EXO is still just like visiting a restaurant where the entrees are too small and the main so inadequate that you no longer care whether the dessert is decent.

It’s been a long time coming—five months, to be exact. With twenty-three teasers, two prologue singles, a special showcase, modelling videos and over one hundred days of hype, EXO are finally here with debut mini-album MAMA. I’ve already speculated how SM Entertainment may have hammered us with too many teasers but have my predictions turned out accurate? In a word: yes. I’ve never been more underwhelmed.


The frustrating thing about MAMA is the debut track itself is quite brilliant but I can’t appreciate it to the full extent due to the noticeable lack of excitement I felt when hearing it for the first time. With all of EXO’s talents put on show through a mini-concert and abundance of teasers there was no element of surprise when MAMA hit online media sites. Instead of flailing with utter anticipation I welcomed the long-awaited single with a flat sigh and an oh it’s finally here.

EXO - 'MAMA' Screencap 01

Aside from SM Entertainment’s terrible decisions in regards to EXO’s pre-debut activities, they have surprisingly achieved what they set out to do: create a new sound set to light the world on fire. What places MAMA aside from the plethora of groups making their debut early this year—B.A.P, NU’EST and BTOB, for example—is the lack of ‘hook’ lyrics or melody in order to draw in an audience. Instead of the catchy choruses we witnessed in the aforementioned debut groups’ lyrics, EXO present us with an edgy, fierce, almost pseudo-rock single topped off with a cherry in the form of a screamed rap bridge. This is all made all the more impressive and powerful by the ominous English cult-inspired chanting at the beginning and end of the track. When I first heard the song during EXO’s pre-debut showcase hosted by Super Junior’s Lee-everywhere-Teuk, I originally thought these lines to be in Latin. I wish I continued to think this.

EXO - 'MAMA' Screencap 02 EXO - 'MAMA' Screencap 03

As if to spit on the prowess of the song, SM has coupled MAMA with a typically low-budget MV that is practically identical to what we already saw in prologue single History. The set is unsurprisingly inside the company’s trademark box, alternating between a sleek temple-esque dance room and a barren post-apocalyptic wasteland. The other features of the video include largely unrelated, random clips, many of which were released in part as teasers, making the MV pretty disappointing due to the lack of new (or original) footage. The most painful part of the whole experience, however, was the tacky narration at the beginning outlining the supposed mythology related to the fabled EXO Planet. I have no idea why SM decided to write the ‘legend’ of EXO and I honestly don’t really care. As if anyone is going to believe that shit anyway? It’s agonisingly lame and adds almost two minutes to the MV. No, just, no.

In any case, EXO-M and EXO-K have presented entirely identical music videos (obviously) so there’s no reason to waste any more of your time by watching both. Pick a side—M or K, whichever takes your fancy—and just roll with that. Personally, I selected EXO-M. Why? They’re so nice to look at. And there’s no Kai [1].

The rest of the debut mini-album seems shorter than it actually is due to the inclusion of prologue singles What Is Love and History. I have no idea why SM decided to include these tracks when it seems, judging by the song excerpts featured in the many teasers, EXO have plenty of tracks at their disposal. Listing What Is Love and History alongside the new releases made EXO’s debut mini-album all the more underwhelming due to the lack of new material with which they provided us. Even MAMA was shown to the public through their showcase leaving only three new tracks on offer. I expected to be disappointed and even with the utter joy that was MAMA, EXO is still just like visiting a restaurant where the entrees are too small and the main so inadequate that you no longer care whether the dessert is decent. Because there was so much hype I felt obligated to listen to the album due to the time and interest invested in pre-debut activities. But I can’t say I’m excited about it.

The sound displayed on the mini-album is by no means cohesive; with a range of R&B ballads, hip-hop and electronica EXO have all bases covered but at the expensive of defining who they actually are. Just what exactly are you trying to be, EXO? In general, EXO present a very different vibe to recently debuted groups which will no doubt pique the interest of those who managed to bury themselves under a rock during the onslaught of teasers. MAMA, History and Machine are perhaps the most similar tracks, displaying subdued backing music and an emphasis on vocals. Machine is the weakest of these songs and it’s no wonder it remained hidden while the former received early attention.

Hip-hop track 双月之夜/개의 달이 뜨는 밤 [Two Moons] featuring label mate Key from SHINee adds yet another facet to EXO’s diverse genre catalogue. The song is literally painful to listen to and sitting through both Korean and Chinese renditions made me groan. With no climax or dynamic soundtrack Two Moons bounces along like a souped-up car down a suburban street. I immensely dislike this song to the point I would have to say I prefer ballad What Is Love. If you’re an avid reader of this blog then you’ll understand how high a criticism this is. But perhaps I’m being overly harsh on What Is Love as, admittedly, I also prefer it to 你的世界/너의 세상으로 [Angel], which is just plain boring. It has a great harmony and the vocals are pretty—blah, blah—but the fact remains it’s still weak. Truth be told, Two Moons, Angel and Machine are all soft in comparison to the previously released tracks on the album. This is perhaps the greatest disappointment: not only did SM spoil would be EXO fans with too many teasers they also shot their payload on the prologue singles leaving nothing but a sad and shrivelled final product to be unveiled to the public.

EXO are by no means a bad idol group. They are fresh, new and different but the lack of excitement fuelled by anticipation for their debut hurt my overall impression of them—I’m simply not as interested as I could be as I’ve already seen all EXO have to offer. MAMA, the mini-album, is a lopsided product featuring three very good tracks and three comparatively poor ones. Basically, if you enjoyed the tracks released before the mini-album dropped on April 9—MAMA included, as it was released on the 8th—you can save your time and money because it really doesn’t get any better.  Even so, my love and respect for title song MAMA has me very much looking forward to seeing EXO-M perform live next month when they support Super Junior in the Australian leg of their Super Show 4 World Tour.

Now that’s something to get excited for.

[1] You can read all about my love [read: hate] for Kai here


4 responses

  1. I felt quite similar to you. I was expecting more from EXO. I think if they didn’t release What is Love and History as prologue singles, I would be more I guess you could say satisfied with their debut. I knew what to expect from them already and they didn’t bring anything new to the table in regards to what they showed in their two prologue singles. I wish What is Love and History wasn’t on the album, it doesn’t really make sense to me since there were dozens of other songs that could have been chosen.

    The video and song was great but not fantastic. I could honestly care less for the song, it’s not memorable to me probably because of the lack of a noticeable hook as you mentioned. The video was quite impressive though, I enjoyed how the aesthetics were played however I’m still not a fan of Kai doing screamo or whatever in the video. A total turn off and I had no idea how I made it through the video after that. The choreo was nice as well, but I prefer the choreo to History instead. Oh and the beginning, a waste of a minute and a half of my life.

    I haven’t listened to the rest of the album, I shall after this but it kind of scares me how you say the album is not cohesive. It sounds like they are all over the place with their sound which I mean it’s not a bad thing but then again you get a mixed message when you think of EXO.

    Thanks for the review ^.^

  2. I’d have to disagree.
    Though i was dissapointed, i think sm did the right thing.
    I feel as if theyr hidig exo, and will sooner or later unleash the talent exo had, and slowly develope an individual and unique image for exi along the way, rather then defining exo right at their debut. Its quite brilliant actually.
    Take b.a.p for example, they started out with a strong concept and song.
    As good as their songs no mercy and power are, their debut song, warrior is still the best song they have released.
    Sm is patiently waiting and slowly will give better material for exo, right now the focus seems to be on grabbing attention and developing a strong fanbase, and they have been successful with that so far, seeing as how exo is the most popular rookie group this year.

    • I actually really like EXO, haha. I’m hesitant in labelling them the best rookie group of the year (well, last year) because they have only released the ONE mini album. They’ve haven’t released enough substance to be really worthy of that kind of praise.

      Conversely, after three singles I was happy to call B.A.P the best rookie group of the passed year. However, their since their wonderful debut and strong immediate followups they have become yet another mediocre boy group who abandoned their amazing sound to become just one of the crowd. I’m so disappointed in them.

  3. Oh god, I started off reading this with a smile but at “Lee-everywhere-Teuk” I burst out laughing!

    I only became a fan of EXO two months ago because after watching their first teaser with Kai I became disinterested purely because I was happy with being (slightly?) obsessed with SHINee.. And then I heard a bit of MAMA when it came out, and my initial reaction was o.0 (because of the awful opening narration).. and didn’t even finish the music video… Fast forward almost one year later, I randomly stumbled onto some video featuring EXO-M, they got my attention and I watched some live stages of What is Love and became a fan~ Woohoo..

    To date, I still have never seen either MAMA music videos in its entirety (and I don’t really plan on doing so either mwahaha). I love the live stages though!

    I agree with Angel being boring.. I usually skip that song when it begins playing! I have to admit though, I love Two Moons >///< (the Korean version slightly more than the Chinese one because of Chanyeol)

    I'd love to see Baby Don't Cry on their next album (whenever they get around to having a comeback…)

    Thanks for this review ^_^

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