With boatloads of preorders and hundreds of millions of views, there’s no doubt NCT have become SM Entertainment’s new alpha group. And with the announcement (ugh…) of “NCT Hollywood,” their influence will only grow. I wish I could confidently join the bandwagon, but the longer this NCT project advances, the more repetitive it gets. I can’t help thinking back to EXO’s heyday, where every single comeback felt like an insta-classic. With NCT releases, I’ve usually got half my fingers over my eyes muttering “pleasebegood, pleasebegood, pleasebegood.”
NCT Dream delivered incredible pop music during their first couple of years, but have slowly become yet another NCT group, recording material that might as well have gone to 127 or U. Hot Sauce (맛) unveils the return of founding member Mark, though he’s in just about every other NCT unit as well. Still, it’s great to see all members back together. I just wish it was in service to a stronger song.
The most interesting thing about Hot Sauce is its instrumental. Its percussive backbone draws from elements of afrobeat — a welcome departure from many of K-pop’s go-to sources. The instrumental becomes especially satisfying when guitar joins the fray, giving Hot Sauce a light, rhythmic touch that feels perfectly suited to summer. I’m less enthused about its noisy, descending synths. But, they’re in keeping with the track’s general vibe.
I can’t help but imagine how cool this song might sound with a brisk, nimble melody over the top. Instead, it’s a total shout-a-thon. From verse to chorus, the guys seem stuck at an energy level that can be best described as “exhausting.” The pre-chorus offers a moment of clarity, but Hot Sauce quickly swerves into a boisterous hook that sees Dream’s voices pitched up as they chant-scream like kids refusing to clean their room. It’s a lot to take in, and there aren’t enough melodic breaks to make the final product all that engaging. I’m sure this will grow on me eventually, but I really think it’s time for NCT to move into new musical territory.