NCT 127’s 2 Baddies: Album Review
NCT 127’s new album takes listeners on an unpredictable ride that is as interesting as it is enjoyable.
As explained previously, the best analogy for summarizing NCT 127’s discography is a roller coaster. Listening to NCT 127’s music is always a suspenseful and wildly entertaining ride, with sudden jolts, zigs and zags, and an often-rapid pace. The level of stimulation their music has is akin to a thrill ride as well: the amount of layers and sound effects can be dizzying, perceptions of place and time get jumbled while listening to it, and it ends with a sudden jolt that leaves people wondering what they just heard and only knowing for sure that, whatever it was, it was an adrenaline rush they want to repeat!
Another apt analogy for NCT 127’s sound is the “NCity” in which their “roller coasters” reside. NCT 127 are not unique for packing so many layers into each song or for blending genres; most K-pop artists do. However, the ways in which NCT 127 go about making their music so full and engaging is what distinguishes them. Their songs are exceptionally immersive, charged with a complex, distinct energy. Listeners press “Play” and are instantly transported into the world of “NCity.” Howling, whistles, the sounds of engines revving, and much more put listeners in the middle of the scenes. Intense beats and fierce vocals leave people absorbed but in the zone, ready to go about their daily routines with an explosive soundtrack that is quickly normalized in their minds. In other words, NCT 127’s music makes the unconventional conventional and the strange the delightful norm!
A Track-By-Track Recap
The introductory track on 2 Baddies, “Faster,” sucks listeners into a mental vortex right away. “We’re going faster,” they declare in a heavily-distorted voice. The beat is hard but consistent. It is bold enough that it should be a distraction but repetitive enough that it is not; it becomes a familiar and welcome background presence. Listeners ride into “NCity” - despite the humorous repetition of “Hell no”! - and are greeted with a mix of referee whistle blows, sirens, and engine-revving noises.
The distorted vocals and hard beats remain at the forefront in “2 Baddies,” as the members sing about hopping into a Porsche and going anywhere in the world - or out of it! On this part of the auditory road trip, listeners hear crosstalk, laughs, and “vroom vroom”s in the background. The lyrics serve as a historical guide for NCTzens (NCT fans), walking them through past eras. References to past releases include “100” (“Zero to hundred”) and “Highway to Heaven” (“My life is a highway made for myself”).
“Time Lapse” is an interesting change of pace. NCTzens’ trip pauses to get reflective about past love. The wistful, mid-tempo R&B track remains anything but generic by painting a picture of past date nights through sound. Beautiful harmonies make room for sound effects like arcade game noises. There are more nods to previous releases: the voiceover from “Sticker” that warned “Incomiiiiiiiing!” is back, and so is the “And now, the ringer” voiceover from “Cherry Bomb.” “Time Lapse” is one of the least-predictable songs on 2 Baddies, compacting fun vocables, verses with a talk-rap delivery, and stellar harmonies all in just a few minutes. Its many twists and turns that bring to mind both older and newer NCT 127 releases allow the concept of a “Time Lapse” to come alive.
“Crash Landing” flexes NCT 127’s teamwork. Many members get their turn on this song to shine, frequently backed up by the echoing voices of the others. They all unite on the chant-along-ready choruses. The notable surprises in this song include the flute trills in the second verse and the pre-choruses’ high notes.
While the harmonized vocals continue on “Designer,” they take on a very different tone. The pitch rises, a piano is added, and percussion borrows the spotlight to move the song into hip-hop territory. Once again, the members provide ad libs and other backup during one another’s solos, keeping alive the feeling that listeners are in a bustling city. Fun surprises in this song include Taeyong’s “Should I rap or sing?” dance and the return of the answering-machine vocal filter from some of their 2016 and 2017 songs.
The best vocal performance on the album so far comes from “Gold Dust,” which Doyoung starts off, accompanied by just synths and snapping. Beautiful harmonizing later on makes this song feel more conventional than most of theirs - until reaching the bridge, when a funky piano mixes things up! The guitar strums and snapping that play them off end things on a true-to-them note: related to the sound of the rest of the song while taking a detour too.
A piano focus in the bridge is also a highlight of “Black Clouds,” which mixes guitar-strumming with percussion to tell the story, lyrically and sonically, of “Gold Dust” from a new perspective.
“Playback” provides a third and final interpretation of the feelings addressed in “Gold Dust” and “Black Clouds.” Again, a slower, R&B-driven song takes a turn for the delightfully odd, with a very fun and indescribable twist mid-bridge! While the wavy synths and R&B-esque harmonies are still present, they now have to share the stage with the sounds of noise music. Returning to the “tour through NCity” metaphor, the tourists are now leaving the “R&B Vibes” station and returning to the “Confident, Party-Ready Vibes” one!
The transition back into zanier territory is complete with “Tasty,” a B-side fans of their song “Lemonade” will love. As listeners hear a bicycle bell ringing and voices declaring “We’re savage outlaws,” they think, “Tell me more”! There are whispers, a laugh, ad libs, and industrial sounds that keep the storytelling compelling. The whirlwind of a soundscape continues with a funky EDM breakdown post-bridge. The song ends leaving listeners feeling disoriented yet euphoric, after experiencing an abrupt ending to such a twisty ordeal!
After getting through that roller coaster ride, NCT 127 treat listeners to a celebration with “Vitamin.” “Vitamin” has the horn-filled, jovial feel of their 2017 track “Once Again.” They clap and play the piano through a song peppered with “a-woo”s and funny lyrics, like “Vitamin me”! In addition to their goofy-in-a-good-way lyrics, they throw caution to the wind and decide to let Doyoung keep his dramatic flair while singing about the mundane task of taking a vitamin!
The celebratory feel remains in “LOL (Laugh-Out-Loud),” but it re-routes into different lanes. Guitars, synths, pianos… a cornucopia of instruments are thrown into the mix. The bridge keeps the fun going with percussion and vocable-backed lines. Now that this roller coaster ride is nearing its final destination, it is fitting to hear the return of engine-revving noises and more “Na na na”s, like in the title track. There is another abrupt ending to this song, leaving listeners wondering, “What did we just hear?” but remembering that, whatever it was, it was familiar and catchy!
As the “NCity tour bus” pulls into the station, most instruments leave, but the synths remain and fill the space. Smooth harmonies close out the show, but not without unexpected interruptions in the forms of raps, chants, and beat drops.
The New Music Video
The “2 Baddies” music video compounds what makes NCT 127’s work so exceptional. It appears to take place in the middle of a time warp, amid a blur of colors and images rushing past them. They dance and pose in neon looks, as a damaged car hangs above them, between scenes where they show off a personalized, pristine ride. Of course, there is a twist partway through: the scene turns black and white, and Jungwoo and Jaehyun get stuck in a sudden downpour. The in-your-face, commanding presence remains, but it turns from boastful to mysterious. The video also has some Easter eggs for the NCTzens who love decoding their work!
The “2 Baddies” music video gives shoutouts to NCT 127’s past work while delivering something brand new and exuding an indescribably distinct aura. The irreplaceable personalities they bring to the video match the originality of the album.
Once again, NCT 127 have created an immersive listening experience that defies categorization and stands apart from their previous musical eras, while still winking and nodding to them. They have delivered a new concoction with the same ingredients that have allowed their work to satisfy since their debut. Once listeners begin listening to 2 Baddies with an open mind and an ear for details, a new world opens up to them, a rich soundscape that leaves them intrigued. Every mental journey into “NCity” is full of excitement and spectacles, and 2 Baddies is no different.
For more thoughts on this release, stay tuned for an upcoming episode of 17 Carat K-Pop!
Read previous NCT write-ups below!
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