Most of the time, a k-pop group’s title track is the best song on their album. But, sometimes b-sides deserve recognition too. In the singles-oriented world of k-pop, I wanted to spotlight some of these buried treasures and give them the props they deserve.
Even though it ranked as one of my top three singles of last month, I still have a few issues with NCT Dream’s We Go Up. Some of these quibbles involve the song’s oversimplified chorus, while others extend more broadly to SM Entertainment’s handling of NCT. I don’t think every NCT unit needs such a heavy focus on hip-hop, especially when the brand’s unique configuration seems perfectly designed to diversify the agency’s sound.
Luckily, Dream’s mini album brings a bit more variety to the table. There is no song as strong as My First And Last, but 1, 2, 3 brings a bit of funk back to the group’s sound. For those of us who came of age in the late 90’s and early 00’s, the track’s smooth r&b pop groove will feel instantly familiar. 1, 2, 3 carries many of the sonic hallmarks of its producers, SM-mainstays The Stereotypes, and its nimble melody has a breezy, youthful quality that fits NCT Dream like a glove. The entire track hinges on its jerky rhythm, borrowing from the percussion-heavy Timbaland/Neptunes sound that used to be ubiquitous in pop music. This may sound like an odd comparison, but 1, 2, 3‘s general vibe is quite reminiscent of Justin Timberlake’s 2002 solo debut Like I Love You, which itself built heavily on Michael Jackson’s iconic sound. This is all to say: pop music cannibalizes what came before it, and Dream benefit by pitching themselves as heirs to classic formulas we all know and love.