Highway to Heaven
OUTRO: WE ARE 127
It’s a cool spring night in San Jose, California, but heat levels are spiking inside the City National Civic. K-pop superstars NCT 127 have earned their first break during an aggressive show opener filled with sharp choreography and smoldering looks. Each member of the Seoul-based boy band takes a turn addressing the crowd. Mark, who has bleached blonde hair and Vancouver roots, explains the “Neo City: USA – The Origin” tour’s meaning: “‘Origin’ means, from this moment on, it’s a new beginning. This is just the start.”
NCT 127 is certainly evolving. Where past recordings employed a forceful mix of hip-hop and EDM balanced with swoonable moments, there’s an enhanced level of accessibility on their fourth mini-album WE ARE SUPERHUMAN. The inspirational lead single “Highway to Heaven” leans on feel-good synths rounded out by raps, chorus, and hook. “Superhuman” and “FOOL” recall 20/20 Experience-era Justin Timberlake, all airbrushed pop with playful electronic touches. Meanwhile, “Jet Lag” is a supple piano ballad and “Paper Plane” merges soft guitar pop with dance beats. WE ARE SUPERHUMAN looks beyond the hyperkinetic larger-than-life illusion and embraces a more sophisticated, down-to-earth style that fans can hold close.
It’s a transitional mini-album from one of K-pop’s elite groups, one they hope their fans (a.k.a. “NCTzens”) will ride with. During their visit to Apple Music's Beats 1 studio, Jaehyun told host Brooke Reese that SUPERHUMAN was the dream album they'd always wanted to make. “I think we matured as people,” added Johnny. “I think [NCTzens] are gonna feel that in the music as well.”
If the San Jose concert served as any indication, NCT 127 will need a bigger bandwagon. During the two-and-a-half-hour show, the nine members confirmed why NCT 127 is one of the most popular K-pop groups in the world: breathtaking showmanship, sweet harmonies, and a dose of self-effacing modesty. To the NCTzens in attendance—predominantly young and female, but ethnically diverse—the concert felt like a global K-pop group hug, as well as a turning point for the boys from Seoul.
“We're doing Korean songs as well, but everyone is singing along,” Johnny explained to Brooke Reese. “And you just notice that that barrier has been broken, and that just really talks a lot about the music.”