While BTS may be the most globally known K-pop act, I’d argue that NCT has had greater influence on the sound of this generation’s boy groups. During the first few years of their existence – with various units tackling distinct styles – this influence was surely a boon for the industry. But, now we’ve reached a point where the music is starting to feel like a dog chasing its own tail. Once lauded for their experimentation, the whole NCT project has become – in its own way – predictable. These thoughts color my expectations as I approach new single Sticker. I always hope to be impressed, but I’m fatigued by the direction SM Entertainment is steering this ship.
Sticker cobbles together a who’s who of SM’s favorite producers. We’ve got the agency’s godfather Yoo Young-Jin, paired with familiar collaborators Ryan Jhun and Dem Jointz. Each has contributed their own standout NCT material in the past. Forged together, their talents should be unstoppable. Right?
Look, I appreciate what they’re trying to do here. This is a weird little song, and that in itself is great. I’m all for pushing music forward. The instrumental is daring, from that warped, seesawing bass to shrill flute. Vocals are twisted and chopped to create an interesting playground of percussion, and it’s all tied to a minimalist atmosphere that carves plenty of space to experience every eccentricity. Yeah, the producers had fun with this one. But do I enjoy listening to it? Not particularly.
This polarizing approach puts a heavy burden on Sticker’s melodies. NCT’s vocals sound fantastic, and I’m happy to hear them more prominently engaged with the track. But, the hook feels like a limp echo of 2018’s Regular, and lacks a knockout punch. Making matters worse, it’s all peppered with that damn screechy flute. Because the song is so quiet and subdued, these grating elements stick out all the more. That’s a benefit when talking about the vocals, but a huge drawback when trying to wrestle that flute from whoever’s fingers refuse to let it go.
There may be a lot of fascinating things hidden inside Sticker, but the end result feels oddly lifeless. It’s as if the creators got lost in the details of the track but forgot to take a step back and evaluate the overall listening experience. It’s fun to appreciate individual elements in a pop song, but before you can indulge in that, the music needs to grip you in a more primordial way. Sadly, this just isn’t gripping.