Well guys, this is it. After 92498574983 million teasers and a bunch of irrelevant, overdubbed "live performances", EXO are formally debuting. While it's very easy to be blinded by all the flashy CGI and the "cool" superpowers they each have, at the end of the day they're debuting in music, so they have to be treated as musicians. "MAMA", the video and the song itself, is really the epitome of what SM Entertainment is now, all problems included. So before we all get swept off our feet (if you haven't already), let's take a look at what's wrong with EXO, shall we?
Honestly, I'm quite amused at how well EXO have managed to bring forth several of K-Pop's major problems in a concise, slightly obvious, and "creative" way. The whole idea of "MAMA" is a K-Pop crash course in itself. Of course they're still problems that need to be fixed, and I wouldn't really call SM brilliant for doing it, but it's pretty cool.
And another thing. I get that EXO is "global" and all, being halved into K and M and all, but the intro was also in English. As someone who isn't fluent in either Korean or Mandarin, it's convenient, but when you think about it, EXO-K is Korean and EXO-M is Chinese. Their main markets are supposedly Korea and China. Now this is obviously for Hallyu, but I don't know about you guys, I got into K-Pop because it was Korean. There comes a point when, in trying so hard to appeal to international audiences, K-Pop loses the qualities that made it appealing in the first place.
"MAMA" itself is another reflection of what's wrong with K-Pop -- all style, no substance. All flash, no foundation. Of course at this point we're not sure if EXO have actual talent, because SM just overdubs everything on the grounds that "it sounds better", but from what we get in the video, they are all style and no substance. It's a "visual" song in the sense that you have to watch it for it to sound better, but neither the audio nor the visuals really give off the impression of mastery or effortlessness.
They don't look like a group, they look, and perform, like six (or twelve, whatever) arrogant, self-centered brats. With emphasis on look, because obviously I don't personally know them.While confidence is vital to a new act, there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Which leads us to another problem. You cannot manufacture art and expect it to be perfect. No matter how perfect it looks, if it doesn't feel perfect, it will always be flawed. Yeah sure the dancing was probably practiced to oblivion and the video looks perfect, but you can't just put practice into group dynamic, you have to put sincerity and emotion into it. It's kind of like cooking. A possible reason why home-cooked food tastes better to a lot of people is not because of the ingredients or the recipe per se, but because of the sincerity put into the cooking, as opposed to fast food.
And not just in the way they move, but in the song alone -- I felt nothing. My heart didn't race, I didn't get goosebumps, I wasn't smiling like a madwoman, none of the standard feelings I get from amazing releases. "MAMA" is supposed to be this epic, world domination song, but it has absolutely no personality. Even all these cute-fests K-Pop gives us have more personality than this. You hear the bass line perfectly fine, but it's not powerful enough to be felt. The vocals are very bold and intense, but they're not sincere. You have so many things going on -- electric guitars, synths, screaming, chanting -- but everything sounds so stiff and over-rehearsed that they managed to suck every bit of emotion out of the song.
EXO, as shown by "MAMA", is basically what everyone else in K-Pop wants to be -- perfect. But they have shown us that even perfection comes with compromises. Emotions, or outstanding technicals? Overflowing style, or solid substance? Commercial success, or artistry?
Note (6/23/2012): I originally wanted to keep my mouth shut and just take everything, but there are too many comments saying the same things over and over again -- I'm going to end things here. To everyone calling me out for saying that EXO are arrogant, no, I do not know them personally, and I probably never will. However, you seem to forget the context in which I say those things. I am looking at the music. I am not looking at the members, I am not looking at their attitude towards other people and themselves -- I am looking at their attitude towards their music, and their performances. No one is perfect, and that's one of the most important points I take into consideration. However, everyone can improve, and that's the purpose of this article -- to take apart the concept of EXO, and see what can be corrected. In the same way, the purpose of my writing is for me to improve, and I value comments that both respect and criticize my writing. This is a blog that is grounded on musical criticism, not entertainment gossip or news-based op-eds -- if you want to read those kinds of things, this is not the place to go to. So please, before you start disproving my worth, at least bother to read and understand everything I say and everything this blog is, because I bothered to watch and follow EXO before I wrote this article, regardless of what I said.