I’m currently finishing up the rest of my 2021 reaction posts, and “Sticker” is definitely a comeback that I want to talk about. While I’ve always considered myself a multifan, I often name NCT 127 as my “ultimate” K-pop group. And if I’m talking purely about the music, then they’re absolutely #1 on my list. So needless to say, their comebacks are always a thrilling time for me. And since NCT exploded in popularity over the past year or so, I was especially excited to see how a new single would boost their success. I think there were a lot of expectations for NCT 127’s return, especially after NCT Dream did so well, but they definitively proved they were more than up to the challenge. In my opinion, “Sticker” was one of their most solid comebacks yet – and it’s a serious contender for my favorite release of the year.
It looks like NCT 127 is quite inspired by niche movie genres these days. Last year’s “Kick It” was an homage to martial arts films, and now “Sticker” seems to be their take on Westerns. The music video shows the members dressed in slick cowboy-style outfits, shooting finger guns and wielding glowing lassos – all on what appears to be a mix between a Hollywood film set and a Las Vegas theme hotel, with everything covered in neon for days. As an American, I must say I find the whole aesthetic pretty amusing. I’m actually curious what brought this whole idea about, but maybe they were inspired by their performance at the Houston Rodeo last year. While it’s certainly fun and has some great looks, it’s a little campy for my personal tastes. But it’s a bold choice that NCT 127 completely committed to, and I respect that.
As a song itself, “Sticker” is partially influenced by Westerns as well. For example, flute is a major element of its composition. And after listening to it several times, I realized that it reminds me of some famous Western movie themes – specifically the iconic one from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The flute trills in “Sticker” are more palatable for pop and don’t sound quite as intense or foreboding, but the melody and intonation are similar enough to spark that connection. Piano is also a huge part of the song’s arrangement, and its bouncy notes and old fashioned style are reminiscent of stereotypical saloon music. I didn’t actually notice any of this on my first few listens of “Sticker,” but it definitely came more apparent as I kept playing the track. And I think that’s super cool, because it shows there are a lot of interesting layers going on.
Though I’ve been a pretty solitary K-pop consumer this past year, I remember hearing through the grapevine back in September that “Sticker” was a little divisive among fans. And to be honest, I understand that. There are three key components to the arrangement: the aforementioned flute and piano, plus this really grungy reverb effect that persists throughout the whole song. All of them have very distinctive presences, and it does sound like they’re competing for attention with each other sometimes. So, I totally get how this song can come off as dissonant or off-putting to some people.
That being said, I personally really enjoy “Sticker.” In fact, I like it so much that it’s still one of my most-played songs of the year several months later. (And I have a really short attention span, so that’s saying something.) One of the reasons I first got into K-pop was because I liked how some songs had unconventional arrangements or structures. And NCT 127 is my favorite K-pop group precisely because their music is so experimental. I love tracks that are really out there like “Cherry Bomb” and “Kick It,” and I feel like “Sticker” fits right in with those. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it’s undeniably true to their brand and their musical identity.
Last but certainly not least, let’s talk performance. I will say, this choreography has grown on me quite a bit over the past few months. I certainly enjoyed it from the start, but it took me some time to really love it. NCT 127 has some stellar dances in their arsenal, and I initially thought this one wasn’t quite as strong. There are some really great moments – I’m not ashamed to admit that Taeyong’s whole intro grabbed my attention and pulled me in – but I don’t feel the key points leave as memorable an impression as other NCT 127 choreographies. That being said, I have since come to appreciate it in all of its glory. It might not be “iconic” like “Kick It,” but it flows well and has plenty of great details like clean angles and precise isolations.
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.)
I truly haven’t heard an NCT 127 song that I didn’t like, and the fangirl in me tends to take over during their comebacks. So, it’s probably not a surprise that I love “Sticker” and I’ve been all about it ever since it came out. But that favorable response isn’t just about my personal taste – I genuinely believe this comeback was perfect for NCT 127 as a group. They’ve always marched to the beat of their own drum, and I appreciate how they really stayed true to themselves with “Sticker.” It’s definitely wild and weird, but it’s wonderfully wild and weird. When NCT started getting a lot of attention last year, the 127 subunit could easily have gone more mainstream as a safe bet to pull in more new fans. But they stuck with what they knew, and that risk paid off since they’re more popular than ever. Their future is so bright, and I couldn’t be prouder.
(“Delayed Reaction” is the counterpart to my “Knee Jerk Reaction.” This version of the column is for when I’m behind on my posts, and I use it for releases that are either over two weeks old or have already finished promotions – whichever comes first. And since I’m posting so long after an artist has made their comeback or debut, it means I’ve had some more time to reflect on everything and the post is less about my initial instinctual reactions. But everything is still in a less formal format and 100% my own opinion!)
SOURCES: Featured image and music video belong to SM Entertainment.
Audio for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme uploaded to YouTube by user jordan harding.
Saloon music compilation uploaded to YouTube by user CJTV.