The perfect debut track
Despite being a single fish in a pond of 22, for me (and many others) Mark’s voice is synonymous with NCT. After first appearing on the scene 6 years ago, he debuted over 4 times in various NCT units and SuperM, each time managing to leave his mark (pun intended) on the music. Thus, his official solo debut is nothing but long overdue. But thanks to the project ‘NCT Lab’ – a newly-created platform for the solo works of NCT’s members – we finally got a first taste of Mark’s career as a solo artist with the track Child.
What strikes you first about Child is that it sounds nothing like what a casual fan of NCT might expect from Mark’s debut. NCT’s music is known as (mostly) loud and powerful, and leaves more room for impressive production and detailed hooks to shine, than for its introspective facet. Instead, Child is a raw and vulnerable performance where the instrumentals underpin the lyrics, not vice versa. Thus, if you expect Mark’s solo station to be a mere extension of NCT’s discography, you are severely mistaken.
Child is an alt-rock hip-hop track, which blends Mark’s talents in both rapping and singing into one exquisite package. The bluesy electric guitar and sentimental bass synths complement his vocal color nicely, and add to the song’s overall melancholic and nostalgic appeal, while the strong percussion and electronic elements bring it to its dramatic closure.
The production seems actually rather subdued, with a ‘push-and-pull’ structure, which makes the track appear like it is constantly pulling back from going full throttle. However, this approach is clearly an intentional production gimmick, likely meant to further emphasize Child’s lyrical meaning.
Mark’s vocal performance does a wonderful job at matching either the intensity of the instrumentals or lack thereof – it goes from mellow and quiet, to powerful and confident during Child’s peak moments.
And not only that – the way his delivery so often dwindles in force perfectly showcases the storytelling quality of his voice. Child is a song about facing the pressure of growing up, and navigating all the insecurities that come with being in your 20’s – it’s a time of many ups and downs, and of feeling like you want to break down one moment and scream the next.
The wavering appeal of his vocal performance translates those sentiments conveyed by the lyrics in a flawless manner. Whenever his voice becomes more unguarded, so are the lyrics – e.g., “I’m a child / I can’t be the person you want / Have a good night / No need for a lullaby” in the chorus. Whereas, when his delivery becomes more powerful, his words get more assertive – e.g., “I pull at the strings when I’m pissed / Only few people know I’m a bit / Twisted but the fittest to the point” in the second verse.
Mark wrote the lyrics himself, alongside seasoned songwriters Ron, jane, and dress, who also produced the track.
The music video is the cherry on top of the debut, as it adds plenty to the narrative of the track. It emphasizes how Child deals a lot with Mark’s experience of growing up in the spotlight, and having to mature faster as a result. For instance, the video includes a literal spotlight that appears to always follow him around, perhaps symbolizing how he’s constantly under public scrutiny and cannot escape his fame, not even when he’s running chased by his fears and insecurities. Hence, he always has to be the shiniest version of himself to appease the public, even in his darkest moments.
The music video also uses lighting and colors in a clever way, interchanging between cold and warm tones in various scenes, and between dark and lit environments. It also includes various references to Mark’s past music videos with NCT and SuperM, likely homages to the artist’s journey to get to where he is right now.
All in all, Child is simply the perfect debut station – it’s catchy but still modest, and feels extremely personal and descriptive of Mark’s journey through fame. Besides, the track represents a huge stepping stone to his future solo career, as it helps establish both him and the direction of his sound outside NCT. Child is an utter testament to his potential as a solo act and his great artistic versatility. It’s raw and emotionally palpable, yet detailed and complex in its simplicity. It’s cathartic and straightforward, yet sentimental and tender at the same time.
Child feels like something Mark had been holding in for long, and this song was his chance to finally let it out. And I can’t wait to see what he has to say next.