Only two weeks in and SM Entertainment‘s “season two” of Station has given us its first non-traditional release. As a kick-off to what promises to be a performance-focused project highlighting some of the agency’s strongest dancers, the hypnotic Dream In A Dream (몽중몽) is almost entirely instrumental. The song acts as a launching pad for NCT’s Ten, who received great acclaim for his skills on dance competition show Hit The Stage last summer. Perhaps due to this undeniable talent, SM has seemed to focus more on Ten as a solo star than as part of their ever-evolving NCT line-up. Maybe they’re grooming him to be the next Taemin?
In addition to shining a spotlight on choreography, Dream In A Dream gives the first major hints of Ten as a vocalist. Rather than adhere to a traditional pop song structure, the song utilizes one repeated melody that’s interspersed between lengthy periods of languid, east-Asian instrumental breaks. There are no verses or chorus per se, yet the structure works. Ten’s soft vocals are mixed spectacularly, layered and given a bit of echo to create the illusion that the simple melody is more grandiose and all-encompassing that it is. The fact that every lyric in Dream is performed in English reconfirms SM’s commitment to positioning the NCT project as a truly global affair. Still, being the k-pop purist that I am, I can’t help but wonder how the song would have worked in a different language.
But really, Dream is all about its elegant instrumental. It’s not a dance track in the classic sense — more suitable to a modern or balletic performance than the hard-hitting choreography we’re used to seeing from k-pop. The entire instrumental plays as a soothing soundscape, mixing traditional Asian elements with a lush blend of undulating synths and ever-changing strikes of percussion. Dream is best when experienced alongside its captivating performance video, but the obvious care that went into crafting such a compelling collection of sounds makes it almost as successful on its own.