With headliners like Queen featuring Adam Lambert, Alicia Keys, H.E.R, Carole King, OneRepublic and Pharrell Williams, it was an eager crowd of upwards of 60,000 who spent their Saturday (Sept. 28) at Central Park for the annual Global Citizen Festival. Shortly after sunset, and following performances from a variety of headliners and other special guests, K-pop group NCT 127 took the stage to roars of approval from the crowd.
As a “special guest” at the event, they performed only a two song set, but it was clear from the response that they made an impact, igniting the Central Park audience with their songs “Highway to Heaven" and “Superhuman," both from this year's We Are Superhuman album that landed NCT 127 at No. 11 on the Billboard 200.
After the performance, an exodus of NCTzens, the group’s fans, leave the foremost bit of the crowd -- either to leave or to get some air on a less-crowded portion of Central Park’s Great Lawn -- and numerous impressed exclamations of surprise were overheard throughout the section over how an act from South Korea could draw such a dedicated following. Fans were camping out the night before; one NCTzen told Billboard that it the bulk of the campers were them and Queen fans.
Ahead of their performance, NCT 127 spoke with Billboard on the red carpet about their impression of the event and their participation in it.
How do you feel about being able to attend Global Citizen?
Mark: Great, we feel amazing. It’s very heartwarming to be able to participate in an event like this for such a good reason. As much as it’s for a good cause, we’re going to give it our all today. I hope everyone feels that from us today, and I hope everyone can relate to this as well.
Who are you guys excited to see?
Haechan: I’m very excited to see Queen’s performance, yeah! I love their music.
Taeyong: The whole line up is very exciting.
Videos later circulated on social media of NCT 127 members in the crowd enjoying the rest of the show.
Global Citizen aims to change the world through activism, and this festival is a celebration of that. What is it like for you to be able to participate in such an important event?
Johnny: We’re just honored to be here. As soon as we heard we were going to be here, we were so excited. We knew that our fans would be excited as well. I feel like we worked that much harder to be sure our performance is that much more meaningful. I feel like you guys will be able to see that.
Will you do something different during today’s performance to help make people see that?
Johnny: I think it’s just our mindset in general. The songs we’re going to perform today is [an English-language version of] "Highway to Heaven” and “Superhuman,” [they] have really positive messages that they’re trying to spread. I feel like the people who are watching tonight, which I heard is going to be a lot of people, since it's being live-streamed, will relate to that. I’m very excited for that.
You mentioned “Highway to Heaven,” which was your most recent English-language single. The song showed a new side to the group with its inspirational and kind of y lyrics. How did it feel to be putting out that kind of single?
Jaehyun: We loved the song when we heard it, and we were so ready to show our fans the good message that the song has. I think our performance fits it well too.
You’ll be doing a lot of festivals in the next few months. How does it feel to be able to go on the U.S. festival circuit? It’s only been a pretty recent change that K-pop acts are regularly featured at stateside festivals, which is a pretty big deal.
Mark: Like you said, K-pop recognition is getting bigger and bigger. NCT 127 can definitely show what K-pop is to people as a good first [at festivals]... And to the people who may not know what K-pop really is yet, I feel like through our performance and through NCT 127, we can show them an early impression of how cool K-pop is, and how cool we are as well.
It’s almost the end of the year. Do you have any standout moments from 2019?
Yuta: My favorite moment this year is meeting fans at our first world concert, and right now.
This interview was conducted in English, and edited for clarity.