[Special Collab Album Review] EXO – XOXO (Repackaged)

EXO - XOXO (Repackage)

I apologize for the delay but this was a long and special review so it required some time! For this review, I collaborated with one of my best friends, Karen, who has been part of the EXO fandom ever since their teaser era so I wanted to have someone who is well-versed with EXO to give their opinions on the album. Karen and I have both written about our thoughts on various aspects of this release and so, with our combined opinions, we hope this will be a rather comprehensive review. Thus, this will be a longer post than usual so feel free to skip around and check out sections that you are interested in. As usual, I have my TL;DR section at the very end so you can skip down there to see which tracks Karen and I recommend and you can read up on those songs accordingly. To make it less confusing, my sections will be in black and Karen’s sections will be in navy blue. 

Hi I’m Karen, I’m Jimmy’s friend and an avid (rabid) EXO fan, and I’ll be joining him on this adventure into the perfection that is XOXO. I definitely won’t be as thorough as him (mostly because my scholarly knowledge of music is nonexistent) but hopefully I won’t be too bad. I’ll be focusing mostly on the M versions of the songs, since I generally prefer them over the K versions (mostly because I understand Chinese to some degree can understand them).

Music Video

Growl (1st Version)

Karen: I’m going to start out by saying that I absolutely love this MV. I think their Growl concept was more along the lines of what I was expecting when EXO first released their teaser pics, and while Wolf was great I would choose Growl over it any day. In this MV there are no flashy cuts or effects, the outfits are quite tame compared to what we usually see from SM, and the backdrop is just the walls of an abandoned building. All in all it may sound like a bland, cookie-cutter dance video, but when combined with the relatively simple (yet powerful) choreography, excellent camerawork, and some charisma on the boy’s part we get a dynamic video that showcases the members wonderfully.

One thing I’ve always loved about EXO’s dances is how seamlessly they manage to work into the dances the concept of them being both two separate sub-units as well as one large unit (definitely makes separating the many faces easier). You get to see plenty of that in this video as the two groups weave in and out of the shot, finally merging into one near the middle. The weaving in and out and one-cut nature lends a sense of movement to the video, unlike the static feeling I usually find in dance videos with multiple cuts to different angles or intensely staring faces. The usual individual member pans were substituted with the members actually getting up close and personal with the camera, something else that I found really awesome because you could see the background and expressions on their face change with the song. The boys all have a certain charisma (and impossibly flawless faces), and it definitely shows in these closeups. The choreography itself is also impressive, it’s sensual and powerful and playful all at the same time; it also has a certain flow that makes it fun and a pleasure to watch. It definitely looks like a difficult dance to learn, and I just really really like it.

Case in point: Chanyeol getting up close and personal with the camera.

Case in point: Chanyeol getting up close and personal with the camera.

I adore the sartorial choices for this music video (I’ve always been a sucker for the schoolboy look) and I love how the stylists refashioned the traditional school uniform into the various looks we  see in the group. There is enough variety that it isn’t tediously uniform, but they’re all similar enough that you aren’t distracted by that “one guy wearing bright pink while everyone else is wearing grey” phenomenon I see sometimes. The hairstyles are all perfect too, definitely a step up from Wolf era in my opinion. Luhan’s orange-ish color isn’t my favorite thing, but it could be worse (see: Sehun’s Ronald McDonald hair, the parrot fiasco, etc). Also I have an immense need to own the tie that Tao is wearing.

Yikes.

Yikes.

My favorite part of the MV: The first few seconds of the MV are hands down my favorite of the entire thing. I love the hat and Tao’s little smirk and his stupid ok sign and sort of whiny voice and the way the camera pans out of his face and just. TAO. But I also adored Chen’s little hair ruffle in M’s version and Kris’s closeups because I am apparently irreparably M biased.

CHEN.

CHEN.

Jimmy: While normally I don’t condone SM releasing these dance box MVs, if there were ever a dance box MV done perfectly right, it would be this one. Normally, generic SM MVs involve flamboyant colors with inanimate objects and blank stares into the camera. However, the colors of this MV were muted and dark, rightfully giving the spotlight to the boys and their badass choreography. My eyes were not distracted by flashy outfits or bright lights but rather they were focusing on what really matters – the performers and their art. Though the lights flickering on and off got slightly annoying after awhile, I appreciate the intention behind it as it really adds to the whole “we gangsta preppy cute as hell high schoolers bein’ tough in a rundown warehouse” vibe. The school uniform outfits had minor tweaks tailored for each member and what was great about them was that they weren’t the centerpiece of the MV but rather they were merely enhancing the visuals and that’s what outfits should do. It’s a problem when people remember an MV for the outfits the performers wear (the only thing I remember about f(x)’s “RPPP” is their wtf-worthy checkered outfits).

Oh boy, you sure got my attention.

Oh boy, you sure got my attention.

The one-take concept of video was very clever on SM’s part as it allowed EXO to demonstrate the extent of the amount of effort and precision it required to film this video. The complex staging allowed for each member to be showcased as the boys weaved in and out, seamlessly transitioning the video between the two groups. Close-ups of certain members during the video further augmented the quality of the video as it lessened the gap between the audience the performers. I felt like I was walking through all of this awesome choreography and the close-ups of EXO members made it feel like they were performing to me, similar to how idols tend to make impromptu eye contact or improvised gestures to specific audience members during a performance. This audience-performer relationship is rarely expressed in a MV, much less a dance box video, and I think this is what makes this MV so special.

I definitely enjoyed the spunky facial expressions the guys held throughout the video and the confident aura that EXO gave off in general. The pacing of the video was commanding my attention enough but what truly pulled me in was the way EXO danced and the way they were dynamic in their performance. The charisma the group in general exuded was just absolutely charming and how someone would lead us from one group to the next was a very natural means of transition (as opposed to Girls’ Generation’s “IGAB”’s “let’s all throw our snapbacks at the camera and hope no one notices that we completely switched scenes”).

Look, a distraction!

Look, a distraction!

In big groups such as EXO, having all of the members dance at once in a cluster for a 3-minute video is tiring to watch. Girls’ Generation and Super Junior videos are definitely guilty of this. The way EXO was divided into groups for the majority of the video, the way the attention was split evenly between the two groups, and the way the entire group came together in the end was visually very powerful and I think that’s how dance box MVs should be. Humans naturally have a low attention span and we can’t focus on 12 people all at once. Cutting that number down to 6 at a time makes the experience of watching that much more enjoyable.

As for my favorite part of the MV, I have a raging bias on Kyungsoo/D.O and my favorite part includes all of the parts where he makes an appearance (especially his solo in the Chinese version of the MV and right before he does the hopscotching part). I am a shameless fanboy, don’t mess.

The swagger in his wink is overwhelming. *faints*

The swagger in his wink is overwhelming. *faints*

Karen: I’d like to take part of the credit for dragging him down into the bottomless pit that is EXO fandom with me.

Growl (2nd Version)

Karen: HOT OUTFITS. TAO IS HOT. HOT CLOSEUPS. BASICALLY HOT.

Tao bein' HOT AS HELL.

Tao bein’ HOT AS HELL.

Jimmy: It was like an upgraded version of the first version. They upped the hotness level by changing up the boys’ outfits and giving each of them hella hot closeups. HOT. YES.

HOT.

HOT.

Music

Growl

Karen: I have to say, Growl is probably my favorite EXO song so far. I find it impossibly catchy, with a sound that’s fairly distinct from their other title songs. MAMA and Wolf were both very heavy songs, seemingly made to be performed onstage for maximum effect. Growl, on the other hand, goes the opposite route. It’s very upbeat and more “pop”-like than its predecessors, more like something you would hear on a Top 40s station. Another thing about the song is that it rarely gets boring. You have a very good mixture of different raps, vocals, and chorus that’s organized in a fashion that makes sure there’s something new and fresh to hear between every iteration of the chorus. The chorus in itself is very memorable and easy to sing due to its repetitive nature, something which I love because it means I can effectively sing almost half the song despite my relatively terrible Chinese!!

The boys all performed wonderfully in the Chinese version (though I did find the lyrics to be vaguely unintelligible). I would have to say that only the M version is my favorite version of the songs though, although I adore Baekhyun and DO’s vocals, I find that I like Chen’s sharper tone more than K vocal line’s more mellow tones. Luhan, Lay, and Xiumin do well to make up for the lack of K’s vocals though, and their voices all blend really well together (I think that partly due to their somewhat similar ranges, I’ve noticed that M seems to have a higher range than K). Tao and Kris do well with the rap, although I still feel like Kris’s rap at the start of the song sounds somewhat awkward. Tao definitely has better flow compared to Kris, and I really like his longer rap part in the middle of the song. He does this thing where he forces the ends of each of his lines to go up in pitch, something Chanyeol doesn’t do in the K version. All in all Growl is a great song that I could listen to on repeat for days (not an exaggeration I’ve actually done just that).

Jimmy: Repackaged albums typically come with bonus tracks that are more digestible than the leading track of the original album and, being one of those new tracks, Growl is no different. While Wolf was a more theatrical lead single, Growl attempts to be a more light-hearted listen. The RnB elements that manifest themselves from the very beginning of the track establishes the cool vibe that this song was seeking. Combined with the smooth vocals of the guys of EXO, Growl is truly a strong comeback track for the group.

I believe that the reason why this song is so strong is that it does things well in all the right places. The rappers of the group get to shine at the right times and are given climactic, catchy rap sections. The vocalists get to belt it out and are given the freedom to do some ad-libbing to embellish an otherwise repetitive chorus. One of my favorite vocal sections in the song was during the first verse when Baekhyun and Chen do this sort of melisma (when a syllable is stretched over more than one note) to the last syllable of their first lines (“sumi jakku meotneunda”). D.O’s bluesy verse during the first half of the second verse takes the meaning of smooth to the next level because, let’s be honest here, the guy sounded smooth as hell with his vocal runs. I think this song succeeds even more because of the way it plays around with contrast – the chant-like and progressively more vocally decorated chorus versus the melodic and smooth vocal verses and pre-choruses, the use of a chord progression during the bridge and pre-choruses versus the single chord used to anchor the rest of the track, the rougher percussion used during the chorus and climactic rap section versus the softer snaps used to guide the verse sections.

The EXO-K version of the song did not deviate too much from the original. More parts per member to compensate for the drop in manpower, unfortunately this had the effect of lessen the oomph behind certain parts of the song as some of M’s members counter the mellowness of K members with sharper, more commanding vocals. However, D.O and Baekhyun aren’t called lead vocalists for EXO-K for nothing and the duo have an amazingly polished and jazzy quality to their voices. The rap section during the breakdown seemed unchanged to me (the rap section in the beginning was a bit too weak for me though) but what struck me was the bridge sounded more vulnerable (Baekhyun’s vocals here sound thin and wavering) and more mellow than the original but that’s just how EXO-K operates.

XOXO

Jimmy: Following Growl’s footsteps, this track tones things down a bit while still remaining within the boundaries of RnB. If this song proves anything, it would be that EXO does very well in the RnB realm because their lead vocalists’ vocals favor this genre and their rappers add a needed bite and edge to their sound. There are some cheesy instrumentals that begin the track but the cheesiness is quickly doused when the signature RnB beat comes in and the smooth as hell vocals come in. While things do get a little stale after awhile, the rapping helps break the monotony and adds a nice flavor to the track. The rapping sections of the song were seamlessly integrated into the track and there is a clear progression to the track. Vocalizations and ad-libbing continue to make appearances in this song and is a welcome addition. That beautiful vocal run that concludes the track truly solidifies my opinions on the track – it’s like the laidback, smooth afterparty to Growl, where all the cool kids are flirty and cheesy with one another as they sip their Kool-Aid (spiked Kool-Aid, of course).

Lucky

Jimmy: EXO brings us back to the pop world with a song that is generic pop as generic pop can be. I can imagine this song being featured as the theme song or on the OST for a Korean drama. This song doesn’t exactly push boundaries and is very tame in comparison to some of the other tracks featured on XOXO but it is a pleasant listen nonetheless. The constant piano chord progression being played in the background and instrumental in general are dead giveaways to the genre and nature of this song – just a light filler track to cleanse the listener’s musical palate before moving on to the rest of the album.

Wolf

Karen: At first I was wary of this song, the February leaked demo version sounded pretty bad and the teasers didn’t bolster my confidence much. It sounded like a complete mess, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from the official release. I was pleasantly surprised once the MV dropped though, I found myself really liking the song despite its odd, somewhat harsh sound. I know that a lot of people didn’t like this song, thinking it too chaotic and difficult to listen to. Although I agree that it is chaotic at times, I didn’t feel as if it were overwhelmingly so and I thought most of the parts actually worked fairly well together. What I really enjoyed about the song is its aggressive nature. The vocals are all powered and full of confidence, while the rap is steadfast. The shouty, sometimes drawling kind of vocals prevalent throughout the song gives it a strong attitude that I find interesting. As a whole I like the sound a lot, and it is definitely a refreshing change from MAMA (which I’ve been listening to pretty consistently for the past year hahah).

Jimmy: Very true to SM’s style, EXO’s leading track is a theatrical, performance-driven song. I think if I had to describe this song in one word, it would be aggressive. Every section in this song sounds brash and abrasive, accented by ominous growling and howling, dubstep synths, and bold delivery by the members. Every phrase is laden with confidence and swelling with power as the rough beat strongly tugs this song along. All of the vocalization in the latter half of the song are very loud and shouty because when EXO belts notes, they belt notes. The speak-singing and rapping were also very powerful (though the distorted “saranghaeyo” and “heyyyyy” got a bit distracting and repetitive after a while). This song does a very good job of hyping up the energy and releasing it during climactic choruses and I liked the harmonization/vocalization underneath the rap sections because it leads to subsequent vocal sections in a subtle way (ex: during Kai’s first rap section in the beginning when he groans, there are some vocals supporting his rap underneath that quickly raises in pitch to anticipate a brief taunting vocal section [“yeah keunilnatji”]).

Really, while the song looks fantastic live, it truly was designed for the live performance. Alone, the song falters in that it is tiring to listen to. Whereas Growl’s contrasting elements succeeded because they blended well together, Wolf’s oppositional vocal sections and rap sections made the contrast work against its favor. The dynamic changes made the song constantly teeter between frenetic and aggressive, which are two dynamics that are extremely exhausting to listen to. It was like the producers wanted a song where EXO member could just splurge on big vocals and tough guy rapping and just excessively go all out. Unfortunately, due to the excessive nature of the track, this song obviously was not designed for a casual listen but it is an empowering listen nonetheless that I wouldn’t mind listening to once in a while.

Baby, Don’t Cry

Karen: It is safe to say that this song is one of the songs that fandom was awaiting after it was featured in the teaser era. I have to say that it was well worth the wait, the melody and vocals are rich and gorgeous, definitely on par with my expectations. I feel as if M’s more delicate-sounding vocal line is especially well-suited to this song, giving it a different kind of quality compared to K’s earthier tones. The mellow rap section was beautifully integrated into the song and didn’t feel out of place at all. There is a melancholy feel to this entire song, which is fitting considering the subject of the song. It’s a nice change from the strong, upbeat song that pervade the album and while this genre is not usually my thing I do like the song quite a bit.

Jimmy: Since I joined the EXO fanwagon a bit late, I successfully evaded EXO’s notorious “endless teasers” phase so I listened to this song without having heard it on one of the teasers way back then. A beautifully vulnerable and plaintive piano line opens up this downtempo RnB song, leading to some heart-wrenching vocals. The twangy sound in the background either adds a layer of depth or cheese to the song, I really am torn on that but it doesn’t affect the song too much. The harmonization stacked on top of each line is just flawless and lovely to listen to and is totally not overdone – lines are harmonized during the pre-choruses and choruses and are appropriately and artfully left alone and bare during the verses. The rap break was appropriate and sensual sounding, accented by “say no more, no more”. I am a big fan of the way the vocals subtly echo, giving the whole song a haunting effect, making the soundscape more sparse and melancholy. One of the best aspects of this song is the way the dynamics progress, building up to the grand chorus and returning to just the piano line and vocals as the song progresses to the next verse. Layers of instrumentals stack to build tension for a climactic chorus and those layers are stripped away again once a new verse begins. I cannot praise the vocals on this track enough because EXO vocalists capture the RnB sound so well and the ad-libbing really adds that splash of authenticity to this track. The track ends how it started, bringing the track full circle and making the song sound complete and satisfying. All in all, it was one of my favorite tracks on this album and I’d like to say with good reason.

Black Pearl

Karen: I really wasn’t sure what I was expecting from this song since in Tao’s teaser it was a purely instrumental track that didn’t seem like something SM would really expand on. To my surprise, the song turned out to be one of my favorites on the album. There’s a kind of a mystical feel about it, like something I’d hear playing in the background of a scene in which an intrepid hero journeys through a lush mountainside, the misty grey air parting to show him taking down enemies and obstacles with easy grace. Or maybe that’s just the teaser speaking. Anyways, I really like how this song took the dubstep kind of sound and blended it with some gorgeous vocalwork from Chen and Luhan and Lay. The song’s rap track, in addition to sounding great, provides a wonderful transition from the more laid-back introduction to a more intense sounding conclusion. Basically I love the song lots and it was definitely an unexpected surprise.

Jimmy: This track seems to be in the vein as Wolf, complete with the ominous and abrasive electronic background. I really enjoyed the beginning and how there was a crescendo building up to some harmonizing and an explosive chorus that leads right back to a softer verse. The tension never went away as I listened to the song though which I thought was rather interesting. The abrasive electronic sounds in the background really helped with building tension and releasing it during the intense chorus. The screeching during the rap break was a little distracting as it seemed to attack the rap rather than elevate it but the vocals come back and the ad-libbing in the background rounds out the track nicely. I love the contrast between the delicate vocals and harmonization in the verses and the shouting and strong vocals in the chorus.

Don’t Go

Jimmy: Though Baby, Don’t Cry has won a place in my heart as my favorite ballad of this album, Don’t Go is not too shabby. There were a few resemblances to a typical One Direction release in this track, a few similar sounding melodies and oohs, which kinda takes away from the originality factor of this song. Nonetheless, I think it is a pretty well-made ballad that plays up to the smooth vocals of EXO. A nice track to showcase a softer side of EXO, Don’t Go is a welcomed change of tone from the preceding tracks, albeit a bit uninspired.

Let Out The Beast

Karen: I’ve been looking forward to this song ever since it was hinted at in the eleventh teaser wayyy back when. I’ve always had a soft spot for songs with hip-hop/rap influences, which is something this song has in spades. It mixes the smooth vocals and fast rap elements together really well, letting both parts shine individually as well together as a whole.

Jimmy: One thing that struck me about this song was that it committed to an ominous sound for the entire duration of the track. To me, it sounded like a tamer, more coherent version of Wolf. Though the track doesn’t deviate from its sound very much throughout the song, it is straightforward and I appreciate that straightforwardness. The brief pseudo-dubstep dance break in the middle was one of the few interesting elements of the song, along with the impressive rap and vocal sections (but that’s to be expected with EXO’s caliber).

3.6.5

Karen: Like many other listeners, when I first heard this song my mind immediately jumped to One Direction. I has a kind of bubbly, upbeat rhythm that I associate with One Direction’s music (even though I’ve only really heard two or three of their songs). I didn’t think much of it at first, but after watching their performance of it at Hong Kong Dome, I found myself re-evaluating my opinion. It is, at its core, a feel-good, happy pop song that I find myself bouncing along to occasionally. Its charming and simple with cheerful vocals, and while it doesn’t win any awards for originality I don’t think it’s a bad song at all. The boys also looked like they had a lot of fun performing it, and it’s nice to see them just playing around onstage rather than focusing on a specific choreography. The M version features a rare snippet of Kris singing; I have to say that he isn’t at all bad and I do hope that they give him more vocal lines later on.

Jimmy: I guess SM is really pushing for EXO to be the 1D of Korea because this song borrows heavily from One Direction. From the cowbells to the pop-rock instrumentation, this song could have been released by 1D and no one would suspect anything. Though this song suffers badly in the originality department (much more so than Don’t Go), it is a feel good, light song that sounds especially nice after listening to the previous track, which had a heavier, darker feel.

Heart Attack

Karen: This song is definitely up there on my list of favorites from this album. It’s a mellow, slow listen with a strong backbone that I could listen to forever. Its not as powerful as some of the other songs, but I think that there is still a sort of “power” quality within the song to some degree. I love love love the intro to this song, it both upbeat and mysterious at the same time and Luhan’s entry verse sets a nice intro to the rest of the song. There is a Epik High-type hiphop feel to the song, and that is something that is right up my alley. There isn’t much I can say other than “I LOVE THIS A LOT”.

Jimmy: This song ranks up there with Baby, Don’t Cry for me because the song is just a well-produced track. The track opens up with ominous and mysterious instrumentation, which is buoyed up by some hip hop beats that add an edgier sound to the song. Again, I love the dynamic changes that EXO songs tend to have. After the chorus, the song strips away all layers but the haunting electronic background and the hip hop beat as more and more percussion gets thrown into the mix to build the tension toward the next chorus. I just absolutely loved the bridge when all of the layers except for the eerie electronic sounds and vocals are suddenly removed. The vocal processing in this track was done tastefully and the auto-tune did not detract from the song. This is definitely one of the stronger tracks on the album as it sounds inspired with the interesting instrumental choices, hip hop beat, and relatively restrained vocal delivery.

Peter Pan

Karen: Peter Pan, like 365, wasn’t a song that I immediately liked. I didn’t have any strong feelings for it on my first listen through of the album, most probably because it was overshadowed by the heavier-hitting songs (Wolf, Let Out the Beast, etc). However it did grow on me after a few listens and while I don’t love it, I find it a fairly decent song that wouldn’t be out of place playing in a cafe. I adore the introduction of the song, it’s cute and catchy and somehow enchanting, setting up the rest of the song very well. As a whole the song is very bright and light, even the rap is light-hearted and mellow. Like 365, it is a happy song that isn’t nearly as complex as some of the other tracks

Jimmy: This album just loves to play around with contrast a lot and Peter Pan swings the mood back over to the happy side. Again, the pop-rock instrumentation and vocalization are extremely reminiscent of One Direction but it’s a feel good filler so originality isn’t exactly the goal here. The track could do without a rap section but a rap section is what makes a k-pop track truly k-pop and the speak-singing is an interesting feature of the song.

Baby

Karen: I can’t say I had any real strong feelings for this song when I first heard it. It isn’t a bad song, but its not something that caught my attention either.

Jimmy: Ok, confession time: I accidentally skipped this song the first time I listened to this album and somehow, I neglected this song ever since until now. The instrumentation is pretty interesting, I suppose. More softer vocals in this ballad and I hear influences from older k-pop hits in this song. Not exactly a groundbreaking or exciting track but it neatly tones down the energy to pave the way for the next track.

My Lady

Karen: After Baby Don’t Cry, this track was probably the mostly highly anticipated. I love the introduction to this song, have loved it since Kai’s first teaser came out. The kind of jazz feel that this song gives is really nice and relaxing, and the vocals are smooth as chocolate (haha get it? no? sorry I had to). However I kind of feel as if the rest of the song after the intro was somewhat haphazard and I didn’t like the song as a whole as much as I thought I would. Some parts of the song (like the section after the rap) was kind of jarring to me. I would have liked if they’d continued with the initial jazzy sound throughout the song, but unfortunately they did not and I found myself somewhat disappointed.

Jimmy: Again, because I missed the twenty billion EXO teasers from before their debut, I missed out on being teased with snippets of this song. My Lady takes a page from jazz and soft rock and I absolutely love it. I love the combination of the jazzy, funky guitar, drums, and smooth vocals. The mood was set well, the vocals were convincingly performed, the instrumentation was spot on. My Lady is just a well-crafted, well-executed track that ends the album on a very strong note and leaves me, as a listener, more than satisfied with the album.

~~~

Conclusion:

Karen: This is the album that EXO fans have been waiting a year for, and I’d have to say that it was well worth the wait. I rarely listen to whole albums through even once, but I have had this album on repeat since the day it came out. Most of the songs are very well produced, and while some of the songs fall short for me, they are not bad songs at all. This is a very strong release for a very talented band, and I am so happy they’re finally getting a chance to truly showcase all that they can do. There are a variety of genres and sounds fit for all different kinds of listeners and each track is a wonderful demonstration of EXO’s strong vocals and smooth rap. From hip-hop to RnB to bubblegum pop, EXO provides us with a sample of all that is “in” in kpop right now. While I may have complained about the lack of EXO in their year-long pseudo-hiatus, I don’t actually mind the wait if this is what we get. The concept, music videos, songs, basically everything is surpassed my expectations for their comeback. I JUST LOVE THEM A LOT. I can’t explain my feelings very well I’m sorry.

Jimmy: For being the first full album release of a “rookie” group, this release was extremely strong. I have listened to a handful of rookie groups release their first album, which usually turn out to be a collection of disappointments, adorned by a surprisingly catchy title track. XOXO houses almost the complete opposite in that respect as it is a collection of mainly tasteful, polished tracks, adorned by a theatrical, aggressive title track. The repackaged release boasts an even more polished and catchy title track to top off the album, upstaging most, if not all, of the rookie releases out there. While some of the tracks fail to deliver the same sense of originality and grandiose nature of EXO as they borrow too much from their brethren in Europe, the RnB and hip hop sounds evoked in the other tracks are truly gorgeous to listen to. EXO is composed of talented and extremely competent vocalists, rappers, and dancers and the tracks and music videos for this release reaffirm that assertion and elevate them as one of the top tier K-pop acts right now. Whereas new groups struggle to carve out a name for themselves, it seems that EXO has been skyrocketed to success, with their latest wins on various music programs. Their meteoric rise to fame makes it difficult to remember that they are still but humble rookies who have only released one full album but if this album proves anything, it would be that EXO aren’t exactly your standard rookie group as they are capable of churning out material that rivals even standard top-tier k-pop group releases. XOXO is a very exciting release because it definitely foreshadows an even stronger sophomore release from a very powerful newcomer to K-pop.

Thank you so much, Karen, for collaborating with me on this review! It was totally awesome getting to fanboy with you about EXO! Here’s hoping we get to collab again in the future!

~~~

TL;DR

Karen’s Picks——————–

Growl is definitely my favorite song of this entire round, catchy, upbeat, and plain fun to sing along to. Other picks: Heart Attack, Black Pearl, Let Out the Beast, Wolf, and 365.

Songs that didn’t tickle my fancy: Baby, Don’t Go, and Lucky. I wouldn’t mind listening to them if they came up on the radio, but they’re not songs I’ll be listening to with any regularity on iTunes.

Jimmy’s Picks——————–

Recommended Tracks

Growl [smooth, slick, and catchy RnB track, EXO vocalists knock this one out of the park]

XOXO [lighter afterparty to Growl, nice groove to chill out to]

Baby, Don’t Cry [beautifully delicate and wistful ballad that hits the right notes in the right places]

Black Pearl [intense, dramatic, mellifluous vocals] 

Heart Attack [haunting and mysterious accompaniment, hip hop beats, well-executed vocals and rapping]

My Lady [funky guitars, jazzy and chocolatey vocals, evolves into a more upbeat sound with a driving beat]

Not So Recommended Tracks

3.6.5 [very 1D and fluffy]

Lucky [filler track where the members play it really safe vocally]

Baby [forgettable filler]

Peter Pan [more 1D influences, jolly but again, filler]

Don’t Go [good palette cleanser but not much beyond that]

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3 comments

  1. That was a lengthy review 🙂 Great job! Lol, your friend’s M bias totally shows. I think there are certain songs that fit K better than M, and vice versa, which is why I hope that in the future, both groups will release albums containing different songs.

    1. Haha, thanks! We worked hard on the review so I’m glad we got at least some views! I definitely agree – K’s vocals have their own sound that differs from M’s vocals and I also hope their next release will have songs that cater to each group’s unique pool of vocals.

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