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‘Supernatural powers’ fuel Exo’s latest: The boy band’s fifth album, a year in the making, jumps from reggae to electro-pop

Nov 02,2018
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Boy band Exo attends a showcase with the press on Thursday ahead of the release of their fifth album “Don’t Mess Up My Tempo” on Friday. Member Lay was absent from the showcase. [SM ENTERTAINMENT]
It took more than a year for all nine members of one of the world’s most successful K-pop groups to gather and prepare a new album, but it was worth the wait. After six years of experimenting with a variety of pop genres - from hip-hop to reggae, R&B to pop ballads - Exo has found a way to bring it all together in their fifth album “Don’t Mess Up My Tempo.”

The album is packed with 11 energetic dance-pop tracks. The concept-driven album takes listeners on a journey through each member’s “supernatural power.” The nine members, since their debut, have been represented with specific powers including ice, fire, force, light and water.

“As many of our fans know, we all have our own ‘supernatural power’ and each song correlates with each member’s power,” said group leader Suho during a pre-release showcase held on Thursday at the Coex Artium in southern Seoul.

The album’s lead track “Tempo,” which was recorded in both Korean and Chinese, is a hip-hop dance track with an energetic drum and bass sound. The song is a warning to not interrupt the singer’s tempo with his lover.

The track comes along with a music video that features all nine members as bikers wearing leather jackets, colorful T-shirts and ripped jeans, showing off their charisma and prowess as they dance in front of a huge red cube, which represents their “world.”

“Our performance features a fist fight; we wanted to show off our manliness in this song,” said member Xiumin.

The members prove through the new album that they can be both aggressive as well as sensitive while they sing about their heartsick feelings.

The second track “Sign” features a powerful and vivacious tempo and showcases a man’s suspicions towards his lover. The suspicion grows like “fire” - the supernatural power of member Chanyeol. The eighth track “Damage,” an anthemic hip-hop reggae track, tells a similar story of a man who is hurt by a liar, but this time, he decides to take revenge with “thunder” - the power of member Chen.

The third track “Ooh La La La” is perhaps “the catchiest song of the album,” according to member Kai, as it is the group’s first attempt at Latin pop. “The love that always existed in our dreams turns into reality,” he said, adding that he has the supernatural power of teleportation.

The tracks “Gravity,” “24/7” and “Bad Dream” are propelled by the fast tempo of electro pop, each featuring the mixed feelings one feels while thinking about a past lover.

The album also comes along with R&B tracks “With You” and “Smile On My Face” and urban pop track “Oasis” which harmonizes with softer melodies. While the other songs feature the members’ complex feelings about love, these three are more euphoric, as they recover from their lovesick feelings.

“We want our fans to have fun figuring out what we are trying to portray through our album,” says member Chen.

“Try to figure out who the ‘helmet man’ is from the music video,” added Chanyeol, referring to the music video, hinting at the theme of their album.



Putting in the work

The album “Don’t Mess Up My Tempo” brings together all nine members of the group for the first time since the release of their fourth album “The War” in July of last year, including member Lay, who has been pursuing his solo career in China and the U.S. until recently. International music producers, including LDN Noise, The Underdogs, MARZ Music and Kenzie have taken part in the production of the album, and member Chanyeol has also written and produced some tracks.

The group debuted in 2012 with 12 members under two sub-units - Exo-K, who sang in Korean, and Exo-M, which sang in Mandarin - with their single “What is Love.”

The agency made it clear that it would be targeting Chinese markets with Exo-M, who successfully debuted in China with its first album “MAMA” in 2012. The lead track “MAMA” topped the Chinese music charts including Sina Weibo Music and NetEase Music upon its release in April that year.

However, the two sub-units have been inactive since 2014 following the exit of former Exo-M members Luhan and Chris in 2014 and Tao in 2015.

The other nine members continued performing as Exo, producing a slew of No. 1 hits including “Call Me Baby” (2015), “Love Me Right” (2015), “Monster” (2016) and “Ko Ko Bop” (2017).

Many of the members are also pursuing careers as solo artists. Several of the members including D.O., Sehun, Chen and Suho have all appeared in films, dramas and musicals.

BY YEO YE-RIM [yeo.yerim@joongang.co.kr]