This is a generalization, but it’s safe to say that SM Entertainment is more notable for hiring outside composers and producers than relying on their artists to self-produce material. Because of this, their idols essentially function as delivery methods for the huge stockpile of songs the agency is sitting on. This isn’t to take away from the artists themselves, who bring indispensable charisma and talent to the table, but it’s an interesting way to frame SM releases as a whole. This strategy feels especially apt when it comes to the various units of NCT, who have specialized in a diverse range of sounds over the past year.
Within this context, I’m particularly thankful for NCT Dream. Now that Shinee and EXO have become veteran groups, we need a delivery method for SM’s melodic, youthful side. Dream led the charge with last year’s addictive Chewing Gum, and new single My First And Last (마지막 첫사랑) does a fantastic job building towards a slightly more mature concept. The song is a sprightly throwback to a simpler k-pop sound, bounding forward with a rubbery bass line reminiscent of Shinee’s epic Sherlock. Its verses glide on a warm pop melody, contrasting nicely with the staccato instrumental. This dynamite blend segues into the instantly affable hook, which soars with a sunny harmonic arrangement.
Though he’s a necessary component to NCT’s harder-edged material as well, Mark’s versatile rap style works wonders on Dream’s youthful output. Their brand of bubblegum pop continuously threatens to teeter over into novelty, and this is only exacerbated by their understandably underdeveloped vocals. But the charismatic swagger in Mark’s tone injects a sense of personality and individuality to My First And Last‘s otherwise straightforward presentation, helping NCT Dream lock down a trademark sound just two releases in. It’s early stages yet, but this feels very much like the future of SM Entertainment.