After a highly anticipated return from the military and solo debut, EXO’s D.O. has finally given fans what they’ve been waiting for with his first mini album, Empathy, along with the MV for title track “Rose.”
Recognizable for his powerful vocals and affinity for ballads with an acoustic flare, D.O.’s solo musical style has always been noticeably different from that of EXO’s discography as a whole and other EXO members’ solo ventures (like the R&B-influenced discographies of Baekhyun and Kai). With previous releases like the single “That’s okay” or his several features on drama OSTs, D.O. has so far carved out a unique musical path for himself that matches his vocal stylings and tenor well.
Considering the highlight medley video for Empathy, which closely resembled a cinematic, shorthand version of a romantic film and featured snippets of the album’s songs as a soundtrack to said mini film, the MV for “Rose” instead takes an unexpected yet predictable turn. While mixed media visual elements used to denote an abstract storyline cleverly make the track less literal, they also put its MV at risk of being kitschy and even cheesy.
To follow suit, “Rose” is a catchy acoustic track featuring a bouncy guitar to guide the song’s beat and ground its strong vocals. Throughout the song, D.O. sings of daydreaming about the one he loves, likening them to a “spring day” and several other spring-related visuals, including a rose.
The MV begins with a wide shot of lightning striking behind a large house with a white picket fence and a bright blue bike out in front. After lightning strikes a second time, the MV cuts to a shot of a sprout growing out of the sidewalk, followed by D.O. leaving the same house as the daytime sun comes back out for his bike around town.
The MV’s visual metaphors presented in just the first chunk of the video perfectly match the track’s lyrics, which are filled with metaphors and similes.
“Up above the clear blue sky
Like a cloud following the wind
Don’t go too far away
Just stay where you are
My baby every day in my heart”
As the sky very literally turns blue again (and the word “Rose,” spelled out with clouds, appears in front of the sky), D.O. sets out for a bike ride, presumably to find “where” his lover is as he hopes that they will “stay where they are.” There is also an additional layer of metaphor and symbols added with the visual of the green sprout suddenly growing out of the cement following the second strike of lightning. The green sprout may be a sign of spring, or, on top of that, a sign that a new blossoming romance or crush has just begun.
While these visual metaphors are clever and unexpected, they also pose a risk of jumbling too many meanings or interpretations of the song together all at once. As D.O. continues to ride his bike toward his lover, he avoids accidents and random coincidental misfortunes while daydreaming about the person he is yearning for. While this abstract storyline might be another metaphor for what happens when someone is in a dreamlike state of love, its exact meaning is still unclear.
These moments are further emphasized by mixed media visual elements, in which animated lines and drawings are superimposed on top of the objects causing the coincidental accidents that D.O. narrowly escapes. In the first instance of this, as D.O. bikes down the path toward his “rose,” he just misses a fire hydrant which unleashes water behind him after he passes. However, instead of physical water coming out of the fire hydrant as would be expected, the water is replaced by a colorful gush of stop motion oil paints painted over the video to symbolize the water.
In the next instance, D.O. rides by a group of digitally-drawn workers and an oil-painted tree. Just after D.O. passes by, the workers cut down the tree, and it falls, just missing D.O. These stop motion, animated drawings are continuously layered on top of several objects, and even D.O. himself throughout the MV. They make sense when accompanied by the MV’s overall stop motion-like editing effect, as D.O. can be seen biking in slow motion splices. However, around halfway through the video, they begin to feel overused almost to the point of cheesiness.
Yet, the lyrics of “Rose” may point to some of this kitschiness as being on purpose:
“Even though I look shy
And cheesy, I can’t help it
I love you baby”
In one scene, when D.O. parks his bike to stop at a coffee shop, a group of figures appear behind him and raid the coffee shop, all while D.O. hilariously has his back to them and enjoys a sip of his drink. The burglars in the back are live action people, although they are drawn with flashing skeletons appearing on top of their bodies and alien-like green masks to hide them for comedic effect. The exaggerated use of these mixed media elements indeed adds humor to the scene, hinting at an intended, playful layer of cheesiness.
The MV for “Rose” is still clever and reasonable in how it ends, too. While audiences may expect D.O. to meet his lover in the very last scene of the MV, he instead returns home, now at night, and walks back into his house. The MV cuts out, leaving it up in the air what exactly happens next. Was his lover at home the whole time? Or is he merely returning back home to daydream about them even more? In a pleasant and kitsch-less twist, that piece of the storyline is left up to audiences to decide.
While the exact number of metaphorical or abstract layers of “Rose” remains unclear, that ambiguity enables the MV to surprisingly toe the line between clever and kitschy well, making for a promising first title track MV under D.O.’s belt. Even though D.O. may “look shy and cheesy,” he “can’t help it,” so why not embrace it?