Since their 2016 debut, I’ve been (im)patiently waiting for NCT to revisit the sprawling sound of Without You. It’s still my favorite NCT track (and the only time a debut song has topped my year-end list). Beautiful isn’t nearly as amazing, but its vocal-heavy drive occupies similar territory.
This is the second release from NCT 2021’s Universe album — another compilation of tracks spawned from the collective’s various units. Beautiful brings everyone together, singing and dancing like a K-pop version of High School Musical. I’m here for the cheese, especially when it’s bolstered by the songwriting power of Yoo Young-Jin. It’s fantastic to hear NCT’s roster of strong vocalists emote over a song with more pep than a typical winter ballad. The instrumental surges on a rhythmic piano riff and swoops of sentimental strings. This arrangement is predictable, but not unwelcome. In fact, it sounds like something SM might have offered in the mid-2000’s.
Beautiful makes plenty of room for chorused vocals. The hook is sung in unison, giving the melody added heft. Even so, the song’s biggest standouts come courtesy of individual voices. NCT’s vocalists aren’t always given the chance to flex their skills in sustained ways, and Beautiful‘s melody could stand to be even more stirring. I wish its final minute went full throttle on the bombast rather than spinning its wheels. But, I’ll take a sweet, corny shot of motivation any day (minus the spoken word intro, please). If nothing else, Beautiful showcase’s NCT’s versatility — an asset that’s often lost within their mix-and-match, sound-alike units.