On the day of his enlistment, Exo’s D.O. bid farewell with “That’s Okay”, a soft track that probably comforted a lot of fans as he enlisted. D.O.’s warm voice and an acoustic guitar make up the entirety of the song, with the occasional vocal harmony adding some variation. With little instrumental accompaniment, the song relies on D.O.’s vocal prowess, and D.O. delivers. Who knew something seemingly so simple could sound so good? D.O. is also co-credited with writing the lyrics, which encourages the listener to let go of painful emotions, and allow time to heal all wounds.

A concern that can’t be brought up,
A place where a deep wound has been made,
Time, always flowing at the same speed,
will wash it away like it has done every time.
Even if you live
like how [time] flows,
it’s okay to be okay.

D.O.’s enlistment was announced at the end of May to much surprise, as the idol is a ’93 liner. That D.O. would be releasing a solo track was later confirmed by SM Entertainment just a few days prior to the scheduled date. This short time span is perhaps why the MV for “That’s Okay” does something a little rare within the idol music scene: it does not feature the artist himself. Instead, the MV is an animated movie with childlike drawings, mostly in black and white. In a nice touch that brings some elegance to the drawings, the lyrics appear in a traditional top-down script throughout the MV.

The MV opens with a man bringing home a forlorn potted cactus, which he places on a table by the window. The prominent presence of his shadow is our only hint that perhaps all is not well with our protagonist. The man spends his days around the table with the cactus. Under his care, it slowly seems to gain some life, drooping a little less over time.

Admittedly, “That’s Okay” is not your regular K-pop comeback. It is a farewell track as D.O. goes on temporary hiatus in order to complete his mandatory military service. Releasing solo music around one’s enlistment has become a trend with male K-pop idols, but even with such songs, the idol saying goodbye is usually a part of the MV. For instance, the only other member of Exo currently in the military, Xiumin, relaxed by the sea as he wrote a letter in “You“. Fellow SM artist, Shinee‘s Minho, starred as a jet-setting, corporate ladder climber in “I’m Home“.

Here, there is no D.O. to focus on, no stylistic concept to analyse, and no choreography to highlight. Instead, the use of animation allows the viewer to focus solely on the story being told, which turns out to be quite touching in a somewhat unexpected way.

One day, as our protagonist looks out of his window into a colorless world, he sees a girl reading a book, with a dog at her side. He waves happily at first, but his face soon falls as she gets up and leaves with the dog. One wonders if the girl caught his eye, and he’s sad she didn’t respond. It then begins to rain and he returns to his bedroom. We see him sit on his bed, and gaze at a picture by the bedside. The camera zooms in on the picture, and we see that it is one the man playing with a dog. His dog — a beloved friend and family member who is now no more.

*cue tears*

As I too have a dog at home, the MV packed a surprisingly heavy emotional punch. Just in case D.O. leaving for the military and the beautiful, soft song weren’t sad enough, fans were hit with the full force of the MV. Exo-Ls and dog-lovers alike must have shed many tears on July 1st.

The potted plant the protagonist carried home is no longer just a plant, but it symbolizes a new start at life — one which our protagonist must pick up and carry on long after his friend is gone. In a way, this is symbolic of D.O.’s own enlistment, as his fans must now carry on with their life without any news of their favorite idol. One must not underestimate the power of the comfort D.O. offers through this song, as K-pop fans are often incredibly attached to their chosen idols.

I cried with you,
and smiled together,
We expected things and got hurt
We poured in our all,
and loved [each other]
Just the way the heart desired

Just as time slowly heals all wounds, the cactus too has slowly been regaining its health. Our lonely protagonist wakes up the next morning to see that it is now alive with flowers. The man smiles brightly, happy to see it bloom. He looks out the window and we see the color return to his world. He is okay now.

In yet another poignant touch, the MV shifts from day to night, showing glowing yellow stars when D.O. sings the word “byul”. The stars rain down upon the cactus in one scene, and the man in another, bathing them in a golden glow that signifies their healing.

Just like how countless stars did,
always [in] the same spot
you will shine brightly on your own
Don’t hide yourself.

The use of stars in this manner in the MV is heavy with poetic meaning. In comparison with our short human lives, stars are eternal and will long outlive us. This reminder is oddly comforting. In the vastness of the universe, our problems and worries are but an insignificant blip in the endless sands of time. So, as much as is possible, let us not dwell on them. Instead, let us allow time to heal us so that we may spend our short time here more happily.

With “That’s Okay”, D.O. has left a truly beautiful song for fans, one that will hopefully continue to offer comfort in his absence.

Just look: when the soft wind blows,
open up your heart,
and the day will pass. 

Over the years, D.O. has made a mark in the Korean entertainment industry not just as a member of Exo and a beautiful vocalist, but also as an accomplished actor in his own right. D.O.’s presence on the music, film and drama scene will be sorely missed, and I look forward to his return. Isn’t 2021 much too far away?

(YouTube. Images via SM Entertainment, Lyrics via Lyricskpop)