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-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.)