It’s not always appropriate or fair to compare different artists to one another, but you’ll have to indulge me on this. For the past few months, you’ve suffered through me ranting about how I wish SM Entertainment would lean further into the ambition of the NCT project, giving them a big, bombastic showstopper rather than these hit-or-miss title tracks that don’t take advantage of the group’s massive configuration. With this in mind, Exile Tribe’s newly released Red Phoenix is the kind of thing I wish NCT would tackle.
I don’t necessarily mean the song itself, because Exile has stronger material within this same category, but I long for K-pop to embrace the sheer spectacle of Red Phoenix. The whole Exile Tribe system is basically Japan’s answer to NCT, consisting of separate units under the same branding. The difference is that Exile really embraces the concept, often bringing their individual groups together for immense dance pop performances like this one. It seems like a no-brainer, and an awesome way to appeal to fans of the entire agency.
And make no mistake, Red Phoenix is a stone cold spectacle. The song merges rock music with hip-hop and dance influences. It kicks off with a no-holds-barred, fist-in-the-air chant – an opening salvo that lets the listener know this will be anything but subtle. From here, the track shifts into a heavy verse, underlined by crunchy guitar distortion. This builds to a stomping chorus – the kind that SM used to deliver on the regular. I’m happy that J-pop has continued to push forward with this ballsy sound, unafraid to throw everything at the wall. With that said, as an actual pop song, the repetitive nature of Red Phoenix’s hook hinders it somewhat. If you want the fullest example of how awesome the Exile Tribe can be when brought together, check out 2016’s classic 24 World and its epic, ten-minute music video.