Ah, the sex song. As long as there has been music, there’s been music about sex. Of course, sex songs come in many variations: the sexy songs that tease, the straightforward “Let’s Get in On” type songs, and the songs that may never even mention sex itself but feel titillating through instrumental alone. K-pop is no stranger to toeing the line between what is sexy and what is explicit — often drawing on sickeningly sweet metaphor to hint just enough without getting the song banned by broadcast companies. But what happens when companies want the metaphor to be more clear? Well, you end up with an MV like Exo‘s latest “Cream Soda” off their seventh album, Exist.

With the title taken from a nostalgic, fizzy beverage, “Cream Soda” seems innocuous at first. However, anyone who has taken Literature 101 knows that food and beverage are excellent vehicles to trojan horse sex into a pop song (think Red Velvet‘s “Ice Cream Cake,” To Heart‘s “Delicious,” or — alarmingly — New Jeans‘s “Cookie“). Consumption, however innocent, is carnal. That which we crave — sweet, spicy, debaucherous — is what we want to experience bodily, and it’s no wonder that consumption of that which is sweet, a treat, can come to mean so much more with a good beat and a few hip rolls. Consumption, in many ways, is a victory in satisfaction. In “Cream Soda,” Exo take it a step further: they do not just sing about their carnal desire through consumption, they blast the central metaphor all over the screen.

The MV for “Cream Soda” is straightforward in its premise. The seven members (eight, counting Kai‘s contributing vocals prior to his military enlistment) lounge about in hotel rooms and backlit hallways, cheers with fizzy drinks, and attend a banquet that they promptly destroy (a callback to “Monster“) — all while decked out in suits. After multiple cocktail shots and hinted debauchery, they exit the hotel the following morning a little disheveled and a whole lot satisfied. Luxury hedonism is the name of the game, exemplified all the more by the joker card Chen plays at the Texas Hold ‘Em table. Despite the suits, fur coats, and questionably sparkly two pieces they wear, they aren’t there to be prim and proper: they’re there to have a good time.

Uncontrollable appetite

A taste that shook my everything

I need all ya cream soda

The more it melts, the sweeter it gets

Take my heart out

I need all ya cream soda

When watching the first two minutes of the MV, it’s easy to assume that the good time the members seek is all about being nouveau riche together, gambling (another callback to “Lotto“), drinking, and not caring about the following morning even if their pressed shirts are rumpled in the aftermath. This wouldn’t be new fair for Exo, and they have plenty to celebrate after reuniting as an almost complete group this far in their career. If the MV were that simple, it would be enough to placate fans who have waited four years for a full group comeback. It would even follow the SM playbook of their veteran boy groups: a simple set, appropriately mature attire, cocktails and smoldering close-ups. However, Exo have a point to prove. Or, more specifically, they’re on a mission to please.

Feel that tinglin’, that silky smooth cream

Each swirl deepens the flavor, baby

Feeling parched and a little bit reckless

Won’t settle for anything less

A delightful mouthful

Craving is a central theme in the lyrics. So while shots of the banquet hall and members together present a feeling of celebration and the kind of lavish consumption we stereotypically imagine, the real intention of the MV comes when the members play their respective games. Chess boards and poker are inexplicably mixed together, but they hint at the main objective of the lyrics. Like gambling, satisfaction requires strategy. Satisfaction is also paired closely with vice. For the Exo members, their own satisfaction comes with mastering the moves, getting closer to the taste they’ve become addicted to and finally seeing it bubble over like “cream soda.” And — I really shouldn’t have to spell this out but — that satisfaction has nothing to do with the food on the table nor the cocktails they hold but never sip.

With one sip, instantly dumb, dumb befooled

Pumped the brakes, but instincts are so fast

Can’t stop here, you know I gon get it, get it

Along with Chen’s high note, the MV reaches it’s climax with a bang. The pursuit has reached its peak, “cream soda” pours over the windshield of the car Suho sits in, confetti explodes in the banquet room, wine glasses shatter, the joker card is set ablaze, and condensated glasses fizz over. The members have properly tasted the “little flavor” they’ve been so wrapped around. After the initial taste, the effort, the members have been granted their form of satisfaction in the form of “silky smooth cream.” It seems that for SM, representing that visually equates to a lot of… spillage.

For all the suave elegance of the lead-up, the final result is almost comical. While the lyrics are less cringey in Korean, the intention is clear. Yet, in the MV’s final moments, SM wants to bash you over the head with it. The members are hot, they dance well, and they finish what they start — and not with a fizzle. The strategy they have employed pays off in the form of Baekhyun and D.O. coming down the stairwell looking pleased with themselves, Sehun adjusting his suit jacket with pride, and a cherry being added to the top of a suspiciously green cocktail. If the lyrics didn’t get you there, then this imagery does.

Foam overflowing, fill it up (Oh, fill it up)

Top it off gently, get it up (Oh, get it up)

Not one drop lost, drink it all

When considering sex songs, “Cream Soda” checks a lot of boxes. It manages to make oral sex PG though metaphor and does so in style. The beat is catchy enough, the falsetto divine, and it’s hard for broadcast companies to pick a bone with it as it isn’t explicit. Yet, with combined with the visuals, it feels as if SM thought we wouldn’t get the central metaphor just by listening. Forsaking actual plot and the lore that many Exo MV’s are known for, SM chose instead to make it visual in the most cliche ways possible. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good giggle and the members look good, but for a group eleven years in with songs like “Playboy” and “Tempo” in their discography, why does SM think fans need sex spelled out for them like this?

All in all, “Cream Soda” is an entertaining sum of its parts. It’s a visual representation of the kind of cheeky new money attitude that the Exo members have every right to present in their eleventh year as a group. They’ve made their mark, they still aim to please, and now they’re allowed to bask in that success — even rebel against it a bit. While in the final moments the metaphor is a little too on the head, we can all be thankful that Exo didn’t get the full Super Junior treatment of a box set and suits and calling it a day. They dove into the metaphor head on, and seemed to have a damn good time doing it. But the final question remains: after a long wait, and all the build up, are we satisfied?

(YouTube. Images via SM Entertainment.)