A clock ticks, and several boys rotate around a circle, taking turns to sit in the middle. In NCT 127: The Lost Boys, the multi-national members of one of SM Entertainment's superstar groups unearth stories of their childhoods not revealed to fans before. In this four-part Disney+ docu-series each episode is dedicated to two or three members who share anecdotes with an intimacy we’ve never seen before. As the documentary unfolds, Peter Pan is watching alone in a cinema, an important motif throughout the series.
We’re introduced to each chapter with a quote from the Peter Pan novel, which the name of the series is also a nod to. It becomes apparent quickly that this is the essence of the series’ whole narrative. The theme of Peter Pan’s lost boys encompasses a few of the things we come to learn about the member's younger years; Haechan felt stuck at 14 due to not having experienced a normal school life, Mark struggled with identifying himself, Yuta learnt how to fly, Taeil, Jaehyun, Jungwoo, Doyoung and Johnny all endured various trials when focusing on their dreams, and Taeyong felt lost and without any innate talent before he was scouted to audition for SM.
In a sense, NCT is their Neverland. The members have a close family dynamic, they’re free to adventure together and express themselves in art, but they lacked the traditional journey to adulthood - particularly the youngest members - hence they’ve had to grow and mature while working. Haechan admitted that his personal growth was slow early in his career, as he focused more on improving himself on the outside, due to the pressures of keeping up with everyone’s expectations: “When everyone around you tells you that they love you and that you look amazing, you begin to worry that you might lose yourself.”
A then-teenage Mark and Haechan are asked if they want to become adults. Mark says no. The two are spotlighted in the first episode as the youngest members who, once needing to be taken care of, have become hard-working adults who care deeply about their craft. Taeyong mentions he relies on Mark on stage a lot, while the latter says the opposite. What is delightful is how much of the group's brotherhood is highlighted in the series, despite the members spending the majority of their time in separate interviews.
Even after being praised by his group members for being so good at his job that he’s basically the quintessence of their neo identity, Taeyong is shown breaking down over feelings of inadequacy. It seems to be a common theme amongst brilliance in the industry to be eternally dissatisfied with one’s ability. If we’ve learnt anything from the leader’s performances however, it’s that his members are right.
The series utilises four satisfyingly consistent narrative methods: illustrated animations accompanied with a gentle soundtrack to depict the childhoods they are narrating, staged scenes and reenactments, interviews from the members, and at least one full song performance per episode. The series is a buffet of NCT 127’s honest and moving stories decorated with the fruits of their labour. To those that are strangers to the nine members, it would perhaps be a head first dive into the deep end, but leads one to be curious about all the other works created by these dedicated talents. To the fans that already know them well, they’ll be blissfully reassured of the dedicated, creative focus exhibited by all the members.
Taeil and Haechan have just released a single together, called “N.Y.C.T”, about roaming the streets of New York with a lover. Haechan’s voice is warm and attracts the mature and ranged vocalisation of Taeil, and their harmonies are as marvellous as the moonlight they’re singing about. Reflecting on the song after watching the documentary is an experience: a small sample of the stellar talent that enforces NCT’s status as K-Pop industry-leaders and shows why the series' creators thought the group were well due a documentary of their own.
Earlier in the series' final episode, an interviewer asks Johnny (who had the longest training period) if he’d go back and repeat those eight years knowing where it has taken him. He smiles, and the screen cuts. This scene is played once more at the end of said episode, and just as we think we’re about to finally hear that satisfying “yes”, it cuts again. We’ll never know what Johnny said, but if a mischievous smile is anything to go off of, we reckon he’d choose Neverland once more.