Life as an Autistic NCTzen
How being autistic shapes my identity as an NCT fan and how NCT underscores the power of music
I find myself frequently frustrated by the limitations of language. Words are a key tool for making sense of and relating to the world, yet words also don’t do this world justice. A picture is worth a thousand words, but an emotion is worth a million. How can a literal textbook definition encapsulate something as profound as a feeling? How can a cut-and-dry meaning summarize what happiness, sadness, or any other emotion is truly like? Words seem insufficient to convey the depths of feelings. Luckily, where words fail, music rises to the challenge. As an autistic person, the sense of satisfaction experienced when music says what words fail to is extra meaningful, as I often struggle to communicate with others and gauge their reactions accurately. Since I am faced with the limits of words on a daily basis, I hold gratitude for music’s messaging abilities on a daily basis too. When my brain freezes, music answers the questions for me. With the right combination of vocals and instrumentals, I feel heard without saying a word. While some people vent by talking, I get an emotional release by tuning out the world and tuning into my music. I bask in the tranquility, the sorrow, the ecstasy, and so much more. Just because I don’t experience emotions in the same ways that neurotypical people do doesn’t mean I don’t have them, and to feel touched by songs allows me to feel connected to both the musicians behind the music and to my fellow listeners.
A common example of when I get frustrated by the limits of language is when I discuss autism. I resent the framing of autism as a disease, a character defect, and a reason to pity me. Treating autism as a concern implies I would be better without being autistic. But I do not know what on Earth I would be like without being autistic; it’s simply a part of who I am, and acting like it’s a regrettable identity to have is inherently devaluing my identity as a whole. That being said, I also want to freely express the struggles that are a result of being autistic. Like all adjectives, “autistic” has its pros and cons, and how I view autism is no different. The crucial nuance here to understand is that I am not burdened by autism itself; the struggles I face are a result of living in a society that is not made for neurodivergent people. My different ways of thinking and acting are not wrong; they are just treated as such because they do not always align with social norms. I want to be clear: when trying to explain my experiences as an autistic person, I am not saying autism is a bad thing. I am not writing a sob story; I simply could not describe my experiences authentically without addressing autism’s impact on those experiences.
As explained in one of my podcast episodes, I do not hear music the same way that neurotypical people do. My sensory issues cause me to intensely feel the music course through me as I listen to it. If I listen to certain music, suddenly the parts of my brain that most often feel like an unfinished puzzle fit together to complete the picture. Music helps me pull out of the moments when my emotions and instincts feel discombobulated. The disconnect between my inner and outer worlds is remedied with the right music.
Life as an autistic person can make me feel like I am an alien visiting Earth, due to being ignored or treated with hostility when I “act autistic” in public. So in addition to the neurological reasons, music is also a godsend for me because of its reassurances that I am human. Music says, “I know how you feel, and that feeling is so normal and so valid, even if it doesn’t come across as ‘normal’ to neurotypical people.” My social awkwardness does not distort the depths of my feelings, but it can affect my ability to convey them. Therefore, it triggers a sense of connectedness both among my “wires” and between me and the outside world when my nonverbal reactions to the music are the same as every other listener, from swaying along to flipping my hair.
Since I process the world like I am using a phone with the brightness and volume all the way up, I get overwhelmed very easily. To truly decompress and then recharge takes conscious and constant effort. To console me during these moments of sensory overload, I put on my headphones and let the music take the wheel. Not all music helps me cope in these moments, however. In especially overwhelming times, it takes a larger amount of auditory stimulation than usual to truly help. That is where NCT’s music comes to the rescue. During the exceptionally turbulent past few years, I have fully realized how strong a role NCT’s music plays as an anchor in my life.
As I have detailed time and time again on my podcast and newsletter, NCT artfully combines a massive amount of sounds and styles into their songs. They are such layered, full songs, and they reconnect all the right wires in my brain to snap me out of “Chaos Mode.”
Proudly declaring myself a member of “NCity'' has made me feel like a part of something special. The larger-than-life mental escape NCT has made through their music video universe and attention-holding songs has allowed me to not just mentally remove myself from distressing situations, but mentally transport myself somewhere else entirely. In NCity, I can be a detective, decoding the many Easter eggs present among their music videos that tie them all together. I can be a resident who sings the town’s anthems in harmony with my fellow NCTzens. I can take comfort in the humdrum of daily life, hearing familiar sounds ranging from dogs barking to car engines revving. I can travel without leaving the town, hearing the sounds of parades, parties, and other celebrations. Their songs curate atmospheres, conjuring up vivid images with or without the help of actual music videos. Their songs are so detailed that I can explore new corners of NCity with each listen. Industrial, R&B, synth, brass, piano, strings...their discography mixes everything and ensures there is never a dull moment while immersing oneself in it.
In addition to being so well-made, NCT’s music deserves praise because it is just plain fun! It is a wonderful emotional outlet to sing along to goofy lyrics and ad-libs, to head-bang along with the fastest raps, and to sway to the most tearful ballads! I am not faced with the pressure of venting about how I feel through words; I can feel understood and overall feel better thanks to letting the music take over my brain and body. I don’t need to find a way to articulate my excitement when “Dreamer” does it for me. I don’t need to find a way to describe my angst and need to yell when “Chain” does it for me. I could go on and on, the bottom line being that NCT has a song that resonates (pun intended) with every mood.
There are many NCT songs that have great lyrics simply because they are funny, but there are other ones that carry deeper and important messages. Underlying songs like “Misfit” is a reminder that being different is a good thing, a message that people like me need to hear in order to counteract some of the damaging narratives surrounding autistic people. Songs like “Right Now” and “Be There For You” talk about being there to comfort someone rain or shine, a promise that means more when living with the feeling of being perpetually ostracized. Songs like “Superhuman” and “Kick It” keep me company as I work up the courage to face all kinds of fears that come with being autistic and going out into the sensory-overload-triggering world.
Singing along to NCT’s music may just be some fun in the lives of some fans, but it means much more than that to me. While other fans are singing along simply pleased with getting to do so, I am singing along in complete awe. I get to be a part of something! I get to engage in a call-and-response, or nod along to certain iconic moments in the songs! I am experiencing the same thing as the people I am conditioned to see as my opposites! Best of all, I am unguarded. I can belt out “woof,” “roll up, roll up to the party,” “bless me, achoo,” and all sorts of other goofy lyrics without caring. As someone who always keeps walls up around me, having NCT’s music knock them down like feathers is an awe-inducing gift. I become more open to interactions when my guard is down, and distracting songs with fun lyrics like NCT’s make that openness possible.
NCity is such a cherished place to me, and I am indebted to NCT for bringing it to life through their songs and music videos. Their music is the stimulation I need, the reassurance that I have permission to let loose and have fun, and the mood boost that helps me persevere on tough days. Their immersive songs and music video world-building are a never-ending journey with which I am endlessly excited to follow along!