Exactly one year after his hugely successful solo debut, Exo’s Kai is back with second mini-album, Peaches. Kai takes a turn to the light for the eponymous MV, leaving behind the dark and gritty cityscape of “Mmmh” for the vaseline-smudged brightness of “Peaches”. The MV also showcases a different side to the sexuality Kai has displayed throughout his career, something flirtier and more easy-going than the overt displays that have assaulted our senses over the years.

Ever since his debut in Exo at 18, Kai has been the sex symbol of the group. Usually introduced as the “sexy” member, he seemed to be constantly shirtless in photoshoots and given revealing stage outfits, arguably the most famous being the crop tops of “Obsession”. Kai plays the part well, as evidenced by how much he appears to be feeling himself on those viral fancams for “Love Shot” and “The Eve”. However, that this sexy image is associated with a noticeably tan idol is no coincidence, especially when paired with in-your-face displays of revealing outfits and suggestive dance moves.

Even Kai’s solo debut could only do so much to break free from this image, using lace, tassels and caresses to hint at a softness that the choreography and music could not fully include. There is more than one kind of sexy, but that was not fully accessible to Kai until now.

“Peaches” is ripe with the softness that Kai’s fans love him for. His sleepy cuteness, likened to a teddy bear, was initially seen as totally separate from his idol persona. This distinction is becoming more and more blurred over the years, especially with Gucci’s ursine capsule collection. “Peaches” continues this journey, transitioning us from how we see Kai in Exo to how we could see Kai as a soloist.

“Peaches” takes us to the lush Korean countryside, the female dancers forming a tree from which Kai plucks one out like a peach. In contrast to the hyperreal sets of his debut, the obviously fake set design highlights the playfulness of “Peaches” with its recalling of childish world creation.

The introduction of a real peach alongside the fake one at the start of verse two indicates the transition from Kai’s fantasy into reality, represented by a sun soaked, waterside villa. In a brief but beautiful montage, Kai leaves his little wild peach orchard through silhouettes of bamboo against white, emerging from between palm fronds to this palatial new location. It symbolises how Kai’s desire to be the “bad guy” doesn’t have to be just in his head. He can make those dreams come true. Alternatively, it can be seen as an Eros-like Kai descending from the heavens for a good time on Earth.

The change in fashion to more western outfits also signpost this transition from fantasy to reality, though Kai himself retains elements of Asianness in his outfits with the sarong and sash.

If the Pyongchang Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony and Super M’s “Tiger Inside” hadn’t already given you an appreciation for Kai in traditional Korean garb, then “Peaches” definitely will. There are a variety of styles, from the deliciously dishevelled look at the beginning of the MV, to a dreamy gauzy white number, to a repurposed coat that we only glimpse for a second – but is all the time it needs to make an impression. This repurposing of Western clothing into something more traditionally Korean carries through to the live performances as well; something to look forward to in “Peaches” promotions.

A personal favourite is the grey hanbok with matching hat that offers only peeks of Kai’s midriff. The silhouette is to die for, and the details are divine, something that is matched in the back up dancers’ outfits as well. Then there are the little braids attached to the dancers’ face masks. In that moment, where Kai takes the problematic trope of pulling on a girl’s pigtails and turns it into something much more romantic and sweet. Seeing this moment continue into the live performances is also a delight – even if it doesn’t always work out, like in his Music Core comeback stage.

That Kai has the time to indulge in flirty little moments like this is a testament to the light touch with which the choreography is treated. While it is tempting to simply let Kai loose like in “Mmmh” or in his Winter Olympics solo performance, the dance pulls back in favour of highlighting Kai’s coquettishness through interactions with his female dancers and ample opportunity to flash cheeky smiles at the viewer, as well as various interpretations of peach picking. The intensity does gently increase throughout the song, but it never overpowers the music.

The set design, choreography and especially the fashion have are on point in “Peaches”, but the true star is an endearingly flirtatious Kai whose infectious joy goes down very smoothly. From the generic 2D “sexy” label he was saddled with almost a decade ago, Kai has evolved to show us a sexiness and sensuality that feels more comfortable and personalised to him.

(Images, video via SM Entertainment)