It’s been almost five years since NCT Dream was launched as a seven-member group under SM Entertainment’s sprawling NCT project. The sub-unit, who were then 15 to 17 years old, presented a bubble gum pop counterpart to the rest of the NCT units and debuted with a song called “Chewing Gum.” Several EPs and a live album later, NCT Dream finally released a proper full-length album with “Hot Sauce.”
“When we first debuted, we were just really young — and that was just the ‘one flavor’ we could offer,” shares NCT Dream member Jeno during the press conference for their album. “I think as we’ve progressed in our career, there are multiple flavors we can now showcase to everyone.”
In anticipation for the release, “Hot Sauce (맛)” was given several weeks of pre-release rollouts. The Hangul in the title reads as “mat,” which translates to “flavor” in English. The track was part of the group’s creative direction for their new release. “Hot sauce adds flavor so we felt it also gives off the message that we’ll be showing a new, hot side of NCT Dream too,” Jeno says.
“Just like the title ‘Hot Sauce’, the lyrics express our determination to show our hot sauce-like charms so powerful and stimulating that once you’ve had a taste of, you cannot escape from,” Jaemin adds.
Their umbrella group, NCT (Neo Culture Technology), was introduced in 2016 by SM Entertainment Founder Lee Soo Man as a group that builds on openness and expandability. Thus, they can have an infinite amount of members that would help promote their musical and cultural attempts at “Hallyu Localization.” Lee’s idea came from the intention of establishing the market further through the cooperation with local companies and artists.
Four sub-unit groups have launched since: NCT U (United), NCT 127 (the longitudinal coordinates of Seoul), NCT Dream, and WayV (based in China). Recently, it was announced that SM Entertainment partnered with MGM Television for a reality competition series to scout young American men to form the US-based NCT Hollywood.
The NCT Dream sub-unit is composed of Mark, the oldest of the group who is also their main rapper, main dancer, and sub vocalist (and referred to as the members as the leader); Haechan, and the Chinese duo Renjun and Chenle, who are the group’s powerful vocalists; Jaemin and Jeno, who make up their visual line and are also lead dancers and sub rappers/vocalists; and finally, Jisung, the group’s youngest member (maknae), who is their dancing dynamo.
The openness of NCT referred to the ability of each unit to switch members according to need. Groups were not fixed. For example, another Chinese member Winwin is part of NCT 127 and was taken on hiatus when he joined the WayV unit. On the other hand, Mark and Haechan are also part of the NCT 127. So far, the units have come together twice for the collaborative projects NCT 2018 and the two-part NCT 2020. The first part of "NCT 2020 Resonance" sold for 1,289,594 copies.
A graduation system was initially placed for NCT Dream members over the age of 20, to be replaced with younger members. The purpose? To capture the domestic teenage market.
The bright and colorful bubblegum pop branding worked in building such a fanbase, as NCTzens (the fandom name) had its own spinoff for the boys, the Dreamctzens.
So in 2020, after Mark graduated in 2018, NCT Dream was restructured with the original seven member-lineup that the fans have come to love and fight for.
The group now embarks on the journey they began together as teens. “It was more meaningful that all seven of us could release our first full-length album together,” Mark says. “While we were preparing, we talked about enjoying the process and having a good time together.”
“We’ve been maturing through each step/each album we’ve released,” Haechan adds. “We’ve been in this industry for about six years now. With this comeback, we have a lot to showcase in terms of what we’ve experienced and shown throughout the years. This is an album that showcases that growth and our colors very well.”
“I think we’re a bit more relaxed and at ease than before,” says Jisung. “Especially because we’ve experienced a lot, and now have some “know-hows” to work with more than what we’re used to.”
“And now, we can all legally work until past 10 p.m. so that’s great,” Mark adds.
The growth could be seen through the ten tracks of the album, as with the earworm title track. “A hip-hop track mixed with Afrobeat — it has an addictive, unique signature sound that sounds like the casting of a spell,” Mark says.
“Diggity” is a pop dance track that reflects the youth and cheerfulness of the group. “It’s very energetic and catchy that you can easily sing along to it,” says Chenle.
“Dive Into You” introduces a change of pace, switching to medium-tempo R&B and highlighting the boys’ refreshing vocals. The sweet song is about two people comparing their relationship to that of a whale and the ocean — the desire of wanting to fall deeper into the arms of another.
In “My Youth,” the pace picks up again with an 8-bit rhythm. The lyrics are centered around expressing gratitude, reminiscing of memories and moments that were built together.
“Rocket” is a retro pop track that combines the sounds from an organ and a Rhodes keyboard to create its funky rhythm. “The lyrics express NCT Dream as ‘Dream Rocket’ with aspirations to leap further into space and make it our stage,” says Renjun. “Countdown (3, 2, 1)” is a pop dance track with an addictive trap beat chorus that also relates to dreams, and that releasing them into the world can only make them bigger.
“‘ANL’ stands for All Night Long. It’s one of my favorite tracks that I feel suits NCT Dream very well,” says Mark. “The phrase appears in the chorus, and it’s very catchy, so I’m sure our fans will like it.”
As for Haechan, “Irreplaceable” is one of his favorite tracks from the album. He says, “It’s a love song with lyrics that say the love of my life is the main character in my life. It’s a medium tempo love song with a swing rhythm created through the combination of vintage keyboard sounds, percussion, and brass instruments. The track has a very wide vocal range, so it required a lot of practice. We’ve put in a lot of work, and hope you guys like it.”
“It was the first time that Chenle, Renjun, and I got to do a ballad track together,” Haechan shares about the song “Be There For You.” He adds, “Because it’s our first full-length album, we were able to try out different songs and genres that I feel NCTzens will like to listen and enjoy.” It’s very intimate lyrics express the members’ desire to always be together.
“I think with all seven members back now, we’re able to showcase all the different colors and charms we have to show,” says Renjun. In the album’s final track, “Rainbow,” all members got to participate and contribute what they wanted to be included. “It’s a great track that combines our charms into one,” he adds.
“For ‘Rainbow,’ the melody is beautiful,” says Chenle. “Even though I didn’t directly write the lyrics, it’s way more meaningful because it includes messages to each other and to our fans.”
Mark, Jeno, Jaemin, and Jisung are credited for writing the lyrics to the song. “Before the lyrics were made, we were asked what this album means to us, and if there’s anything we wanted to say to each other,” Jaemin shares of the experience.
“[The] four of us worked on it separately, but it just fit perfectly when we came together and I was really amazed,” Jeno adds. “This album is like us picking up where we left our bookmark last time, which was during ‘We Go Up,’ the last time the seven of us promoted together. Like that, we love doing this and are so happy to be able to do so. I hope that NCTzens would also love it and be happy.”
The long-awaited comeback was met with several new records. The pre-orders for Hot Sauce (맛) were over 1.7 million units. 671,396 copies of the album were sold on the first day according to Korea’s Hanteo music chart, both personal highs for the group. “More than the records and accomplishments, this is a meaningful moment for us,” says Mark. “Our main goal is to have a great time, and we want to continue reminding ourselves that this time is precious especially since we’re together.”
“I had one goal in mind preparing for this comeback — it was to give our all for this album so people can see how special and dear it is to us,” says Jisung.
“Unfortunately, we are still a bit sad that we can’t see our fans in person, but we want to make up for all that by showcasing everything we have,” says Haechan. “We’ve prepared a lot to make up for it, and will continue to work hard. We hope you guys wait for us until the day we’re finally able to meet again.”