By Chyenne Tatum
Although SM Entertainment has yet to reveal any 2020 plans for a full EXO album thus far, there really hasn’t been a single shortage of content from the members individually. Right on the heels of solo albums released by Suho, Baekhyun, and Lay, SM confirmed that EXO-SC would be making a comeback with their first full length album on July 13, titled 1 Billion Views. Similar to their first EP, What a Life, the album credits hip-hop artist and Dynamic Duo member Gaeko as a lead producer, as well as Chanyeol and Sehun participating in every track both lyrically and in music production.
This isn’t the first time that the pair have been so heavily involved in their music, especially considering Chanyeol has been working with his studio, Studio 519, as a producer and songwriter for a while now. However, there is a notable amount of hip-hop and R&B artists who have contributed in helping make this album sound as authentically chill as possible, including Gray, Boi B, THAMA, and SOLE, Penemeco, and 10cm.
It’s already been a year since EXO’s main rappers debuted as EXO-SC, marking the second subunit to form from the nine member group after EXO-CBX – consisting of Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin – debuted as a trio in 2016. EXO is usually known for their ‘90s and early 2000’s inspired pop, R&B, and hip-hop songs – music that’ll remind you of Backstreet Boys (“Call Me Baby”) or Boyz II Men (“What If….”). However, both subunits have taken bits and pieces of these musical elements that fans may be familiar with and have molded them into entirely new identities that are distinctively their own.
Taking on a more retro approach to hip-hop, the first track and lead single “1 Billion Views” features R&B singer Moon and is very much in-the-pocket with its funky guitar rhythm riffs and disco themed visuals. The lyrics are playful and witty while expressing the members’ desire to replay a video of their significant other one billion times without getting bored – a sure-fire way to make any fan’s heart flutter if they were to be serenaded by the two rappers. The “I cry, I cry” melody of the pre-chorus is undeniably addictive and one of the many times throughout this album where we can hear the two rappers sing, which is a treasure in and of itself. Moon’s velvety vocals in the bridge also brings another soft layer to the song and fits in perfectly as she continues to add vocal riffs on top of the final chorus.
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The funk essence of “1 Billion Views” can also be found in upbeat EXO songs like “Love Me Right” and “Lucky One.” In fact, most of EXO-CBX’s sound is based off of funk and ‘80s synth-pop which is more dance oriented and a lot of times, very high energy compared to the relaxed aura of Chanyeol and Sehun. While EXO, CBX, and SC have all incorporated the same genre, they’ve all done so with different variations, which offers something new every time and will cater to all kinds of eclectic musical tastes.
The music video for “1 Billion Views” also captures the retro essence of the song, but with a modern twist that seems relatable to every teen or young adult right now. Throughout the video, images of text messages and phone notifications pop up, and they even use TikTok as a visual reference by creating a ”1 Billion Views” dance challenge within the video that fans can enjoy and recreate in their free time.
The second track off the album is “Say It,” featuring rapper and singer-songwriter Penemeco, with lyrics written by R&B artist THAMA. The summer vibes are strong with this one as the guys plead their lover to honestly express their feelings, since it’s driving them crazy not knowing how they truly feel. Penemeco sings most of the chorus, and it’s so easy to sing along to that it would brighten anyone’s day and make you feel cool on a hot summer day. The most memorable line is when Sehun says, “No longer in our relationship R N P, set the gear on D,” representing the gear shifts in a car. It’s an interesting metaphor to think about when he’s basically saying, “Let’s not put this relationship in park or go backwards, let’s just drive head-on and see where it takes us” – relationship advice 101 with Oh Sehun.
Next is “Rodeo Station,” which was co-written by Gaeko and co-produced by THAMA. The intro starts out with beautiful, yet simple guitar riffs before the beat kicks in with Chanyeol’s husky vocals. The theme of this album just screams “easy-listening” and is once again reinforced with this track, never seeming too hype or too much. Lyrically, the song seems to reference their trainee days when they would take bus number 4419 to dance practice in their sweatpants.
Later on in the song, the members acknowledge that many things have changed in their lives – new cars, new tours, making headlines with everything they do – but no matter how famous they are, they’d still like to meet their special friend or loved one back at the Apgujeong Rodeo Station, just like old times.
Next is “Telephone,” which served as a pre-release single to “1 Billion Views,” features vocalist 10cm, and also has an accompanying music video. The upbeat staccato piano and heavy bass gives off that classic, fun sound that is largely popular with Korea’s general public – it’s considered very public friendly and easily marketable in the eyes of South Korea’s music industry. At first, it seemed like a nice song to have playing in the background while you’re doing homework or chores around the house, but not necessarily the most interesting song I’ve ever heard. However, within the context of the rest of the album, it makes me so much more sense sonically and is refreshing to hear after the first three tracks.
The first collaboration we saw between 10cm and EXO was with Chen’s 2017 SM Station titled, “Bye Babe.” It seems as though 10cm never disappoints, especially when working with EXO. Like with “Bye Babe”, 10cm’s light voice gives it more of an indie vibe and his higher vocal tone adds an amazing contrast in the bridge and final chorus. Although he doesn’t show up in the music video, it’s still quirky and fun to dive into when you feel like turning off your phone for a bit and in need of a smile.
Taking an emotional turn, “Jet Lag” expresses the main character’s frustration with not being able to meet their loved one easily, considering they’re always miles apart and time never seems to be on their side. This one is co-written by rapper Hangzoo and, again, co-produced by THAMA, who’s soulful influence is clearly heard throughout. The tune starts out with Chanyeol singing about the time differences from L.A. to London, and finally Paris. Sehun follows with listing off all the things he’s scheduled to do that week – walking on a runway, standing on stage, and going to the studio the next day – all the things that are keeping him from flying back to Seoul to see his love. The calming R&B influence along with the yearning that lingers in the pair’s voices, easily makes this a stand-out track and worthy of multiple repeats.
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Continuing on the mellow trend, “Fly Away” features Gaeko and is the second EXO-SC song he’s vocally participated in, following “Just Us Two” from last year’s What a Life. From the first listen and even after looking into the meaning behind the sixth track, “Fly Away” is an inspirational journey as Chanyeol and Sehun touch on the dreams and experiences they had growing up while learning to spread their wings and fly high. So far, a lot of the duo’s featured guests have taken the chorus and it’s no different with Gaeko when he sings, “We have to fly higher than anyone else, we have to find the top,” through each chorus, urging the listener to feel like they’re literally soaring through the air, weightless, and ready to seize the next opportunity.
Next up is probably one of the most emotional of them all and it’s Chanyeol’s solo, “Nothin’.” This was an attention grabber from the start when the deep toned rapper starts to sing with a filter over his voice saying, “I don’t ever worry bout nothin’.” Chanyeol participated in writing and composing this track as well, which leads the listener to believe that these in particular are the most personal to him, and it shows. “Nothin'” is lyrically described as “one’s determination to go on their own way silently and without paying attention to the surroundings.” He mentions that people may call him names, but he’s going to continue to walk down the path that he paved, confident in his choices and indifferent to anyone else’s opinions. A music video was released with a shortened version of the song and shows Chanyeol looking confident at times, but then battling with his own inner thoughts and feelings – a fascinating distinction between what he wants to feel and how he’s actually thinking.
Finally, the last track (aside from the “1 Billion Views” instrumental), is Sehun’s solo titled “On Me,” which is actually the most energetic one of them all and the first to incorporate trap and synthesizers that allow the song to pop. Likewise to Sehun’s older counterpart, he was able to compose and write the lyrics for this piece that capture the true essence of always trying his best in every given moment. The hip-hop beat is even a little reminiscent of the intro and outro to EXO’s “Damage” from 2018’s Don’t Mess Up My Tempo, but without the reggae rhythm. As Sehun’s very first solo in his ninth year with EXO, this was especially exciting for fans who have watched the youngest member grow as an artist and finally get the recognition and opportunities that he deserves. He was able to show off his sharp dance skills alongside a group of female dancers, while also cutting to majestic scenes of him on a white horse – EXO-L approves this message.
If the duo’s 2019 EP, What a Life, was any indicator on how different their sound would be from EXO, then 1 Billion Views proves to solidify EXO-SC’s signature style as the cool, laid-back subunit of the group compared to EXO-CBX, who’s music is loaded with hyperactive beats suited for the dance floor. Although they were already leaning towards the hip-hop and R&B route, the presence of all the other artists that have worked on this album runs deep and it’s pretty cool to see Chanyeol and Sehun work with people whom they admire themselves and are close to. It’s musically cohesive throughout and another example of how diverse and creatively fluid EXO’s discography can be.
EXO-SC's '1 Billion Views'
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