Song Review: NCT 127 – Ay-Yo

NCT 127 - Ay-YoWhether I like it or not, context plays a huge role in how I review any new K-pop track. In a perfect world, we could imagine songs being released at different times and under different circumstances, but if you follow the industry as closely as I do it’s impossible to separate trends from a song’s innate appeal. NCT have become a great example of this. I often write about how important it is for groups to establish (and stick with) a signature sound. Though NCT’s overall sound may not be for me, there’s no doubt they’ve stuck with it to build a cohesive discography.

But, here’s where that pesky context comes in. What happens when virtually every one of your peers replicates this signature sound for their own works? (See today’s debut of 8TURN for immediate reference). Even if you’re a fan, the sheer glut of material is bound to wear you down. NCT may still be the flagship purveyors of K-pop’s “pots and pans” boy group sound, but it’s gotten to the point where it feels as if they’re recycling the same draft over and over with slight variation.

New single Ay-Yo is neither obnoxious nor compelling. It’s NCT doing NCT with all the touchstones you’d expect. That should be enough to please the group’s large fanbase, but for those of us standing on the periphery it feels like yet another iteration of a sound we’re already exhausted by. I get that this might be a “me” problem, but although Ay-Yo has its moments I just can’t find an entry point that makes me want to return for further listens. The melodies feel phoned in, the rugged beat feels super familiar and the arrangement is too fragmented to ever take flight. In short, the song is absolutely fine but completely superfluous.

Now, take me to the alternate K-pop reality where NCT is the only group dabbling in this sound and watch my opinion become instantly more favorable!

Hooks 7
 Production 8
 Longevity 8
 Bias 7

Grade: C

37 thoughts on “Song Review: NCT 127 – Ay-Yo

  1. SHINee A-yo. This is the only A-yo that matters, not whatever this Ay-yo is.

    You are welcome. Fan service song at its best.
    Jonghyun ❤

    Also, Max Changmin TVXQ nostalgia. He did that hair first, just saying.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I know, be careful what we wish for (make a wish). Stickers was bonkers. For me, in the fullness of time, Sticker was a great bonkers, for others less so.
      Then came the begging for something approaching normal and so we get this blandness which is almost indistinguishable from the 8Turn “Tic Tac” also out this morning. save for a few clever bars here and there.


  2. There’s a sound in the background that reminds me of a running toilet. This feels like a watered-down version of Punch, which is an NCT title track that’s grown a lot on me. It’s kind of meandering and inoffensive, which feels right for a repackage title track. I would say though that 4th gen bgs are not replicating this sound but the more brash, annoying NCT sound.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Their last few songs were at least interesting, but this one feels super forgettable (and not in the fun way that Punch was). I may think 2 Baddies is awful, but I sure have a lot of fun listening to it! Even Sticker has a hilariously good ballad remix on YouTube that I’ll link here. It made me realize that the melody is really quite solid, haha. I’ll just carry on like this song never came out — it’s not noteworthy enough for me to even really dislike.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Well, at least, this one ain’t so obnoxious and earraping like 2 Baddies! Yes, the song is completely fine, but nothing makes me wanna return back to it and, moreover, add it to my playlist. For some reason, the track reminds me of a radio-friendly hip-hop fare I could hear being played on any urban contemporary station. Rating’s just about right.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This gives me the vibes that ‘Limitless’ had but just not as good. It’s still a step in the right direction, away from whatever ‘Sticker’ and ‘2 Baddies’ was so there’s that.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I think the song Ay yo grows on me actually. It didn’t click right away but after 5 times listens, I like it. The MV is quite simple without a lot of special effects compared to 2 Baddies. I love the choreography of Ay Yo way more than 2 Baddies. The MV and the song shouted out loud Simple, Swag, Easy to Listen, showing off their vocals and the charism of each member. I can’t say it will become a their BIGGEST HIT, and I hope NCT 127 keep experimenting more styles and music genres, and I’m always rooting for them 🙂
    I score Ay-yo: 8

    Liked by 1 person

  7. a few thoughts:

    1. i overall like the song. i don’t love it, but i like it! and i am thrilled about this because i have never managed to listen to 2 baddies all the way through despite several attempts
    2. doyoung sounds particularly good here
    3. glad to see johnny finally given something to do in a 127 song even if it’s not the song’s most interesting bits
    4. whoever made the decision to have jaehyun not once, but twice, look directly into the camera for a deadpan delivery of “ay-yo” is my hero

    Liked by 1 person

  8. After two listens I can confirm that I like it more than I liked 2 Baddies initially. I do have some gripes – the instrumental in the opening part of the first verse (and again when it shows up later) is a bit sandpaper-like on my ears, and I didn’t like the drop in tempo at the bridge either. The lyrics aren’t “2 baddies, 2 baddies, 1 Porsche” awful, but I still have a hard time getting behind (and not laughing at) “Ballin’ big time…”

    On the plus side though, I love their vocalists, and it’s nice to hear them get more play time in this one. In general there’s a lot more singing here, and I’ll always be in favor of that. There are pros and cons to the song, and I’m a little confused about whether I actually like it or not. I’m sure it’ll iron itself out in another listen or two.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. (rant incoming)

    NCT 127 has one of the most talented and versatile boygroup lineups active today in k-pop (and I say that while my absolute favorite unit and current favorite boygroup is NCT Dream, and while they don’t fall behind AT ALL, 127 has a more diverse set of members) and yet SM keeps overusing the same three members and coming up with concepts that are progressively less inspired… I mean we’re REALLY back to the box set MVs and that’s just depressing considering 127 had MVs (AND SONGS!) like the amazing Firetruck > Limitless > Cherry Bomb sequence or Touch (SM’s state as a whole is depressing but let’s not go there)… like this is the group that gave us Superhuman (which, in my opinion, was a less polarizing group releasing it, would be considered an instant k-pop classic). Plus, the teasers had, like. Literally nothing to do with the final result. How do you go from outdoor shots in LA to Red and White box. SM’s been baiting with the teasers for quite a while now but they really surpassed themselves now.

    I feel like since 2019, for every idea they have for this group they lack the proficiency in the creative team to execute whatever it was they first envisioned, and not only that, I feel like there’s not a vision for both 127 or Dream AT ALL. Although to a lesser extent, the NCT fandom is kinda like the LOONA fandom, in which some people really miss the Olden Days (in LOONA’s case, obviously the JJ era, and in NCT’s case, even though people seem to be more vague (maybe not even exactly aware, since their creative team wasn’t in the public spotlight unlike JJ with LOONA) about what exactly they miss, it’s very clear that some people miss the sound and vision they had from the debut until Empathy, which seem to have been completely scraped after MHJ’s departure and NCT’s own creative team stopped working with them to work with The Boyz exclusively until very recently, when they started working with IVE. As I said, even if I think most SM acts are grasping at straws rn, it seems like they are REVERTING creatively to 2013 and sporadically have a glimpse of light. Ay-Yo sounds like an early EXO song. It’s honestly a shame what is happening with this group because damn I follow since SMRookies and they used to be SO excellent. Even the songs I didn’t like had a refinement that is lacking now. Their visuals were well-thought, fun and coherent, they weren’t just badass oppas suits cars motorcycles black leather clothing.

    About Ay-Yo I do think there is an interesting base to work with, even if it does sound dated and repetitive. If there was a little bit more of ambition, it could go from an below average to a good song. That said, I know I’m a minority on this but I wish I could permanently BAN both Dem Jointz and the word “Ballin'” from k-pop. There’s not a single. song. with Dem Jointz on the composition credits that I’ve liked, this gotta be a new record. And I can’t even imagine how much Johnny, Jaehyun and Mark might cringe when having to sing the word ballin’ over and over jeez

    Liked by 2 people

    • I would ban “ballin” from all contemporary pop culture of any flavor, as back in my day growing up it was a really really bad slang term.
      Also Dem Jointz, whoever and whatever that is, I agree.


  10. I kind of like the bleakness of this song. I find that even against their peers NCT 127, still has an artiness about their arrangements that always hold a little more weight than their imitators. I don’t think the song is incredible but I do enjoy it. It’s way better than ‘2 baddies’.I think ‘Favourite (Vampire)” was a much better repackage title than Ay-yo. Heck, I even prefer ‘Sticker’ to this.

    I guess I’m just a fan of the group. I really think the vocal line is superb, the raps are some of the most proficient in the genre. There’s enough for me to genuinely enjoy what’s going on even though it feels more like the status quo than progression (which I prefer). So for me, it’s a B-


  11. Some people may think that it’s bland, but I think that it felt very classic instead? Like simple, but not in a bad way, just letting their charisma shine through without any gimmicks (2 baddies was a low point for them imo, tho sticker and favourite were amazing) Also the beat is fire, and that intro was so cool. The song feels epic especially at the chorus, bridge and post-bridge parts, though not as loud or high profile as some of their previous songs. And the music video though simple was quite high quality, the scenes of Yuta and Johnny levitating went soooo hard omg


    • People may try to copy their sound, but few can replicate their charisma. They are trendsetters for a reason, and I think that it’s admirable that they still chose to stick to their sound and do it well even though other groups have abused it to death.


    • Ok ok I think I’m commenting way too much but like bear with me, I wished people appreciated this song more, the synths in the chorus, the small bits of piano, the vocals. Honestly I think it’s a sophisticated SM nct style track(less is more), just unfortunate that their sound has been copied so much and lost its bite with frequent kpop listeners

      Liked by 1 person

      • No because i entirely agree with you… it’s such a streamlined song that know’s what it’s about and doesn’t make any whacky and distracting divergences, lol. Which means it hits HARD (for me, at least!). Those synths are gorgeous, the raps are rhythmically interesting, the vocals are *chefs kiss* etc etc…. the attempts of their imitators pale in comparison to NCT’s actual releases imo. And I don’t even tend to like NCT music, but this was instantly added to my playlists and has been on repeat since release XD


  12. I’m liking this more than “2 Baddies” on first listen, but it almost feels like a really good B-side getting the MV treatment. I feel like Dem Jointz produced this, correct me if I’m wrong.


  13. The song doesn’t go anywhere for me, there’s nothing that pulls me in or makes me want to continue listening. I think they have something almost futuristic 2000s going on with the instrumental, reminds me of airplanes. Maybe a little bit like Nicki Minaj’s Moment 4 Life but lacking the catchiness and grittiness. If they had a stronger melodic chorus over short phrase hooks, it might’ve been better.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I liked it. Wish there was just a touch more of that grooviness from the chorus. They sold the hell out of it in the video for sure.


  15. Two Baddies was a lot more exciting and ambitious, it paid off for me in the long run. If you’re gonna be obnoxious, go all the way! And I loved it.

    Ay yo felt too dull for an NCT song. The bridge fell flat, the chorus fell flat, the vocal moments in the verses were good, I have to admit, but they have done a lot better in the past (Sticker :D). So yeah, its a no for me sadly. Loved 2 Baddies but I think this a 7/6.75 for me.


    • This comeback was so phoned in by SM and their creative team. Thank god the boys have enough charisma and talent to somewhat distract from just how poorly thought out this concept (if there even is one) was for them.
      I do agree sound wise it is a step down from the madness that was Sticker/2 baddies which might register as dull for some people, but honestly? i’m kinda liking that. Feels like a breather to me. Mark absolutely kills it every single time… too bad they have Johnny doing everything but rapping in it. Wonder how he feels about being passed over in favor of Jaehyun.

      Skyscraper is fantastic, no notes 10/10.


      • I get where you are coming from, but I feel like if they wanted to do a breather, they should have gone even further down the other end because ay yo finds itself somewhere in the middle which makes it somewhat boring to me.

        I’d better listen to skyscraper!


  16. Not sure how I feel about this CB. I can’t even truthfully say I hate it because in order to hate it, I’d have to consider it music in the first place. I can’t here, not even sure what this is in terms of structure


    • To clarify, if I were to watch the MV or livestages and treat it simply as a performance, then I’d find it pretty interesting, the boys were pretty cool


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