitar. Even so, the enthusiasm in the chorus as the guitar becomes more animated helps the track stand out despite being placed among more cheery tunes.

“Moon” and “Graduation,” the two remaining numbers, move things into a slower pace. In “Moon,” the boys’ warm vocals and delightful harmonies are highlighted over a gentle piano arrangement. The members’ vocal colors really shine here, with Renjun and Haechan’s voices matching especially well with the melody. Continuing with the clever lyrical content, they express their love using another metaphor, with ‘moon’ and ‘문’ (door) which have similar pronunciations.

The lyrics in “Graduation” are also quite memorable, though for different reasons compared to the previous tracks. Moving away from romantic love-themed songs, “Graduation” is dedicated to the members themselves. Despite the boys’ overflowing chemistry, the graduation system established during the group’s beginning brought about much uneasiness. Fortunately for fans, SM Entertainment eventually abolished this system and reorganized NCT Dream into a fixed unit. However, despite this change, ‘graduation’ has remained a sensitive word for NCT Dream and fans alike. With that in mind, the members sing about their graduation not from the group, but from the unpleasant situation the graduation system caused:

I’m about to graduate

All those anxious days

Remember this overwhelming feeling

In this way, ‘graduation’ for the group can have a new, positive meaning without the constant dread of members leaving. Musically, while the song starts out like an emotional ballad, the synths that come in after the first chorus give the tune a more relaxed R&B ambience while the vocals continue communicating the sincerity that makes “Graduation” so impressive.

On the whole, Candy is a joyful holiday gift that’s perfect for warming listeners’ hearts during the cold winter season. With lyrics and melodies as sweet as candy, the album is certainly the group’s most sugary release in recent years. With nostalgic and refreshing sounds throughout, Candy is a stellar addition to NCT Dream’s diverse discography.

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