Examining NCT and Its Various K-Pop Units

NCT in 2016
VCG/VCG via Getty Images

NCT arrives at the red carpet during the 2016 Mnet Asian Music Awards at AsiaWorld-Expo on Dec. 2, 2016 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Less than a year into their career NCT has more singles, and members, than many veteran K-pop boy bands. The newest boy-band from SM Entertainment, the company that created K-pop greats like Girls’ Generation and SHINee, the conceptual group has gone on to become one of Korea’s most intriguing new acts. Unit NCT 127 released their second EP, Limitless, on Jan. 6, the mega-group’s first new music in the new year. Here are ten things to know about NCT.

1. NCT is less of a band and more of an idea
The group’s name stands for “Neo Culture Technology,” a broad term used by SM Entertainment to describe its innovative approach to localizing K-pop. With different groups aimed at diverse audiences in varying locations, NCT is an act that sees no restrictions regarding size or artistic style. Fittingly, it has no set line-up and already has more than a dozen members.

2. There are three NCT units at the moment
2016 saw three different NCT teams debut, each with a unique subtitle to denote their role in the larger NCT group: NCT U, the first team, released two singles in April. According to SM Entertainment, the U “represents all units of NCT,” which appears to mean that NCT U is the group’s primary unit. NCT 127, which debuted in July, is the Seoul-based team; 127 reflects the cities longitudinal coordinates. The final of the three acts, NCT Dream, released a bright pop single in August, and is made up solely of members under the age of 18.

3. NCT is a new group modeled after some old ideas
It seems like a new concept, but K-pop heavyweight SM Entertainment already has some experience at producing multiple acts under the same name, as well as with groups with rotational members. Way back in 2005, the entertainment agency debuted Super Junior 05, as a group that was meant to rotate members in and out. A year later, SM dropped the idea and changed the group’s name officially to Super Junior. Then in 2012, the company announced EXO-K and EXO-M, parallel groups performing the same music for audiences in Korea and China (the “M” referenced Mandarin). The separate entities ended up promoting together under the EXO name in 2013 and have been together ever since.

4. Altogether, NCT released 8 singles since their formation in 2016
Three of them -- “7th Sense” (NCT U), “Firetruck” (127), and “Chewing Gum” (Dream) -- appeared at No. 2 on the World Digital Songs chart, while NCT U’s “Without You” appeared at No. 3. Several of the group’s other 2016 singles were promotional tracks in collaboration with companies like W Magazine and Coca Cola. The most recent song from NCT, 127’s “Limitless,” was released on Jan. 4. 

5. Several songs have charted internationally
NCT U’s dual debut songs landed them on multiple charts: “7th Sense” appeared on the Spotify Viral 50 at No. 35, while “Without You” was No. 5 on the China V Chart. NCT 127’s first EP,  NCT #127, and its accompanying single “Fire Truck,” appeared on three different Billboard charts. It peaked at No. 2 on the World Album chart.

6. They have their own webseries
There have been four seasons of NCT Life, through which members of the group have shown off their daily lives and let audiences see into their promotional activities. It’s streamed on multiple video platforms in different countries, so that fans around the globe can watch. The latest season jumped on the cooking show trend and featured members of NCT exploring Korean cuisine. 

7. There are currently 15 members in NCT
With no solid lineup, the team just keeps on growing. And, along with the actual members of NCT, some of SM Entertainment’s yet-to-formally-debut trainees appeared in NCT 127’s “Switch” at the end of Dec., adding even more performers into the mix. 

8. Only one member is in all the current NCT groups
While some other members are in two of the three active subunits (Taeil, Taeyong, Jaehyun, and Haechan), only rapper Mark has the distinction of being in NCT U, 127, and Dream. 

9. The groups are built to transcend international boundaries
NCT is built on the idea that music is translatable. Along with groups focused on Korea, there are expectations that SM Entertainment will launch NCT projects geared towards other parts of Asia and even Latin America. NCT U has already released songs in both Korean and Chinese. NCT isn’t only focused on exporting Korean music: Members hail from around the globe, including the United States (Johnny), Thailand (Ten), Canada (Mark), Japan (Yuta), and China (Win Win, Renjun, and Chen Le). 

10. NCT Defies Musical Conventions 
Each of the three units has a distinct style that defines their individual group, and there’s nothing to keep NCT from exploring every genre under the sun. Debut unit NCT U set the tone for the experimental nature of the overall group with the smooth trap-infused “7th Sense” and the electro-pop ballad “Without You." Since then, NCT 127 has been the most prominent act, and has focused on hip-hop and dance music. The 127 unit dropped the stomping “Limitless” on Jan. 4, and the song -- with its title seemingly referencing the group’s potential -- utilizes the diversity of its members to contrast melodic vocals with forceful raps and stomping beats.