Despite being a big fan of the group, no EXO solo or sub-unit has connected with me this year. The guys are now elder statesman in the K-pop industry, and with that comes guaranteed success for any new material they release. But rather than branch out and push K-pop forward, the guys have channeled their talents into the exact kind of musical styles the Korean digital charts seem to love — subdued r&b for Baekhyun, trap-infused hip-hop for EXO-SC, and ballads for Chen.
This approach has proven particularly lucrative for Chen. Though I found his springtime ballad Beautiful Goodbye to be a sentimental snooze, it enjoyed lasting success on the charts. Korea has been even more obsessed with ballads than usual this year, which means follow-up Shall We (우리 어떻게 할까요) is destined to lodge itself in the top ten as well. The song ups the tempo just a bit, coming across as more of a hazy, synth-pop mid-tempo than a typical OST-ready heart-wrencher. That this slight uptick in energy feels notable is a testament to just how dull Chen’s solo work has been.
Shall We is about as dreary as its predecessor, but it scores extra points for incorporating retro elements to create a more idiosyncratic musical touch. The entire track wafts by like a cool autumn breeze — unsubstantial and forgettable, but not unwelcome in the moment. Unfortunately, Shall We lacks the starkness of Beautiful Goodbye, and this makes Chen’s vocals less of a focal point. He doesn’t have as much presence here, though his warm tone compliments the nostalgic instrumental. Worse yet, Shall We never builds to the kind of climax that a song like this needs. Instead, it’s the aural equivalent of a warm blanket on a chilly night. And like a warm blanket, its comfortable, calming energy might just lull you to sleep.