As far as debuts went, EXO’s could be considered one of the most anticipated of 2012, and for good reason. On paper they practically ticked most of the boxes. Twelve good looking guys, trained in music and dance, developed with the budget of South Korea’s most profitable entertainment firm and a truckload of trailer to ensure a pre-debut fanbase. So one year after they debut, they are still “rocking” the song that they first released at every event they attend, leaving fans clamouring for more.
So what happened along the way? Here are some reasons why SM Entertainment has been rather tardy with new musical material for EXO.
1) Maybe we all expected too much.
When “History” first dropped, the first thing that most reviewers and fans tended to say was how much Yoo Young-jin/Songs of SM Past influences there were, and that they had expected, for want of a better phrase, more than that.
With hindsight and a few months of listening, maybe we were just expecting too much out of an SM Entertainment pop album. By most standards, EXO had pretty much hit the ground running, with reasonably appealing members, well-composed songs that interest the average listener, as well as images that could be debut-friendly as they got (a strong guy group with hints of sensitivity). About the only thing that could be criticised about them were the weak live performances, but well, most rookie groups also start from that level.
However, due to all those teasers and hype, expectations were raised to the point where fans just ended up expecting a group that would beat all comers, or one that was going to supersede most other SM Staples. It is precisely due to the anticipation, and the “disappointment” that sort of followed that makes it so hard for SM to plan the next move and please as many as possible.
2) The need for musical direction
For all the unfair criticism and heightened expectation that was levelled at “History,” one problem with the album that could not be denied was how it seemed to lack musical identity, or come to think of it, the one thing that screams EXO.
If there is one thing in common with every pop group that succeeds, they always seem to have that one song that practically screams “It’s me” and which you could never imagine another group covering/doing the song with the same impact. For Super Junior, it was “Sorry Sorry”, for SHINee it was “Lucifer” while for SNSD, “Genie” certainly brought out even the most neutral of K-pop fans.
So going by that logic, it could be wise to conclude that many sleepless nights must have taken place at SM Entertainment Headquarters to try to re-create that magic hit.
3) Waiting for the tides to clear?
It would not be a stretch to say that there are too many male idol group vying for fans’ money (and especially attention). In the period that SM debuted, we have seen rival debut groups go into overdrive (think BAP), groups that debuted in 2011 improve massively (B1A4, Boyfriend) as well as no signs of boy band staples going away anytime soon.
Judging from this, it might seem imperative that SM quickly get to work with establishing EXO’s musical identity beyond an imaginary planet to help them not get forgotten in a sea of activity, and there is some truth to that. But on the other hand, SM could just be biding their time for the flurry of activity to clear, such that they could comeback at a time with as little competition as possible. Just look at all the attention that “Gee” got when it was released. Partly due to how the song was hard to beat as a pop song, but also due to the lack of competition at the time. Honestly do you still remember the rivals to “Gee” on the music charts back then?
4) There are too many other guaranteed money makers in SM
Despite MAMA as an album racking up considerable sales, comfortably surpassing the 100,000 mark, the single sales were a fair bit less impressive. Considering the amount of promotion, it was odd to note that “MAMA” did not break into the top 10 of Music Bank for any one week, and it struggled to stay within the Inkigayo Take 7 for long. This could point to sales being largely propped up by fanbases buying physical albums, rather than casual listeners buying digital singles.
When compared to the likes of commercial juggernauts such as SNSD and Super Junior, who comfortably sell in big numbers both digital downloads and albums, SM Entertainment would have probably seen it fit to give these established acts priority in material, considering their role in padding up the bottom line.
And of course, not forgetting the argument that artistes more senior in the company get to move up the line in terms of when their comeback is up next.
While here are some reasons SM Entertainment could be having EXO on “indefinite hiatus” and doing “MAMA” at every event they grace, readers might have a few more. Share some of them here!
(SM Entertainment, Mnet Entertainment, Ivy Club)