Ahh, Exo. K-pop’s latest juggernaut. I cannot believe this is their first official recap here (as opposed to unofficial), but have no fear, Exo fen, for I plan to correct this grievous oversight.
For those who are just tuning in, Exo is a twelve-member group from SM Entertainment. They are seen by many as the heir apparent to Super Junior’s throne—both have twelve members, both have a Mandarin subunit, both are pretty, (well, YMMV on some SuJu members, and I’m going to get slammed for that by ELFs, aren’t I?) and both are bleeding members now (too soon?). But like any overthrow of a long-standing dynasty, Exo’s ascent has not been without bloodshed. Exo’s fandom has grown, well, exponentially, and are already rivaling wank powerhouses like ELFs and Cassies after only a couple years of existence. Impressive.
As someone who, until recently, seemed destined to love firmly B-list or below groups (oh, U-KISS, your existence is surely a Shakespearean tragedy), being of a fan of a group that’s actually popular enough to have a thriving and wanking fandom is a new thing. I came into K-pop fandom as the sun was setting on the SuJu and DBSK empires, and at the time, the K-pop landscape seemed mostly occupied by smaller factions squabbling over the ruins. But then Exo showed up and it seems like they’ve settled nicely onto that iron throne.
Exo burst onto the K-pop scene in an appropriately epic manner with “Mama,” which actually means “God” in Korean, so it wasn’t a song about their mothers. This opus began with some Gregorian chant realness before soaring to a grandiose crescendo, complete with screaming rap. You can tell SME really blew the budget they saved on SuJu’s “weird room with flashing lights” music videos for this. Unlike Super Junior, whose Mandarin subunit usually did not promote concurrently with the rest of the group, Exo’s Mandarin subunit (the imaginatively-named Exo-M) promoted in China while the equally imaginatively-named Exo-K promoted in Korea. Separate M and K versions were released of the music video and mini-album, just to make things more confusing for everyone.
Then… a year went by. No new releases. The fandom was still going strong, and, without new material to bond over, began fighting amongst themselves over various topics. Then Kriswatch ’13 happened and we all entertained ourselves with increasingly outlandish theories regarding his absence (with the knowledge I gained since initially writing this review, I fear they were sadly prophetic). Just as the fandom’s thirst was reaching critical mass (actually, I lied; it’s always at critical mass), SME finally announced an Exo comeback—this time in the form of “Wolf” (otherwise known as “Oolf”) a song that garnered an extremely polarizing reaction. People either loved it or hated it. I personally found it a rather strange song, but it was interesting, and it definitely was different. But you know fangirls—like Harry S. Plinkett, they don’t like things that are different. Several versions of the music video were released—a dance version and a drama version, plus K and M versions, which was why I gave up recapping all that as too much for my lightning-quick attention span.
Eventually, the fandom warmed up enough to “Oolf” that Exo was still riding the momentum when they released their follow-up single, the ‘90s R&B Jam, “Growl.” Since SME blew their budget on “Oolf,” the “Growl” video presented a minimalist concept focusing on the choreography and aesthetic. “Growl” was, not surprisingly, a huge hit. After “Growl” promotions ended, the fandom was thankfully spared from another extended draught (not that that stopped them from wanking furiously). “Miracles in December” was released, featuring the sexiest suspender dance since Girl’s Day’s “Expectation:”
(I did not make these gifs. Credit goes to whoever made them).
Also, Kris helped us celebrate the season by dropping the shades and pumping the bass. I don’t know about you, but that song is now a standard fixture at any holiday party I’m hosting.
Which brings us up to Exo’s latest and current single, “Overdose.” When I first heard the title of the song, I couldn’t help but think of this:
Someone make a mashup and call it “Someone Call Dr. Feelgood”
But instead, “Overdose” is just a standard SME pop jam. It plays it safe where “Wolf” was adventurous, but it’s still a pretty solid song, as is the rest of the mini. The most polarizing track on it is probably “Run,” which fans seem to love or hate. I am admittedly lukewarm on the track because it’s really difficult to get me to like happy/cutesey things—they need to be either extremely quirky (e.g. B1A4), or extremely tacky/OTT (e.g. Orange Caramel). “Run” is neither of these things—it’s a catchy song, just not my style. I’m more into the ‘90s R&B realness of the other tracks, especially “Moonlight.” That’s some baby making music right there.
But back to the “Overdose” MV. As usual SME has created more work for me by releasing K and M versions of the videos, but fortunately, they’re not that different. Most of my screencaps will come from the M version, for no other reason than I am blatantly M-biased and watched that one more, but I will mention any significant differences (or just particular sources of lulz) in the K version. As always, this is not an audiophile review—it’s a fangirl review, and will be from a fangirl perspective.
Like “Mama,” the “Overdose” video begins with appropriately dramatic imagery and instrumental music—this time, the members are trapped in a maze that apparently looks like the Exo logo from overhead. The muted color filter, high stone walls, and black or white suits donned by the members contribute to the overall dour, Gothic tone. There’s a lot of angsty gazing and sand-sifting and pounding of invisible force fields (one has to wonder why there is an invisible force field in a maze with walls higher than Kris’s head, but it’s a K-pop video—you just gotta go with it). This setup looks promising—some cool Alice in Wonderland-esque stuff is coming, maybe?
Yup, we’re back to the typical SME weird room with flashing lights. And apparently, we’ve gone from Alice in Wonderland to the Exo remake of “Bring It On.”
This is about when I’d make a joke about late-90s boy bands wanting their outfits back, but this isn’t even BSB/‘NSYNC level. This is some 5ive realness.
Just going to leave this here:
There isn’t too much to recap here, since it’s just dancing in a weird room, but I do really like the drum choreo in the chorus. You never see male idols on their knees often enough. And I’m so not editing that sentence.
Just going to leave this here:
In the K version, we have an outfit and venue change. Not sure what the creative reasoning is for this, but *shrug*.
During the second verse, our video editors decide to spice things up a bit with some random element-throwing or whatever this is:
We’re treated to some gloriously aggressive hip-thrusting in the chorus:
Now we suddenly switch settings to… a new weird room! But at least the guys are in attractive suits now. And showing off the fruits of their exfoliation routine:
We’re at the bridge of the song, which I find insanely cool, but I’m also easily pleased, so YMMV. Chen does what he does best and belts out a power note in the M version; however, I’m more concerned with what appears to be an orgy happening beside him:
The K version takes a much less pornographic approach, with D.O belting out the power note with a PG-13 backdrop (are Xiumin’s guns considered pornographic? I think they should be).
In both versions, we are treated to one of Exo’s resident giants rapping (Kris in M; Chanyeol in K). Then the next dude (Xiumin in M; Sehun in K) shows up in a Cersei Lannister-esque cockblock and resumes the rap. We finish out the final chorus in this weird room, with Tao throwing a side aerial to cap things off (how he can do that after all that dancing is beyond me… maybe he’s an android!) before returning to the maze. In the M version, the focus is on Luhan; in the K version, it’s on Kai, who seems oddly smug over being trapped in a maze:
Aaaaaaaaand that’s a wrap. Since I am unfortunately not fluent in Mandarin or Korean, I cannot analyze the lyrics (because pop lyrics are always so deep) but I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say the song is about some kind of love relationship.
As you can tell, I’m quite raving about this song and video on the same level as others I’ve recapped here. Frankly, it’s just a typical SME video. It couldn’t seem to settle on a concept (the hip-hop stuff seemed out of place with the maze and the suits) and what concept it did have, it didn’t use to its full potential (the Gothic maze thing). I like when music videos commit to a concept and go hard (which is why I raved so much about VIXX’s horror concepts, to name an example). But I also like simplicity, when it’s used effectively (“Growl,” for example). And I’ve just never been a big fan of weird rooms with flashing lights, I guess.
Some final thoughts: the song was just OK to me until I hit the bridge, which really knocked it out of the park. I’m a sucker for any kind of super-dramatic theatricality. In terms of concept and execution, the video underwhelmed, and lacked any real cohesion. It felt like 3 different videos in one. The choreography was great, however, and the guys were on point with their dancing as always. And the attractive suits were really, really attractive.
ETA: I wrote this recap before the news broke that Kris may be leaving Exo. No confirmation yet, but should it be true, then let this post be my tribute to him. Here’s to you, Kris. You will be missed.