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Tag: EXO

A very personal review of EXO’s Universe

After so many amuse bouche posts about k-pop teasers and comebacks, I’m finally going to serve up a main course by telling you my thoughts on an entire album.

This is largely because EXO’s latest winter album, Universe, actually sounds like an album.

One of my biggest problems with k-pop is that it the industry focuses almost exclusively on singles. (American pop does this too, so I shouldn’t complain too much.) But as someone who appreciates the musical journey that a well-crafted album can provide, I miss that in k-pop. At its best, you get a 4-minute chunk of a pure emotion-bubble. No story, no journey, no connection.

So when the songs on this summer’s The War feel like they belong together, like they could all be found on the same menu in the same restaurant, I was ecstatic. Some of the songs are quite good, too.

I’m pleased to say that the musical cohesiveness has continued into the winter album. All the songs sound related, in roughly the same color palette–even though they have different emotional hooks.

Universe is just beautiful. A sweeping rock ballad with a generous dash of “longing” and and an English hook of “I’ll search the universe” with the unspoken FOR YOU that hooks all of us womenfolk.

The b-side that I’ve heard the most chatter about is Been Through. This might be because the songwriters are good at promoting themselves on Twitter. Part of me wants to love it; it’s a beautifully-orchestrated, sparse pop song. It’s not often that you hear pizzicato in pop strings, and the effect contrasts well with EXO’s lush vocals. What I don’t love is how the chorus sounds like American pop music. The rhyming “You shine like the stars / you light up my heart” takes me immediately to the arena of overly saccharine indie pop which spoils the mood somewhat.

A contender for my favorite is Stay. The piano and the semi-flat analog sound of the recording are a refreshing change of pace from the normal bright and clean acoustics. This song showcase’s EXO’s vocal ability well, with a repeating motif of thirds (I think–my music theory is a bit rusty) that weaves subtly through the different verses. Honestly I’ve never been much of a fan of Suho’s vocals but he’s winning me over in this song. His verse with Kai–who tries so hard–is charming.

My nominees for “most forgettable” on this album are Fall and  Good Night. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that they’re not as good as they other songs. Fall is a pretty standard R&B ballad, nothing too special. The guitar line is nice. As far as Good Night, I want to hate the synth sound for being so jarring with the acoustic (or fake acoustic) sounds of the other songs, but if I take a step back it’s a nice palate cleanser.

Finally, we have Lights Out, which has a beautiful moving bass line under the piano line and melody. The use of voice-as-instrument reminds me of Enya’s Shepherd Moons album–absolutely stunning. Sung by our vocal line (Chen, Baekhyun, DO, Suho), this is the song I would most love to see performed live with a piano and an upright bass.


Anyway, if the vocals on Universe have not already inspired you to wish for a Chen solo album, Lights Out will. [Edit: it appears that Chen wrote this song as well, so I will upgrade this wish to a Chen singer/songwriter solo album.]

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album. I have two overall criticisms. Though I’ve praised this album for sounding cohesive, sometimes I wonder if it doesn’t sound too much of the same. The fact that I can skip 2 songs out of 6 without changing the “feeling” of the album says a lot for the repetition in tone and in instrumentation.

Universe delves into melancholy territory that EXO has never tackled. It’s nice to hear some songs predominantly in minor key (not just for effect or contrast), but the overall effect is downer rather than upper. One of the things that I like the most about K-pop in general is that it’s optimistic and happy without being overbearing about it. Even when EXO’s previous winter title tracks have been sad, they never dwelt on it (musically at least–I can’t speak to the lyrics). This album leaves me feeling hollow in a way that K-pop never has. I appreciate that, but I’m not sure I like it.

Moving forward, I hope that the members and SM’s music team can capitalize on this year of excellent music and keep up this level of quality. The Japan album looks to be great. I’m hoping for another “Forever” in our future.


“A Very Personal Review” means that I’m no expert, this is merely my subjective opinion that I’m writing because I like this album and want to share it with the world. I don’t listen widely to (Western) pop or to K-pop, so I can’t situate this group or this album in a wider context, nor can I give a good music theory perspective on it.

Image of the Week: Speaking of vaporwave in k-pop edition

I’m a bad publicist. EXO just released their winter album, so I should be shilling for that.

Instead, here’s a photo from the teaser from their Japan debut, which was released a month ago and scheduled for a month from now.

Please note: vaporwave.

Twice and EXO looking to have a Japan vaporwave showdown.

I’m here for that.


Happy last Friday of 2018, y’all.

My favorite song of 2017

Nosedive is possibly my favorite song of 2017.

I’ve fallen asleep listening to it more times than I can remember since it was released last January. It’s soothing, but dynamically interesting, and refreshing.

I love a good over-the-top k-pop music video as much as the next person (probably more than the next person, judging from my college-dude coffee shop neighbor right now), but the simplicity of this video makes it a drink for the soul, not just an entertaining spectacle.

And in this case, knowing the lyrics doesn’t cheapen the experience. This song is like a deep breath at the end of a long, difficult day.

For a long time, I wanna be with those
Who don’t give me a score
Among all the countless ratings
So I can go through the door of a lonely day
So I can live completely as myself

I think we can all identify with that experience, and I would bet that after you watch this video, you’ll want to identify with this old man.

I’m quite gratified that Dynamic Duo x Chen won the MAMA award for best collaboration this year. It gives this song more recognition and I hope that it can help seed a trend for more introspective k-pop.

(Certainly there’s introspective Korean music, but I have not yet started exploring it.)

The performance arrangement is interesting. The beginning of the coda has been changed to an intro, which builds anticipation from those of us who are familiar with the song–when will Chen’s falsetto come in?

The answer is: never.

I’m not sure if this is a brilliant workaround for a note that is probably only achievable in the studio, or if I feel cheated.

Regardless, I’m so happy this was performed live.

EXO and NCT Dream on KBS Music Bank

SM Entertainment’s team of stylists remain <<<hashtag GOALS>>> on my mental list of all things stye-related. Once again, they concocted another set of outfits that are simultaneously group-oriented, classic, individual, and insane. So many contradictory ideas go into making K-pop group styles. Oh, and each one reflects its group’s current overall concept.

To quote Rachel Zoe circa 2006, I die.

First up, we have NCT Dream promoting “We Young” with a Peter Pan theme. From what I can tell, SM’s idea of Peter Pan is half traditional schoolboy, half found objects with a pseudo-island theme. There are a lot of belts.


Each member is wearing the same silhouette, with different details. We have a bold version of the schoolboy jacket, long shorts all the same length, but three boys in white and three in khaki, and the same red socks, but different shoes for each. Each boy is also wearing some variation a vintage-inspired rhinestone pin. Again we have a cohesive color palette, blue, white, and red.

Renjun has a small red bandana tie and is relatively accessory-free. I feel like he and Doyoung (of NCT 127) get similar treatment as the “smart” ones of their respective groups — relatively simpler outfits, plus glasses and a more preppy overall vibe.

Haechan is wearing three (3!) bolo ties, and of course his red hair brings together the various red ties and socks of the group. He has turned aegyo up to 11 in the performance, and it’s kind of adorable.

Mark gets a striped collarless shirt, beads (?) and a raccoon tail hanging from his belt loops. He also has a fringed grass belt (again: ???). I think they throw absolutely incomprehensible outfits at Mark sometimes to toughen him up. If he can pull off a grass skirt and a raccoon tail, he can pull off anything.

Chenle’s shirt has a face on it, and he gets a full red bandana. His shirt is the most off-palette — everyone else has a white or light blue shirt — probably because he still has fantasy purple hair. Can’t let that hair float out on its own, it has to get drawn in to the whole somehow.

Jeno appears to have a mop hanging from his belt. I like his contrasting collar. He continues to absolutely SLAY this comeback. The platinum hair suits him, and he comes across as more fluid, comfortable, and fun. He’s a great dancer, which I didn’t always notice in past comebacks because he was so stiff.

And Jisung! Jisung with his bright blue hair and his incomprehensible shirt that appears to be a cluster of Union Jacks. He has a lipstick pin and his necklace appears to be tennis rackets (or maybe waffles?).

Just when I think I start to understand the logic behind k-pop styling, it escapes me again. It’s a little like the visual version of “Engrish.” (Which of course is partially why I like it.)

In the same show, EXO performed their newest comeback song “Power.” Please take a moment to appreciate the thumbnail of Xiumin and his fantastic hair before you click play on this video.

EXO is a more group-oriented…group…so their costumes also tend toward cohesion more than individuality-within-a-theme. Each member gets his own version of the sporty jacket, and they all have different undershirts that underline their individual looks, but they look much more like a team and it would be much harder for a newbie to tell the members apart simply by clothing (unlike NCT Dream up above where you could pick out a member based on accessories).

The wizardry in this costuming choice is the SM stylists managed to make pinstripe pants that somehow don’t automatically make their wearers look like bankers or baseball players. I repeat: PINSTRIPE PANTS THAT DON’T SUCK.

Plus, they’re paired with Member’s Only style jackets with pulled-up ankle socks and don’t look like they were ripped straight from the 80s. It’s that vaporwave influence creeping in again. Wizardry.

It probably helps that EXO are now next-level clothes wearers and performers. With that in mind, I can’t wait to see what kinds of batshit outfits the NCT subgroups will get in five years when their members have climbed to EXO’s level.

If you want to see the two groups in action together, NCT Dream stayed out onstage during EXO’s encore. Adorable.

Brace yourself for the EXO repackage

Major #vaporwave vibes coming through in the MV teaser.

Most of the graphic design for this repackage has been bold and strong, with reds and yellows and clenched fists and all of those typically trappings of strength.

It’s nice to find out that there’s a sense of fun running through the whole thing.

via Daily Exo

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