After traveling the country for two weeks on a tour bus, the K-pop group NCT 127 wrapped up the U.S. leg of their world tour in Los Angeles at the Microsoft Theater on May 12. The nonet had performed in the city over the years at different festivals, but the Neo City: Los Angeles — The Origin stop was their first solo concert in LA. The show was sold out, despite it being on Mother’s Day.
In the past, the Theater has seen concerts by legendary Hallyu acts like 2NE1 and label mates TVXQ!, an achievement NCT 127 —a satellite group from the larger NCT (Neo Culture Technology) constellation— quickly reached in the almost three years they’ve been active. Following a few lineup adjustments, the current group consists of Taeil, Taeyong, Doyoung, Jaehyun, Jungwoo, Haechan, Johnny, Mark, and Yuta. The last three members are from Chicago, Vancouver, and Osaka, respectively, and play a key role in NCT 127’s global appeal. NCT, the larger umbrella collective formed by SM Entertainment (home to EXO and Red Velvet), has 21 members in total from diverse countries like Thailand and Hong Kong, personifying the globalization of K-pop as we see it today. NCT 127 is the most active sub group, as well as the most popular outside of South Korea.
“The Origin,” as Mark told the audience during the show, represents new beginnings for NCT 127. Though the group has five EPs, two full albums, and a few loose singles in both Korean and Japanese under their belt and a large fandom overseas, they aren’t among the strongest players in Korea. Their sound is a lot more avant garde than what typically charts in the country, mixing everything from hip-hop to electropop to EDM to trap, and value the performance aspect over a easy-to-listen-to melody. Competing in a saturated local market, K-pop groups often look to Japan and other Asian countries to expand their reach. The U.S., however, had always been elusive territory for the scene. Until a couple of years ago, a K-pop act shooting for the American market was an expected flop, with many falling short of any real footing. But thanks to fans and the power they now wield with social media, America doesn’t seem that unreachable anymore, with many groups shifting their attentions West, including NCT 127.
The performances the guys put on for their fans, NCTzens (pronounced “N citizens”), perfectly epitomized who they are as a group and where they’re going, as well as showcasing their unparalleled talents. They opened up the show with slightly rearranged versions of two of their most characteristic songs, “Cherry Bomb” and “Limitless,” and highlighted each member individually through dances and sultry struts. Throughout the night, they performed over 20 songs sung live (you could hear the members’ panting heavily at the end of each track), including many of their stellar deep cuts like “Back 2 U (AM 01:27),” “Good Thing,” and the concert closer dedicated to fans “0 Mile.”
The show was divided into different sections with an impeccable song selection to mirror the skills to be showcased. For their vocal prowess, “Timeless” and “No Longer” exhibited the range in tones and voices among the members. For powerful and intricate choreographies, the guys killed it performing “Firetruck” and “Simon Says.” And, of course, no show is complete without a sexy moment, which the fans were treated to with “Wake Up” and “Baby Don’t Like It.” This portion was the most dynamic, as the group performed inside a jungle gym equipped with cameras which would give the audience a better look.
As aforementioned, Neo City offered fans a first hand look into what the future holds for NCT 127. And for anyone following them for the last year, it’s clear that the American general public is in their sights. The band has begun to actively promote in the states, appearing in TV shows like Good Morning America, EXTRA, and even the Spanish language ¡Despierta América!, and they’ve started to make a few tweaks to reflect the new endeavor. At the show, not only did they perform the English version of last year’s single “Regular,” but part of the rearrangement of “Cherry Bomb” was the new English lyrics. Like many K-pop acts, NCT 127 releases original music and Japanese versions of their Korean singles in Yuta’s home country. And given the group had just wrapped up a tour in Japan, it caught fans by surprise when they heard the opening notes of “Chain,” their Japanese debut song, which they performed in Korean.
Other than the performances, another highlight was how the group incorporated the fan’s into the show. For “Replay (PM 01:27),” each member grabbed their lightstick and taught the crowd a simple hand choreography for the chorus. Together, NCT 127 and NCTzens jammed for the entire song, breaking the geographical, lingual, and even virtual walls that separates K-pop artists from their U.S. fans.
While K-pop artists have been holding tours on U.S. soil for decades, new music is something that fans in Korea get to experience first. In a bold but decisive move, NCT 127 announced their upcoming album We Are Superhuman on a U.S. TV show and they basically premiered the single “Superhuman” by performing part of it. And it didn’t stop there. The group gave U.S. fans an exclusive peek at three upcoming songs by performing the full version of said track on the tour, plus the b-side “Jetlag,” and showing the tour video of “Highway to Heaven,” which came out yesterday.
For U.S. K-pop fans, this access is unprecedented, but shows SM Entertainment’s is committed to make NCT 127 into the global juggernauts it envisioned since the main entity’s inception. Whether they actually make it onto the Hot 100 chart or break YouTube views records remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure — U.S. NCTzens feel acknowledged as consumers worth catering to and were treated to a world class concert.
NCT 127 performed “Superhuman” on The Late Late Show with James Corden last night and are taking Neo City to Canada, Mexico, and Russia next. Their upcoming mini album We Are Superhuman drops May 24.