No one does boybands like South Korea, and no one does fandoms like K-Pop. When nine almost preternaturally good-looking young men, all skilled singers and dancers, tear up the stage in stadiums roughly the size of a small city, spare a thought for the teenage hearts promptly slain. This is EXO. And, since the implosion of One Direction, they’re the biggest boyband in the world.
EXO are at the forefront of pop domination, with knife-point choreography seamlessly gelled to songs crafted by some of the world’s most gifted writers and producers, honed by their myriad of personalities and talents. One fan fiction site alone hosts over 132,000 stories written about them. Their fandom, known as EXO-L or Eris, have propelled the group to sell over 14 million singles and 6 million albums, and their latest and third full-length, EX'ACT, topped the charts after breaking pre-order records set by their second, EXODUS.
EXO have never been your average boyband, even for K-Pop. Their label, SM Entertainment, simultaneously debuted two versions of the same group in 2012 – one Chinese, one Korean. Respectively, EXO M and EXO K sang the same songs in the corresponding language and performed as both a six-piece and 12-piece to create a continent-straddling pop juggernaut.
They were given a fantastical narrative (each is an alien from EXO Planet with a superpower, such as telekinesis or healing) that was so complicated it came with 23 teasers before their debut single “MAMA” was even released, setting fans on a years-long quest to decipher the ongoing saga. Dramatic and overblown, with Gregorian chanting and a hardcore punk vocal on the breakdown, “MAMA” was one hell of an entrance.
Despite the upheaval of three members leaving over the past two years, a fascinating musical and visual journey continues to unfold, at times entangled deep in their imagined mythology (such as the mind-mangling ‘Pathcode’ teasers for EXODUS), at others letting simple brilliance shine (the award-winning single “Growl”)
EXO consistently has amazing concepts but, out of all the videos, which has held the most meaning for you?
Chen: I would have to say ‘MAMA’ is the most meaningful music video for me so far. With ‘What Is Love’, ‘History’, and ‘MAMA’, we were able to introduce our music to the public, but especially as 'MAMA' was our official debut, this ‘first’ is really meaningful and can’t be compared with anything else.
And, in your eyes, which is the most aesthetically pleasing?
Chen: ‘Lucky One’! We always want to show new sides of EXO through music, style, and performances for each album and also try various things with our music videos as well. I personally think ‘Lucky One’ showed these attempts well; the concept was really new and fresh, different camera movements and techniques were used, and the overall tone and visual came out so beautifully.
SEHUNSehun, fans fondly called you the “bratty maknae” (the maknae is a group’s youngest member) in the early days for your cheeky self-confidence. Looking back, can you find significant milestones in your transition to turning 23?
Sehun: Did the fans call me the ‘bratty maknae’? (laughs) I guess it’s probably because I got along well with the older members as a friend... I maintained etiquette though! I played and joked a lot, but the relationship was very comfortable. Now I try to be a more ‘mature maknae’ since I was still a minor when EXO debuted. So rather than saying there was a specific milestone, I believe every moment I experienced as a member of EXO were all significant milestones.
How do think you've changed, both in EXO and personally? And what aspects of Oh Sehun haven’t changed at all?
Sehun: I think I became more responsible and mature as both a member of EXO and a person, and I’m also trying to show various parts of me not only as a singer but also as an actor and in other possible fields. Although it’s quite embarrassing to put this in words, how I feel for the members luckily hasn’t changed and won't in the future either!
D.OD.O, you mentioned that you'd love to play a heartless character in a noir film. Characters like that are often lonely, cold and immoral – would you be excited or fearful of immersing yourself in such a role?
D.O: I don’t have any fear but rather think it would be exciting and fun. I believe there are other sides inside of me that haven't been shown yet, which I don’t even know about, so I hope to explore various sides of myself by acting (these) different characters.
What’s your know-how on bringing a character to life and having an audience relate so easily?
D.O: I wouldn’t say it’s a special know-how of mine to act the character naturally, but one thing I try to do is to actually become the character during the filming period. I know it's not an easy task to be fully immersed and try to live it in real life but, at the same time, I think it’s the most important thing in order to understand the character. So I try to focus and concentrate on that as much as possible.
SUHOYou act and sing under different names, but what qualities have you developed as EXO’s Suho that you bring to your acting?
Suho: I would say ‘responsibility’. Being EXO’s leader, I learned to be more responsible and listen carefully to what the members would like to say in order to mediate and lead. This really helped me a lot when acting as I become responsible for the character from the very beginning to the end, and I also have to pay close attention to the other characters in order to create balance.
And how has being recognized as an artist under your birth name, Kim Junmyeon, contributed to being EXO’s Suho in 2016?
Suho: Although I only started acting recently, I’ve learned that actors analyse characters and bring them into life not only with lines but with actions, facial expressions and many other elements. Singers also interpret and sing with appropriate emotions and create suitable performances, but because singers have a shorter time on stage, I was always concerned on how to express those best. Through acting, I’ve learned to express myself more freely, diversely, and also to communicate with the fans better, which helps me enjoy the stage more.
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