[Review] “Kick It” suits NCT 127 and excels when at its most unhinged

Despite unlimited potential for new sub-units, NCT’s Korean promotion has largely boiled down to releases from either 127 or Dream. Both have secured plenty of fans under the NCT umbrella, showing a remarkable level of diversity when it comes to genre and style. Still, when I think of NCT 127, I immediately picture experimental soundscapes, hard-hitting hip-hop and atypical approaches. With this in mind, new single Kick It (영웅) fits right alongside past tracks like Simon Says and Cherry Bomb.

This is both a blessing and a curse. The song is a bit disappointing for those of us who adored the group’s more pop-minded material last year, but it also suits them so well. Kick It feels like a catchier, more approachable version of the style 127 built their name on. It’s a loud track, filled with chants about Bruce Lee and “new thangs,” and it’s more than a little silly. Even the hip-hop verses feel needlessly aggressive, as if the guys would rather pummel us into submission than gradually draw us in.

Still, I think Kick It is at its best when it goes over the top. Its chorus is memorable from the very first listen, even if it relies more on energy and novelty than well-developed hooks. The song loses me a bit when it slows down. Its first verse subscribes too heavily to the kind of skeletal trap that everyone’s already doing. Thankfully, its guitar distortion backbone keeps things compelling. The second verse does a better job hitting us with unexpected aural exclamation points, though it could have embraced its inherent oddness even more. Just as Kick It’s bridge is about to segue into the final chorus, the song delivers the kind of musical madness I was hoping for. The instrumental warps into a demented breakdown, kicking up a grimy funk.

With these kinds of tracks, NCT 127 are at their best when they throw everything at the wall. Kick It is solid, but I wish the entire track had been as unhinged as its final moments.

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