2013 Media Map – Music (Part 3)

This post was originally posted on LiveJournal.

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K-pop fans over on Tumblr kept mentioning this group whose comeback was so long overdue that it was becoming a running joke among them.

But first, a “comeback” refers to any new track from a K-pop group or solo act that has already officially “debuted”, or has already been introduced to the K-pop market. Comebacks are a big deal, and crucial to a group or act’s continued success. A comeback is typically composed of the following:

1. the single being promoted
2. the group’s concept or overall styling for the promotion of the song
3. the stage, or the performance of the song on music charts shows
4. the teaser video of the song (or, if we’re lucky, the whole album), usually fifteen to sixty seconds long
5. the MV, or music video of the single being promoted

Other components of a group’s comeback may also include:

6. guestings/interviews on other variety shows on T.V and radio
7. own variety/reality show being developed
8. product tie-ups and endorsements
9. magazine interviews and spreads
10. event appearances (i.e. fashion shows)

Items 1-5 are integral to any comeback, but items 6-10 usually follow after some type of success has already been achieved. Success in this case means that the song (and by virtue, album) being promoted is performing well sales-wise.

One last thing about comebacks – the turnover for comebacks is very quick and fast-paced. A comeback that takes too long to materialize (more than six months without anything new to promote, and the fandom gets very antsy for new material) can break the momentum of a group, especially if the group is relatively new to the industry. There is always a demand for newness that constantly requires to be filled in K-pop. It’s a lot like “Showgirls” in that sense – with new groups debuting all the time in K-pop, there’s always someone younger and hungrier coming down from behind you on the stairs.

The Era to End All Known Eras – EXO

Jump-cut to this group that kept being mentioned on Tumblr as the most overdue for comebacks: EXO. Sounded like a group of second tiers, or a brand of coffee-flavored hard candy.

Then:

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He showed up all over my Tumblr dashboard like a Chinese boy version of Weetzie Bat. I didn’t know I could be attracted to someone who looked like a 13-year old bishonen. I had to know his name! And this was how Luhan crashed into my world. You can imagine my relief when I found out he was turning 23, and not 13. Anyway, Luhan was from the most overdue for a comeback group, EXO which I found out had twelve members. GOOD LUCK IN YOUR FURTHER STUDIES IN THE WORLD OF K-POP MALES.

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When I decided to make this my desktop wallpaper in May, I knew I was a goner. This was the real turning point.

EXO had twelve members and was composed of two sub-units with six members each – EXO-K and EXO-M. These groups were mirrors of each other in terms of songs, choreography and concept but targeted to two different markets – Korean and Chinese. When SM Entertainment debuted them in 2012, the group’s concept was that they were aliens who crashed down to earth from an EXOplanet (hence the name.) Yes, it is ridiculous and cheesy and contrived and very high school talent show and I wouldn’t have gotten into them had this been the first thing I found out about them. Instead:

This video stayed open on my browser for a week.

EXO-M caught my interest first because Luhan belonged to EXO-M, which had four Chinese members. Its leader is Kris, who was the second person in the group I came to recognize because of how tall and irritated-looking he is in the dance practice video. There was also Lay, who struck me as ditzy except when he is dancing (and that’s how we know he’s acting out a persona); Tao, whom I considered my anti-bias [the one I liked the least]). The two remaining members in EXO-M are Korean: Xiumin, with his extra-terrestrial eyes and alleged eating disorder (which made many of us sad) and Chen, who is a funky funky Chen.

EXO released a mini-album in 2012 that was both embarrassing

and addicting.

EXO-K put out exactly the same songs EXO-M did, so I acquired both mini-albums because I needed more from them. I know that doesn’t make sense when they are technically the same songs, but still. They are songs sung in a different language by a different set of boys.

I was completely unfamiliar with EXO-K and was already biased toward EXO-M. Did I really need to know about the other group?!

Yes, I had more stupid questions like that one.

I watched all 23 (!!!) teasers EXO released before their official debut and noticed how one member was in a third of these. I didn’t know the reason behind the disproportion (still don’t tbh), but the more I watched him dance, the more in love I became. And this was how Kai crashed into my world.

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GOD. JUST LOOK AT HIM.

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GOOD LORD.

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THE WAY HE MOVES.

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Apart from Kai, EXO-K’s members are: Suho, who is the overall leader of EXO. He trained for seven years before his debut; Chanyeol, who is this mutant baby giraffe; Baekhyun, whose embarrassing pre-debut video of him pretending to be at a club turning a room’s light switch on and off (DIY disco lights) is still on Youtube; D.O whose voice is like honey and whose heart-shaped lips are supposed to belong to Kai and Kai only (as per the legion of hardcore KaiSoo shippers); and Sehun, who is the Devil’s Spawn.

EXO-M and EXO-K are “one”, something that the group takes great care to formally introduce themselves as during every public appearance. Though the group splits up into -M and -K every so often only to cover more geographical area for promotion in half the time it does to promote as one whole unit, SM Entertainment has been very careful not to create or highlight in-group tension or rivalry between the members of -M and -K.

In a sense, I was really lucky to have come into the fandom when I did. I didn’t have to wait too long for their much-anticipated comeback. I knew one was imminent, but whether they had a comeback in one month or five mattered less to me than those who were fans from the beginning.

The first time I heard “Wolf” from a leaked audio version, I liked it immediately. It sounded so disjointed and dirty and unpredictable that I could not wait to see how the song would be choreographed.

Releasing “Wolf” as EXO’s comeback seemed like a big risk in hindsight – the song itself was adventurous, and the choreography even more so. When the MV for the song came out, it was not surprising that it got mixed reviews. But however mixed the reactions were among K-pop listeners and fans, there was no doubt that the MV caught everyone’s attention.

It made sense that “Wolf” had a relatively short promotion period. It won the top spot on four out of the five major music charts shows after its release- “Show Champion”, “Music Bank”, “Music Core” and “Inkigayo”, but due to perhaps the relatively weak reception as measured by the criteria used on these same music charts shows, management saw fit for the promotions period to end. EXO did their goodbye stages (the last time a song would be performed live on a music charts show as part of promotions for the song) for “Wolf” in July.

And then, in August, The Mothership (SM Entertainment) sure proved that they knew what they were doing because this happened:

EXO had another comeback in less than a month after the goodbye stages for “Wolf” were mounted and the song was not part of the “XOXO” album. However, it was part of its repackage. 

Repackaged albums are the norm in K-pop, and it is A VERY SNEAKY AND MANIPULATIVE way for the K-pop industry to get listeners to buy the same album twice with the incentive of a couple of new tracks and new album art thrown in. In EXO’s case, an EXO fan would have already bought the original release TWICE, assuming that she has purchased BOTH EXO-K and EXO-M versions (called “Kiss” and “Hug” respectively), so releasing two repackages for “XOXO” would mean that the dedicated EXO fan would have had to have bought the same album FOUR times. Crazy, I know.

(In my case, I have acquired the album ten times. Here’s how it breaks down:

– acquired both Kiss and Hug versions of “XOXO” via download
– purchased Kiss and Hug versions [Korea release of album] of “XOXO” via mail
– purchased Kiss and Hug versions [Philippine release of album] of “XOXO”
– acquired Kiss and Hug versions of “XOXO” REPACKAGE via download
– purchased Kiss and Hug versions of “XOXO” REPACKAGE [Philippine release of album])

I HAVE NO REGRETS.

It’s interesting to note that it has been seven years since I purchased my last physical CD. In K-pop, you miss out on more than the music if you only rely on downloads. Before I got into this, I’d see K-pop CD’s in their enormous packaging sitting on music store shelves and it boggled my mind why these had to be so unwieldy. Typically, the CD’s would only contain not more than five tracks at a time even! I later realized that the packaging is as much the actual product as the music recorded on the CD it contained is. Why do we have so many “unboxing videos” of K-pop albums uploaded on Youtube? Because it is SO MUCH MORE THAN A BOX.

I keep trying to imagine what it would have been like for me to have gotten into EXO had I been a teenager. Would this entire experience have been more intense, more painful? I shudder at the thought of being this invested in something I would not have been able to afford. And that’s the thing about being an adult K-pop fan – we don’t nearly have to think twice about purchasing a shitload of K-pop goods. Sometimes I just laugh at my heart goes out to students who religiously save up for their K-pop merch.

EXO became my bias group in 2013, but that’s not to say that I stopped listening to anything else – that’s not the case. EXO became IT for me in the sense that everything they do in public becomes a source of delight to me, and that seeing the members interacting with one another gives me endless feels. Watching them develop as talents within the K-pop world is exciting. I look at them compared to their seniors in the biz knowing they have so much still to learn but even despite their missteps, mistakes and styling faux pas that have little to do with their own personal choices, I love them and I will keep loving them no matter what!

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