Before I talk about NCT Dream, I just want to say how excited I am that NCT has become so popular in Korea recently. I remember when I first came here in 2019, and I told my students NCT was one of my favorite K-pop groups. I figured it was possible they would have heard of them… but nope. They were all like, “Teacher, who’s that?” and I was lowkey devastated. Thankfully, things have definitely changed after NCT 2020. I go to a K-pop album store about once a month, and the last three times I’ve visited I’ve seen a bunch of girls buying tons of NCT albums and collecting photocards. I almost never see fans mass-buying albums for ANY group, so I find this FASCINATING. And now NCT Dream has dropped “Hot Sauce,” and it’s gotten over 70 million views in less than a week – plus it’s #3 Trending in Music on YouTube Korea as I write this. I couldn’t be more thrilled or proud.
I truly believe that every K-pop group has something that makes them unique and special, but I also think NCT is one of few who are really constantly releasing experimental songs and pushing the envelope. I have a hard time thinking of any group besides an NCT unit who could make a whole comeback about comparing their attractive qualities to the addictive spiciness of hot sauce. The minute I saw those ultra colorful pictures of the members with giant peppers on their heads, I knew we were in for something pretty out there… and to be honest, I didn’t know how to feel about that at first. I’m always down for an NCT Dream comeback, but I sometimes I don’t relate to them because of our pretty big age difference. Looking at those teasers made me feel like this was one of those times.
So I was a little bemused by “Hot Sauce” on the first watch/listen, and I didn’t know what to make of it initially. We all know I love my dance jams that go hard, so I was naturally drawn to the beat in the chorus. And I think the use of latin pop and Afrobeat as an influence is pretty well done. But I must confess… I wasn’t initially feeling the hook. Of course, “Hot sauce 깊이 dip that” got stuck into my head almost immediately after I finished the music video, and it didn’t take too much time for it to win me over. So, I think it’s one of those K-pop songs that might need a few listens to get acclimated to. It still feels a little too young for this thirty year old, but that doesn’t stop me from chanting along in the privacy of my own room.
I know this particular comeback and first full album are very meaningful to NCT Dream – especially since Mark has rejoined them – and I appreciate that they’re going for something new. And I do think they suit more powerful music well, but my one slight concern is this style brings them a step closer to sounding like some of the other NCT units… particularly NCT 127. And if SM keeps having them go down this path, I worry that all the units will start sounding the same. Which would be a shame because they each have their own distinct qualities, both as standalone groups and as the individual members that make them up. Just because we fans support all the members and units doesn’t mean we necessarily want the exact thing from each of them. So going forward, I hope that each unit is still able to retain their own identity.
That being said, I think any similarities that “Hot Sauce” might have with NCT 127 songs are purely in the music itself. When it comes to the visual aspects like the choreography and the music video, NCT Dream 100% succeeds in personalizing it and making it all their own. And as always, my favorite part of the comeback is the dance – particularly the chorus. I love how the first half is very slow and deliberate, and the second half really pops off and has the members jumping around with tons of energy. The exaggerated shoulder moments and the stirring sauce key point are fun to watch and copy, too. NCT Dream have been talented dancers from the beginning, and it’s certainly no different here.
When it comes to the music video, I’m actually rather impressed that it doubles down on the whole hot sauce idea. It’s one thing to have that as the theme of the lyrics – and it does make an interesting metaphor – but the music video just turns it a whole aesthetic. I’ve got to respect that kind of commitment. It’s a fun story of the members making and marketing their own hot sauce: taste-testing, packaging, filming commercials, hyping it on social media, and selling it in their store. The film school student in me is pleased by how every shot actually contributes to the story and the whole over-arching idea – it’s not really necessary in a K-pop video, but it’s always nice to see.
MY OVERALL INTEREST LEVEL
(NOTE: My options for each category are “Love,” “Like,” “Neutral,” “Not My Style,” or “Dislike.” But I rarely dislike anything, so I’ll mostly be using the other four.)
At the end of the day, I thoroughly enjoy “Hot Sauce.” It’s a catchy song with an entertaining dance and music video, and I’m looking forward to listening and watching a lot over the next few weeks. It’s also great to see Mark back with the team, since NCTzens have been anticipating this for a while now. I never thought NCT Dream comebacks without him were lacking in any way, but seeing all seven of them together definitely feels right. “Hot Sauce” is clearly special to them both as a song and an album, and I can tell they’re definitely aiming to blow their fans away. While it doesn’t quite have that impact on me personally – probably because I’m a decade older and all – I’m still very impressed. And I imagine many of their younger and more dedicated fans are absolutely delighted. “Hot Sauce” is the perfect opportunity for NCT Dream to make their mark after reaching new levels of popularity, and I can’t wait to see how high their star rises.
(“Knee Jerk Reaction” is a column I created to talk about comebacks or debuts when I don’t have a lot of time to write in-depth reviews. A knee jerk reaction is like an automatic response, so it’s a post about my initial thoughts on the song, the music video, and the performance if it’s available. Compared to my reviews, everything is more stream of consciousness and less analytical. And everything is 100% my own opinion!)
SOURCES: Music video and featured image belong to SM Entertainment.