Review

Song Review: NCT 127 – Superhuman

One of the things that first drew me to K-pop was SM Entertainment’s SMP style. Characterized by its hybrid, genre-bashing nature, this musical philosophy was fueled by bombastic instrumentation and outrageous vocal arrangements. There wasn’t anything else like it at the time, and there still isn’t. As K-pop continues to blow up internationally, SM has moved toward a more westernized sound. But, my fondness for their past glories has caused me to stick by the agency’s side during even their trendiest moments.

As a concept, NCT has always seemed poised to usher in a modernized SMP renaissance. Their work has been experimental from the start, but rooted much more strongly in hip-hop than anything else. The 127 unit in particular has too often become the Taeyong and Mark show, sidelining melody in favor of swagger. This pattern took a seismic shift with anthemic pre-release Highway to Heaven, and the compelling disco-meets-complextro Superhuman seals the deal.

Rather than borrow from SMP’s mix-and-match toolkit, Superhuman carries on the spirit of the agency’s past. The song has impact, from its jackhammer funk percussion to the deliriously satisfying wall-of-voices flourish that begins and ends the track.

Superhuman marks SM’s first partnership with producers 1Take & TAK, whose glitchy electro has powered standout tracks from artists like Lovelyz, Wanna One and Golden Child. Along with co-composer Adrian Mckinnon, they give NCT 127 a powerful groove to sink their teeth into — reminiscent of ‘King of Pop’-era Michael Jackson but updated with modern tastes in mind. Many have already compared the track to SHINee’s 2012-13 work, and there’s definitely a little bit of Sherlock in Superhuman’s dynamic bones.

To be nitpicky, I wish Superhuman’s momentum didn’t stall during its second verse. This segment presents a meandering diversion as the tempo stagnates for too long. The dreaded ‘post-chorus slowdown’ is par for the course when it comes to 2019 K-pop, but its presence here keeps the track from veering closer to perfection. Luckily, this stumble is book-ended by galvanizing choruses that feel as immensely packed as NCT’s unlimited roster. While the group’s vocal line was often relegated to the bridges of past 127 title tracks, they’re Superhuman‘s driving force.

The song’s opening verse impresses with a sturdy funk-pop performance — an edgier take on the buoyant groove of NCT Dream’s My First and Last. The jagged instrumental counters the track’s bright melody, offering complexity without sacrificing its pop-minded core. During its best moments, Superhuman is the sound of a group giving it all they’ve got. That’s the kind of lofty ambition that modern K-pop was built on.

 Hooks 9
 Production 9
 Longevity 9
 Bias 9
 RATING 9

~

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23 thoughts on “Song Review: NCT 127 – Superhuman

  1. NCT127 have been performing this on various US TV shows the past few weeks (Colbert, etc) so I had heard it before. SM is going all out on the US-style promotion. Play the single on shows, then a couple weeks later drop the single. If they also did the Korean-style 1 minute audio teaser and a photo a day teaser, I didn’t notice (I don’t pay attention to those “visuals” things).

    I live for that funk bass drop.
    I also thought this could have been Shinee or Exo perhaps. It is firmly in SM style of being over the top.
    Yes, the song loses the vibe in the second verse right about 1:30 in for about 30sec until that funk bass drop reappears.
    I might suggest that they should have used that bass more, but then that would be too much and gimmicky.

    Solid song, good performance!

    I am going to nod my head, yes, absolutely disco-meets complextro, but I don’t really know what “complextro” is

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    • SM was using the “complextro” term a lot back in 2013 and I thought they had actually coined it, but it turns out it’s a legit sub-genre of electro house. I personally love it. SHINee’s Everybody and Key’s Imagine are other SM examples.

      I’ve gotta say, though… I hated the promotional schedule this time around. I deliberately held off watching performances for Superhuman until mid-May. I was going to NCT’s concert and knew they’d be performing the track, so I wanted to hear it at least once before seeing it live. If it hadn’t been for that, I probably would’ve held off until the 24th. I just hate the idea of hearing a song, loving it, and having to wait a whole month to hear it in proper studio form.

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  2. i figured you would enjoy this song! i remember in your “summer 127” review that you wanted nct 127 to have a more melodic pop sound as their title track… this seems to be about the closest thing to that!

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  3. I adore this track. When I first heard it I definitely thought it was originally intended for Shinee or even Exo, but they never got around to releasing it with those groups, so they changed the song a bit and gave it to NCT (who did an incredible job). I’m not sure if that’s possible, but that’s the vibe I got.

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    • It’s definitely possible. It happens all the time with big agencies like SM. I’m curious when the song was first conceived. It definitely has a classic K-pop sound, but updated with trendy elements. But, SM has never worked with some of these producers before, so it could have been newly composed this year.

      Like

  4. I definitely got the 1Take & Tak feeling from the vocal arrangement, which reminds me of their work on Infinite’s Air and Monsta X’s Rollercoaster. Other than that, I’m honestly screaming at how 2012-13 TVXQ/SHINee this is. That’s definitely a sound I’ve been missing!

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  5. This one definitely grew on me, maybe seeing all the live performances from shows in America got to me but I really like it, especially the second half of the chorus.

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    • I went to the group’s concert last weekend and can attest that Superhuman is awesome when performed live. Compared to all of their other material, it just seemed bigger and more spectacular.

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  6. … and there’s also Paper Plane in the Superhuman ep that could deserve a Hidden Treasure nomination!
    I think NCT 127 came back with the right song(s) at the right time: Highway To Heaven is definitely a masterpiece, and Superhuman is a bop (even if it sounds a little bit too long, and the MV is even longer). I’m really curious to see if this concept will be profitable in terms of market, video views, streamings and music shows #1, because with EXO and SHINee forced to stop their full group activities due to military service, SM can’t count on anyone else but them to keep solid and consistent its brand positioning.

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    • I don’t think Paper Plane will quite make it too “buried treasure” status (too weak of a hook), but it’s a solid addition to the album.

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  7. I’m kind of relieved in a way to finally have an NCT 127 title I like again. I was not sold on any of their 2018 stuff, and I don’t have much I need to say about Wakey Wakey either. This song is exactly what I needed to restore my faith in this bias group again. It tastes especially good after trudging through the SM-ballad-wasteland we’ve been getting this year. This is the SME I love – the Shinee/EXO/TVXQ vibes!! – so I hope they follow through on this.

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    • It’s like SM was charging up all of their SM-ness over the past few months just to funnel it into this track. Honestly, I hope all the agency’s 2019 material follows this blueprint from now on. It’ll be just like old times 😉

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    • Maybe. I’d definitely bump my rating up to at least 9.25 after nearly a week of release. I still wish that second verse was tightened just a little, though.

      Like

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  10. I’ve already stated in another post (May Top 3) that I “wub this dub”, but reading this review made me realize another reason why this song hit my sweet spot. Specifically, the fact that TAK had a hand in the mix; literally. I should’ve made the connection because I can recognize his signature sound easily, but there’s so much going on in this piece that I didn’t try to dissect every element. Let there be clarity!

    I first became familiar with TAK through his K-pop remixes:
    TAK – K-Pop Culture (Mashup): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pftsmKHvlvY
    TAK – K-Pop Culture 2015 (Live Mashup): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VI6DAwlA388

    If you listen to the music in either of those videos, you can definitely pick out his contributions to Superhuman. He has a tonne of material on YouTube so there’s plenty there if you choose to sniff it out.

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