The Lowdown: In the nearly three years that they’ve been active, NCT 127, a subgroup of K-pop supergroup NCT, has managed an impressive level of structural dynamism, gaining a couple of waves of new members and recently semi-losing a popular member, Winwin, to fellow subgroup WayV. In a way, this dynamism makes them a great representative example of NCT as a whole, which currently consists of 18 members and is frequently accruing new ones. But NCT 127’s 2019 lineup is going strong with nine members, and the We Are Superhuman mini album showcases each of them, using every one of its sparse 18 minutes to highlight the talents of the rappers, singers, dancers, and producers behind the album. It’s a glittering foray into something akin to discopop, with flashes of rap, trap, EDM, and R&B shining through along the way.
The Good: The structure of the album is a whirring feat of intelligence. Its opening and closing tracks are deliberately stealthy — no immediate explosions or bombastic final fanfares — but the quality growth at the center of the album is still tough to miss. “Highway to Heaven” lifts the EP up onto a cirrus track that begins steering the course of soaring melodies to come, yet it also uses its chorus deftly, descending a little toward the end to balance itself out and subtly hint at a few of the shadows that future tracks explore in more detail. Lead single “Superhuman” drops the beat in some of the places you least expect, and yet it works, ushering in a trend of the unexpected. “FOOL” and “Jet Lag” are both tactful, mid-tempo jams that fuse pop vocals with a steady, funky beat, bringing the album’s exploratory approach to genre into the light. The line at the end of “Jet Lag” — “Say hi when you say goodnight/ Full circle” — provides the perfect segue into “Paper Plane”, which uses its echoing rotations around the same refrain to loop and build into a scintillating conclusion that evokes an easy acceleration into warp speed, stars streaking by.
“OUTRO: WE ARE 127” circles back to a reminder of what, at least in part, the EP seems to have set out to prove: it bursts with superhuman-sounding noises, from the machine-inspired and EDM-esque to something even more elemental, like the sounds that might emanate from some mad scientist’s basement lab. The eerie outro is the experimental peak of an album that progressively reaches further and further into an intriguing and specific realm of electropop.
The Bad: The lyrics of “Highway to Heaven” exult, “We limitless,” and to no extreme surprise, this is not entirely true. The album gains much in the way of texture and complexity from the places where conflict and darkness peek through the veneer of superhuman perfection — however, sometimes it can be hard what to make of this conflict, due to the fact that it snaps away so quickly. For instance, the insecurity of “FOOL” (“You’re a goddess, but I’m a fool”) provides a necessary moment of tension, but it is difficult to read it as a lead-up to “Jet Lag”, which with its repeated refrain, “We got each other,” emphasizes the importance of mutual strength and support. Part of this may be due to the project’s length — the songs are forced to power through each moment rather than letting them seep. Luckily, the group is skilled at fully developing each song within itself. “OUTRO: WE ARE 127” brings any possible imbalance back around, suggesting an earned complexity and darkness that hopefully bodes interestingly for their future releases.
The Verdict: We Are Superhuman sails all the way through. Even the song titles — “Highway to Heaven”, “Jet Lag”, and “Paper Plane” — evoke an aerial scope that lifts the listener up out of themselves and into a new, imaginary but exciting story. The sub-group’s rappers particularly shine on this EP, on tracks like “Highway to Heaven” and “Superhuman”. The emphasis falls on the “we” throughout, with members finding their power in community-centric tracks like “Jet Lag”. We Are Superhuman could be a good entry point to NCT and NCT 127 for listeners who typically prefer other genres like funk, rock and EDM, because NCT 127 folds them seamlessly here into the work that they’re already doing with catchy pop and pitch-perfect production value. For fans already attentive to the group’s work, this latest mini album is an exciting addition to an already impressive and wide-ranging canon, experimenting with intriguing and seamless new styles and curbing itself short of any filler. As high as they get, they never fly too close to the sun — not quite.
Essential Tracks: “Highway to Heaven”, “Jet Lag”, and “Paper Plane”