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NCT DREAM’S DREAM()SCAPE: A Love Letter to Possibility

Seven-member K-pop boy group NCT DREAM released their fifth EP, DREAM()SCAPE, this past March 25. DREAM, a sub-unit of SM Entertainment’s renowned NCT (Neo Culture Technology) project, was launched in 2016 by founder Lee Soo-man. It is unique among the six current NCT subunits, as it was initially designed for teenage members who would graduate from the group upon reaching adulthood. However, this graduation requirement changed in 2020 when SM made them a set group. This shift reflected the versatility, dynamism, and adaptability of NCT as a group and strategy. Instead of keeping the same sorts of playful and fun concepts in each album, recent releases ISTJ (2023) and DREAM()SCAPE (2024) can instead venture into more mature territory as members enter adulthood, whereas their early sound reflected their youth.

Pronounced “dream escape,” the parenthetical blank between the title’s two words communicates the undefined and the indeterminate, allowing listeners to interact with the project’s messages based on where they are in their personal journeys. DREAM()SCAPE effectively uses scintillating rhythms, a wide-range of vocal abilities, and themes of trust and change to create a compelling project—but one clearly designed for long-term fans rather than a wider audience.

The EP opens with “icantfeelanything,” attempting to showcase central themes of confusion and feeling lost. However, the song ultimately falls short as it is overambitious in its two-minute timespan. Feelings of confusion and disorientation are conveyed through the song splitting its time between mellow and frantic instrumentals and lyrics that match these emotions. However, the song leaves the transitions between these two moods choppy and abrupt, instead of conveying that this tension can musically coexist by creating more seamless transitions. Listeners feel like they are being thrown around in the track, and the glitchy cuts between sections overemphasize chaos.

The next song on the EP is title track “Smoothie,”—one of DREAM’s weakest tracks. Earlier title tracks, such as “ISTJ,” “Glitch Mode,” and “BOOM,” better demonstrate the group’s strengths: innovative instrumentals, skillful production, and polished vocals. The energetic beat and variety of vocal styles on “Smoothie” make it a satisfying song for the first 40 seconds until the chorus begins and repetitive chants of the word “smoothie” quickly grow irritating. Not even the innovative samples or the rap verse in the latter part of the song succeed in salvaging it. Tasteful repetition can bolster the impact of a song—as seen in previous DREAM projects—but their lyricism here leaves much to be desired.

However, after getting through the first two tracks, DREAM()SCAPE starts to show its strengths. The best produced (and fan-favorite) track on the EP is “BOX.” Its industrial-style beat and iconic “LDN Noise” producer tag immediately set it apart, signaling to K-pop fans that a stellar song is about to begin. LDN Noise, referring to duo Greg Bonnick and Hayden Chapman, has produced countless hits for SM groups like EXO and Red Velvet along with fellow NCT subunits 127 and WayV. The duo’s expertise pairs flawlessly with DREAM’s vision, as “BOX” pulls off the tensions of duplicity that “icantfeelanything” failed to execute. Rap verses and vocal sections are artfully dispersed throughout the track, and members play with harsh, soft, clear, and muffled vocals to juxtapose these struggles. DREAM uses “BOX” to highlight their desire to break free from their creative confines and earlier concepts, embracing their range, maturity, and versatility as artists.

“Carat Cake” is another hit on the EP with a Jersey Club beat and vivacious vocals. Members sing in smooth, whiny, powerful, and soft tones, providing a perfect balance to complement the beat. “Carat Cake” skillfully uses repetition to position itself as a catchy, engaging tune, unlike its counterpart “Smoothie.” The track finishes with twinkling sounds, perfectly setting the dreamy mood for the final stretch of the EP.

“UNKNOWN” is undoubtedly another highlight because of its smooth sound and inspiring lyrics. The song begins with murmurs layered over mellow synths that recreates the feeling of diving into a refreshing pool on a scorching summer day. Leader Mark Lee soothingly interjects with a heartfelt message to fans, encouraging them to remain strong as they pursue life’s opportunities. He reassures that the unknown is not to be feared, that you’ll be fine if you stay true to yourself, and that dreams can become reality. This message resonates with long-term fans who have grown up alongside DREAM and seen them embody this message as they have grown into themselves.

The EP’s closing track, “Breathing,” is a pleasant continuation of the fantasy world constructed by DREAM in the last portion of their EP, but it fails to stand out. Saccharine singing from vocalists Renjun, Chenle, and Haechan made the track a beautiful listen, but the song’s rap verse largely detracts from its overall efficacy; its verse structure is simple and unoriginal. The lack of cohesion within this song is its ultimate weakness.

DREAM()SCAPE is a love letter to failure, growth, and trust, set alongside an ambitious and experimental sonic palette. However, it does not stand out in DREAM’s discography or reach general audiences. Despite the negative aspects of the project, it is still inspiring to see DREAM take more active roles in their artistic journey. They will be worth watching as they continue to grow into who they’ve always “dreamed” they’d be.



Annika is an executive editor and staff writer at the INDY who looooooooooves a well-produced song. Annika’s favorite NCT subunit is 127.


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