Way too many words on Exo
1) Let me be verbose, lest my brain explode.
2) Let me use the amazing photographs fans have taken at events, lest my Tumblr explode.
I’m not sure if I’m still basking in honeymoon phase of observing a new debut, or if I’m already slowly sinking into the murky waters of unease because I anticipate idol life redundancy. I’m already experiencing performance fatigue with K, because I think Mama is one of those high-impact songs that really loses its, for the lack of a better term, impact when you watch it weeks and weeks on end. I do enjoy watching the M version more because there’s been so little of them in comparison, but I think Mama as a whole has run its course. I’d actually prefer it if they went back to doing History now.
And contrary to most fans, I’d like for that impending variety show to be put off for as long as possible because I don’t want my impressions of any of them to be ruined by silly thoughts and loose lips…! Let my memory of them be collective snippets of fansigns and Disneyland outings. Please.
But in any case, performance evaluation time!!
Kai, Baekhyun, Lay
I’ve grouped these three together because they all strike me as performers who get an incredible high out of performing. It’s nuts how great a difference there is between the on and off-stage personas of each of these members. All of them are electrifying when they perform and whatever … faults I may find with them outside of performing, I quickly erase when I watch them perform because they’re completely hypnotizing.
Kai. Overall I’m very lukewarm about him, mostly for reasons outside of his control. I don’t love his dancing style because it seems very carbon copy-ish of Taemin and Eunhyuk, and is the standard SM “dancing machine” style (why the fuck SM won’t let this phrase go is beyond me). But the thing that does impress me very much about Kai is that he is inseparable from music when he performs. I didn’t really appreciate it until I watched a closeup fancam of him doing “Sorry Sorry” during the Dream Concert (which was a fancam for Chanyeol, sorry dude).
It’s not that his moves are impeccably timed with the music so much as he is music. Music hums through his body when he dances and the beats manifest themselves magically through his movements. I’m not a fan of cocky performers, which Kai definitely is, but this is the very reason why I think he gets a high when he performs on stage: his movements are so in line with a song and his performer instincts are so on point that it just manifests in sheer thrill and all that bravado. I’ll cut him some slack for being cocky because once he’s off stage, he’s completely dead. Maybe he’s just smart in that he knows the sheer magnitude of shit his idol life will be for the next five, ten years and that’s why it’s better to not be too into it now.
Lay. This kid is incredibly spacy and not very present when he’s off-stage. It’s really painful to watch him give interviews because his attention span is always so shot and he always has to grasp at basic articulation. Once he’s on stage though, BAM. He’s a whole new person. His stage persona is firm, knowing, aware. His movements are clean and elegant, forceful yet not, and just washes a viewer over like water. I must’ve watched him and Sehun lead the Mama dance break in Kai’s absence (sigh, why can’t this happen more) during the Beijing showcase a thousand times and I will never get tired of how much gravity there is in his movements.
The one complaint I have about his dancing is that he’s not showy enough. Whoever arranged the choreography for M nowhere near spotlighted Lay as much as they did with Kai in K’s dance, and Lay can often be lost in a sea when he’s not up front and center. (Like, why ask Kris to lead the penultimate dance with all the Mama moaning angst? Why? Why? Why????)
I can’t talk too much about his singing yet because M hasn’t sung live yet, but Lay can sing, which is way more than I can say about Kai. Skill-wise I don’t think he’s as good as the stronger singers in Exo, and he seems to be the Suho of M (way better than Suho though), but he has a boatload of potential and I’d love to hear more from him. He rapped one line in “Two Moons” and it was so notably mischievous-sounding and just so completely unlike off-stage Lay that I had to do a double take.
Baekhyun. Baaaacon. Saved my fave for last. So this is one example in which performance takes precedent over personality for me when it comes to having favorites: I actually like off-stage Bacon way less than I like on-stage Bacon, and the disparity is probably the biggest for Baekhyun than it is for any other member.
When Exo finally released History, I was very adamant about not getting into K immediately because, well, M needed whatever help they can get lol. I also thought K looked a lot more generic as a group than M. All their faces looked kind of the same and exactly like the variety you’d find in a standard Korean boy band. But Baekhyun caught my eye because he has an intense gaze that is super gripping, and as I watched the rehearsal video for History, despite the fact that it was just rehearsal, I could tell that he’s a performer that has great command over the stage.
And he hasn’t proved me wrong in any way. Baekhyun’s onstage persona is my favorite because there’s something very raw and visceral about the way he performs. He’s a naturally gifted singer, anybody can hear that. He also is probably the only member in Exo who exerts the most energy into channeling the proper interpretation of the feel of Mama into his performances, which actually allows him to transcend the repetition inherent in a K-pop promotion cycle. I can honestly say that I will never get tired of watching him perform his lines, despite the fact that I’m very much over watching K do Mama. He’s also a lot better of a dancer than he’s given credit for, so it’s sort of confusing to me that D.O. is given higher billing as a dancer than Baekhyun is.
I’ve paired these two tall folk together because they are the awkward Petronas Towers brothers, similar in performance style, but elicit very different responses from me.
Chanyeol. Okay I love this kid and would like to adopt him as my little brother. (You’re still cool, my actual brother.)
He has the same problem as Kris in that he’s gangly and awkward, but the huge difference between the two is that Chanyeol really fuckin loves music and you can feel his sincerity and it’s really easy to be forgiving with someone who’s like this.
Chanyeol has exhibited a pretty big curiosity for music, and inherently has a great sense of rhythm, which is probably why he’s talented with instruments, has a great sense of rhythm, and has a sense with beat in his rapping. The odd thing about that is that it doesn’t translate into his dancing at all whatsoever, lol. It’s not as obvious in Exo’s choreography, especially because he’s so hidden for so much of it, but Sorry Sorry was enough to let me know this kid has a severe case of not knowing what to do with his extra long appendages. He also really has to work on his facial expressions because there are one too many derp photos of him at every performance to be acceptable.
So as an idol, I don’t think Chanyeol’s the greatest performer, but he has the makings of an actual musician/artist. The disconnect is interesting mostly because I don’t think Chanyeol’s musical forte is synchronized dancing and singing, whereas freestyling on stage1 probably suits him way better, and I’m not sure when he’s going to have the opportunity to do that properly (extended performance of Two Moons asap, please).
Kris. Kris is a strange creature. To start off, Kris is an awful performer. He’s never talked about wanting to perform, wanting to be a singer. And that’s fine, but there’s also nothing in his performances that convinces me that he really loves music and dance and will try his hardest despite not being good. His lack of energy is very distracting, and highlighted all the more clearly because the genius who arranged the choreography really likes having Kris center and leading dances, which is completely inappropriate given Kris’ dancing abilities (or lack thereof). He’s gangly and tall, which leads to the awkwardness, and he has a severe case of not knowing what to do with his appendages when he moves.
At SM Town I had a great aerial view of the stage and Kris’ energy during all his special stages was just so unimaginably low. I refuse to believe that deep down he’s just really into music if this is how his love manifests itself on stage. It sort of drives me nuts because he is a goldmine for desirable traits in an idol but the performance factor is just severely lacking.
But I mean, despite all of that, I get it. I get the Kris appeal. I get why he’s the leader. He’s extremely smart and witty, very good at speaking and the knobs in his head turn very fast in situations where the rest of his members 1) are incapable of speaking Chinese 2) default to him for everything 3) are extremely spacey. And then looks-wise, I’ve always found his features extremely freakish, but I’ve also turned around on that. I showed my friend this fancam of him doing Like a G6 at SM Town and her reaction is the perfect description of him, “Whoa, that was so awkward, but it was also so 멋있어.” Exactly. That is the Kris magic at work.
Kyungsoo. Kyungsoo hands down has my favorite voice in K-pop. It’s just b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. He needs to work on fine-tuning his high notes and pitch a little more, but good god, his voice is glorious. It’s smooth, rich, and for the most part, sounds great at any range. There are a lot of voices I like in K-pop, but only at very specific ranges (the best example being Junsu’s voice). Kyuhyun’s voice is pretty close to being the perfect singing voice to me, but Kyungsoo also has a great speaking voice, so win-win on both fronts.
Onstage, Kyungsoo is a special little snowflake. He is suuuuper spacey and funnels so much of his energy in making sure he gets all of his notes right that his dancing can be a hit or a miss. He’s stiff when he has to sing and dance at the same time, and never looks like he’s having any fun on stage. I think Kyungsoo is better off just singing standing still and making great faces (a la Into Your World radio perfs). It’s obvious when he has to do Mama live that he is always stressed out about hitting his notes and just doing everything as it should be that he isn’t the most engaging performer to watch, which is unfortunate. But he’s got a ton of potential on stage, so I look forward to keeping up with him as a performer.
I’m surprised at how much I like watching Tao on stage. I’m not sure how into martial arts he actually was prior to his debut, or if all that stick throwing is just a marketing ploy, but it might explain why he’s so light on his feet. Aside from Lay, I think Tao is the best at performing the dance break in Mama. The movements in that break can be awkward and if you watch it without music, the group of six just look like a bunch of wild monkeys jumping around, but Tao makes it work. And even though I rag on him too much for being the “martial arts member,” that dance break doesn’t feel complete until he does his stupid flip.
Luhan is probably the person who’s surprised me the most. I heard him singing pre-debut and it wasn’t the best, but I also didn’t expect him to sound as good as he does not. He’s no vocal powerhouse by any means, and I’ve still got the lives to judge, but he’s got one of the sweetest voices I’ve ever heard. I think K-pop has conditioned fans to think that only vocal powerhouse = good singer, when that is just really not the case. I actually really prefer the way Luhan sings his lines in History and Mama than the way Suho (and sometimes Baekhyun) sings them because there are more lulls, more highs and lows in Luhan’s versions. Luhan has better control over his vibrato and there’s just that extra kick. Based on my usual preferences, I didn’t think I’d like his voice at all, but I’m so surprised by how much I love it and the way it melds with Jongdae’s.
I don’t find Luhan to be a particularly spectacular dancer, though it does seem like he’s billed pretty far ahead the rest of Exo2, which mostly means to me that he’s not an actually great dancer, but loads better than the bad dancers in Exo.
The thing I do have a gripe with in regards to Luhan’s performance persona is that he’s too soft. Work on those facial expressions and hand gestures, boy. Inability to emote properly really prevents someone from elevating his performance, something I think a lot of fans take for granted when watching performances, and definitely the case with Luhan. He’s got a naturally feminine face and is generally not a very aggressive person, which he really needs to try and fake when he performs because I think he’s the weakest with emoting on stage, especially with Mama.
Jongdae. I just really cannot come to a better conclusion with Jongdae until I hear him perform live. I’m hesitant to praise him too much because I think Jongdae is a member you have to judge depending on how well he sings live, because without that, there’s not a lot to go on. I was ready to call Kyungsoo an all-around superstar until repeated live performances made it clear that he needs work on a number of things. I actually think Jongdae and Kyungsoo are very similar-ish performers. They’re good at emoting, but Kyungsoo was a lot better at emoting when he didn’t have to sing live. Once he did, his nerves got the best of him. He’s improved a lot since Exo’s first week of performances, but he’s still not as relaxed on stage as I’d like him to be, which might be a problem with Jongdae as well, sooooo I really need that live M performance right about now :|
Sehun. I have a huge soft spot for Sehun, but I got almost nada for him as a performer. He has left very little impression on me, good or bad. He does what he needs to do and you can tell he’s a capable dancer, but I just feel aaaaabsolutely nothing when I watch him perform. Usually, I like performers like Sehun, who are unflashy, but I think Mama asks for a little more than that. I wish Sehun looked like he enjoyed dancing more/I wish Kai could transfer just 1/60th of his smirking abilities to Sehun/I wish Sehun’s face was capable of moving.
Xiumin. Also don’t really have much to say about Minseok, other than the fact that he’s very enthusiastic on stage. I want to see him perform more because I know he’s one of the better dancers in Exo (and can apparently sing quite well!) but 1) when he’s with M, he’s rarely spotlighted, 2) when he’s with K + M, well, forget about it.
Suho is such a nice guy and I like him a lot. Really. But SM (and him!) made a really bad move by incessantly repeating the fact that he’s been a trainee for seven years. Him training for seven years has become part of his identity now, and I know it’s mostly to illustrate perseverance and steadfastness, but what it’s actually doing is serving as a reminder that this was a kid who couldn’t debut for seven years. Debuts in K-pop seem to mostly boil down to luck for some people, and maybe it was merely that luck was just not on Suho’s side when he missed debuting in Shinee (and that’s fine, because I think Suho’s better in Exo).
But for someone who has trained for seven years, I’m expecting greatness, if not comfort on stage and above average singing abilities at the very least, both of which Suho do not have. Suho is obviously a lot better and more well-rounded than a good half of Exo, but he’s also trained the longest, and shouldn’t get any credit for just being better than half of Exo. And Suho is probably better than other unfortunate souls from SM who’ve trained for a long time but are still shit, but again, I can’t really give credit to Suho just because he’s better than inferior-performing idols.
I want to like Suho tons and tons because he’s so adorable and is such a grandpa, but … :|
– – – – –
1 So this isn’t freestyling in the purest sense since it was probably rehearsed, but it’s still a better glimpse of a looser Chanyeol, unhindered by dancing. It also seems like Sehun is a verrrrrry run-of-the-mill SM product.
2 In terms of dance skill, here’s how I think Exo is ranked:
- Lay, Kai
- Minseok, Tao, Sehun
- Luhan, Baekhyun
- Kyungsoo, Suho, Chen
- Chanyeol, Kris