What Is Love?

EXO began their debut year with their single “What Is Love” which is a bit awkward as MAMA was the first song we discussed. However we’d like to discuss their songs according to their discography if that’s all right with you.

“What Is Love” is quite the piece, lyrically speaking for our purposes. It’s placement after MAMA, encourages one to think that our newly arrived otherworldly EXO superheroes have come upon a being whom they consider magnificent. A being that gives them pause and for the first time perhaps also a release from the anguish and turmoil that plagued them from the apathetic view of Queen Earth’s human subjects on their role in the state of their world.

If I may pause right here, this lyric discussion gives me newfound appreciation for EXO-M’s version of “What Is Love.” It is so easy to remain focused on the vocal and instrumental orchestration. (I have been caught.) To be lost in the euphoria, the surge of dopamine, the “skin orgasms” or frisson (the tingling sensation we all feel when listening to what we individually consider an epic piece of music.) “What Is Love” may not be that song for you or it might be one of the many songs that stirs this feeling within your mind and all over your body. (I am guilty as charged of the latter.) Especially because of the intricacy of many of EXO’s songs. But what adds to the beauty of this song as with all of their songs is also what is being said and how.

Try to keep your eyes open as you listen to it again later, mmk?


As I said earlier, “What Is Love,” in my humble opinion appears to detail the sudden appearance of a being so magnificent to our heroes that when they are around them everything moves in slow motion. But this feeling is foreign to them. (Hear the opening lines from both versions in English stating “Girl, I can’t explain what I feel.”)

They are not sure whether to describe it as love although they are obviously proud of the jealousy they inspire in other men by being around this being. Hence the title “What Is Love?” It seems that are asking a multitude of questions. Is it ok for me to watch over you from this distance? Is it ok for me to want your happiness? Is it ok for me to want to be the source of that happiness? Is it ok for me to want to be closer to you? To be someone that is a dear friend and perhaps more? To walk into the future with you side by side and accomplish this task of saving the world with you? To create a better future wherein the two of us can be together? Will you be my reason to fight? Will you be my strength so that I will not give up? Will you trust me? No matter how hard it gets? Despite the changing of seasons and the swells of time, they want to dedicate themselves to fulfilling this person’s fairy tale wish of a happily ever after. They want to trust, protect and comfort this precious person.

Notice here that in both versions, EXO is speaking of their feelings and the influence they would like to have on this being. While this being does make them feel that they are a better man, triumphant even as the potential knight in shining armor…it remains that they are just that. The potential. It is revealed then that he is imagining their future together. They are imagining their supposed happiness through their POV alone. Of going through the motions of what EXO considers a full-fledged relationship including the hard and blissful times. They are hopeful that their feelings could blossom into something more in the future if only given the chance. If only this being says ok, everything could be perfect. They could save the world and win over this person’s heart and ride off into the fabled sunset. But does this being feel the same? Have they truly lost their minds in that all of the Earth has slowed while this being suddenly appears moving through time and space unaffected, unchanged?

A significant difference I’d like to point out between the two versions is EXO-M’s mention of a kiss shared between EXO and the being.

dang wo qian ni shou quan shijie xianmu bu yi
When I hold your hand, the world will envy us

dang ni wen wo
When you kiss me

cai dong zhe ganjue bu hui genggai
I’ll finally understand that this feeling will never change

tamen shuo de tian chang di jiu yexu yi buzai
People say nothing lasts forever

dan ni ke xinlai wo shì bugu yiqie qu ai ni de ren
But I’m just that desperate person who fell in love with you

ni jiang hui manman mingbai
you’ll slowly understand

I don’t know why 这感觉无可取代
I don’t know why zhe ganjue wu ke qudai
I don’t know why but this feeling cannot be replaced

ai shi turu qilai de yiwai
Love had suddenly appeared

ni rang wo bian cheng zui jia nanren
and you made me into a better man

Not only do they want to get close to this being emotionally but physically even more so as well. In contrast to EXO-K, EXO-M is not just hugging this being and comforting them while crying with them after fighting. They are also sharing a kiss. Rather this being is kissing them. Potentially. And willingly? They are desperate for their love. For this being’s acceptance. This is a stronger declaration in contrast to EXO-K’s version. They are not running from these feelings.

This is also a flip flop from what was seen lyrically in EXO’s M subdued intensity in MAMA. Interesting.

How will their love story play out throughout this album and perhaps span beyond into future albums?

(Really wants to do a lyrical analysis and comparison between What Is Love and D.O.’s single Tell Me What Is Love…but will be patient for now.)

Looking forward to the next phases of our discussion, Aural and Visual Transfiguration.


** Experiences Otherworldly Lyrical Transfiguration **

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