The world has waited almost a decade for EXO’s D.O’s solo album. Here’s why this K-pop debut is very, very important
The year is 2012. SM Entertainment has been hyping up this new 12-piece Korean-Chinese boy group since late 2011, releasing multiple videos for each young, beautiful, doe-eyed member. On April 8, they finally drop title track named MAMA. My friends are obsessed (not an understatement), spamming my phone with text messages gushing about how hot Kai is or how adorable Baekhyun is.
I put on the MAMA music video to see these fresh-faced boys they’re all so crazy about. I wanted to see what the hype was about—after all, I’d been perfectly content being a Super Junior and CNBLUE fan.
The track opens with cult-like chanting and this young, skinny boy with a thin face and thick lips begins to sing. His voice is utterly captivating, crescendoing into a high note that echoes until the first verse begins. During live debut performances, he often falters at this opening line. But perseveres throughout the song with that deep, smooth voice I can’t get out of my head. He performs with a bit of uncertainty, but donning a look of determination every rookie needs to make it in the K-pop industry.
They called him D.O. Full name: Do Kyungsoo. Position: main vocal. I knew right then and there that he was going to be someone special.
A solo debut for the ages
Fast forward almost a decade after EXO’s debut. Despite the departure of three members, the group has garnered top K-pop idol status in an age where the genre is now a worldwide phenomenon. With multiple top-selling albums, sold-out tours, numerous music awards, and millions of fans around the globe, EXO is practically one of the world’s biggest boy bands. D.O., whom I will call Kyungsoo throughout this article, kept up with EXO’s star-studded pace, but on his own terms.
Arguably one of the group’s more popular members, Kyungsoo is known for his immaculate voice. His unique vocal tone melts into your ears like honey or chocolate. He’s also a triple threat, having loads of talent for singing, acting (we’ll get into this later), and dancing. It’s kind of hard to believe that he’s practically the only EXO member who hasn’t gotten a solo debut or even a sub-unit with the other members. Kyungsoo, on the other hand, did the occasional OSTs, lending his voice to soundtracks or the occasional SM Station drops. He also ventured heavily into acting.
Just when audiences were expecting him to finally debut solo, Kyungsoo enlisted for mandatory military service in July 2019. After he was discharged in January 2021, fans figured that this year was it. Kyungsoo was going to make us wait no longer. On the two-year anniversary of his military enlistment, SM Entertainment finally announced an eight-track record filled with Kyungsoo’s voice and Kyungsoo’s voice alone.
Dubbed Empathy, the album is set to be released on July 26. The lead single, they say, is “bright and comfortable to listen to.”
This solo debut was nine years in the making. And we, Kyungsoo stans, are all confident that the wait will be worth it.
The dark horse
Among Kyungsoo’s biggest strengths in my eyes is his subtlety. Compared to the other members, Kyungsoo may not have Baekhyun’s talent for high energy variety or Suho’s leadership skills, but his unassuming character shines onstage and onscreen. When it’s his turn to perform, he’s commands the audience with modesty that remains greatly charismatic.
This is precisely why he’s such a good actor as well—he’s able to convey so much with a small look in his eyes or a gentle quirk of the lips. Kyungsoo started his acting career on It’s Okay, That’s Love, opposite Jo In Sung. Immediately, people started taking notice. He went on to pursue even crazier roles (read: a serial killer, a nicotine-addicted delinquent, an amnesiac prince, a tap-dancing North Korean soldier, among others) on both TV and film. Shows like 100 Days My Prince and films like Swing Kids made bank not just in Korea, but overseas as well.
In fact, Kyungsoo is just so damn good at it, he was awarded the highly prestigious Blue Dragon Award for Best New Actor. He's one of the few idol-actors to have such an achievement. He’s well-respected by not just fellow actors but film directors and producers too, which a rarity for any idol crossing over to acting. He has more upcoming movie projects to film for the rest of 2021.
Music-wise, Kyungsoo has remained much more humble, sticking to EXO and only a few solo tracks. Most of the time, he covers songs with Chanyeol (if you haven’t gotten on their cover of Justin Beiber’s Boyfriend, then you are missing out) or gets great solo stuff like Tell Me What is Love, written by SME producer and vocal trainer, Yoo Young Jin, or That’s Okay, a special release he put out for his fans before his enlistment.
But despite rarely coming out with his own tracks, his musical talent is anything but overlooked. That’s Okay was so popular at the time of release that multiple idols covered and/or raved about it. Some of the artists who covered it include IU, DK from SEVENTEEN, Hyungwon from MONSTA X and Sakura from IZONE.
Being one of the most respected idols in the Korean entertainment industry today, Kyungsoo has definitely come a long way from being known as that scrawny EXO member who loved to beatbox onstage. And I've got to say, we love that for him.
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Any K-pop fan familiar with Kyungsoo would understand why this album is so highly anticipated. As of writing, Kyungsoo’s solo album is pretty much still shrouded in mystery (damn you, SM Entertainment). Only one visual teaser has been currently released: a black and white photo of Kyungsoo in formal attire jumping through what looks like a field or a garden.
D.O. ?? The 1st Mini Album
— EXO (@weareoneEXO) June 30, 2021
Here’s what I know so far about Empathy after digging through the depths of stan Twitter and some online articles:
- The album’s genre is a mix of R&B, Ballad, and Dance Pop
- The title track has been described as “bright and comfortable to listen to” by Kyungsoo himself. There is no choreography (typical of him)
- The music video of the title track will have kids in it and was shot in his hometown of Gyeonggi-do
- There is another artist featuring on one of the songs (Kyungsoo mentioned that we’ll never be able to guess who it is)
- 2 versions will be released, A and B
Kyungsoo is generally known for both ballads and R&B tunes, and though a balance of both is always good to please all kinds of fans, I’m still hoping for a heavier emphasis on R&B, urban pop, and slow jams, similar to What Is Love or even Baekhyun’s sound as a solo artist. I just feel like we can see some more vocal flavor if Kyungsoo focuses on this genre. Lots of runs, plenty of adlibs, ample chances to showcase his talent as a singer even more. Think of songs similar to EXO’s Sweet Lies, Oasis, My Lady, Trauma, or even more recently, Paradise.
For the featuring artist, I’m banking on a reputable female singer who can complement Kyungsoo’s stellar vocals. Fans are guessing (or rather, hoping for) IU or Lee Hi. Another dream collab of mine would be with male solo artists. Think DEAN, Crush, or DPR LIVE—but hey, I guess we can’t have it all.
Finally, other things I’d love to see on Kyungsoo’s album is at least one track done by some of my favorite producers in K-pop: Primary, Zion T, and Jooyoung. DEAN is also up there for me, production-wise. An English track would be great, since for some reason, Kyungsoo has virtually no accent when singing in English. King things only.
Above all, I’d really just like to bear witness to Kyungsoo simply have fun with this album and promo period. I’ve missed seeing his performances and hearing his live vocals, so I’m looking forward to how he'll navigate promotions! And I’m sure the rest of his fans will be content with anything he has up his sleeve.
It’s been a long time coming for Do Kyungsoo. And it is about damn time that we get to hear this solo album. Either way, if it’s going in the same upward direction as the rest of his projects, music or acting, then this guy is going to just fine.
Kyungsoo’s world domination is just about to begin, and we are here for it.
Words Denise Fernandez