Another week, another SM Station release. One of the cool things this music platform has done is allow EXO members to have long-overdue solos. Granted, the songs aren’t really promoted or given the budget a full-fledged solo debut would have, but it’s still nice to hear the guys branch out a bit. Next on the schedule is Lay, who holds the somewhat grievous title of EXO’s sole remaining Chinese member. Given that, it makes sense that Monodrama (独角戏) is a song performed in Mandarin, aimed directly at the Chinese market where Lay is a huge star in his own right.
The Chinese music scene is one dominated by solo acts, often performing ballads. Monodrama fits comfortably within this context, while allowing Lay to display his prowess with the guitar. The song’s best aspect is that it’s a solo track arranged as if a group were performing it. Rather than a stark, minimalist approach to the vocals, the main melody line is supported by a kaleidoscope of harmonies, ad-libs and embellishments. This gives what could have been a generic acoustic ballad a sense of fluidity and surprise. It certainly helps that Lay’s light tone carries an emotive subtext that really drives the song forward. The smooth production also ensures that the track skirts past the trappings of a simple acoustic ballad and emerges with an air of r&b-influenced soul.
In fact, I’d argue that the production choices and performance are actually better than the song itself. At its heart, Monodrama is a pretty typical Chinese ballad. It doesn’t possess the melodic heft to stand as a jaw-dropping debut single, but I don’t think it’s meant for that purpose. As a pleasant off-shoot from the gargantuan brand that is EXO, it more than holds its own. Paired with D.O.’s Tell Me (What Is Love) from earlier in the year, it also makes a case for individual members’ ability to pull off the kind of track that relies solely on the force of their vocals.