NCT’s Chinese unit WayV made an inauspicious debut earlier this year with their version of an already-released 127 track. As hyped as this project has been, that promotional choice felt quite underwhelming. Thankfully, new single Take Off (无翼而飞) makes up for WayV’s false start with an invigorating blend of hip-hop and distorted guitar.
There was a time when this mash-up style was integral to SM Entertainment’s success, and the various NCT units have kept the agency’s sense of experimentation going in fits and starts. But, there’s something refreshingly old-school about Take Off’s go-for-broke arrangement. Yes, there are trendy trap influences here and there, but they’re couched within an incredibly funky bassline that ripples with rhythmic intensity. This provides an excellent playground for the mainly hip-hop verses. The flow here sounds like any other NCT unit. It’s precise and polished and full of attitude, if not completely original.
Instead, Take Off feels like the slightly sinister cousin of NCT U’s Boss — down to its nimble chorus and bass-heavy instrumental. Its hook alternates between chant-like phrasing and more robust, harmony-driven melody. It’s not the most complex structure ever conceived, but moves at a swift pace and lodges itself in your brain without much trouble. Take Off’s biggest and best choice was the addition of rock guitar during both the song’s chorus and a knockout dance break. This production flourish boosts the track into new territory, adding a huge dose of texture and energy to an already-engaging instrumental. It reminds me of EXO’s epic Mama, and hearkens back to some of the elements I appreciate most about K-pop. In 2019, I would love nothing more than for SM Entertainment to rediscover their affection for bombastic, guitar-fueled arrangements. With any luck, Take Off will act as the perfect launching pad.