Why you should care
Because music, even K-pop, is a universal language.
If anything could bridge the historical divide between Seoul and Beijing, it could be a gang of slick-moved, hair-gelled pop stars.
Debuted in 2011, Exo is Asia’s beloved boy band whose concerts sell out in a matter of minutes. Although the band members’ smoldering good looks and suave dance moves are virtually unknown in the West, these nine heartthrobs have stolen the hearts of Korean and Chinese teenyboppers a la One Direction.
But they don’t just make nice eye candy. These golden boys are obscenely successful, thanks to their clever business model. Exo has two subgroups, Exo-K (South Korea) and Exo-M (China), who perform the same songs onstage in South Korea and China simultaneously. All of their music videos and albums have a version in each language too, allowing them to conquer several key markets at once.
In fact, few K-pop bands have rocketed to the success that Exo’s charm and talent have managed to fuel, says Lindsay Roberts, the head of social media for Seoulbeats. Its stardom reaches a host of countries spanning from the tip of China to the islands of Indonesia — and it consistently makes headlines for selling millions of copies of its albums worldwide. Simply put, Exo does what handsome boy bands do best: “Stay on the cutting edge of youth, beauty and talent,” as well as rely on the “fanatical love of young women,” explains Roberts.
These devotees — dubbed Exo-Ls — number in the millions, according to both official and unofficial fan clubs statistics. The official fan club, which sits at 1.3 million members, even involves an extensive application to become a registered member. And the Exo-Ls’ dedication is unmatched too: Fans have celebrated each member’s birthday, and wept when two of them left the group last year to go solo.
Granted, maybe it’s all smoke and mirrors. As Roberts explains, K-pop bands are “engineered by giant companies [and] given readymade music, dances and personalities.” But it could also be a mark of slick showmanship. In Exo’s single “Overdose” in Mandarin and Korean, the band members’ painstaking coordination and individual flair certainly steal the show. Exo’s myriad voices intermingle together as several polished singers move seamlessly into complex formations on and off camera.
In either case, like any ol’ boy band, Exo has upbeat, catchy beats that are hard to forget — ones that you’ll soon be mindlessly humming in the shower or on the way to work. And if its popularity rides on not just its addictive songs but also its unique split system, then it’s high time the West took notice of Exo. Perhaps an American-Cuban One Direction is in order.