The nine members of K-pop act NCT 127 agree that out of all the songs off of their new album, Favorite, lead single “Favorite (Vampire)” is, well, their favorite. “Favorite (Vampire)” is an R&B track full of moody, lovesick lyrics: “I love you and love you / I want to hurt even more desperately in this destiny.” The song builds to an explosive chorus with layered harmonies and features a gentle whistling sample throughout.
NCT 127 released the repackage album just one short month after its third full-length album, Sticker. The album includes all of the songs from Sticker plus three new ones, including “Favorite (Vampire).”
“Favorite (Vampire)” is like night and day compared with their last single, “Sticker,” an ambitious, raucous song that pairs silky-smooth harmonies with a driving flute sample. “Favorite (Vampire),” which falls more firmly into familiar sonic territory, is a much safer bet as a single.
“Sticker” was a surprisingly daring choice, given that it was positioned as the group’s comeback after a year-and-a-half-long break (such a long break is extremely rare in the fast-paced K-pop industry). But the extended hiatus between Favorite and NCT 127’s March 2020 release, Neo Zone, proved to be an asset. When the members reconvened and began working on the new album, they were able to be more deliberate with their creativity and decision-making. “Actually, I think because we did take a year off we were all very charged up and ready to dive straight into the album,” group member Johnny explained to The A.V. Club.
“We really went into the album with a lot of energy, and I feel like the album also took a very long time, so the quality of the album was very good and high,” he continues. “I feel like because we did have a year to make the album, everything was really well-rounded.”
“Well-rounded” is a good way to describe Favorite. NCT 127’s music can be firmly split into two categories: “noise” music (which features brassy samples and rapid-fire rap verses) and R&B-heavy tracks (usually ballads with impeccable harmonies and vocal ad-libs).
The breakdown on Favorite is about half and half, with hard-hitting standout tracks like “Lemonade” and “Bring The Noize” and mellow, soulful tunes like “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Focus.” Jungwoo is eager to spotlight another personal favorite, “Pilot,” which he says he loves for its “very easy-listening” qualities. “Through it you can really hear each members’ charm and personality,” he adds.
When Neo Zone was released on March 6, 2020, it would be only one more week until the entire world came to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, most of the album’s promotional run—which included a full North American arena tour—was scrapped. But the canceled tour is not forgotten. “We have two albums that have never been on a concert before,” Mark says, referring to Neo Zone and its subsequent repackage Neo Zone: The Final Round. “Two full albums.”
It’s almost easy to forget that NCT 127 didn’t tour with those records because for a while last year, its single “Kick It” was so ubiquitous. The members say that of all their songs, it’s the one they’re most eager to play live.
Though concerts and tours are now coming back to life, NCT 127, like many other artists, wanted to come up with a way to stay connected with its fans during the last year. This presumably explains why the group’s already prolific YouTube channel got even more robust.
Variety shows and similar content have a rich history in the K-pop industry. Groups’ appearance on shows like Weekly Idol, Knowing Bros., and the much newer MMTG, where artists are convinced to play over-the-top games and answer off-the-wall interview questions, are a way for these pop idols to put a twist on their usually pristine, carefully polished personae.
In addition to appearing on such shows, many groups will use their YouTube channels to put out even more variety content for fans. NCT 127’s YouTube channel is a bit of a different beast. Though the bandmates play some traditional games, they have also created a few recurring series. The group displays a great attention to detail and a fierce commitment to the bit.
NCT 127’s channel includes series like “Johnny’s Communication Center,” where Johnny goes on some kind of adventure or experiences something new to him—sometimes bringing another member along for the ride. During one episode, he and Mark try out aerial yoga. In another, he gets Mark and NCT subgroup WayV member Ten to join him in a disastrous Christmas cookie making session. During the most recent episode, Johnny goes rock climbing and learns he’s, shockingly, not very good at it. In another series, “Master Moon Chef,” Taeil is the head of his own cooking show and elects some of the members to be his sous chefs.
In addition to these shorter, recurring series, the group will sometimes create long one-off videos. As part of the promotional run for Sticker, the band posted “NCIT House” and “Johnny Marky’s Lemonade Stand.” The first functioned as essentially one long cosplay, with each of the members acting like they were typical college students. “Johnny Marky’s Lemonade Stand” is a play on their song “Lemonade,” and it features Johnny and Mark offering up the beverage to each of the group members in exchange for some good conversation.
When asked about how NCT 127 comes up with the ideas for its YouTube content, Johnny says it all goes back to the music. “I feel like a lot of the ideas come from the album, the concept of the album.” But he gives even more credit to the group’s film crew, which is with the members most of the time. “What makes the content really good and fun is the fact that we have our own team that films us, so we are in a very comfortable environment to just say whatever we want or whatever we feel. We have the confidence to say what we want and that is why all our content is funny.”
Mark chimes in, “It’s so natural. And authentic.”
“It’s very real,” Johnny adds, before confirming that most of the dialogue in their videos is unscripted.
When asked if they could share funny or memorable moments from on set, Johnny recalls, “Well, recently on ‘Johnny Marky’s Lemonade Stand’ we used a green screen, but the thing is Mark had green hair…”
When asked if they could pick their favorite NCT 127 YouTube video, Jungwoo and Mark both answer without hesitation. “The Next NEO Model,” where the group pretends to be young hopefuls on a Top Model-style reality show, is Jungwoo’s pick. For Mark, it’s the college-set “NCIT House.” He also teases some of the upcoming videos. “We filmed some content for Favorite that is going to come up soon and I feel like that also was very bizarre but funny at the same time and I feel like that is what the fans like the most,” he says. “It really fits our concept but at the same time it brings humor to the screen and that’s the main point.”
The visuals for the “Favorite (Vampire)” music are undoubtably over-the-top. The members are in luxe, immaculately tailored outfits, most notably bedazzled military-style jackets. They also have gold eyes and fangs. The new video makes a pretty concrete case for the importance of the group’s YouTube channel.
Some fans have worried that spending so much effort on the non-music videos takes away from time that would otherwise be spent working on new albums. However, NCT 127 has managed to achieve a delicate balance. By using its videos to be more daring and creative, NCT 127 takes a similar approach when it’s time to work on a new music. It’s a happy marriage, with the creative output of one endeavor harmoniously informing the other.