It’s been three years since the nine-piece K-pop group NCT 127 toured North America, and the anticipation is palpable on night two of their sold-out arena tour. Thousands of fans surround the Prudential Center plaza in Newark, New Jersey, hours before the group takes the stage, oblivious to the day’s never-ending drizzle and autumnal gloom. As the time for doors to open draws closer, the hum of NCTzens grows louder. The squeals of internet friends meeting for the first time echo through the plaza, while others exchange photocards and fan-made support banners. The sun begins to set, and the neon green NCT lightsticks glow in the darkening sky.
As fans make their way into the venue, NCT 127 gather around a table at Prudential Center’s Grammy Museum Experience and reflect on what got them here: six years of countless tours, seven EPs, and four studio albums, the most recent of which earned them a group-high no. 3 spot on the Billboard 200. Clad in their all-white show outfits paired with chunky silver rings and Cuban link necklaces, members Taeil, Johnny, Taeyong, Yuta, Doyoung, Jaehyun, Jungwoo, Mark, and Haechan shine with friendly smiles and focused eyes. They’re confident and comfortable after six years as a group.
When NCT talks about their origins, at least one of the members will never fail to take a moment to gush about how their formation was not by chance, but by destiny and the joining of a dream into a team. NCT 127 is what happens when nine guys from America, Japan, Canada, and all parts of Korea are linked together by a single goal, creating an incredibly special bond both between themselves and the fans whose support is what helps fuel that dream.
For them, there is no line between friends and teammates, coworkers and comrades. “I feel like we’re not divided as friends or business partners,” leader Taeyong says. “To me. I think we’re a family.” This declaration is followed by an eruption of coos of “So cute!” and “Aw, so sweet!” from the members before he shyly adds, “You know, NCT 127 family… Skkr!”
As the laughter settles, Jaehyun reiterates, “But forreal, not everyone gets to experience this kind of relationship and I think the fact that we do is cool,” while Johnny adds, “It’s like when you’re with a bunch of friends, you know people have your back.” Taeyong proudly shares that the day prior, vocalist Jungwoo paid for the group’s dinner at the NYC steakhouse Wolfgang as a marker of his appreciation for all of the memories shared. In the room and on stage, it’s clear that these words ring true for the members as they speak and listen to each other with an obvious respect, though never too serious for the frequent interjections of inside jokes and subtle teases — in true family fashion.
Before getting on stage to play to an arena of 12,000 fans, the group fondly looks back on one of their first performances in the U.S., at an Apple Store in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn back in 2017. When their iconic “Cherry Bomb” leg-splitting performance is brought up, the members laugh to themselves, and Johnny chimes in, “Wow, that was really a long time ago!” From pop-ups to arenas, the group recognizes the amount of hard work and trust in themselves, their teammates, and the process that it took for them to reach their goals. NCT 127’s musical trademark is heavy on experimentation, with ribbons of hip-hop and R&B tying their sound together. To take on such an uncharted approach within the music industry, there needs to be a decent foundation crafted of trust, ability, and boldness.