The word iconic is almost a cliché nowadays. Often thrown around aimlessly, a term which was once reserved for only the highest calibre of places, people or things now finds itself attached to seemingly anything half-decent. But, like with most things, there are exceptions to the rule, and sometimes the brandishing of the word doesn’t feel heavy-handed. For example, when describing EXO.
True pioneers of K-Pop both on a national and international level, the group have shifted through styles and concepts seamlessly throughout the years, keeping their releases fresh and intriguing. There’s a level of class and consistency that oozes star quality from the nine-member group, an outfit who have remained at the top of the industry for nearly a decade.
So, to celebrate the people dubbed “the nation’s boygroup” by the president of South-Korea himself, we decided to put together eleven tracks for you to listen to during self-isolation. And, if you’re left pining for more recommendations then don’t worry, we’ll be back again next week with songs from across the genres for you to listen to.
But for now, enjoy!
EXO – ‘Growl’
Starting right from the beginning, “Growl” is as iconic a breakthrough single as any group could wish for. From its instantly recognisable synth intro melody to the irresistibly catchy chorus, it has the feel of a charming boyband effort laced with plenty of power. Following lacklustre critical reception to the fairly bland “Wolf,” “Growl” pushed EXO to the top of the industry, a place from which they’ve never quite fallen from.
EXO – ‘Call Me Baby’
By their second full-length effort, EXO had well and truly found their stride. At ease with encompassing sonics from across the musical spectrum into their music, EXODUS leant heavily towards R&B influences, packing tracks with groove-driven rhythm guitar melodies and sleek beats. And the album’s title track, “Call Me Baby,” was the amalgamation of this.
Armed with a relentlessly smooth hook, R&B-infused beats, blistering bass and unabated energy, it’s a super-charged anthem which refuses to lose any sort of momentum. Vocally sublime and instrumentally commanding, “Call Me Baby” is a song that has aged phenomenally over the years, still standing out as one of EXO’s finest efforts.
EXO – ‘Lotto’
“Lotto” came at a point in which EXO wanted to try a more mature, refined approach. Gone were the overblown bells and whistles heard across some previous releases, and in came more consistent, glossy instrumentation. And, although this particular track has some glaring flaws – an over-reliance on auto-tune, a less than gripping introduction – it still works tremendously in balancing a playful, sneering hook with succinct, sinuous verses.
So, whilst perhaps not a must-listen when it comes to title tracks, “Lotto” is still worth giving a re-visit or two, even if just for old time’s sake.
EXO – ‘What U Do?’
Part of EXO’s brilliance is in their ability to craft B-sides which could easily lead an album. “What U do?” is a perfect example of this, soaring in its powerful chorus and soaking in quality with its vibrant, colourful tropical synth/rhythm guitar combination. An uncompromising funk pop effort which brims with galvanising layers of vocal quality, it’s a flawless Summer anthem which will have you forgetting your troubles in an instant.
EXO – ‘Power’
And, sticking with feel-good numbers, no EXO song seems to have the magnetic smile-raising energy which “Power” possesses.
An EDM-cum-power pop offering, “Power” charges through its verses with a vigorous electro beat, which only ever gives way for a high-octane chorus which bounces along with lively singalong vocals and pulsating bass. Overall, it’s a futuristic, arena-made cut which mightn’t offer up any stylistic curveballs, but remains consistent enough to stay a resounding fan-favourite.
EXO – ‘Lucky One’
Going retro now, “Lucky One” was a refined masterstroke of a single. An electro-disco number, the smatterings of rhythm guitar over consistently throbbing, sleek synths make for a interesting instrumental backbone, ultimately helping aid the dynamic, interchangeable vocal performances.
As most EXO title tracks are, it’s catchy and propelled greatly by an earworm of a chorus, but overall it’s still a fine piece of music which stands the test of time.
EXO – ‘Been Through’
For a while, one of EXO’s staples was a winter album. Releasing four in total from their debut in 2013 to 2017, their final (so far), Universe, encompassed all that was great about these shortform seasonal contributions. Warm and sonically rich with soundscapes that seemingly personified the snowy, soothing time of year, it was a tour-de-force of an effort which highlighted the maturity in which the group could pull off a more sophisticated sound.
The highlight of this: “Been Through.” Driven by a heavy bassline and condensed trap beats the subdued, slightly atmospheric ballad is both vocally impressive and instrumentally diverse enough to stay memorable. Even if it’s the “dadada dadada dum” post-chorus breakdown, there’s something in the track that can appeal to everyone, making it a perfect lower tempo cut to relax to.
EXO – ‘Love Me Right’
But, if relaxing definitely isn’t your thing, then “Love Me Right” is for you. With thumping percussion, animated horns, funky rhythm guitar and plucky synths, there’s an array of instrumental diversity here which only adds to the fun-loving, energetic delivery of both verse and chorus.
It’s hard to find fault with this entrancingly joyous song and if you can, we’ll be too busy dancing and singing along to pay attention.
EXO – ‘Baby You Are’
Before we close with two upbeat choices, we thought we’d opt for a more lush, mature number first.
Starting with an acoustic bass-guitar loop the, sleek, synth-infused “Baby You Are” shines in its upbeat percussion and relaxing tempo. Although vocally never feeling ambitious, they remain consistently brilliant, highlighted in an excellent pre-chorus which sees a slip into a falsetto run, helping build to a sticky, congruous hook. Steady and smooth, this pop offering feels like everything a group of EXO’s stature should be making at this stage in their career.
EXO – ‘Gravity’
But, if more instrumentally ambitious pop tracks is your kind of thing, then look no further than 2018’s “Gravity.” An irresistibly funky song, its glossy, bassy synths blend perfectly with a vocally divine performance in the verses, and add a tangible colour to the sweeping, enchanting chorus.
Intrinsically catchy and heavily influenced by the bygone disco eras, the electro pulse and intricately worked atmospheric beats help emphasise the refined talent of all nine-members, and feels like “Lucky One” with a tinge of experimental grandeur replacing “safe” ‘80s inspired instrumentation.
Truly phenomenal, this is a song worth going out of your way for.
EXO – ‘Drop That’
And, finishing with a true staple of any EXO live show, “Drop That” is a carefree, bombastic anthem which favours an arena-made singalong as opposed to any layered poignance.
But, as we’re all in need of pick-me-ups however we can get them these days, this is a flawless musical answer. Driven by a gritty electric guitar riff, looping bassline and distorted, high-pitched electronics, the shouty vocals scream for audience interaction as the rest of the track continues the hyper-energy.
Complete with a super-charged rock bridge and uncompromising final chorus, “Drop That” is relentless in charm, and a perfect selection to end our list for this week.
And that’s a wrap! We’re done for another week here. Our next edition is a return to the original format, so we hope to see you there. Stay safe, and stay at home.