[#2] EXO - "으르렁" (Growl)

From: "XOXO" (Repackaged)
Released: August
Territory: South Korea
Previous Best of Entries: 2012: [#30] "History" (EXO-K) and [#29] "What Is Love" (EXO-M)
Other notable song(s) from 2013: "Baby Don't Cry", "Black Pearl", "Don't Go", "XOXO (Kisses & Hugs)", "Miracles In December", "첫 눈"

It's funny how I've basically spent all the EXO pieces I've written after my "EXO shows what's wrong with K-Pop" piece (which is my most-read, most talked-about post ever) trying to explain what exactly I meant, even if I think it was pretty clear the first time. I don't hate EXO (if their performance on this year-end countdown isn't enough proof), I hate how they were introduced by SM, and the unreasonable expectations for their debut. As a critic my work centers around looking at what SM said they'd do, then seeing if those were fulfilled through EXO -- and for "MAMA", they weren't. They weren't because "MAMA" was more about the song than it was about EXO, and for a debut the most important thing is to show off everything the group can do. That doesn't make them a bad group, it just means they weren't given the debut they deserved. But I'm so, so relieved that SM redeemed themselves this year with "XOXO", and later "Growl."

What first caught my attention with "Growl" was how everything sounds so comfortable, in the best possible way. The stiffness of "MAMA" was gone completely, and replaced with graceful execution. It shows in their vocals, suddenly the belting and the riffs have punch, and it shows even more in their performances, they sound like they're actually having a good time executing the song. That serious aura is still there, but you see how much more of a pleasure it is to listen to "Growl" than it is "MAMA" or "Wolf." "Growl" is an age-appropriate song for EXO -- upbeat and fresh, but with the angst and the mastery of more "mature" packages.

That upbeat nature of the song was the second aspect that kept me listening. "Growl" is snappy, and not the half-baked kind -- the confident kind. The dynamics are well-pronounced, and the arrangement embraces both silence and chaos -- tight choruses are contrasted well by breakdowns at the verses and moments of complete silence from the instrumental to let the harmonies take over (1:17-1:19). There's also an equally well-done contrast between the very graceful bridges, that sound ethereal almost, and the very firm choruses that perfectly balance hard and soft, preventing the song from sounding stuff.

The first time I heard "Growl," I though that this should've been their debut single. This should've been how they were introduced to the industry. It's an effortlessly strong song that allows EXO to show off their strong points and deliver their performance with mastery. "Growl" is everything I had wanted from EXO from the very beginning. The grace and the effortlessness to the execution, the mastery that went into the production and how it laid down the rudiments -- this is what an outstanding pop song sounds like, one that sounds timely and trendy, but has the potential to be a classic in the next few years.
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