Despite an eventful year, boy group EXO has grown in strength as seen in its concert, The EXO'luXion. Bibi Nurshuhada Ramli was there
IT is arguably one of the most influential boy groups in the South Korean pop industry.
EXO's 10 members (leader SUHO, XIUMIN, LAY, CHANYEOL, BAEKHYUN, CHEN, D.O., TAO, KAI and SEHUN) took the world by storm in 2013 with its hits Wolf and Growl.
Only about a year after its debut in 2012 under South Korea's biggest talent agency, SM Entertainment, it broke the record for being the fastest-selling K-Pop artiste in 12 years.
Promoted in South Korea and China as two separate units, EXO-K and EXO-M, it sold more than a million copies of its first full album XOXO within a few months of its release.
It also bagged various awards, including the highly coveted Album of the Year at the Mnet Asian Music Awards in 2013 and 2014 for XOXO and its second EP, Overdose, respectively.
EXO also released two EPs, MAMA and Miracles In December as well as one live album.
In May last year, EXO had embarked on its first headlining concert tour, EXO Planet #1 — The Lost Planet with 30 performances in 17 Asian cities in front of more than 320,000 people. The tour ended late last year.
On March 7, EXO was back with another concert, EXO Planet #2 — The EXO'luXion, at the Olympic Gymnastics Hall, Seoul. Attracting 70,000 people, tickets for the four nights (March 7, 8, 13 and 14) were sold out as soon as sales began in January, prompting an additional show on March 15.
EXO'luXion is a combination of the words EXO and Revolution, signifying the group's improved and upgraded performance. The use of the Roman numerical X represents the 10 members.
At The EXO'luXion, the group not only entertained with its hits such as MAMA, Wolf, Growl and Overdose, fans also got the opportunity to hear several songs from its highly-anticipated upcoming album.
Like all concerts by SM Entertainment artistes including TVXQ, SUPER JUNIOR, Girls' Generation and SHINee, The EXO'luXion was a sight to behold.
Produced by SM Entertainment performance director Shim Jaewon, the EXO'luXion wowed with a world-class stage presentation featuring a wide main stage, large sliding LED screens, star-shaped stage lifts, laser beams and other special effects and a 40-member choir.
EXO has always presented a charismatic identity in its songs, but at the concert, EXO-L saw a different side of the members.
I was among the more than 14,000 fans (called EXO-L), who went to see the boys perform at the venue on March 8. Brandishing white light-sticks that glowed prettily in the darkened hall, our anticipation ran high.
The concert opened with a grand montage that introduced the 10 members. The screams were deafening when the boys came on the stage.
Opening the show with a rock version of Overdose, they were decked out in fetching gold and black attire as they danced with precision on stage. The audience wholeheartedly sang along to the lyrics, and pyrotechnics enhanced the performance.
EXO continued with History and El Dorado, a new dance number with a wondrous tune that evoked a sense of mystery. The boys showcased some complicated choreography — some danced in the middle of the hexagonal stage which was elevated.
A huge reason why EXO is popular is because it has the whole package - the looks, the voice and the skills.
The handsome members not only sing superbly and rap charismatically, they also perform intricate synchronised choreography that blows your mind.
The larger-than-life appeal had the fans (mostly female, obviously) swooning, especially when the boys displayed such slick and sexy dance moves.
The crowd also loved it when the boys interacted with them because then EXO showed off its charming, cute and funny side.
"Hello, we're EXO!" the boys said, mirroring fans excitement.
SUHO said: "We're having our second concert, which is unbelievable.
“Thanks for coming today." LAY added: "We've prepared something special for you that we hope you'll enjoy.”
"Did you like our song El Dorado? There is more to come. We'll continue giving you great songs," CHANYEOL said, grinning.
XIUMIN agreed. "We've been waiting for this day to come. We've been practising very hard for this. Let's have fun!"
TAO was missing from the dance performances due to a previous injury he had sustained, so he apologised profusely and told the audience not to worry.
The show continued with the sweet ballad Don't Go, where the members displayed graceful choreography. This was followed by new song Playboy, a sensual R&B track about a hardhearted bad boy.
For Baby Don't Cry, EXO-K took centrestage where main vocalists BAEKHYUN, D.O. and SUHO passionately showcased their vocal chops, and CHANYEOL showed off praiseworthy rapping.
Meanwhile, main dancers of the group, KAI and SEHUN each skillfully performed a ballet and freestyle dance, respectively. They captivated everyone's attention, thanks to their fluid body movements coupled with the elegant choreography.
The two then executed an elaborate interpretative dance as they stood on one of the smaller stages each. The middle segment of the stage was lowered and filled with water, and the fancy dance steps resulted in the dancers to splash the water.
BAEKHYUN, D.O. and SUHO stayed on stage to perform new romantic ballad MY ANSWER for which BAEKHYUN played the piano.
My Turn to Cry was then played in the background, accompanied by an adorable video that had the audience screaming in frenzy. Seen through the eyes of a girl (EXO's love interest), the clip showed each EXO member interacting with her, impressing her with their cooking, holding her hand or taking her out on a date.
EXO then performed The Star next, where the members danced in scarlet suits. It was followed by the new song Exodus, a rhythmically strong dance track with powerful beats. LAY performed a solo dance at the end of the song where he seductively showed off his washboard abs.
Hurt is a dark and dramatic number accompanied with sexy choreography. The audiences cheered when the boys showed off impressive body waves.
In the next video show filler, EXO portrayed adorable tiny elves who made coffee for a giant human female. The contrast between its enigmatic persona and this cute image had fans in stitches.
Donning striped shirts with suspenders and fluffy knitted hats, EXO reappeared on stage to sing Peter Pan, XOXO, Lucky and 3.6.5 from its first full album XOXO.
All songs featured light-hearted melodies and themes, so the boys danced gleefully on stage and appeared to be having fun. Like all of the songs performed that night, the fans sang along wholeheartedly.
While singing Lucky, EXO stood behind a white screen while a bright light was shone from the back of the stage, showing a silhouette of the boys changing outfits in a speedy manner.
This was rather unusual but the fans enjoyed it nonetheless, screaming excitedly at the sight. Once they had changed, the boys broke through the thin white barrier and waved their arms in greeting.
EXO then performed songs from its second EP, the Christmas special album Miracles In December. Now each member wore a pink shirt and checkered pants with suspenders.
The smooth R&B ballad Christmas Day saw the members dancing while toying with their suspenders. The boys then sat on makeshift steps near the audience as they sang The First Snow.
BAEKHYUN, CHEN and D.O. sang the heart-wrenching ballad Miracles In December with passion as they stood under the spotlight on an elevated stage and their voices resonated across the stadium.
EXO kicked it up a notch with rock-heavy tunes Machine, Let Out The Beast, Run and new songs Drop That and Full Moon.
All tracks have strong melodies and beats, which were complemented with nifty choreography. CHANYEOL urged the audience to participate by screaming “I say E X, you say O!” and they responded enthusiastically.
For Drop That, a fake, yet fancy hexagonal and lighted DJ turntable machine descended from above, and CHANYEOL stood inside as he rapped charismatically while the other members danced at the side.
Let Out The Beast and Run were remixed into electronic dance versions and the performances were accompanied by laser beams.
Confetti rained down on the audience which clearly enjoyed the amped up party atmosphere.
But the show was not over yet. Another video was projected on the big screen, showing EXO on a "foreign" planet with the members handing over an animated orb to each other.
Another clip came next as a prelude to its next single Call Me Baby. This was followed by the members re-appearing on stage in silky dark blue suits, performing a short dance to the song.
Not showing any signs of fatigue, EXO then performed the global hit Growl, which shot the group to worldwide stardom, with its equally famous choreography.
Wolf was another high energy performance. The song was given a rock and techno remix which actually sounded better than the original.
"Did you enjoy Call Me Baby? Did we sound cool?" CHEN asked the crowd with a grin. "Please wait for our comeback (with the single)!"
EXO then put on black shiny cloaks for the performance of its debut single MAMA. The dramatic song came with powerful choreography as well. The boys’ vocals were accompanied by a choir who gave the performance a grander sound.
THANKFUL TO FANS
The next video clip showed behind-the-scenes clips of EXO members rehearsing for the concert.
Through captions, the group expressed its appreciation for its fans, despite the ups and downs it encountered since its debut.
EXO promised to return the love, no holds barred. The clip ended with the words We Are One!, EXO's catchphrase.
The boys then stepped on stage to perform Promise, an R&B ballad penned by CHEN and CHANYEOL, and composed by LAY.
The audience held up banners that read: "I'll always protect you."
An ode to fans, the song is about wanting to always protect another through thick and thin. The heartfelt performance saw several EXO members getting emotional and shedding tears.
"This is our promise," SUHO said softly, his eyes teary as the fans screamed his name. "I saw the banners. It makes me want to protect you instead. I'm really thankful, though."
LAY said: "I made this song for you. Thank you so much for your support, and sorry for making you worry. We love you."
EXO closed the show with the sweet ballad Angel. The members walked to every corner of the stage to wave goodbye to the fans.
The EXO'luXion ended on a high note, showing the boys' strength and determination in fighting their way to the top.
PRIOR to The EXO'luXion concert on March 8, EXO held a Press conference where the members discussed how blessed they were to hold another concert less than a year after their previous one.
"We never thought we'd have this opportunity to hold our second concert within such a short span of time," said SUHO. "We're thrilled."
The EXO'luXion is said to show a matured EXO, with improved performances. This was proven by its sold-out tickets, with reports claiming that the online ticketing site crashed the day the tickets went on sale.
"I think fans want to attend the concert because EXO members have unique personalities," SUHO said. "We offer different segments that the audience will enjoy."
CHEN added: "Usually, our fans can only see us on TV. At concerts, there is a closer connection with the fans. I think that's why they are excited to see us."
"Our previous concert was a stage that best complemented our performances. This time around, we created a show where we could laugh, cry and experience the concert together with fans," BAEKHYUN said.
EXO performed eight new songs at the concerts for the first time, which were said to be included in its upcoming album, rumoured to be released on March 30. They include Call Me Baby, the first single of the album. The album will encapsulate EXO's growth and maturity as a group.
"I believe that the essence of a singer is music," LAY said. "Through our songs, people will gain a greater understanding of EXO and its growth, so we will always work hard on our sound."
Besides performing the new songs at the concert, the group also performed Promise, a ballad expressing its gratitude for its fans.
"I had composed the song last year," said LAY, adding that CHEN and CHANYEOL wrote the lyrics. "We completed the demo, but somewhere along the way, I lost the USB drive that contained it."
He said that writing the song was difficult, so he dismissed the idea of re-writing it. "However, many people liked the song and fans encouraged me to not give up. Although I didn't recover the USB drive, I managed to recompose the song from memory."
CHEN added that the song included "a heartfelt message to our fans to show our gratitude for their continuous support".
"Just using our performances to express our thanks isn't enough. This song is a great opportunity and platform to convey it," he said.
After the concerts in Seoul, EXO plans to hold concerts in China but the venues and dates have yet to be confirmed.
"We hope to go to many places as possible to see our fans," LAY said.
BAEKHYUN added: "As long as there are people supporting us, we are definitely going to meet them."
Up next for EXO is a web drama titled EXO Next Door starring all the members. The romantic comedy will premiere on April 9 and can be viewed on Naver's tvcast channel.