EXO’s EX’ACT Review, Part 2: Lucky One and Monster Teasers & MV’s

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EXO-L’s were getting two new title songs for this comeback – and with it two teaser concepts and two music videos. Taking off from the puzzle-like “Pathcode” teasers from 2015’s “Call Me Baby” comeback/EXODUS promotions, EX’ACT was shaping up in the same cryptic vein. The official SMTOwn Global microsite for EXO featured a countdown that eventually revealed two brand new logos, the change a signature of every EXO comeback.

As always, the logos are minimalist but expressive: a four-leaf clover for the first comeback track, “Lucky One”, meant to be the brighter track. The friendly, rounded curves made it obvious that the track was going to be cute and shiny.

On the other hand, “Monster” is the Rose Red to “Lucky One”s Snow White. Its logo has the “classic” EXO logo formed out of bones and a lone screw in the middle. Vaguely punk rock, reminiscent of an unholy creation made of flesh and hardware ala Frankenstein’s Monster.

EXO-L’s are experts at cracking visual codes found in EXO teasers, often incorporating complex semiotic interpretations, recalling references from previous group teasers and even injecting math to create theories surrounding an ongoing narrative for the EXO mythos.  That the fandom continually gathers seeds from the most abstract of images that eventually become threads of fic, fanart and other acts of creativity remains to be one of my favorite things about this fandom.

Genius, really!

As scheduled, the music video for “Lucky One” went live on SMTown Global’s Youtube page on June 9, 12 midnight, KST.

The “Lucky One” MV is unlike previous EXO comeback MV’s in that it features almost none of the choreography for the track. Save for the shots of Kai in his amazing awkward dance break, the MV for “Lucky One” has zero dancing. It’s filled with many beauty shots of the nine members, and features a ridiculous story line ripe for the picking (or, ficcing as the case may be) – one in which the members of EXO are held in some sort of secret lab from which they escape with the aid of their MAMA-era powers, making the heads of their captors explode from sheer awesomeness.

The powers are played off in earnest in the music video, ensuring WTF moments and punchlines galore, some of which include Kai’s aforementioned random dance break and Xiumin and Suho going Wonder Twins and power activating their frost and water abilities.

The lack of group choreography in the “Lucky One” MV could have affected some of the fans’ reactions to the track. While the MV was welcomed with LOLz, a lot of fan reactions were lukewarm towards the song, only to have the general opinion sharply turned around with the comeback stage perfs on the weekly music shows M! Countdown, Music Core, Music Bank and Inkigayo.

On the other hand, the MV for “Monster” (which is really the main comeback track) was released an hour after the release of “Lucky One”. It blew up the internet, garnering 4.5 million views in 24 hours.

Prior to its release, EXO’s leader Suho had promised that their upcoming comeback was going to be “powerful” and that the group were preparing “powerful performances” –code in the K-pop world for “dark, angsty and aggressive” as opposed to “bright”, meaning cute, poppy and bouncy.

Visually, the MV for “Monster” is the shadow self of “Lucky One”. In both MV’s, EXO are trying to escape from some insidious force that wants to capture them, keep them trapped in the Maze they were in from the Overdose era. “Lucky One” has the members as perfect lab specimens – sterilized and ready for experiments to continue. In “Monster”, the lab rats are out. Either MV could precede the other, depending on what kind of canon one is creating in one’s head. The two MV’s may or may not exist in the same universe (or a/u, if you like).

Becoming a pawn in dystopic post-apocalyptic universes, being held prisoner, facing off against faceless authority figures are not new concepts in K-pop. Other groups have incorporated these same themes in their own comebacks – B.A.P. has gone head-to-head with similar military-type forces in their MV for “Bad Man”, Monsta X did the same in “Trespass”, and also very recently expanding on the escaped revolutionaries in a dystopic, post-apocalypstic society theme in their latest comeback, “All In”. These things happen regularly enough in K-pop for these concepts to become trope, so I was looking forward to how EXO might be able to interpret it within their universe. How will they make it look fresh? What will they do to make it their own?

The balancing act in painting these bolder, more aggressive strokes is in keeping the intensity of the MV without having the track crumble under the visual weight. Elements like smoky backgrounds, chicken wire fences and riot gear figure prominently in music video concepts like this, but would by now be predictable in an MV produced in 2016. And let’s be real – might even look cheap, production design-wise, going by SMTown Global standards.

There are deep magentas, and bloody reds and shocks of electric blue against what would otherwise be a stark, ominous gray/black palette. The darks are never just black – they’re a deep, bruised eggplant. The blacks are inky. When the frame requires a smoke effect – it is not a dirty smoggy, car exhaust gray – it’s a druggy purple haze, like the smoke in the “Love Me Right” MV.

Choreography-wise, it’s breath-taking. Seeing the formations finally fully realized complete with costumes, makeup and styling is nothing short of thrilling. It’s also really nice seeing Suho take center stage as a dancer for once!  Xiumin, also. I would have wanted to see more of the step that has the boys turning, balanced with one hand on the ground, because the step looked amazing on the leak.

As for the makeup, the boys look smudged, roughed up, with the suggestion of blood stains and bruises on their faces and hands. It’s totally unfair that Sehun still manages to look fantastic even with all that dirt on his face.

I’m total SM trash, so to me it’s a good good thing when SM still manages to make this look super glossy even when going for the grit.

 

 

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