NCT DREAM playing in London has been a hell of a long time coming. It could be said it was never supposed to happen at all, at least not with this lineup, or these songs. Thankfully, things didn’t work out the way they were supposed to.
NCT, as a whole, have never really played by the rules. A mammoth 23-member boy group with a ‘limitless’ concept that could keep expanding and morphing over time (ironically, this idea has been sacked off now), delivering everything from polarising industrial electronic bangers to sultry 90s R&B to classic Korean ballads via it’s endless combinations of members, it is it’s own multiverse of madness.
Its junior unit, NCT DREAM, worked initially as a group of the youngest members, each one ‘graduating’ when they left teenhood and making way for the next. Somewhere along the line, a stopper was wedged in this revolving door of teen boy idols, and DREAM were left in limbo, stuck as a six-piece in 2020, with leader Mark having already outgrown the concept.
Three years after his re-addition and they’re finally performing together as a seven in the capital (there was a pandemic in between, you know). It’s immediately obvious what a victory this is for both the group and the fans, as thousands line up outside the OVO Arena Wembley, clad in neon green (the group’s official colour) and clutching banners that say “7dream is our missing puzzle piece”, a nod to a track recorded without Mark that became especially poignant when he rejoined.
When the show kicks off a little later than scheduled, it’s with ‘Glitch Mode’, the hyperpop-adjacent, sound-effect-laden chantathon completed with delicate vocals runs and a rock breakdown, it’s a perfect illustration of everything this group can – and will – do over the next two and a half hours. Racing through ‘Countdown (3, 2, 1)’ and ‘Stronger’, they’ve earned the break they take to introduce themselves, while Chenle mentions how jetlagged they are after flying in from Hong Kong just a couple of days prior. It doesn’t stop them giving their all, as they bolt back into ‘Dreaming’ and ‘Deja Vu’ at a second’s notice.
The front loaded set continues with one of their earliest (and most iconic) singles ‘My First and Last’, which has held up since its release in 2017 despite the group’s changing lineup and ages in that time, it remains outrageous fun, and spirals into a section of songs that reference it in their titles and lyrics, ‘Bye My First’, ‘Love Again’ and ‘To My First’.
There’s a surprising number of ballads in the set, but when the three known as the ‘vocal line’ take the stage for ‘Sorry, Heart’, it’s clear why they record so many. If SM Entertainment can do one thing well, it’s hire a damn good vocalist, and Haechan, Renjun and Chenle here are no exception. Later on, the remaining four, Mark, Jeno, Jaemin and Jisung, take on ‘Saturday Drip’, a wonky hip-hop number that’s the total opposite of the ballad section it closes.
For any artist who’s spent any amount of time in the limelight as a teenager, there comes a time to show how they’ve matured. For NCT DREAM, that’s ‘Quiet Down’, a performance that includes three members reclining in perspex boxes, the other four dancing on top of them. It obviously prompts the most screams of the night.
On ‘Better Than Gold’, the bouncy retro number, the boys let loose properly, their playfulness and charisma on full display before dipping back into the tightly choreographed singles that make up the final third of the show. It’s a little surreal to see Mark performing the songs from the portion of DREAM’s career where he was absent, but as they delegate lines to him on ‘Ridin’ and ‘BOOM’, it’s like he’s never been away.
They tease the end with ‘Hot Sauce’ – although there’s five more songs to come and we all know it – the lead single from their debut album which came five years into their career. Things taking an unexpectedly long time is a common theme for NCT DREAM, but so is the thing being worth the wait. That’s true of both the full albums they’ve released in the past two years and tonight’s show that’s taken years to make its way to British shores.
The usual pre-encore chanting is replaced with a crowd singalong, the arena lit in florescent green from the NCT light sticks as the big screen camera pans across fan banners. It’s a touching interlude for a show that, between the bangers, has consisted of a copious amount of hugging and looking lovingly into one another’s eyes, and an indication that it probably wouldn’t have been wise to eventually split these boys up after all.