It has been definitely a year for Exo.
A six-member comeback late last November preceded the drop of Suho’s solo debut in March before he went to fulfill his military duties. Chen became a husband and a father within a span of four months, with the other member’s becoming uncles of sorts, while May witnessed Baekhyun’s release of his second solo project. It was not long after that it was announced Sehun and Chanyeol would release their second album as the sub-unit Exo-SC.
Following the less-than-satisfactory What a Life, the unit’s sophomore effort, 1 Billion Views, consists of eight tracks plus the instrumental version of the title song. The album maintains their summery and refreshing upbeat sound in a similar vein to their debut. As with their first album, the two members contributed lyrics for all of the songs except for the other’s solo. However, 1 Billion Views sees Chanyeol and Sehun experimenting with stronger and more varied storytelling, collaborations, and solo tracks.
A week before the drop of the album, the sub-unit gave a taste of what was to come with the pre-release, “Telephone,” which features the indie pop artist 10cm. With its composition, “Telephone” evokes a similar sentiment to “What a Life,” but the former plays much lighter on the ears as its bouncy hook comes in the form of light piano chords instead of the electric/harder xylophone sound combination of “What a Life.”
The MV of “Telephone” hints at the technology angle “1 Billion Views” would take. In a comedic narrative, Exo-SC is in dismay because the person they like is always looking at their phone and making excuses as to why they reply late. In the MV, everyone is on their phones, and later, Sehun and Chanyeol are seen at a crime scene drawing board trying to figure out what is going on. Blackberries and flip phones make an appearance, while the editing adds another charm to the comedic video.
“1 Billion Views” carries on this playfulness in its fun MV and the disco flavor of its composition. The first of the collaborations on the album, MOON lends her light voice towards the end of the track (and appears in the MV). She comes in at the perfect time during the bridge, as the repetition of “views,” while an earworm, starts to get a little tiring. This change of pace and vocal quality refreshes the track when it is needed most.
The second collaboration that opens 1 Billion Views, “Say It,” features Penomeco and a simple chorus (which also can get stuck in your head). The instrumental texture seems to draw from a Latin flavor, and the beat has listeners moving in no time. While the track is not as lyrically impressive as some of the others in the mini, such as the witty “1 Billion Views” and the emotional punch “Fly Away” brings, the catchy melody captured by Penomeco’s voice and Chanyeol’s slight vibrato at the end of his longer notes are definitely high points.
In “Say It,” the artists ask the person they like to speak their mind and to listen to their heart. The singers are stuck in an uncertain waiting game as they urge the other person to take the chance on love and acknowledge their feelings—”The never-ending knocking/It’s time to open the door baby.”
Songs like “Fly Away,” which features Gaeko, showcases the variation in topics and lyrics present in 1 Billion Views, with an emphasis on personal storytelling. Nestled between the final Exo-SC unit song, “Jet Lag,” and Chanyeol’s solo, “Fly Away” switches up the direction of the album. The strongest collaboration of their sophomore project, the track is introspective in nature, creating a natural transition for the solos, which are the final two songs, where Sehun and Chanyeol focus on their identities as individual artists.
In a classic structure of rap verse, (short) chorus, rap verse, bridge, chorus, “Fly Away” also tells the strongest—and most vulnerable—narrative. With Gaeko on the chorus, Chanyeol and Sehun rap about how they had to grow up as they grew taller, regardless of their uncertainty of where they fit exactly.
I’m too old to call myself a child
I’m too old to blame my age
I wonder if maturity has finally been adjusted to my height
The two balance delicately between flying and falling, as they reveal the darkness of growing older.
Like “Telephone,” Exo-SC’s solo MVs were released a few days ahead of the album. Chanyeol’s “Nothin’” features warm colors, red being the dominant one, and a simple narrative revolving around developing photographs in a darkroom. His deep tone contrasts with the sharp upbeats and melds into the heavier downbeats of the instrumental.
The combination of the melody rap, layers of vocals, and instrumental create a push-and-pull effect (longer backing vocal notes contrasting with the sharp up beats and the smoother downbeats), as if Chanyeol’s voice is a part of a current in the chorus. Intentional autotune adds a different auditory experience when paired with the overlay of other elements, in which Chanyeol’s voice seems to echo in a call-and-response way. The song fades out with an electric guitar riff, which would have been neat to experience earlier in the track.
Sehun’s solo “On Me,” both composition-wise and in its MV, is more crowded than Chanyeol’s “Nothin’.” The “On Me” MV features background dancers and set choreography and possess a color palette complementary to “Nothin’.” Even Sehun’s dog, Vivi, makes an appearance during the line, “All hell broke loose/Move your arms and legs/Excited tall like Vivi.” With “On Me,” Sehun does it his own way. The track has a darker tone that blurs the distinction between arrogance and confidence.
I’ll do it my way, off the wifi
I’ll enjoy and go
I’ll sleep when I’m sleepy…
Even if you want to put me down
You can’t follow my physical
Even though I’m nauseous on the stage
A gluttonous gourmet
Unlike “Fly Away,” Sehun’s “On Me” does not follow a typical song structure, as it has no official chorus save the repeat of “Forever love sad happy” in the middle of the song. Otherwise, it is mostly dominated by verses, namely the first one, which takes up about a third of the song.
While Chanyeol and Sehun only have two songs to themselves as a unit, both “Rodeo Station” and “Jet Lag” are highlights on 1 Billion Views. “Rodeo Station” is the third song of the album and the first of the solely Exo-SC tracks. They reflect on their fame, using the ApguJeong Rodeo Station as a marker of how their life has changed, especially in the chorus:
Everyday the luxury goods stores that I walked past
Few years ago, a station was built here
The place where I went to find everyday is now the place people come to find me
Even though I can find the things I want, I can’t buy your heart
Meet me at the Rodeo Station ApguJeong Rodeo Station
See you there rodeo, See you there rodeo
In their lyrics, the two remember how they used to go there when they were younger, but now others go to the station to see their faces. Although it seems like every little thing Sehun and Chanyeol do makes headlines, the two assure listeners that “even if many things have changed, I’m still here.”
The composition of “Rodeo Station,” however, is nothing particularly new (although it opens with a cool electric guitar phrase). The two sing over a clapping effect and a light staccato beat that takes a backseat during the repetition of “rodeo.” There are some nice harmonies, especially at the end, which showcases how well Chanyeol and Sehun’s voices blend together.
A possible turn-off of the song would definitely be the dominant “Millennial Whoop” that repeats for a few lines before the bridge and after the last chorus. For better or for worse, it gets stuck in listeners’ heads quite easily. Regardless, the song features some of the most cohesive and reflective storytelling in 1 Billion Views.
“Jet Lag” cuts through the rap-heavy songs of the album with an indie pop/R&B sound. The electric guitar hook gives a refreshing flavor to the track as listeners reach the middle of 1 Billion Views. The lyrics of “Jet Lag” could be a love song but it is ambiguous enough that it does not necessarily have to be one. The musicians are always on the move, from stage to studio, from one European country to another. Time dominates the lyrics as the hours go fast, the minutes are slow, and they juxtapose the seasons and the weather in an early verse:
It’s raining and snowing too
The day’s summer and the day’s winter
Everyday I feel like I’m up in the clouds
I’m barely hanging in there without you
Without you it’s always winter
Some very polite questions are scattered throughout the story, such as “How’s your day? And “How’s the weather in Seoul?” These particular questions could also be an expression of concern, as they are waiting for when they can come back to the person in the lyrics. Time does not exist when the singers are with that person, even though time escapes everywhere else in the world: “I’ll hug you tight/You can rest comfortably in my arms.”
1 Billion Views highlights Exo-SC’s rapping, particularly their storytelling skills, and showcases the dynamic Sehun and Chanyeol have as artists, not just the youngest and third youngest of Exo. Overall, the album has more to offer than their sub-unit debut in terms of variety while keeping a solid group sound. However, 1 Billion Views as a whole does not make a legendary impression on listeners, although there are some stand out songs and lyrics.
With their second album, Exo-SC builds on their foundation as a unit and showcases their musicality in the featured collaborations as well as in their solo tracks, where the two highlight their identity as individual artists.