Review

Song Review: Chen (EXO) – Shall We?

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.

 Hooks 7
 Production 7
 Longevity 7
 Bias 7
 RATING 7

6 thoughts on “Song Review: Chen (EXO) – Shall We?

  1. Actually I loved (and still love) Paper Cuts by EXO-CBS for the japanese market. But I will never understand why good vocalists might prove their talent only by singing this kind of stuff.

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      • Mm, that’s totally understandable.

        On a another note, and I’m just asking this out of curiosity, do you find more merit in having a catchy but generic hook versus a more complex but less instant melody? With the melody of this song, I feel like the use of chromaticism and accidentals makes it really special. I also think melodic complexity gives a song more longevity, since the melody is less straightforward and more unexpected.

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        • This will probably be a frustrating answer, but I think the best songs find a sense of balance between the two. On one hand, I don’t think a good pop song should make you work too hard to enjoy it. But on the other hand, an overly catchy, vacuous hook tends to lose its appeal pretty quickly. My favorite songs have interesting choruses, but also use their production and arrangement to help those choruses stand out in an instantly appealing way.

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  2. I am trying to think of which R&B balladeer this sounds most like for a short quip, but the closest I come is that this sounds like a cover of a Carpenters song. Of course Chen and Karen Carpenter sound nothing alike in timbre, but the song sounds like Richard Carpenter could have written it.
    There, that is my quip. Not short or pithy, but then again, neither is this song.

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