If the record-shattering success of EXO has proved anything, it’s that teens all over the world still love squeaky-clean dance pop—and they don’t mind crossing language barriers to get it. This K-pop supergroup got its start in Seoul with industry powerhouse SM Entertainment in 2012, seemingly just one in an endless stable of talented South Korean boy bands. But EXO distinguished themselves early as both commercially savvy and artistically a cut above: They were originally split into two distinct groups—EXO-K and EXO-M—that performed for Korean and Mandarin-speaking audiences, respectively, doubling their cultural impact and geographic reach. They’ve also employed some of the best producers and songwriters in not just Korean but also American music, including Dwayne Abernathy Jr. and Timothy “Bos” Bullock. The result has been an invigorating, kinetic, and diverse output of songs that traffic in hip-hop, R&B, trap, and EDM (as well as the occasional ballad) without losing sight of their pop audience. Their 2013 debut, XOXO, broke the coveted 1 million sales barrier in South Korea, with songs like the jittery, edgy “Wolf.” Knotty, funky tracks such as the creepy “Monster” and the reggae-inflected “Ko Ko Bop” evoke Michael Jackson at his most romantic and Justin Timberlake at his most fleet-footed—but with a darker swagger. And with ongoing sonic adventurousness and live shows that literally employ all the elements (fire and water feature prominently), they remain a force to be reckoned with in K-pop’s crowded field.
ORIGINSeoul, South Korea