K-pop boy band with the week’s award for Oddest Set of Dropped Names…
Lilly Gray: Oh man, oh man, all right, let’s huddle up: knowing the year is 2017 and we are all here of our own accord, all willing to submit ourselves to the yours, mine and ours multi-team contract nightmare that is NCT 127, all prepared to take this for exactly what it is: a precision-engineered pop stealth missile meant to be a five- (or seven-) sense assault. All of us are by now inured to and excited for production values exceeding those of a Cameron feature film, and we need to accept that, despite all of these gourmet, free-range, top of the line ingredients, the visuals for this song are horribly reminiscent of HSM’s “Get Your Head in the Game.” Is it supposed to be more sophisticated? I’m sure, but every vaguely hip-hop concept out of this company is closer to cosplay, and the costumery of those all-red ensembles puts this solidly in the realm of Disney Channel. Don’t yelp at me, young man, get back to class.
Maxwell Cavaseno: Want to know what it’s like to be so blindingly desperate to have swag and to contain none? Look at any NCT 127 single from the past year. I’m normally ambivalent and generous toward K-pop boy bands going for rap-inspired hard stances, but “Limitless” shows everything that’s wrong with this group. Emotionally flat choruses built out of nothing. Generic production, not remotely listenable. Every one of their rappers is the most unfunky, try-harding lame on Earth who clearly studied rap in a YouTube how-to, and their singers are unmemorable. This shit is as jettisoned from cool as a Akademiks tracksuit in the present day, and at least that can be made into NYC hipster fashion in a decade or so.
Alfred Soto: For the purpose of a list I listened to a truckload of Kesha and old freestyle, and the improvisation on display in “Limitless” does freestyle and its title proud: falsetto, programmed static, pretty melodies. This track could have gone anywhere.
Adaora Ede: I’ve got to admit, even in my newfound adoration of the Neo Culture Boys, I don’t know what fusion of genres SM is supposed to be introducing here. You’d think that with the music video featuring these guys dressed like nine variations of 2001 Ja Rule, you’d get a bit of hip in their hop, but even the dreggy verses feel far too nu-metal to pull all that other ring-ting-tingling in the sung parts. Aided by the fact that this song tizzies around a whole lotta dynamics, the chorus harmonies and the trappy inflections (WAKE ME WAKE ME UUUUUP) that are supposed to bring this sound back into formation come off a little dried-up. “Limitless”, like a chunk of NCT 127’s first EP, can only be understood if we regard it merely as quasi-hype exercise music.
Katherine St Asaph: Remember how the video to “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” was some Eyes Wide Shut/Phantom of the Opera/Jekyll & Hyde melodramatic goth masquerade ceremony that the music strove valiantly, doomedly to match? This is the K-pop version, plus DJ Mustard loops, bass buzz and trap drums because we’re in 2017 and still emulating 2015. Still can’t take it seriously, but the effort is something.
Madeleine Lee: SM boy bands generally do evil well, and “Limitless” is the most nightmarish incarnation yet: cryptic lyrics that could be about romantic obsession or about joining a cult; the zippery synth bass echoed in Taeyong’s hellish vocal fry; the way the voices in the chorus tower like pipe organ chords; the barking chant of “thirsty for love.” (That’s not even counting the unsettling found footage-styled music video.) This is still a boy band song, and there are little oases of R&B cooing sprinkled in for relief (both in the sense of contrast and in the sense of a respite), but they don’t feel disruptive or obligatory. They’re just small glimpses of heaven before you’re plunged back into hell again.
Thomas Inskeep: A sinister-sounding, trappish beat serves up the verses while the chorus tries to get off the ground but can’t quite. In this case, though, that’s a good thing; it’s tethered by its darkness and a fat synth line. This is ever so slightly different from your average boy-band K-pop, and that difference serves “Limitless” well.