Culture / Entertainment

NCT 127 Shows Humble Charm and Flawless Showmanship in Wild Houston Rodeo Night That Proves This K-Pop Group is Ready for Even Bigger Things

These Worldwide Stars Earn Their Army of Fanatics

BY // 03.11.20

Doyoung. Haechan. Jaehyun. Johnny. Jungwoo. Mark. Taeil. Taeyong. Yuta.

Each name flashed on the giant rotating LED screens that hover over the Houston Rodeo’s five-point-star stage in the middle of NRG Stadium, and each name was met with thunderous applause and euphoric cheers. If you were a visitor from the past dropped into the middle of 62,000-plus fans Tuesday night to catch K-pop group NCT 127 perform, you might think they are the biggest band in the world. In some ways, they could be.

In other ways, however, K-pop remains a genre that is ever-so-slightly adjacent to mainstream pop as defined by what is played on the radio. But the streaming numbers on Spotify and YouTube tell a different story. It is a world comprised of millions (billions?) of fans, who are passionate and devoted to the world of K-pop in a way that transcends language, cultures and borders.

Each one of the nine members of NCT 127 was met with cheers and adoration that rivaled A Hard Day’s Night. By the time their relatively brief RodeoHouston concert set was over (just nine songs, clocking in around 50 minutes), it was hard not to be convinced by their talent, humble charm, impeccable showmanship and bulletproof pop instincts.

Think of NCT 127 as something like a major league baseball team. NCT is the league (it stands for Neo Culture Technology), and NCT consists of other groups (dubbed “sub-units”) such as NCT U, NCT Dream and WayV, a China-based offshoot of NCT, along with, of course, NCT 127 (127 refers to the longitudinal coordinate of Seoul).

NCT 127 Rodeo
To say NCT 127’s fans are enthusiastic may be the ultimate understatement. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

What separates NCT 127 from the pack is their kinetic commitment to an overwhelming Borg-like sound, a mesmerizing mix of K-pop, rap, trap beats, Latin rhythms, even EDM. K-pop is notorious for treating genres and sounds as little more than ingredients in a gumbo, but NCT 127 blow everything out to blockbuster proportions — everything is maximized to chilling effect, while maintaining enough adult swagger to keep it feeling dangerous and fresh.

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This was apparent right out of the gate with the one-two punch of “Cherry Bomb” and “Simon Says,” dual blasts of maximal K-pop that put heads on a swivel. Each of the nine members of NCT 127 danced in perfect unison, rapped and sang in perfect harmony, and were coiffed to achieve a perfect uniform look. Far from homogenous, this adherence to standards is thrilling.

NCT 127 really are something like a major league team, as the members all were birthed out of SM Rookies, a pre-debut training team/sub-unit by South Korean agency SM Entertainment. They’ve served time in the minor leagues and are now on the big stage, and their work ethic sows huge rewards to the tune of 60,000 screaming fans of a variety of ages and races. There’s nothing quite as purely joyous in music as a K-pop concert.

Diehard fans called NCTzens (a portmanteau of “NCT” and “citizen”) were all around NRG — a dancing flash mob hit the grounds before the concert, an occurrence noted by a member of the group during the show. I was able to snag tickets from a friend and took in the show in the lower bowl, far from the stuffy confines of NRG’s press box on the eighth floor. The screams were deafening, the dancing in the seats was infectious, and it was all-consuming, as NCT 127-branded neon lightsticks (a K-pop concertgoing tradition) lit up NRG far more impressively than mere cellphone flashes, a cool touch and an impressive expression of music fandom.

NCT 127 Gives Texas Love

Between song banter was kept to a minimum, but there were a few moments that stood out. Each member greeted the crowd with either a “Howdy y’all” or a “Yeehaw,” as well as a deliriously charming interlude before the final song where each member of NCT 127 spoke from the heart about what it means to play to a huge crowd in Texas.

They followed that up with “Kick It,” a fun hip-hop flavored song from their Neo Zone album that just dropped last week. It was a stunning bookend to a brisk, rewarding, and completely unique performance, unlike any to have ever graced the five-point star stage.

NCT 127 are the first K-pop band to play RodeoHouston, an achievement noted by the band. Their brand of hyper-stylized K-pop hasn’t quite taken them to BTS or Big Bang levels, but they are getting there, as each successive release of theirs charts higher and higher. They seem poised to achieve superstar status.

For proof of concept, note that NCT 127’s next show, scheduled for June, takes them to Madison Square Garden. Yeehaw.

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