After testing the waters with a SM Station song almost a year ago, Chanyeol and Sehun have officially debuted as their own Exo subunit, Exo-SC.
Their debut comes on the heels of the military enlistment of eldest member Xiumin and impending enlistment of D.O. to accommodate his burgeoning movie career. This has prompted SM to begin their multiyear divide-and-conquer strategy, with the label rolling out Chen and Baekhyun’s solo debuts as well as Exo-SC, the second subunit after Exo-CBX debuted in 2016.
As the dynamic duo of Exo’s rap line, Chanyeol and Sehun have always managed to create iconic moments and draw in the viewer’s focus during their short rap verses. Even their more cringey or corny moments like “Shawty imma party till the sundown” have become beloved by the fandom, and Chanyeol took over the comment’s section of the “Growl” MV with people asking, “Who is that guy at 3:01?”
So between their good looks, magnetism and ability to play off each other, the two seemingly have enough going for them to become the first pair subunit to debut from Exo. And yet their first single and MV, “What a Life,” are completely underwhelming. The generic sound, forgettable visuals and shoddy editing fail to capitalize on any of the two artists’ best qualities.
As it first begins, “What a Life” feels like an evolution of the chill hip-hop sound Chanyeol and Sehun dabbled in with their Station release “We Young.” The songs share similar trap beats and sing-song choruses, but “What a Life” swaps the retro-cool piano in “We Young” for an overused synthetic xylophone sound.
The track gives both rappers space to flex and show off some more interesting and sophisticated cadences to their lyrical rap flow. But the song itself doesn’t ebb and surge. There’s no significant changes in tempo or dramatic peaks. It’s in desperate need one of the vocal climax moments that usually cap off Chanyeol and Sehun’s raps in Exo tracks. “What a Life” is supposed to be a relaxed summer track, but instead of feeling chill, it borders on lifeless.
The MV certainly doesn’t help add interest or energy. Despite being filmed in sunny Los Angeles, the entire MV has a hazy cast filtered over it. This dulls the brightly colored outfits and extravagant settings and makes a hype yacht party look cloudy and dreary.
Even Chanyeol and Sehun themselves come off duller than their usual selves. The pair attempt to play it cool and carefree, but this instead drains them of their charisma and humor, which is much needed in a video with no story or even movement from choreography.
In the plot-less MV, Chanyeol and Sehun are stereotypically flaunting their riches with cars, women, boats and parties. Props establish Chanyeol as a director and Sehun as a painter of sorts, but that isn’t really explored or reflective of the song’s lyrics. Their opening wardrobe and the black hallway set with the light tubes nod to ‘90s R&B style, but the references aren’t over-the-top enough to come off as playful and ironic.
For all his charms, Chanyeol isn’t known for his dancing prowess, while Sehun is. The MV tries to give Sehun some dance moments, but they’re not integrated into the video and look awkward compared to shots of Chanyeol posturing and pointing a handheld video camera at some models.
In Exo songs like “Monster” and “Call Me Baby,” Chanyeol and Sehun play off each other in quick succession, volleying energy between the two and creating a give-and-take conversation. They often physically play off each other as well, such as in the “we take shots” exchange and bro pose during their rap portion on “Power.” To their detriment, the duo are kept separate for most of the “What a Life” video and interact minimally.
The brightest moments of the MV are Sehun’s highlighter yellow gloves and the dance breakdown with the diverse backup dancers in the street. This finally provides a jolt of energy to the whole affair, but it’s honestly too little too late.
To compensate for the lack of strong visuals, dynamic performance or plot, the MV’s director attempts to use frenetic camerawork and choppy editing to add interest and momentum to the video. In the 30 seconds Chanyeol and Sehun are on the yacht, there are more than 25 cuts. That’s almost one per second. Same goes for the final 30-second chorus, which also has roughly one cut per second, this time cutting between pool party, hallway and brief flashes of Sehun dancing.
These cuts make it impossible for their visuals and star quality to come through. Even Sehun’s dance skills are implied rather than really seen in action. These constant cuts are an age-old trick for covering up and distracting from a lack of dancing skills, so the editing looks like it’s hiding rather than highlighting Sehun.
Exo-SC doesn’t have to be as extra as Exo-CBX or as performance-focused as fellow SM subunit Super Junior D&E to successfully carve out their own niche. But they do need a song, sets and MV concept that allow their strengths to shine. Here’s hoping this was the mediocre warmup to a strong sophomore effort that taps into what Sehun and Chanyeol truly have to offer.