Song Review: NCT 127 – Highway To Heaven

Years after its debut, my favorite NCT-related track is still Without You. I get that hip-hop is much trendier and globally popular, but I will always be a proponent of big pop melodies and powerful vocalists. This style used to be a stalwart of SM Entertainment, but now that the NCT brand seems to be the agency’s definition of “boy group” going forward, I feared that rap-heavy title tracks would be the norm for some time. Songs like Highway To Heaven offer needed hope, and shatter my perceptions of what kind of sound NCT 127 can tackle.

To be fair, 127 is home to some of SM’s most promising new-gen vocalists. They’re rarely given much to do on songs like Regular and Simon Says, and that’s always been a frustration of mine. Melody often seems to be an afterthought to the sheer badassery of Taeyong and Mark’s rap, but Highway To Heaven is built almost completely on the group’s vocalists. In fact, when rap does show up in the second verse, it feels unnecessary and — quite frankly — unwanted.

I knew I would love Highway right at the twenty-five second mark, when Heachan’s powerful vocal cuts through the moodiness and the instrumentation suddenly expands to euphoric levels. From here on, the track is pure open-road, windows-down pop anthem. The vocals are almost entirely layered, giving Highway an immense, almost otherworldly tone. The guitar chugs, framed by galloping percussion that keeps the song in constant motion. I could do without the already-dated tropical synths (and that aforementioned second verse rap, which nearly derails the energy). But, when we hit Highway’s climactic power note (Heachan, again), all quibbles are forgiven. If this kind of polished, melodic focus represents NCT’s next stage of evolution, I’m completely on board. This is an incredibly promising pre-release.

 Hooks 9
 Production 8
 Longevity 9
 Bias 10



25 thoughts on “Song Review: NCT 127 – Highway To Heaven

  1. I had a feeling you would like it when I heard it. I totally agree with you, it’s in this type of songs nct really gets to shine, when they focus on their vocals rather than rapping. I’m honestly really excited for this comeback, based on their performance in GMA, I think the title track will be a hit.


  2. The song is fine. Glossy, shiny, synths. It sounds commercial and polished.

    B&W desert, quasi Anton Corbijn – but without the elemental despair and gravitas.

    If one had said, oh NCT next single has desert scenes, I would have thought neon burnt out colors surrounded by sounds of dry dessicated despair, with chunky bass and heavy beat.

    I don’t know where SM is going with this song for NCT 127. It doesn’t sound like anything they have released, even very recently. The forthcoming Superhuman is their sound crossed with disco. Wakey wakey, I think kpop does Dada. But this? Where did SM get this one? Is it from their usual stable of songwriters? Honestly with the oriental motif, my mind went to Vixx.


    • According to Melon, it looks like it’s an American songwriting team who has worked with Ariana Grande and (ugh..) Meghan Trainor. Not a sterling resume, as far as I’m concerned, but it does explain the very un-SM sound. From what I can tell, Highway has a totally different vibe from the material they usually write.

      I know it wasn’t necessarily meant as a rave, but “glossy, shiny synths” and “commercial and polished” is always a win for me!


    • So, OK, yes, part of the SM big strategic push for NCT 127 into the US market : trying out the local songwriters. (most of whom are actually Swedish, but that is a whole other discussion)

      Actually my favorite recent US-push of NCT was Shut up and Dance with Jason Derulo from February, which had extremely unfortunate timing – since it was marketed as a dance tribute to Michael Jackson but came out at the same time as the latest MJ documentary. I thought ‘Dance was right up their alley with the styling.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Apparently I’ve been spending a lot of time here because as soon as I heard this I thought, “Oh, the Bias List guy’s gonna like this one.” Hopefully Superhuman will be at least as good!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s quite an unbelievable plot twist from NCT 127. I saw the Superhuman preview at Late Night Show ( and it’s sooo-Michael-Jackson-esque: to my ears this is gonna be the best NCT 127 album, and maybe one of my favourite this year.


  5. I really like this song and Superhuman too! There are more to anticipate for in this new album. I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be a BOP.
    P.S. I’m an NCTzen 🙂


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  19. I love this song. I didn’t really understand why at the time, they were exploring such a not on brand sound for them (as I didnt really follow them outside of music at the time), but I remember being hooked onto the song right away.

    And the vocals and compliment each other so well to my ears. The pace of the rap definitely make me feel like I’m about to fall into a summer fling lol. I feel like the difference between the almost aggressive rap vs the sweet vocals make the song like really hot and romantic at the same time. And I find myself enjoying every section of the song. The rap makes me appreciate the vocals more and vice versa.

    I dont know if I am remembering this wrong, but highway to heaven and wayv’s Love Talk were released the same year? around the same time? And they felt like 2 sides of the same coin.


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