Story by Colby Turner | Contributing Writer
After weeks of sneak peeks and promotions on social media, NCT 127 is back with their third full-length album, titled “Sticker.” The album showcases the unit’s talented and creative vocal and rap lines in both high-tempo experimental songs and slow jams, all of which are dedicated to their loyal fans.
NCT 127 is a fixed sub-unit of the K-pop group NCT, also known as Neo Culture Technology, managed by the incredibly popular company SM Entertainment. NCT 127 was the first official sub-unit established by the group after their initial debut in 2016, and since then, NCT 127, NCT DREAM, and WayV have all debuted with wild and rapidly growing success.
NCT overall is recognizable by the fact that they have 23 members in total, with members hailing from countries all over the world, such as Korea, Japan, Canada, Thailand, China, and the United States. NCT 127 is made up of nine of those members: Taeil, Johnny, Taeyong, Yuta, Doyoung, Jaehyun, Jungwoo, Mark, and Haechan.
Since the unit’s debut song “Fire Truck” that released in 2016, NCT 127 has always experimented with new-wave beats inspired by technology, with interesting FX sounds usually leading the songs. The new album follows this trend as well, with their title track “Sticker” being one of the most audibly experimental songs that the group has released to date.
The title track, which premiered the album’s release with its music video, stretches what fans thought they knew about the sub-unit. Listeners hear more vocals from members they don’t hear much from, and the group is tested with elements of vocal fry and the use of original rap lyrics written by the group’s very own Taeyong and Mark.
The song itself starts out with an attention-catching flute tone, broken up by mechanical runs and piano hits. This introduction to not only the song but the whole album shows the listeners that this album will be more of what they love from the unit with a new feel. In “Sticker,” the listeners are met with lyrics that also showcase the album’s dedication to their fans: “Just stay close to me / Like a sticker, sticker, sticker / You’re the main character in my masterpiece,” they repeat throughout the chorus.
“Lemonade,” and “Breakfast,” the former of the two being teased pre-release through a track video on the group’s YouTube channel, sound much more like the group’s sound in previous albums, with a much faster pace and mechanic beat drops in classic EDM format.
The album goes on a journey of varying tempos, but the slower songs definitely do not disappoint. “Focus” is one of the slow songs on the album, but the song makes up for its lower tempo with its entrancing deep beats and sultry tone. “I want more of the focus of that encounter / in our similar gazes, yeah / I can’t wait ‘til we chill,” sing Taeil and Yuta.
“Dreamer,” an upbeat dance pop song that was also teased pre-release with a track video, feels nostalgic with happy-go-lucky beats and uplifting lyrics that make the listener smile and hope for their worries to fade away. “Smile when you’re with me, smile whenever you want / Show me your smile / Your minor thoughts / Fold them up and make the airplane fly away,” Doyoung and Johnny harmonize.
The album concludes with the touching song “Promise You,” a dreamy synth-filled song that talks about breaking up with a loved one, only to reunite with them later. “Oh, I promise you, on the day we meet again / I’ll smile instead of saying anything,” Taeil sings. “I’m afraid that your heart that used to walk with me / has tired out / But it’s okay / As always, I’m here,” follows Jaehyun and Yuta.
Each song on the album is great in its own way, though the one song that feels the most out of place is the title track itself, “Sticker.” The song breaks boundaries of FX and sound in music, but the song needs to be listened to a few times before it catches on. It appears it might be better performed live, as it was on “The Late Late Show with James Corden.”
The album overall was a great way for the group to come back in full for their fans since their last full album release in March 2020, and the presence of a familiar experimentalism made listening feel both nostalgic and refreshing. Listening through the experimental beats and the emotionally driven vocals, it felt almost as if NCT 127 was saying, “Hello again. Did you miss us?”