NCT 127 have never been a group that you could describe as meek, but on their latest comeback – their fifth album ‘Fact Check’ – they sound more confident than ever. “Check the facts, go check that,” they challenge in the title track’s chorus, almost daring you to tell them anything that’s come before (boasts about iconic status, likening themselves to Banksy and claiming a spot next to the Mona Lisa) is inaccurate.
“When we heard ‘Fact Check’, we thought, ‘Oh this is a song we should do because it’s a song that we will probably be able to perform really well’,” rapper Johnny explains as NME meets eight of the group’s nine members at SM Entertainment’s headquarters in Seoul (Taeil is sitting out promotions as he recovers from an injury). “The song itself has Afrobeats so it has a lot of energy, so the people watching would have a lot of fun listening to it as well.”
“We always have confidence while going into the recording booth, but this time the beat itself, too – it gives you those vibes,” Jaehyun adds. “Listening to our members’ chants or ad libs, they all gave the confident energy.”
NCT 127 will continue to spread that energy as they kick off their new world tour in Seoul in November with a whopping six shows at KSPO Dome. Before that, though, watch NME’s In Conversation video interview with the group above as they discuss the idea of being limitless, share the stories behind some of the songs on ‘Fact Check’ and reflect on what makes NCT 127 so special.
NME: ‘Fact Check’ contains the idea of being limitless, which is something that comes up a few times in your back catalogue. How does the idea of limitlessness motivate you or help in pushing you forwards?
Mark: “Well, I think when it comes to the concept of being limitless, it goes back to how we first originated. It’s in our roots – NCT, like the brand itself, was always aiming for having infinite possibilities and being basically limitless. So I think that term really suits our music and our concepts very well. I think we’re still striving for that. Whether it be our style, aesthetics or just our music and our performance, we’re always pushing forward and broadening boundaries. So, yeah, we’re limitless.”
Do you feel like that concept gives you more freedom as a group than if you didn’t have it?
Jaehyun: “What I think is that if you have more freedom, then you also have more responsibility. So I think that also relates to the limitless thing, because we do feel limitless but that also follows [with] more strict stuff. So we are limitless, but that also has a lot of responsibilities to it [like] not getting [things] wrong while performing. We all have our positions while dancing but you shouldn’t get it wrong.”
In ‘Fact Check’ there’s also the lines “I am the art” and “Hang me in the Louvre” – what moment from NCT 127’s story so far do you think is deserving of a spot in the Louvre?
Johnny: “Well, that’s my part, so thanks for bringing that up. I would have to say the beginning, like ‘Limitless’, when we first showed ourselves to the world as a limitless concept. So the song ‘Limitless’ by NCT 127 would be the song – the art – to put in the Louvre, I’d say.”
One of my favourite songs on the album so far is ‘Love Is A Beauty’. The Korean title ‘별의 시’ translates to ‘Star Poetry’ or ‘Star’s Poetry’, which sounds very romantic but I believe it’s actually about your experiences as a group. How does that Korean title relate to the stories that you’re telling that song?
Doyoung: “I really like the lyrics of ‘별의 시’. In the lyrics, there’s a line where it says “sparkling nine stars”. I don’t know if Taeil intended it, but it has the vibe of telling the story that we’re becoming the stars. Also, when our fans look at us, they look at us like they’re looking at a star. So the songs we sing feel like a gift for our fans. I really like the lyrics of ‘별의 시’ in that sense.”
Mark and Taeyong, you worked with Taeil on writing that song. What were your inspirations or intentions behind ‘Love Is A Beauty’?
Mark: Well, for me, I didn’t really discuss with Taeil about how I pictured our members, the nine of us, to be stars. I didn’t really get that idea. I guess we each had our own different interpretations. So, for me, I feel like the title of the song really just mapped out how I should write this – what do I think of love? How do I think of it as beautiful? I realise that love does not really come easy, but loving you is easy for me. That was what I thought was beautiful and that’s how I wrote my part.”
Taeyong: “I actually don’t know about love, but when I go out with my team and see our fans, NCTzens, [in] that time I’m learning a lot of some kind of love. So I wanted that attitude, that kind of emotion in the lyrics.”
In ‘Je ne sais quoi’, there’s the line “We got the sauce” – What is the 127 sauce? What does each of the members bring to it to make 127 what it is?
Johnny: “I mean, you could say that NCT 127’s kind of like a four-course meal because each member brings something else to the table. I think that’s what makes a team a team and each one of us really has a different story, a different background and a different thing they do bring to the table.”
Mark: “I’m more of a ranch.”
Johnny: “Well, are you?”
Mark: “There are hot sauces, there’s ranch…”
Johnny: “But actually, how every member is so different makes NCT 127 so special, in my opinion.”
Mark: “We can fit anyone’s taste too because we have that many different sauces.”
Johnny: “For example, I think each member has a different taste in music – like each and everyone likes different types of music. But in the end, we do make one sound together and that just brings a bunch of genres together to make NCT 127.”
When you guys are starting work on a new album, do you go back and look at your last release to evaluate the things that you did well and what you want to work on and improve? If so, what were your conclusions from ‘2 Baddies’ and ‘Ay-Yo’ that you brought into ‘Fact Check’?
Mark: “One thing that I remember is – this is just a detailed part – is for example, we had a song called ‘윤슬 (Gold Dust)’ in the ‘2 Baddies’ album.. right? For a second, I questioned myself – but it sounded so good when we did it a concert so we were like, ‘We should have another song like ‘윤슬’. I think that kind of made ‘Love Is A Beauty’ for this album. We really do evaluate and reflect on what we had, not even just on the previous album but like, even to the ‘Sticker’ album to the ‘Kick It’ album. I remember being in the car with Johnny after we finished our recording and we really compared together and were like, ‘This one’s good, this one’s similar to that’. So I think it’s an ongoing process.”
One of the exciting things about NCT 127 is how you have this very experimental side but have still been able to become so big. Last year, you headlined the Olympic Stadium here twice. What are your memories of those shows?
Yuta: “I was very proud of the fact that we were able to perform at such a huge stadium in Korea. When we were doing our world tour, our members usually complimented me a lot, like ‘You did a good job, Yuta’. But this time, because it was a very significant Korean spot to perform, I definitely saw the true happiness from the Korean members especially. I really felt this warmth by witnessing that. I was so happy that the members were happy as well.”
Taeyong: “When that concert got to the end, I saw Doyoung crying. I thought the members are really important to me in that time so I want to protect them. I’m really proud of our team too.”
You celebrated your seventh anniversary together earlier this year. How would you say NCT 127 has evolved in that time as a group and where do you want to go next?
Doyoung: “As you can see, we’ve grown up. We’ve changed a lot, right? When I look back at our debut, we look like babies, but right now, in both our mental side and physical side, we’ve grown so much. We’ve learned a lot of things over the past seven years. I feel like we members tend to believe in each other more now and this has had a healthier impact on the group itself.”