Exo’s Sehun and Chanyeol are back as Exo-SC with their first full album 1 Billion Views. The album’s titular lead single “1 Billion Views” and its accompanying video are a playful exploration of the role of technology in modern society. The release is colorful and fun and highlights the best qualities of the duo, all while remaining relatable.

“1 Billion Views” is a mix of hip hop and disco with a retro feel and funky guitar sound. Both Chanyeol and Sehun participated in the song’s production alongside Dynamic Duo’s Gaeko, who participated in the composition and lyrics. The video and album follow the release of videos for “Telephone” (feat. 10CM), Chanyeol’s solo track “Nothin’” and Sehun’s solo “On Me.”

As a collective comeback, the releases capture the versatility of Exo-SC as a unit and reinforce their growth since last year’s “What a Life.” “1 Billion Views” is certainly stronger than “What a Life,” both in terms of musical quality and thematic cogency. What the latter lacked comes to the fore in “1 Billion Views.” The video feels more polished, drawing on a cohesive plot and concept, flashy visual effects, and even on choreography.

The song starts with synthetic chimes and a bright snapping sound. The video capitalizes on this moment to world-build and shows Chanyeol and Sehun logging into a new world. The screen welcomes them by saying: “Welcome to the world. I will prepare the tickets for you / I’ll have a background check” and pulling up buttons for social media, daily news, an ECG, and even food menus. It appears this dashboard is their entrance into a technologically-driven otherworld.

The virtual reality feels like an episode of Black Mirror, but a version with a happy ending and playful tone. Sehun and Chanyeol become players in a technological arcade, becoming “automatically synchronized” as they think about someone. The song’s overall conceit of streaming a video one billion times to missing someone fits perfectly with the video’s aesthetic.

In fact, the video seems enhances the rather simple lyrics. The visual effects draw out the pervasiveness of longing through the addictive nature of online gaming, streaming, and sharing. Rewards like coins and hearts keep users coming back, and it is through this lens that Exo-SC describe their longing. In the second verse, Sehun cleverly characterizes romance through technological terms:

When you’re by my side, even your breath is ASMR to me.

All I need is just the two of us, this fantasy web drama.

Even 4K HD camera is not enough to keep you.

So thumbs up!

At times, the onscreen effects feel frenetic. But this seems to only underscore the song’s message about viewership – not wanting to miss a detail or visual effect, you’ll pause and watch again.

This kind of approach to technology is not new. Current K-pop trends draw upon embedded viewership (i.e. reacting to videos or reacting to reactions) and integrated technology (i.e. interactive promotion techniques). A considerable number of artists seem to have drawn inspiration from artists like Nam June Paik and the video art movement. In the promotion photos for 1 Billion Views, a Watchdog-like figure can be seen at Sehun and Chanyeol’s feet. K-pop is uniquely suited to re-envision to relationship between art and technology considering its transmission through global media.

The subject of the song is vague enough that it could take a variety of perspectives and work. It’s easy to imagine a fan relating the song to their relationship with Exo-SC or their favorite group (even a 4K HD camera isn’t enough to keep Sehun and Chanyeol).

This elevated concept is not met with lackluster music. “1 Billion Views” showcases Exo-SC’s vocal talent beyond sing-song choruses. Instead of volleying rap verses, typical in Exo songs like “Monster” and “Call Me Baby,” the two harmonize and play off each other vocally. It is refreshing to hear a more vocally-driven track from the pair.

MOON is featured in the last minute of the song, and though her vocals match the overall vibe, her addition doesn’t feel entirely necessary. Her feature also does little to advance the concept, doing nothing to subvert traditional subject-object relationships between men and women. In fact, she encourages her own objectification through the male gaze: “Play me play me play me / Don’t make me feel lonely boy.” Altogether, the song would have been successful without her.

Sehun and Chanyeol also demonstrate growth in terms of choreography. The “1 Billion Views” choreo is perfect for the dance challenge era and the concept is relatable enough that it’s easy to imagine clever interpretations. One version of the choreography involves simple hand motions around a phone screen. As the phone moves, the screen changes to show different emoticons.  It’s a fun and trendy way to further integrate technology in the video and song.

It seems that Exo-SC have found a way to showcase their charisma. As global stars, “1 Billion Views” draws upon the medium that has enabled their success. Releases like “Telephone” and “1 Billion Views” complement each other well, both reflecting on the role of technology in modern love and celebrity. These themes highlight the members’ youthful charisma well. It is refreshing to see the unit finally step into something relatable and fun, not flaunting their wealth or taking their artistry too seriously.

The video’s overall effect is best captured by the song’s lyrics:

Even if I see you over and over I don’t get bored.

I want to play you on repeat forever.

From the evening until the dawn. You’re my best song.

(Youtube. Images via SM Entertainment & ArtNet.)