In ‘Cratylus’, the Greek philosopher Plato talks about the reasoning behind the name of Himeros, the Greek God of desire: “The name himeros (longing) was given to the stream (rhous) which most draws the soul; for because it flows with a rush (hiemenos) and with a desire for things and thus draws the soul on through the impulse of its flowing, all this power gives it the name of himeros.”
Silhouetted against an ethereal background of sultry pink and yellow, flowing with the melody and rhythm of ‘Peaches’ – the title track from his sophomore mini-album ‘Peaches’ – EXO’s Kai paints quite the same picture. Since his debut with the boyband in 2011, one thing about Kai has always been clear: his work goes beyond the labels of just singing or dancing – he is a performer. To engage with him, even on a superficial level, is to open your senses to his fluvial language, which begins with music and expands outwards, crafting a heady medley of dance, expressions – something he excels at – and physical descriptions. His is a seductive art, a mastery of the right words, said at the right time in the right tone, all meant to leave one gasping for breath and under his spell.
Of course, we got a glimpse of it on his solo debut last year. Aptly titled ‘Kai (开)’, the mini-album came riddled with one addictive track after another, all painting a picture of Kai’s multifaceted enigma, at the center of which was a demand to pay attention only to him. He reduced our world to a singular point – him – on the title track ‘Mmmh’, consumed our memories on ‘Amnesia’ (“Can’t remember anything before you,” he said), and embodied desire itself on ‘Nothing On Me’ (“I want nothing on me but you,” he sang).
On ‘Peaches’, he expands the world he’s created and adds maturity, a streak of danger and just a hint of vulnerability. Just like ‘Kai (开)’, ‘Peaches’ comes bolstered by a steady R&B background. It’s the little touches he adds, however – the choppy progression on ‘Vanilla’, the soaring chorus on ‘Come In’, the hedonistic picture he paints on ‘Domino’ – that make it a work of genius.
If last year’s ‘Mmmh’ was an aggressive, forward, titillating call to the dark side, ‘Peaches’ wraps those cruel intentions in sweet whispers and almost deceptive appreciation. Reveling in being the “bad guy”, Kai constantly treads the line between love and lust. The possibility of getting your heart broken always looms on the horizon, but his words in your ear placate you enough to accept the outcome. When coupled with the phantasmagorical visuals of the music video – where the simplicity of the song becomes entangled with Kai’s smooth, slick moves and dreamy sets – you get the feeling that you’re Eve trying to resist the call of the apple on the tree. Or well, the peach, in this case.
The best track on the project, however, is the refrained, choppy, yet intense ‘Vanilla’. The years have not been kind to the flavour or the term – being termed ‘vanilla’ with respect to anything, more often than not, is akin to an insult. If there was anyone, however, who could infuse it with charisma and magnetism, it’s Kai’s crooning of “Vanilla, vanilla, is what I’m craving” set to choppy bongo beats and languid chord progressions.
As he says, “Your soft touch feels good, I keep calling out your name, I savor this sweet moment”, one is reminded of the words of Philostratus The Elder: “Desire (himeros), the companion of love (eros), so suffuses the eyes that it seems clearly to drip from them.”
Kai switches it up immediately after in ‘Domino’, hereby dubbed as the sister-track to ‘Reason’, from his solo debut. ‘Domino’ comes in strong right off the gate, booming with bass and sweeping us off our feet with his surprising low-tone. Just like ‘Reason’ from his 2020 release, ‘Domino’ paints a picture of excess and hedonism, at the center of which is Kai, beckoning us to get a taste, because once is all it takes for us to “collapse like dominoes”.
Another surprise on the mini-album is the atmospheric ‘Come In’, talking about taking the feeling of love by the horn and boldly proclaiming what you feel. What starts as a groovy, hip-hop based track expands in an atmospheric pre-chorus, before segueing into a refrained, yet heady chorus layered with breathy ad-libs. Pure heroine, we say, and he agrees: “I tend to get tirеd of sweet flavors quickly, Yet somehow, you always feel new.”
The only time the project seems to stumble is on the penultimate track, ‘To Be Honest’. On a tracklist filled with little delights, whether through sonic arrangements or Kai’s own vocal abilities, ‘To Be Honest’ is comparatively plain, resembling a track one would experiment with while finding their footing rather than one from a fully-evolved musician such as Kai.
Wrapping up this roller-coaster ride in comforting lo-fi is the soft, vulnerable ‘Blue’, which feels like ironic, yet honest homecoming. After the bravado and dangerous allure of ‘Domino’ and ‘Vanilla’, ‘Blue’ becomes a breath of fresh air. As if shedding a skin, Kai takes a moment to be honest about his desires: “I want to sink like small dust, I want to stop in time for a moment, Exhaling sighs is hard enough, This darker silence is bad enough.” For a performer whose duality is one of K-pop’s most alluring concepts, dare we say, ‘Blue’ seems closer to Kim Jong-in than it does to Kai, as if reminding us that underneath the tough exterior is a man willing to be honest with himself in the softer moments.
Release date: November 30
Record label: SM Entertainment