They’re here: the most anticipated boy group for 2012 that we have yet to actually see. SM has released the first few teasers regarding upcoming boy group(s) EXO-K and EXO-M. While they are literally two different groups with two different names and two different sets of members, they are one group in that they will promote the same Hallyu products–the only difference being the language, target market, and the individuals within the group. The logic behind the creation of this group in this manner is that it makes the process much more efficient. So this week, we asked our writers: Do you agree? Disagree? If so, what do you think about SM’s EXOPlanet strategy?

Jessie: I absolutely agree that this type of system is ridiculously efficient in terms of production. You pay for one set of songs and one set of choreography, and then deploy the groups to their respective markets where they can promote this product at the EXACT same time, and there’s no loss of time or money on traveling back and forth. I also imagine since the groups are being made up of Korean and Chinese members, there won’t be the same language barrier issues that some of the Korean idols have faced in the past when they expand out to other countries.

Ree: I agree that it’s efficient, but it also seems like a really big copout to me. And I’m not sure if it’s ‘revolutionary’ or just some really lazy marketing. SM has already expressed that they aren’t looking for ‘worldwide domination’, and I think it’s smart that they’re aiming for the Chinese market, but I’m wondering how well that could go. I mean, despite having a large fanbase ready at their disposal in China, even Super Junior-M didn’t actually reach ‘big’ mainstream succees until they shifted their promotional activities over to Taiwan (genius move on SM’s part, by the way). I’m also a bit confused as to how the fanbase for both these groups are going to work. Using Super Junior as an example again, most Chinese fans to me seem to be ‘Super Junior’ fans as a whole, rather than exclusive Super Junior-M fans (not saying that exclusive fans don’t exist, but they definitely aren’t common) — and I guess that’s an easy decision since only two members of Super Junior-M aren’t in the main unit. With EXO, since the two groups consist of completely different people, are Chinese fans going to completely disregard EXO-K, and are Korean fans going to disregard EXO-M? Is anyone going to put in the effort to completely follow both groups?

There’s also the fact I feel as though EXO-K are going to be receiving so much more mainstream exposure than EXO-M is when it comes to the international audience. International K-pop sites are going to be reporting on EXO-K moreso than EXO-M, and EXO-K are going to be the ones making the news on Nate, Naver, Chosun, and all that jazz. Not to mention, EXO-K are the ones who are going to be performing three times a week on Korean music shows. In the end, they’re probably going to end up with a bigger following as well. I mean, the fanbase is almost just as important as the group itself; fans are what bring in the money. I feel like there could be a really big divide in relevancy when it comes to both units simply as a result from promoting in different countries. I mean, J-Min and Iconiq have almost no significant fanbase because SM decided to completely focus their promotions on Japan.

Nabeela: I definitely think SM is pulling a strategically genius move. This isn’t just your average debut. This is some weird plot to market one group. SM is going to rake in twice the amount of money with what is technically just one group. But then again, we may be making all the wrong assumptions. EXO-M and EXO-K may be having separate debut audiences, but who knows? Maybe after that debut and these initial promotions, the entire group might starting doing EXO Planet activities. Again, that doesn’t mean we’re never going to see one sub unit some where, and the other some place else. As I think about this strategy more and more, it could even be a solution to crossing foreign markets. EXO-K may very well end up staying a Korea-exclusive act, while ‘international activities’ are accomplished in China by EXO-M. That way Korean and China will always have a bit of EXO lovin’ without ever having to compromise. Then again, this is just speculation. This debut-2 group tactic thing is really kind of mind boggling, but I’m really interested to see how it plays out for both SM and the fans they reach.

What I’m really curious about is lyric distribution and choreography. What happens when the sub-units are working versus when the group is together and performing? Will there be differences, are there going to be identical promotions, or is press going to be heavily weighted to one side of the ‘planet?’ Either way, I’m excited to watch this happen.

Natalie: I can see how this would be a smart move, but I can still see many things going wrong with this. For instance, I have a feeling one group will become more popular than the other or will be noticeably more talented. And if this happens, will SM only focus their attentions on the more popular group and just let the other dangle, similar to how they do with the groups they already have? Will people only want to pay attention to the Korean group? Will the Nationalistically proud Koreans accept EXO-M or see it as C-pop?

I’m also excited to see how this will play out. I’ll either be impressed and will begrudgingly have to praise SM for their ideas, or it will be a FAIL and I can smirk about it. I think I’ll continue to be pessimistic about this idea until I have to eat my words.

Subi: I’ve read/seen/heard a lot of people respond negatively to this group and this concept because they feel that EXO-M is going to be shafted by SM and that EXO-K will end up being the more popular group. But I think people need to stop regarding SM as the Big, Bad Wolf of K-pop, and while I don’t think this is a bad prediction, I don’t think this is going to be SM’s fault. Korea has a significantly bigger market for groups, and China doesn’t. EXO-M’s comparative lack of popularity isn’t going to be because SM doesn’t care as much. It will be because China does not have a large market for pop groups and idol groups to begin with. So, EXO-M won’t be going on these music shows, variety shows, and etc that give their market audience multiple avenues of access. And while EXO-M is a Mandarin group, they’re still representative of Hallyu in every sense of the word. K-pop is a growing phenomenon in China but it is still small and still foreign. The Chinese market is just not going to love the idea of the group as much as the Korean market. There are inherent cultural differences, and this is something SM has no control over.

Young-ji: I personally find this concept very intriguing and somewhat twisted but also smart.  If anything, this concept has already gotten everybody talking and that’s what SM is good at and is probably aiming for.  I think what will be critical and very important for SM is how the M unit plays out, which, in my opinion, will tell whether or not SM is really inclusive in regards to international talent or if they are just paying lip service to it because of their international fan base. Either way, SM got my interest (which is pretty hard to do) and I’ll continue to observe how they continue to market and develop these boys – who knows, maybe SM has a grander plan and will wow us all.

Natalie: Putting aside our discussion of SM’s marketing strategies for a moment, I’m wondering about the members themselves. After seeing the alleged picture of EXO Planet and all of its twelve members, I’m wondering if I’ll be seeing another Super Junior-like band with pretty faces, some personality, and a little talented here and there. One of the group’s members, Jino, is already known for being a great singer but after listening to the audio of other member Lu Han singing, I’m not really expecting something all too different from what SM has already produced. But that Tao guy is a martial artist, which is cool but sorta irrelevant to idoldom. Luckily, they’re all pretty, which seems like the only thing a lot of people care about. SM is known for their pretty faces, and that’s another marketing strategy of theirs. Even if the talent is average to non-existent, they all look hot, so people will want to watch them anyway. I’m almost positive that people will lap these boys up even if they aren’t completely talented.

Jessie: I think the martial artist aspect is only irrelevant if you do not have a Matrix camera.

Johnelle: For me, it seems like a lack of respect for fans by SM.  They don’t want to spend extra money on a Mandarin act so let’s just make a Mandarin copy of our new K-pop boy band and they’ll do everything EXO-K does, but in Mandarin and be EXO-M.  If it succeeds, I’d say the lemmings win (or lose?) again.

Subi: I don’t think it’s that at all. Honestly, this is not different from 2PM/2AM or Super Junior at all. If anything, it’s just more straight foward from the get go.

Johnelle: But 2AM and 2PM’s concepts are totally different and they don’t sing the same songs at all — they’re not carbon copies of each other just in different languages. It’s markedly different from what SM is proposing with EXO-K & M.

Subi: Okay, but is it different with Super Junior? The response to their sub units has been quite successful. Instead of creating one big group, that would ultimately end up creating sub units, or having one group that would have to split their time between location A and location B.

But either way, just because it’s the same song technically, doesn’t mean that it will be the same song in actuality. These groups have different members, different languages, and different nuances that will inevitably change the material. If you listen to Kai’s teaser in Korean and Kai’s teaser in Chinese, there is a difference–a noticeable one at that.

Johnelle: But in the Suju sub-units they promote different songs and different concepts.  Sorry, but to me it’s still not the same thing.

Subi: Perhaps it’s not the same thing but it’s extremely similar. People make SM out to be the Big, Bad Wolf of K-Pop and honestly, like I said in our podcast, I think people need to realize that everyone in K-pop — including YG, JYP, Cube, Leon, whomever, is doing anything and everything for money. K-pop is anything but a mystical, magical kumbaya between artist, fan, and company. It’s about making money and if SM wants to use this concept to be more efficient and make money, then go ahead. Everyone else is doing it too.

Nabeela: Quite frankly, I’ll say it again: I think this is a genius move on SM’s part. I’ll throw Subi a nod on this one–all of K-pop is a capitalistic business, so its just as much about music as it is money (if not more about money).

And focusing on the group themselves, I have no doubt in my mind that its another SJ, just revamped. I love Suju more than the next ELF, but to be honest, the members of SJ are aging, military duties are popping up left and right, and slowly but surely the group is fragmenting into more unit and solo work. SJ is really riding out the last of their time in the spotlight, I think, and a project like EXO makes all the more sense to come from SM because of that reason. All in all, I really dont care how they promote–give me a good jingle and I wont give a damn. If they turn out to be poor vocalists and over hyped with glitter, then we’ll have a different problem on our hands. I think our best bet is to give SM and EXO the benefit of the doubt and see what happens.

Subi: Exactly, Nabeela! I think we need to be a little bit more optimistic and have more faith in companies. They know how to hook, line, and sink us. They’ve been doing it for years and making a lot of money off of it. They, SM, in this case specifically, will do it again.