I thought a lot about whether or not to review just the single “Cherry Bomb” or the entire mini album from the NCT subgroup, NCT 127. After listening to the 6 tracks one more time, I decided to settle for the lead single and the music video because both offer great insights into what exactly this NCT project (and the mini album) is all about. NCT, and their South Korean subgroup, NCT 127, are arguably the most interesting group in mainstream KPop currently. With each consecutive mini album they release, they grow vocally, musically, and stylistically. “Cherry Bomb” is simultaneously a great leap forward from their first single, “Firetruck”, and something that follows very naturally in its footsteps. The group combines different musical styles into a sort of avant-garde mix of hip-trap and house music, with more classic R&B stacked vocals intermittently. Their mini albums up until now have been extremely exploratory and full of risky chances and I respect them (and SM Entertainment) for having the confidence to pursue the direction they have until now so steadfastly. I’ll look forward to their debut album and hope it can successfully showcase the variety of sounds they’ve covered thus far in their three mini albums.

But how does “Cherry Bomb” stack up as an individual track? It’s a weird little song and there’s parts that I love and also parts that I don’t like as much. It falls much more into hip-hop territory than much of their second mini album, foregoing an emphasis on R&B for a sound that is both wavy and dirty. Production-wise, “Cherry Bomb” is well done and balanced (an improvement from their first mini album) with oddly satisfying musical choices sprinkled throughout. This was especially true of the chorus, which combined driving synthy-guitar and falling siren sample into something I couldn’t help but like despite its zany style. And the distorted hook of “cherry bomb”? Sooooo wavy. Mark’s and Taeyong’s verses were also great in terms of flow and listenability. They both hit so hard and the two young rappers have distinctive styles, something unusual from a company like SM Entertainment, which usually emphasizes the group over the individual artist (let alone having actually skilled rappers on their roster). I will admit that I like their early 2017 release, “Limitless”, more than “Cherry Bomb” but I can’t say that’s because “Cherry Bomb” is a step backwards. It’s more a difference in taste and if anything, “Cherry Bomb” could more easily be considered as a step sideways–from R&B to hip-hop–and on mini albums, we should expect this sort of shift as NCT 127 pushes the limits of what they are capable of.

One problem I had with “Cherry Bomb” was its arrangement and songwriting. The song didn’t flow well from one part to the next and each run of the hook seemed kind of unnatural. I enjoyed myself once we were there but the transition was always awkward. There wasn’t a good compromise of sound between the vocals, the rap, and the hook and they never communicated well with one another. The song ended up seeming much longer than it actually was and I was ready for it to be over at 3:30 but it kept going. I was also disappointed in the arrangement of the vocals which seemed tonally out of place, almost like a completely different song. NCT 127 proved on “Limitless” that they have a strong vocal line and to have them be used so briefly and inconsistently in “Cherry Bomb” was a constant frustration even if they were a breath of fresh air in the fleeting moments they occurred. Hopefully on the next mini album (or even debut album) we can get a more successful balance of vocals and hip-hop sound. Use your members better NCT 127!

As for the accompanying music video, it’s beautiful. Full of a poppy mish-mash of purple-tints, distorted animation, and diverse camerawork, the thing is more like an experiment in videography than anything else, less concerned with a message or story but instead the aesthetic of it all. The whole NCT project is always forward thinking, envelope-pushing, and artistic in such a modern and youthful way and this video proves to follow in that image. In fact, although I was lukewarm about the song itself, I watched it over and over again just for the video and choreography. Thank the heavens that they released a choreography video through 1theK because the original music video doesn’t show most of the Tony Testa-choreographed performance. If you have time, do yourself a favor and give it a watch–it’s complex and always evolving, full of great line changes and studies in movement (again, it’s all about aesthetic). My favorite part is the slide at about the 1:05 mark (in the MV). I’m still not over it despite watching it ten times.

Despite some arrangement issues, “Cherry Bomb”, from song to music video to choreography, is weirdly satisfying and poppy and avant garde and like nothing else right now in KPop. Even the teaser project was ingenious in its own way–and true to concept. NCT are fringe trendsetters and although I may stan SHINee until the day I die, NCT might prove to be SM Entertainment’s most complex and risky act to date, both commercially and artistically. Good luck in the future NCT (and all your subgroups)! I’ll be rooting for you.

Sidenote: Still waiting on another NCT U release hellooooo SM?!?