Song Review: EXO-SC – What A Life

Before EXO’s Chanyeol and Sehun debuted as an official sub-unit, they paired together to deliver last year’s SM Station track We Young. That song offered a nice balance between hip-hop and harmonized melody, with a warm tone that took advantage of the interplay between the guys’ voices. This weekend’s pre-release Just Us 2 followed suit, though to a slightly less successful degree. Now, the duo have unveiled their album’s main title track, What A Life.

What a disappointment.

From the teasers, I already knew that I’d have a hard time getting into this song, and set my expectations accordingly. Its swaggy hip-hop sound is not for me, and I find its producers Devine Channel to be very hit or miss. But even with those low expectations, What A Life found a way to grate on every last K-pop nerve I have.

The song opens with this plonky, xylophone-esque synth that has become completely overused these past few years. That, combined with the insistent trap beat, makes for an instrumental that regurgitates the worst of today’s musical instincts. It’s a downright ugly sound, but would at least score some points if it felt the least bit original. Too many K-pop producers are seemingly pulling from the same pack of instrumental samples, and I can’t wrap my head around it. Don’t they want to be creative? Don’t they want to push things forward?

Chanyeol and Sehun do what they can with this meager material, but they’re up against a wall. There’s only so much you can mine from a slurred, sing-song chorus that sounds as if it’s on downers. They’re both fine rappers, but the entire arrangement is so murky and sluggish and unrelentingly dour. Without an interesting beat to ride, they’re relegated to posing and looking cool and not much else. They’re far more dynamic performers than that, and it’s a shame to see their potential wasted on material with such low ambitions. In a bitterly disappointing K-pop summer, What A Life is our lowest point yet. We can only go up from here, I suppose.

 Hooks 5
 Production 3
 Longevity 4
 Bias 3
 RATING 3.75

Be sure to add your own rating by participating in the poll below!

39 thoughts on “Song Review: EXO-SC – What A Life

  1. I do not intend to offend you or your integrity but aren’t you being a little rough with your review? The song is nothing special but it kind of appears that your dislike for a certain genre or style is in a way affecting your objective perception of the song (this sounds pretty much like the actual definition of “opinion”). Anyways what I’m trying to say is that because you’re tired with reason of this genre in the kpop industry and specially this month (which I agree is making the quality of this month’s comebacks) you might be ranking this song lower than what it is.

    Again, the song is pretty meh and the chorus is objectively bad but I don’t think this is a song that deserves one of your lowest grades.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oops I didn’t finish my thought in that last paragraph. I meant to say that this month’s comebacks have generally been bad.


      • No offense taken! I get your point, and maybe in a less monotonous month this might have ranked a little higher. Hearing song after song of this nature does wear me down, and a certain level of frustration will understandably color my thoughts.

        However, I very much stand by the rating. If anything, I may have been a bit generous. I really think this is just an awful piece of music. The fact that it crystallizes so many of my complaints about the current global music scene in general is just the cherry on top.

        And to put it right out there — you’re right, this particular style is not to my personal liking. I can’t even try to be objective about that. The thing is, it’s been a part of the K-pop landscape for awhile now but always as a sub-genre that I can ignore. My reviews have always focused more on the idol side of things because I knew if I started writing about K-hip-hop and K-r&b I’d just be writing negative reviews from the point of view of someone who didn’t care for that style. But now that these genres — along with their producers — have infiltrated idol music so strongly, I can’t politely ignore them. It sucks, because it’s no fun to write about things that don’t appeal to me day after day.

        I’m hoping that this stylistic shift is a blip on the radar. I just have to keep reminding myself how great May and March were.


        • Thank you for answering in such a calm and proper way. The last thing I wanted was to offend you. I like how you built your argument and 100% accept it.


  2. At first, I wholeheartedly agreed with Txatxi in the above thread. My line of reasoning was “This is bad, but it’s nowhere near as awful as Lay’s Sheep, which was only rated half a point lower”. Then I realized that, terrible as Sheep is, it’s at the very least somewhat unforgettable. I’d take terrible and wacky over terrible and boring any day. This song is just bad. There’s nothing that’s the WORST I’ve ever heard, but I almost wish there was, just for some novelty. I actually consider Sheep to be better, if only because I hear “that China sheep” in my head once every few months.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I gotta admit that as time went by after I listened to What A Life, I started to hate it more. I completely agree with you, Sheep at least was catchy and memorable while What A Life just leaves you kinda indifferent.


  3. EXO released as a group a lot of great songs, but when it comes to solos and sub units … meh

    EXO-CBX have two fine korean albums. Baekhyun’s and Chen’s releases are mediocre and this is just bad. My only hope is their rumored group comeback before winter, because after this we will most likely get another farewell ballad :/


    • Chen and Baekhyun’s solo mediocre??? I’m sorry but no, I admit Chen’s song could be considered boring because its a ballad bur that’s what he wanted to do. And Baekhyun’s solo gets more crap than it deserves. Also, you cannot judge their solo discography based on their debut songs.

      I agree that:

      1. SM doesn’t seem to be even trying with these solo debuts considering EXO is their current “bread winner” alongside Red Velvet.
      2. EXO CBX is the EXO subunit/solo with the best discography.

      The biggest problem with these debuts and projects (well excluding EXO SC) is the gigantic expectations the public and the fans have of them.


      • I expected Chen to do ballads, but I just hoped for more variety and not from start to finish – ballad.
        For example Kim Jaehwan’s debut album “Another”. The focus is on his voice and the title is also a ballad, but hearing him trying out new genres and singing styles he wasn’t able to show during WANNA ONE… I also wanted this for Chen. His AMAZING VOICE in new musical territories, we never heard from him? That would be great

        And for Baekhyun… K-RnB just doesn’t do anything for me, also the lack of choreography was a turn off. Betcha was the only “uptempo” track and feels incredibly “trendy” (in the negative sense). It just felt like a lot of indie solo singers could have released this album and I would have listen to it one time and would never come back. (with the exception of Psycho – that song is a bomb – but it was made for their concerts and not this album).

        I hope I was able to clarify my opinion.
        I shouldn’t judge their debut that hard, but I don’t think they will change the genre or the quality of their next album, because they want to this and it works financially. Nevertheless I will listen to all of their new releases anyway and maybe I will be surprised, right?


      • The creative process is quite different for solo projects in SM, basically, you go to the producer as a artist. The reason these stuff are off is obviously because they genuinely like these.


  4. Some people are disagreeing but I’m with you wholeheartedly on this. It might sound harsh, but this kind of mid-tempo (if that) trap infused sing-rapping is arguably my least favourite thing to happen to music in a VERY long time. I hate this ‘hip hop swag I’m a serious rapper’ posturing, everyone who attempts it just comes off as a massive tool. The state of summer kpop is…bad right now. What do producers and song writers have against real instruments? Or anything other than the same stale sounds? The worst part is I feel like I’ll be complaining about this for the foreseeable future, it’s so ingrained in kpop now. Trap, trop house, auto tune, drops, rap-singing, future base, and every other uninspired musical genre is here to stay.


    • Yeah. I agree. I feel like I’m slowly floating away from Kpop. I’m losing interest and am missing what Kpop used to sound like back in early to mid 2010s (and before that as well). It’s painful to say that because I’ve been a fan for over 7 years since 2012 and I don’t think I’ve ever been this BORED in a long time. Hopefully ITZY’s comeback will be good


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  6. I held off commenting on the previous Exo post once I understood that it was a pre-release with a simple studio video.
    So that makes this The Release.
    First of all, omg no no no its that damn fingers dropping onto bamboo xylophone sound again.
    Second of all, where oh where have the SM music directors gone? These two have Actual Talent. They are not the vocal line of Exo, but hey everyone at SM can sing something. This? The “We Young” song last year was great, entertaining, fun! and this? This is something a bunch of kids would make in their college dorm, thinking they are so cool.
    Third, I second that comment about the rap-singing over trap beats. I am ready for this trend to be over.


  7. Can’t decide if that synth sounds more like it was recorded underwater in a toilet bowl or like they wrote a song and then put it through the same treatment as a bad MR Removed video so all you’re getting is the dinky unsynced audio that didn’t fully cancel


  8. It’s like the songwriters analyzed “Shine” by Pentagon and then deliberately rewrote every single element to be astronomically worse


  9. This is probably the worse and most useless sub-unit we’ve ever seen or heard in KPop. Actually they’ve sold quite a lot yet, so SM Entertainment will consider to be right. But if this bundle of nothing is all we can expect from EXO from now on due to military service, well: “mala tempora currunt”.


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  11. One of the worst kpop song this year. I just stop the music after the first chorus. Too bad because i really liked their previous song “we young”, or maybe my expectation are too high for this song


    • This may not be the best track, but I hope you check out the other songs in their mini album. I believe the last three tracks are the better produced tracks compared to the title tracks.


  12. This may not be the best track, but I hope you check out the other songs in their mini album. I believe the last three tracks are the better produced tracks compared to the title tracks


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  15. I’m an EXO-L and my bias is Sehun. I would be lying if I say I don’t find your rating offensive but objectively speaking, the weird musical instruments used really do sound unfit. The lyrics were okay, but musically, it doesn’t do that much. However, as opposed to what a lot of people were commenting, for me, it’s quite catchy. Overall, I do agree that the producers for this song are just not good at all. They could’ve probably done better if it was LDN Noise or other producers that are known to be very good at producing quality music. Again, SM could’ve given EXO-SC a better album since it’s basically their debut album as a duo. Both are talented and hardworking boys and I hate how most of the time their potential is wasted. I might find your rating offensive but it’s not that hard of a pill to swallow and it’s your opinion, so I respect that.


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