Madeleine Lee: Over the past two years, EXO’s singles have been a whirlwind tour of different identities as the group struggled to find its own. They’ve been a DBSK reboot (your own lawsuit joke goes here); they’ve been rap-step; they’ve been Blackstreet, to the most (and most deserved) success. “Overdose” is, at last, a single that sounds like something they’ve done before, and this is not a bad thing, because what it recalls are some of their strongest album tracks: Mama's "Machine" with the chorus and raps, XOXO's "Heart Attack" and "Black Pearl" for the melodies and beats. The Korean subgroup’s vocalists are shouters, not crooners, and the song accepts this as a strength, so that even that wonky note in the chorus sounds convincing when barked aggressively enough. I’m not sure how I’ll react if the next single sounds like this, or the next three singles, but for now, I’m glad the group is returning to its own catalogue, not trying to emulate someone else’s. 
The second I found out that there were Korean members on the [EXO-]M team, my heart sank. It’s not because I assumed that they — the Korean members — would half-ass it like their Super Junior bros did. It’s because it’s just not right to do that. As a company, when you decide after the fact that you want to export your idols to another country for promotion, there’s obviously an adjustment period and your idols are gonna have to deal. But to know from the get-go, before the fact, that you want to export something to another country and then to try to FAKE IT like these Korean members are Chinese in order to more effectively market your product? That is awful.
I don’t really have any insight into SME’s promotions in China (besides a general feeling of “this isn’t right” when I see how bewildered the Korean EXO-M members look in Mandarin interviews, and a general feeling that all 12 EXO members debuted way before they were ready to), which is why I’m linking to someone who does.
-Exo-M at the Chinese awards show before their official debut (x)
Rule #1: Never ever underestimate the leader’s power
Rule #2: Use your common sense. *facepalms* They’re called ‘Exo-M’ for a reason
Rule #3: KRIS ♥
I’m definitely reading too much into this but I found it interesting that it’s Kris, the Canadian member (and the Chinese member with the weakest command of the language, if his handwriting is any indication), who responds right away to the MC’s comment, correcting her as to their ethnic identities. (She later apologized effusively.) He’s the group’s leader, so he’s speaking in that capacity, but this still gave me shades of Howie Mandel’s xenophobic gaffe with Tiffany two months ago. (If anything, this proves how important it is to me to find someone I can identify with, who does the things that I can’t or that I wish I could.)
8. Ailee, “Heaven”. I always get suckered into liking smiling-through-the-tears belters like this. Sometimes “Heaven” reminds me, strangely, of "Unwritten" (which I can’t stand); I don’t know if it’s the Big Meaningful Choruses or their voices or what. But its prettiness saves it, and I admit to getting wrapped up in that “heavenheavenheaven” hook. Ailee’s accent also gets me; I guess I find it relatable. Bonus: it sounds just as good as a rock ballad.
7. Nine Muses, “Ticket”. Nine Muses, while bland, make pretty good singles. “Ticket” is just plain fun, sounding both retro (the horn splashes) and immediate (the hints of dub and J-pop).
6. B.A.P, “Warrior”. The lyrics could be about The Hunger Games and the song sounds the way I imagine the movie feels, full of doom and full of spirit. Their mini is a potential album of the year, or at least top 5.
4. Miss A, “Touch”. Who knew the fun and sassy Miss A would sound so good as anonymous electro divas? In fact, the oxymoron “anonymous diva” is exactly what I hear in this song: it’s simultaneously hot and cold, passionate and detached. Shoutout to that bassline, too.
3. SPICA, “Russian Roulette”. Usually an extraordinary talent like SPICA’s Kim BoA would eclipse the rest of her group, but they all hold their own, and in fact she sounds all the better for having that backing.
2. EXO-M, “What Is Love”. This song has grown on me a lot since I first reviewed it. Perhaps it’s the offbeat quality that allows it to stick - the riff is ingratiating, but fades into the background just when it’s about to get obnoxious. I still prefer the Mandarin version to the Korean, partly because the sound of the language fits the rhythm better but mostly because of Chen’s voice.
1. Big Bang, “Bad Boy”.Alive is another top contender for album of the year. Every song is solid (except the middling “Love Dust”), but “Bad Boy” is the one that makes me want to cry, and apparently that’s what I like in a good single.
@Famous_Jae: 이녀석들에게 좋은 관심 부탁드립니다! 빡센준비로@hydrayuge 황님 허리가 나가면서까지 다들 최선을 다해 열심히 준비한 친구들입니다!! 부족한 신인 친구들이지만 잠재력은 무한합니다!!!낼 첫무대!!!EXO!! pic.twitter.com/BEtjkB7T
100 days later, the revolution finally exists IRL. I’m going to miss the period where EXO was made up solely of a bunch of minute-long beats and some well-styled photoshoots, because at that point they were basically the platonic ideal of a boy band.
EXO-K, “History”. Having solved the mystery of the eclipse in their first “prologue single” (it was caused by a rogue slow jam), the EXO boys now find themselves inside the Box. That’s the nickname eye-rolling observers have given to the windowless, vaguely spaceship-like dance sequence backdrops seen for the entirety of SM’s most unimaginative videos (Super Junior is a repeat victim), and the cutout variation seen in SNSD’s video for "The Boys" seems to have been repurposed for this one. The single, too, is firmly in Box territory. “History” is the same kind of shouty, melodramatic, heavily percussive synthpop that SM usually assigns to their other boy bands, Super Junior and SHINee (see “A-Cha” and “A.Mi.Go”, respectively). The newly revealed vocalists even sound a bit like those other groups, particularly the rappers (but then, most Korean boy band rappers have one of the same 3 voices: either high and sneering, high and tough, or deep).
That said, it’s a much smoother and more coherent variation of the formula than we usually get: the vocal lines are pleasant, the requisite melodic breakdown is unobtrusive (if a bit too reminiscent of “Juliette”), and the production is surprisingly stripped down. It’s nothing novel, but the more I listen to it the more I like it. If nothing else, I’m hoping that EXOs K and M will continue to offer a more refined take on the clanging Yoo Youngjin/SME boy band sound. Their sleek fashion-magazine image is similarly encouraging. I give them at least two real singles before SM throws them into the Box.
(The Mandarin version is here; this time around I arbitrarily like the Korean one more, but there’s not much of a difference between them. And they both have that pants-flapping-in-the-wind choreography, which I adore.)
EXO-M, “What Is Love”. I’ve got a more pressing question that hasn’t already been examined by Haddaway: Why is K-pop so interesting-sounding this week? What is going on? B.A.P, Block B’s new single (to come), Miryo of Brown Eyed Girls’s solo EP, and now this.
Background: EXO is SM Entertainment’s latest experiment. Basically, they made a 12-member boy band, then split it into two subgroups, one to promote the songs in Korean and one to promote in Mandarin. (It’s a bit like JYP’s original concept for 2AM and 2PM, where a larger boy band called One Day was split into two groups, one for ballad and one for dance.) I posted the Mandarin version because I arbitrarily like the sound of it better; the Korean version is here. It’s mostly the same except for the lyrics and the vocals on the verses. Not sure if that’s going to be how their singles are going to go from now on. I kind of hope so because I love hearing alternate-language versions of the same song, but it’d be nice to see how they build each half of the franchise differently.
This is very obviously a Yoo Youngjin song (cf. "Sorry Sorry Answer"), and once you know that Teddy Riley co-wrote it it’s very obviously his song as well. There’s something off-kilter about that twangy riff (not sure of the instrument), and something not quite right in the pacing and syncopation of the vocals, but oh man is that chorus smooth. This song is just weird enough to be interesting, but not so much that it’s off-putting. As a debut single, I don’t think it does a very good job of exposing the boys - in the Korean version it’s hard to tell who’s singing what part, and in the Mandarin it seems like there are only two people singing at all. But this is apparently only a “prologue single” (what do you expect from a promotional strategy that includes 12 teaser videos, each with a different song?), and anyway I don’t think it’s that well-suited for a debut (or I could just still be reeling from B.A.P’s recent stages) - it’s a grower, and you’ll either really like it or find it uninteresting. It doesn’t inspire immediate devotion, nor immediate dislike. It’s just there.
Also, this video is really nice-looking. It looks like a fashion shoot. I wouldn’t mind a video of just the parts where they’re in a field or looking at rocks or looking up at an eclipse. I’m hoping this means that SME’s video aesthetic has finally caught up to their photo aesthetic.