2017 set the bar incredibly high for NCT’s youngest unit with the February release of Dream’s buoyant My First and Last. In fact, I’d argue that SM Entertainment hasn’t delivered a stronger single since. And as NCT begins to paint all of its units with a similar hip-hop brush, it makes me wonder whether we’ll ever hear Last’s nostalgic brand of funk pop again.
If March’s hard-hitting Go was any indication, SM is ready to merge Dream’s previously light sound with the more experimental direction pursued by other NCT units. This sonic consistency seems to defeat the purpose of debuting multiple units under the NCT umbrella, so it’s refreshing that We Go Up has a bit more of a youthful bounce to it. The song plays like a hybrid of Go and Chewing Gum, keeping the hip-hop edge but partnering it with a bright arrangement.
We Go Up wastes no time diving into its first verse, which opens with a flurry of staccato rap over a retro breakbeat. Prior to this single, Mark was undoubtedly the group’s most well-known rapper, but this will be his final comeback as a Dream member. Luckily, the unit seems to be in good hands, with Jaemin, Jeno and Jisung all delivering surprisingly assertive hip-hop performances. The production helps, supplying an addictive mix of percussive elements that grows even stronger as electro bass is added for the engaging pre-chorus. The song seems poised to transform into something quite spectacular, but the repetitive chorus steals some wind from its sails. The tempo slows and we end up with a simplified chant rather than a fully fleshed out melody. This chorusless chorus is indicative of where K-pop has lived for the past few years, so it’s not much of a surprise. Still, it feels like a missed opportunity. Dream carry the day with their enthusiastic performance, selling the meager hook with all they have, but it’s hard not to imagine how this solid comeback could have transformed into something truly spectacular.