GLASS MAN speaks to record-breaking K-pop group NCT DREAM on their quick ascent to fame, their latest repackaged album Beatbox and why their fans mean so much.
Recognised as one of the most successful South Korean boy bands, NCT DREAM have surpassed all expectations, broken numerous streaming records, and achieved global success by topping the iTunes top albums chart. Part of the NCT brand – which stands for Neo Culture Technology – this sub-group is made up of MARK, RENJUN, JENO, HAECHAN, JAEMIN, CHENLE and JISUNG, who debuted in 2016 together as teenagers.
Their success was meteoric, with their first single album reaching No.1 on the Gaon Album Chart. What came next was a domino effect of chart-topping hits and a rebranding in 2020 to evolve their youthful image into one that reflected their transformation into pop stars.
Earlier this year, NCT DREAM released their second studio album Glitch Mode, which broke their previous record of 1.71 million pre-orders on the day of release, selling more than 2.1 million copies within the first week. Repackaging this body of work and renaming it Beatbox with four new additional tracks, NCT DREAM have had a whirlwind first half of the year. But the boys are not ready to slow down as they are determined to keep their place at the forefront of K-pop.
RENJUN. Photographer: Jiyong Yoon
What was your earliest memory of music?
MARK: My earliest memory of music was probably when I started learning to read music sheets from my mum. As a piano teacher herself, she often taught me how to play.
JENO: My earliest memory of music is the music I first heard when I started learning how to play the violin. Another memory would be of the music I heard on the Korean music shows that I’d always tune in to watch.
CHENLE: I remember being very young when I first performed on stage and feeling very nervous. My earliest memory would have to be of the moment I overcame that nervousness.
When did you realise that you wanted to pursue this as a career?
RENJUN: I was a student at the time. I’ve always liked music since my school days and, because my dream was to become a singer, I worked hard to make that dream become a reality.
HAECHAN: Ever since I was young, my dream was to become a singer and it was something that just felt very natural. I’d have to say I’m thankful for everything I’ve gone through in order to become one.
JAEMIN: I’ve always had the desire to do music even before our debut, but after debuting and meeting our fans, that desire only grew stronger. After receiving positive energy from fans and the public, I realised this is why I wanted to pursue music.
MARK. Photographer: Jiyong Yoon
For those who are not familiar with NCT DREAM, how would you describe your music?
MARK: NCT DREAM’s music has a vast spectrum. There is no particular genre we always go by, but the message we hold in our music is consistent—to be a representation of positivity and to want our listeners feel our team’s energy. In whatever form or style we come out with, the core to all our genres is constant and with that we try various music approaches.
JENO: NCT DREAM’s music is music that reflects our gradual growth.
JISUNG: To first explain what kind of group NCT DREAM is, all you have to do is look at our lyrics. There are songs where we sing about our childhood or about growing up in the midst of worries and conflicts. Our lyrics show the process of us maturing so there are tracks that anyone can relate to. If you’re around our age, you’ll be able to find tracks that make you feel as if we are walking and moving forward together in life.
Debuting with the single Chewing Gum, which went to No.2 on the Billboard World Digital Songs Sales, what was that initial quick introduction to fame like?
RENJUN: When I heard it was No.2, I felt nothing but thankfulness. It marked a great start for NCT DREAM, which I believe motivated us to work harder in order to share better music and performances with everyone.
HAECHAN: Thankfully, many people loved our first single. Back then, I viewed the love and attention we received as being a reflection of the expectations people had of us, so I wanted to become an artist who could live up to that. I believe I’m still in the process of growing as an artist, but I’m continuously trying to better myself as an artist who can truly meet the expectations of many.
CHENLE: I was very thankful for all those who showed us love and support even though it was only our debut single, and I wanted to give back to them by working even harder.
HAECHAN. Photographer: Jiyong Yoon
How have you evolved as a group since debuting in 2016?
MARK: I think it’s safe to say that NCT DREAM is the epitome of growth and evolution. Our whole team started off as teenagers, and from then on, we all grew up with our fans and listeners. Now we’re all in our twenties and it feels like our music has grown with us. The way we understand and express music has matured and we now focus on channelling our experiences into our performances as well. We definitely are still growing and striving to evolve more and more.
JAEMIN: We’ve grown a lot as a group with our NCTzens who have been by our side since our debut. Together, we’ve shared many ups and downs, all while staying connected. It’s because of the love and support from our fans that we’ve been able to grow into who we are now, and we want to become a group that showcases better music and performances that could be loved by many.
JISUNG: Ever since our debut, I’ve experienced various things and got to share those moments with my members, which only strengthened my desire for us to become great artists. No matter how much time has passed, we’ll continue to hold each other up so no one stumbles, and we plan to grow and stay together for a long time.
CHENLE. Photographer: Jiyong Yoon
When you brought out your debut full length album last year, Hot Sauce, were you nervous about this release?
RENJUN: I was very nervous and also a bit worried about whether fans would like our album, which we worked hard to prepare. However, my biggest goal for us was to have fun during our promotion periods and we definitely worked hard to do so.
JENO: I was pretty nervous as well, but was more curious to find out what our fans would think when they listened to the album.
CHENLE: More so than feeling nervous, it was a sense of excitement to be releasing our first album with all seven members. So I wanted to work hard and give my best.
JISUNG: I would say I was very nervous because it had been a while since we released an album with seven members, so I was worried about whether or not our fans would like it. But rather than spending time worrying, I thought “let’s try harder during the time we’re spending thinking about these things”. All our members put in a lot of effort into preparing this album, and I was very grateful and happy to see that our fans enjoyed it a lot.
JENO. Photographer: Jiyong Yoon
Releasing your second full length album, Glitch Mode earlier this year, how did you approach this body of work differently?
HAECHAN: Our first full-length album was a very solid album that came to life with the help and ideas of several individuals. Even though our second album also involved the ideas and support of many, it included more of our own thoughts and opinions compared to the first. You could say we’ve grown a bit more while working on it.
JISUNG: With Glitch Mode we presented our own ideas that were further developed and then reflected in the album. Although there was a lot of trial and error, I’m proud of the great results we ended up with.
Repackaging Glitch Mode into Beatbox, what is your favourite single?
MARK: I like all tracks in our albums, but if I were to select one, it’d be Beatbox because it suits this summer season more.
RENJUN: My favourite track from the two would have to be Beatbox because it’s a track that makes you excited just by listening to it. I believe these kinds of tracks are the ones that have great power.
HAECHAN: My favourite track would be 마지막 인사 (To My First). It’s an R&B track with a mood that I personally like, and one that required lots of vocal skills. I spent much time practicing while recording it in order to better deliver its message to the listeners. It turned out pretty well and is a track that’s special to me.
JAEMIN. Photographer: Jiyong Yoon
With every release you set a new record and then break it with the next project. What do you think has been a key factor to your success?
JENO: Our driving force is our NCTzens who are always cheering us on and showering us with love. I’d also like to say it’s because of the many members of staff who helped to make this album come to life. We were able to share our music and performances because of their help.
CHENLE: Without NCTzens, I don’t think we would have achieved all these great results. We promise to show our best by working hard in order to give back all the love and support that we have received.
JISUNG: NCT DREAM and I were able to grow this much thanks to our members and our NCTzens. It’s our members that are holding each other up. If someone’s exhausted, we help each other pull through. I’m able to endure moments that might have been hard to overcome if I was alone because I have my members.
What artists have influenced your sound?
JAEMIN: I would say it’s our members. We’ve dreamed the same dream of debuting as artists, and our dream came true as we trusted and relied on each other. Even now, we are running towards the same goals, so the artist who has influenced me the most would be my own NCT DREAM members.
JISUNG: I like a variety of music such as hiphop, dance and more, – many different artists, bands and DJs. I learn a lot and get inspired when listening to various genres of music by different artists.
JISUNG. Photographer: Jiyong Yoon
What is the memorable thing you’ve done during your career so far?
RENJUN: The most memorable thing I’ve done would be having a concert. Through it, I was able to see how many fans we have and how much love and support they’ve been giving us. It was a moment I will never forget for as long as I live.
HAECHAN: When I think of a memorable moment, I think of the time we first achieved million-seller status. It was a moment of realising how much we had grown, but also feeling pressure at the same time. Regardless, I was very thankful for the love we received, and it was truly an unbelievable moment, which inspired me to give back to our fans with better music and performances.
JAEMIN: I would say our concert. Though we’ve been slowly meeting our fans in person nowadays, we haven’t been able to have a concert. I vividly remember the cheers of our fans and their energy when we had our first solo concert, and I miss that so much. I’m looking forward to being able to have another concert and getting to feel that rush of emotions together with our fans once again.
by Imogen Clark
Photographer: Jiyong Yoon
Stylist: Dongyun Lee
Artist Visual Planning: Soyeon Kim
Make up: Yoonjin Kang at FLEEK
Hair: Hoon Jeon at FLEEK
Look 1: RENJUN: Jacket PRADA, Tops PACCBET, Trousers 99%IS-, Shoes CELINE
Look 2: MARK: Vest 2 MONCLER 1952, Tops 032C, Trousers THE MUSEUM VISITOR, Shoes BOTTEGA VENETA, Necklace BEAMS
Look 3: HAECHAN: Top AMBUSH, Trousers MSGM, Shoes AMBUSH
Look 4: CHENLE: Jacket CRAIG GREEN, Top ERL
Look 5: JENO: Top BOTTEGA VENETA, Trousers OFF-WHITE
Look 6: JAEMIN: Jacket VALENTINO, Top BOTTEGA VENETA
Look 7: JISUNG: Top ERL