[Review] NCT Dream goes “Ridin” with refreshing ambition

NCT’s rotational nature is in full effect this year, with the news that Mark would be re-joining NCT Dream later in 2020. Before that happens, the unit’s six-member configuration has returned with “Ridin,” an urban dance song that builds upon the their current trajectory while drawing upon SM Entertainment’s musical past. The result is a title track that sneaks up on you in the best way.

I’ve spent most of 2020 complaining about how every K-pop boy group is treading the same dark, hip-hop waters. In fact, I don’t think we’ve had a single “bright” boy group release all year! And to a large extent, “Ridin” continues this frustrating trend. However, SM has always found a way to make this particular style work. “Ridin” is edgy but not trendy, hearkening back to tried-and-true sounds from agency seniors like EXO. Right from the start, the track unveils a militant groove, built upon stomping percussion and distorted electronics. It feels as if the producers threw everything into a blender. The instrumental is overstuffed, but to its advantage. Its tight, tense claustrophobia heightens the moments when the track opens up to provide greater vocal spotlight.

Speaking of vocals, the arrangement is incredibly satisfying. The chorus is a whirlwind of vocal interplay, layering swoops of melody over a rhythmic base. There’s so many turns and textures packed into this small segment, and in a year of repetitive, one-line refrains, this ambition couldn’t be more refreshing. The arrangement also allows for some good old-fashioned SM power ad-libs. At its very best moments, “Ridin” recalls the height of Yoo Young Jin-produced TVXQ, filtered through NCT’s rap-heavy prism. Time will tell if the song will enjoy the same longevity, but right now it feels like a welcome blast from the past.

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IATFB says: The relatively ambitious instrumental means I can understand the appeal if it all came together for you, but it just never quite clicks for me. Add the fact that the rapping was a bit more cringe than cool and that the chorus felt more repetitive than addictive, and it fell more into middling territory.

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