Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Also the title of D.O.’s solo debut mini album. 

In eight tracks (though two are English/Spanish versions), the main vocalist of Exo reveals his empathy by focusing on simple stories of love. D.O. captures the depth and range of the emotions that come with various sides of love, pairing these narratives with distinct yet straightforward instrumentals. 

For D.O., love is often comparable to nature, such as the “clear blue sky” and the “cloud following the wind” in “Rose”. In this track, he takes listeners on a journey revolving around finding a flower for his love, peaking in the bridge. His songs also find the beauty in the stars at night and the simplicity of the day. 

Quiet moments that are often overlooked take the spotlight. The chorus of “I’m Gonna Love You” captures these moments, opening with the lines, “Like drinking a cup of coffee in the morning / Like the sun rising, facing the west”. Calming nighttime walks full of beauty are worth mentioning in “My Love”, while “The sound of your bright laughter” is a small detail from “Dad”. 

“It’s Love” captures the love behind smiling because someone else is making you smile, and that feeling when you have a hand to hold, that you can “grow old together” with your partner. “Si Fueras Mía”, the Spanish version of the above, elaborates on these gestures of love, such as “I wake you up with little kisses filled with love” and “I sing you the songs that you like”.

Empathy comes two years after the release of D.O.’s comforting single “That’s Okay”, a gift to fans before he enlisted in the army. The acoustic sound remains the foundation of his new album, but each song, along with his smooth and adaptable voice, tries something new. This makes Empathy both a project of easy-listening and ensures that the tracks—even the English version of “Rose” and the Spanish version of “It’s Love”—stand out. 

While D.O. covers a range of love stories, Empathy can be divided into the bright tracks, the somber but hopeful songs, and “Dad,” which focuses on the love between father and child. 

The bright songs are at the front-end of the mini, starting with the title track, “Rose.” Simple production drives the song with folksy acoustic guitar, minimal bass, and the strength of D.O.’s voice. While the guitar calls to mind Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister”, “Rose” still manages to carve out its own fresh and bright feeling that never becomes overwhelming. 

These instrumentals translate the lyrics—which D.O. contributed to—perfectly, in both the original Korean and English versions. Both speak to a sweet and sunny, and kind of cheesy, love. Appropriately, D.O. compares his love to a bright spring day and spotlights the little indicators of love, including “You’re the one that I think of when I wake up”.

 As one might expect, the English version of “Rose” changes the lyrics to maintain the careful rhythm and flow that is crucial to this earworm. The Korean version has “yeppeo”, meaning beautiful, in its chorus, while the English version decided not to translate this over. Instead, the “o” sound is found in “roses” and “lover”. Either way, “Rose” is full of catchy patterns and memorable guitar rhythms that make it the perfect title track for D.O.’s solo debut.     

The clarity of “Rose” contrasts with the more muffled guitars featured in “I’m Gonna Love You”, the soloist’s collaboration with rapper and singer Wonstein. D.O.’s signature clear vocals, also, take on a rougher edge that transitions well into the tone Wonstein carries in his verse.  

Coming from the snappier rhythm of “Rose”, the laid-back repetition of “I’m gonna, I’m gonna love you” is a nice contrast. However, this bouncy hook still sneaks its way into listeners’ minds. 

Like with “Rose”, nature imagery appears in “I’m Gonna Love You”, with lyrics such as “Like spring passing and summer taking its place” indicating the effortless flow of the seasons. This simplicity connects with the “easy” love that D.O. sings about. This romance does not need huge gestures in order to be known; instead, it is ordinary:

It’s like taking a breath

I’m gonna love

It’s so easy

“My Love” also focuses on time, particularly the juxtaposition between fast and slow. There is tension in these actions, as made clear in the lyrics (written by eaJ, or Jae of Day6): “I run to you” precedes “The slow-flowing day is speeding up”. Later on, D.O. “walk[s] in a hurry”, yet he also notices that his “steps slow down” soon after. 

This rhythmic playfulness appears in the electric guitar hook that opens the track. It is still plucky, which is also heard in “Rose” and “I’m Gonna Love You”, but the reverb softens this brightness to create a different texture. As the electric guitar adds depth, D.O.’s vocals take control of the upper range, singing the chorus in a light falsetto. He flows between a full and comforting voice and a light and gentle one. 

Empathy switches to a more somber but hopeful tone with the steadier “It’s Love” and its Spanish version, titled “Si Fueras Mía”. Alongside slowing down the tempo, the passing of time again permeates the lyrics:

When it was just love

That used to be a time where every moment was like a miracle

As time goes by like the passing seasons

However, this track looks back to a past love that he hopes will be reignited, as noted with the final lyrics, “What makes me want to be together with you for the last time / Is that you are love”. 

Ad libs and D.O.’s exercise of his falsetto jazz up the simple lyrics as well as the “tired days and long loneliness”. It is on this track that the main vocalist shows a piece of his vocal technique, with zigzags of runs closing out “It’s Love”.

The title of the Spanish version, “Si Fueras Mía”, translates to “If You Were Mine”. With the new title and new language, “It’s Love” becomes an entirely different song. Longing remains the general tone, but the speaker imagines what their love could be if they were together, contrasting grand romantic gestures and the quiet moments of love. This is seen in lines such as “I would give you the entire world in a second / If only you were mine” and “The places I would take you to / To see you happy and to see you smile”.

The final track revolving around romantic love, “I’m Fine,” picks up the pace with acoustic beginnings, electric guitar riffs, and a satisfying bass that hums at the foundation of the song. D.O., through lyrics he wrote, asks ordinary questions like “How are you?” to a former lover. As the title suggests, “I’m fine” is the response; however, D.O. does not want this answer to be automatic, similar to what Americans may say after being asked “How are you?”. Instead, he sings, “I sincerely hope you tell me / ‘I’m fine’”. 

A tinge of dissatisfaction dominates the lyrics, meanwhile, with a focus on time (“tonight passes and tomorrow night comes”) and memories. The vocalist hopes for more in the future while reflecting on the past, singing, “The many promises and our precious dreams / Have they been collecting dust in our memory?”. He still cares for this past love, emphasizing “Don’t worry about things on your own / Don’t regret things anymore”, while also being aware of how he is doing this too, in the lyrics “May I be filled with good thoughts”.

Preceding “I’m Fine”, there is an interlude focusing on the love between a parent and child. “Dad” is a stricter ballad complete with gorgeous vibrato and rolling drums before entering into the final chorus.  In this track, older D.O. watches his father with a perspective that comes with maturity. He realizes how important his father is to him as a role model, singing, “To you, I’m still a child / I’m still learning life from you”. 

D.O. juxtaposes his “walk[ing] slowly” as he follows his father, who “ran non-stop”, taking a renewed look at his father’s quiet persistence. The vocalist is a child now grown up and someone who recognizes who his father is and what he has done. There is a sweet reversal of roles, as he sings to his father, “I’m proud of you”.

In addition, his simple love is demonstrated in the lyric, “I want to be more like you”. D.O. realizes how “infinitely kind” his father is, his strength, endurance, and his protection of his child by “endur[ing] things alone”. He begins to recognize the brightness of his father, likened to the “dazzling sunset light” and “exceptionally starry night”, a different story of love compared to the rest of the album.

While D.O.’s solo debut continues the acoustic sound of “That’s okay”, Empathy also combines his comforting vocals with a range of guitar-based hooks, making the songs memorable yet distinct. Besides the instrumentals, Empathy tells stories about the simple moments of love, whether it be romantic or love for a parent. D.O. balances the good memories and the valleys of these experiences alongside the intimate depth of emotions that come with them. 

There is (literally) a lot of love in Empathy, but dig a little deeper and you will find D.O.’s empathetic storyteller soul.

(YouTube. Lyrics via Genius. Images via SM Entertainment.)