When he made his solo debut with ‘Empathy’ in 2021, D.O. proclaimed he was “focused on doing music that [he] wanted to do”. A statement like that might seem obvious, but in an era where streaming parties and charting positions dominate music discourse, it felt bold and refreshing. Arriving two years later and just in time to usher in autumn, D.O.’s sophomore project ‘Expectation’ feels like the natural continuation of that mantra.
There are many connecting threads between ‘Empathy’ and ‘Expectation’. Compositions led by acoustic guitars and lyricism charged by love musings notably take centre stage in both projects. Even if sonically cohesive, ‘Expectation’ delivers an edge thematically. Instead of featuring songs loosely based on similar feelings, the mini-album narrates a story from start to finish across its six original tracks. To serve as the main vehicle for that narrative, the project is noticeably split into two halves: love and loss.
Epitomising the honeymoon phase of a relationship, the first half of ‘Expectation’ is hopeful to a fault, focusing only on the positive sides of love. D.O. goes from manifesting a partner who’d embrace his flaws in the folk-pop title track ‘Somebody’ to fantasising about a future together with said person in the Jason Mraz-esque ‘Wonder’, before fully proposing in the playful pre-release single ‘I Do’. “You already know / You’re all that I want (Just you) / Be my forever and say, ‘I do, I do’,” D.O. cheekily asks amid beautifully layered harmonies.
Encased in the middle like a gemstone in a mine is ‘Lost’, the project’s standout and inflexion point. Replacing the leading acoustic guitars with fast and heavy percussion momentarily, ‘Lost’ smashes the rose-tinged trifecta with heartbreak. “I remember everything about our story / From the clumsy confession to the last anniversary,” D.O. croons in the opening lines, which immediately introduce a seismic shift. “There is no beautiful ending to a breakup,” he later declares.
The singer’s honeyed voice takes the spotlight in the chorus of ‘Ordinary Days’, a slow acoustic ballad that reminisces about what could have been. This sense of melancholy and nostalgia continues through ’The View’, which brings the mini-album’s story to a bittersweet close with tambourine shakes and an exquisite mix of melodies. “I still see you in my memories / ‘Cause you are the view, I miss / I miss, I miss you, the view,” D.O. sings in the final chorus, equal parts despondent and ruminative, before an instrumental-only closer takes over.
Aside from the songs themselves, D.O. merges his passion for both music and film in the mini-album’s highlight medley, which was presented in the form of a short film. Directed by short form maestro Kim Jong-kwan, the video sees D.O. starring alongside Pachinko breakout star Kim Min-ha, recounting the love cycle presented in the 20-minute sonic ride in reverse, like the chronicle of a death foretold. The short film poignantly depicts the estranged lovers’ dynamic, further elevating the project’s quasi-prosaic nature.
‘Empathy’ and ‘Expectation’ are indisputably birds of a feather. Across both projects, ‘Lost’ is the only outlier sonically, though D.O. also plays it safe here, returning to his tried-and-true M.O. with an acoustic version of the song as ‘Expectation’’s seventh and final track. However, in a project that feels so personal, we can’t help but lament the omission of self-penned tracks, especially after 2021’s ‘Rose’ and his 2019 SM Station single ‘That’s Okay’.
Even if distinctly different from his work with EXO, which is largely much more danceable and luscious, D.O. seems to be taking a somewhat formulaic approach with his solo releases – from their naming to their structure to their sonic genre. But, as the saying goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
- Release date: September 18, 2023
- Record label: SM Entertainment