According to psychologists, there’s a specific pheromone the human body releases upon experiencing romantic attraction called oxytocin, colloquially referred to as the “love hormone”. Among other biological functions of oxytocin, one notable effect this hormone has on us is that it causes us to be drawn to someone’s scent, compelling us to get close. The more oxytocin released, the more you experience the textbook symptoms of a budding romance: butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, a racing heart. Perhaps this was the exact sensation NCT DOJAEJUNG hoped to capture through their debut mini-album, fittingly titled ‘Perfume’.
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‘Perfume’ is an indulgent tale of a torrid romance in six parts, chronicling the early stages of all-consuming emotion to a bittersweet end, where Doyoung, Jaehyun and Jungwoo are left alone to pick up the pieces. The record opens with the trio immediately setting themselves apart from the rest of NCT’s discography – famously marked by maximalist, electronic instrumentation – by opting out of the noise.
Opening track ‘Perfume’ is an earnest devotional suffused with groovy R&B and electro-funk embellishments lifted straight from the ’90s. The minimalist song also gives the powerhouse trio – arguably NCT’s most skilled vocalists – the perfect platform to not only flex their wide vocal ranges, but also highlight the way their vocal tones fuse together. ‘Perfume’ is fundamentally simple, yet there’s something beautiful in that simplicity, cementing its spot as one of NCT’s strongest singles.
‘Kiss’ illustrates the peak of an all-consuming desire, as the trio croon of the desperation to close the distance between lovers over bewitching synthesisers. Meanwhile, ‘Dive’ is where ‘Perfume’ finds itself at its most picturesque, introducing lusher soundscapes, although the lavish manner in which the trio’s voices come together is what gives it the perfect texture. Here, their vocal tones swell and cascade in the same way ‘Dive’’s lyrics liken the way their love floods like “an untouchable wave”.
The record shines the brightest on ‘Strawberry Sunday’, which is easily the best track among the bunch. The song finds DOJAEJUNG in a nigh-paradisiacal state, syrupy lyricism enriched and texturised by airy, flirty R&B and pop-punk like an ambrosial plate of dessert at the end of a savoury meal. Simply delicious.
But, as we all know, a honeymoon phase often never lasts. ‘Can We Go Back’ relays their sorrow over love lost, while closer ‘Ordinary’ ends the album on a heavyhearted note, lyrics tragically sanguine: “If you’re really, really tired / I want to hug you and pat you to sleep / I just miss you even right now,” they warble over melancholic notes of a piano. “I’m afraid you won’t like me / I’m afraid you’ll push me away / So, I endured it all today / I had no choice but to say an ordinary ‘hello’ to you.”
Yet, both of these songs feel underbaked when placed on an album with others so well-grounded in upbeat R&B, almost as though they were included for the sake of playing it safe. ‘Ordinary’ is especially trite – too many vocal sub-units are relegated to tame balladry, so it’s disappointing to see DOJAEJUNG do the same.
‘Perfume’ duly captures Doyoung, Jaehyun and Jungwoo’s vocal prowess, a strength too often overshadowed by the supergroup’s sonorous inclinations. NCT have always been synonymous with unabashed experimentation, and while ‘Perfume’ plays it safer than most would have expected, the record still showcases masterful storytelling and dulcet vocals over a bedrock of smooth R&B.
- Release date: April 17, 2023
- Record label: SM Entertainment