Assembling all nine members of an internationally famous boy group for an evening call is harder than it sounds, especially if that group is NCT 127. They are, after all, part of a collective of talented individuals whose schedules are always packed with performances, press, dance practices, flights, vlogs, and the occasional solo engagement. That, and the amorphous structure of the larger NCT umbrella keeps them booked and busy.
For example: Youngest member Haechan is absent from our early August call because he’s also actively promoting with NCT’s teenage unit, NCT Dream. (“Boom” is a major bop, so he’s happily excused.) And in just another week, it will be announced that members Taeyong and Mark — both dynamic rappers with mesmerizing dance prowess — will join the stacked line-up of artists for SM Entertainment and Capitol Records’ K-pop supergroup SuperM.
Needless to say, the members of NCT 127 are always on the move. So it’s all about grabbing time with Taeyong, Taeil, Johnny, Yuta, Doyoung, Jaehyun, Jungwoo, Mark, and Haechan when you can. NCT 127 are calling me from Seoul, the evening before their next flight to Tokyo — and Mark’s birthday. It’s always hard to get a sense of someone through the phone, but throughout our conversation, a few things stand out.
Charismatic Johnny (born and raised in Chicago) is always first to volunteer a thought, no doubt leaning into his role as one of the group’s two designated English speakers. Taeyong, the group’s leader, is far more playful than his striking appearance may allow you to think; halfway through the interview he starts mimicking the way I say “uh-huh” after every response. (It’s both endearing and mortifying.) Then there’s reliable Doyoung, always there to set the conversation back on track. And despite the memes etched into his internet legacy, 20-year-old Mark is so deeply earnest about his passion for music and performing.
And now they’re finally seeing all of that hard work pay off.
Over the past few years NCT 127 have steadily been working toward their goal of becoming the “biggest hit on the stage.” With members from all over the world — the U.S., Canada, and Japan — and a definitive performance-driven sound that goes heavy on the bass, the Seoul-based unit has always been poised to break big here in the States. Now with a successful North American tour and an impressive Billboard 200 debut under their belts, it’s all about maintaining that momentum. Of course, an historic VMA nomination for Best K-pop doesn’t hurt either.
Here’s what NCT 127 had to say about their VMA nom, their latest single "Highway To Heaven," and the surprising ways they like to relax when they're traveling the world.
MTV News: One thing that I like about NCT and NCT 127 is that you guys pull off any concept and you like to play around with genres. So I wanted to know, from your perspective, what makes a song like "Highway To Heaven" different than other NCT 127 songs?
Johnny: It's an easier listening song I'd have to say. You can just listen to anytime of the day. The most important part is definitely the lyrics of the song "Highway To Heaven." It talks about how you got to make sure you take your time off what the world is doing against you and just try to find your highway to heaven. And I feel like that was the whole concept of the song and the whole mood, so it's a positive vibe all around.
MTV News: It was recorded in Korean first for your album release, but then you re-released it in English. The lyrics are a little different in the English version. It's a little sexier.
Johnny: Oh, you got the point.
Jaehyun: It's always fun to know the different vibe of each language when we record, and as you know, the main meaning talked about this idea of a highway to heaven, but it's a different style [in English], a different way to sing "Highway To Heaven" that's really interesting.
MTV News: You filmed the music video not long after wrapping up your U.S. tour. What was that experience like? Do you have any favorite moments?
Taeyong: One of my favorite moments was when I saw a lizard in the desert. But we got to shoot the music video on an actual highway in the desert, and a lot of us had never been a desert before, especially in the U.S. So that was definitely a new experience. We're really happy about how it turned out in terms of the aesthetics and everything. And even though it was really hot while we were filming, we had a lot of fun because everything was so beautiful.
MTV News: When I saw you guys live at the Prudential Center, you showed a VCR tour video for "Highway To Heaven" as a nice surprise for fans, but somewhere along the tour you learned choreography for it. Were you learning the choreography while you were on tour?
Yuta: Yes, we did learn the choreography while we were on tour. Whenever we had time between shows or after shows, we tried to practice. Before shows, we tried to perfect it and just practice it so we could make it look as good as possible.
MTV News: Speaking of, you guys are such dynamic performers and you're known for your performances. How do you feel when you're performing on stage?
Mark: When it comes to dancing and performing for us now it's part of our lifestyle and it's like second nature for us, and so, dancing is one of the main things you always practice and kind of the main thing we focus on. I would have to say that dancing is part of our identity as well. If you think of it, when it comes to NCT, you can never take away dance. That's how essential it is to us, and it pretty much brought us all together. I feel like as much as it's important to us, we love it as much and we love it that much. I feel like we're one with dancing and performing now.
Johnny: When we perform we always perform as a team, and I feel like when we as a team become one and we look like a whole, all the people who are watching the performance also feel our energy and also are very excited to just to feel the aura that we kind of express.
MTV News: When do you feel you're most creative? Do you feel you're most creative when you're dancing? When you're in the studio? When you're by yourself in your room?
Taeyong: For me, personally, it's when I'm coming up with choreography and trying to kind of make something that goes along with the lyrics of the song. I feed off any creative energy from watching movies or, you know, even famous quotes can kind of inspire or spark some kind of creativity for me. Especially from this world tour, traveling throughout all these different countries and cities and experiencing all these cultures has helped me to get more energy from fans. And that also fuels that kind of creativity.
Mark: I feel like I get a lot of my inspiration from people. You can learn and absorb a lot of things just by the people that you're with, especially our members. And not only just the people you're physically with, you can also see a lot of people through your phone and through social media and stuff. I feel like, to me, you can earn so much and learn so much from people the most rather than any other thing so I get a lot of creativity from other people.
MTV News: You've been touring since January. Is there something that you learned about yourself through that experience, and do you feel any different as a performer since you kicked off the tour?
Doyoung: Definitely. All the members grew a lot and matured in terms of their career and personally. I wouldn't say that too much has changed from the beginning of the tour, but just by meeting so many fans all over the world our affection for our fans has grown. I feel like our appreciation and gratefulness for them has grown.
MTV News: You guys have been going nonstop for the last few months. It's been really impressive to watch, with the tour and the album releases. But how do unwind after a really long, intense day?
Jaehyun: Obviously, I want to get as much sleep as possible after a long day. But on top of that I also do a lot to prepare for whatever is next. So that could be, you know, looking at my performances from that day or previous performances and trying to see what I can improve before going to bed. Or, you know, whatever country we're going to next, I might try to prepare and practice whatever local language I want to speak and try to connect with those fans over there.
Taeil: I take a half-body bath with really hot water. That's a really good way to relax for me.
Yuta: I've been playing a lot of video games these days. I'm on my PlayStation a few hours a day.
MTV News: NCT 127 has a lot of passionate fans, but what is something, or someone, you are just as passionate about?
Mark: I'm a huge fan — I was and still am a huge fan — of Justin Bieber. Maybe we can collaborate one day. So shout-out to him. I also want to add, you said how our fans are very passionate for us, but we are also fans of our own fans. It's a give and take. So as much as they get strength from us, we get strength from them as well, and I feel that's an equal relationship when it comes to giving each other good vibes.
MTV News: You were recently nominated for a VMA. Congratulations! What was your reaction when you found out?
Doyoung: We were all kind of in disbelief at first, but after letting it sink in it was kind of cool. We're really thankful for our fans for making it happen.
MTV News: This is the first year that the VMAs are introducing a Best K-pop category. As Korean artists, how does it make you feel knowing that Korean music is being acknowledged and really appreciated on such a global scale?
Johnny: We just feel very thankful. We're also very excited because the fact that now a lot of people are getting to know K-pop really kind of opens up a lot of doors for us, a lot of opportunities to be able to share our style of music. And to be able to connect with fans all around the world really is something that we are blessed to have, and we're just excited to show what we can do as a team in the future as well.
MTV News: What do you think it is about you guys, about NCT and your music and your vibe, that has resonated with fans all over the world that has made such an impact?
Mark: We're still on the road to that. But as much as we are a diverse team ourselves, you got to have a goal that has diversity. And so we always try to reach our global fans, but I also felt through this world tour that we recently just ended, I feel like the fans get to connect with us even more, as the music is performed directly in front of them on stage, without any barriers or anything. We always feel like we get to build a connection with them while we perform in front of them live, and I feel like that's very important because we get to show them how passionate we are. It just comes with our hearts.
MTV News: What is something that makes you happy, that you do just for you?
Taeil: These days cats make me really happy. So I've been watching a lot of videos of cats.
Doyoung: I've been working out these days. And that's been providing some kind of happiness.