Two and a half weeks of close listening should be enough to write this, right?! I feel like I spent these two weeks half listening out of enjoyment and half listening in a mode of study and it’s time to put this post to bed so I can stop listening to the album altogether.

(JK, this album is really great, and you should listen to it now if you haven’t already.)



The structure of this song is fantastic. The flow of this song is fantastic. The lyrics are fantastic. The singing is fantastic. Everything is fantastic. Fantastic!

“Baby, Don’t Cry” is spectacularly like Adele’s “Someone Like You,” in the way it slowly builds up tension and then releases that tension in a (sad) satisfying way. Last year, the Wall Street Journal published an article about why “Someone Like You” makes listeners want to cry, and here are a couple of highlighted passages,

An appoggiatura is a type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound. “This generates tension in the listener,” said Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-wrote a 2007 study on the subject. “When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good.”

Chills often descend on listeners at these moments of resolution. When several appoggiaturas occur next to each other in a melody, it generates a cycle of tension and release. This provokes an even stronger reaction, and that is when the tears start to flow.

In addition, during the chorus, Adele slightly modulates her pitch at the end of long notes right before the accompaniment goes to a new harmony, creating mini-roller coasters of tension and resolution…

Chill-provoking passages, they found, shared at least four features. They began softly and then suddenly became loud. They included an abrupt entrance of a new “voice,” either a new instrument or harmony.

When the music suddenly breaks from its expected pattern, our sympathetic nervous system goes on high alert; our hearts race and we start to sweat. Depending on the context, we interpret this state of arousal as positive or negative, happy or sad.

ews20130620babydontcryThe entirety of “Baby Don’t Cry” is a gliding between consonance and dissonance, which creates the tension in the song. The pitch change in the second verse (during Suho/Lay’s lines) pushes the tension higher, which gathers at full speed during the raps when Kyungsoo sings, “Say no more, no more.”

The tension starts to unravel at the bridge, after the conclusion of the rap, when Kyungsoo/Luhan starts their lines and then Baekhyun/Jongdae finishes. As this verse culminates into the song’s final repetition of the chorus, the listeners start to come down from the wave.

The final verse acts somewhat like a catharsis, and almost mirrored in the lyrics is the raining down of blinding light,

The dawn’s light spills down
Like you, it shines down brightly (falling down)
My eyes get lost in it
Now I cry, cry, cry
The early sunlight comes down
A blinding force that reminds me of you comes down (falling down)
My eyes that lost their way
Now I cry, cry, cry

We know the conflict within the lyrics isn’t resolved, which is why after the final verse, we go back to the piano solo, stark and lonely as ever.

If this song isn’t an epic fucking hurt, I don’t know what is. Every aspect of this song is ridiculously perfect. I feel so strongly about “Baby, Don’t Cry” that I can vouch for this group on the strength of this song alone. They’ve only performed this song live once and it left a lot to be desired, but I know they have the potential to own and absorb this song and when that day comes, it will be glorious.


I took one for the team. I pounded back a couple of shots1 and listened to all 4 “Wolf” tracks consecutively2 to write this.

The premise of this song is not bad, but the execution is all wrong, as with most high-impact SM songs as of late. This song is what I like to categorize as the Lazy-Rap-Lazy-Beat track, which is a style YG does a lot with GD and co., where there’s a low, lazy beat in the background, layered with a few very thin melodies (if any at all), and then a rapping track on top.

Well, the demo version was like going for that effect, at least. The most hip hop SM has ever gone was with “Two Moons,” and when the “Wolf” demo leaked three months ago, you could tell that SM was going for a continuation of “Two Moons” with a song that relied heavily on a combination of rapping, rhythmic talking, this time sprinkled also with a melodic chorus and extravagant bridge.


And then three months later, we got the monstrosity that is the final cut of the song. “Wolf” attempts too many things that nobody in the group could deliver, further compounding people’s problems with this group and SM. The final cut of this song is so busy for no good reason: there are so many layers of dubstep, wolf cries, shouts, raps. The build-up of this song is unpleasant and chaotic: the entire last quarter of the song consists of adding layer after layer of new sounds without removing some of the preexisting ones.

But! Everybody was distracted by how nobody could reach any of their notes in the demo that the song’s more interesting aspects were neglected. The tone of “Wolf” is not earnest enough, which people really had a problem with because they needed a rookie group like Exo to be way more earnest than they are. But arrogant in pop is good. Arrogant pop is seriously lacking in the K-pop sea of earnestness and saccharine and YG can’t be the only company propping up the arrogance totem pole, I’m sure it gets heavy.

Regardless of any merits, however, the song should only have been attempted by pros and Exo could not touch this type of song even with a ten-foot pole. Chanyeol is a good rapper, but not for a song like this that flits between personalities so frantically. Baekhyun, Kyungsoo, Jongdae can all sing, but Jongdae is the only one whose range fits this song, once again rendering Baekhyun and Kyungsoo so outside of their comfort zones that it’s painful to listen to them. Suho, Luhan, and Yixing are also competent and dependable singers, but are rendered into non-entities in a song that basically only requires you either “rap” things, shout things, grunt things, or scream things.

The performance of this song also cannot be saved, beyond the tree at the beginning. Tony Testa needs to be exiled forever from the land of SM, never permitted to reenter. SM’s idols have always been better with legwork than arm work and Tony Testa seems to think that dancing is a circus act aided by literal interpretation (at one point they’re SCRATCHING THEMSELVES like wolves). The dancing for this song could have been so much more interesting than it was. A plague on both your houses, SM and Testa.

1 Just kidding.
2 Not kidding. :(


ews20130620blackpearlThis is such a suspenseful love song; it’s a really nice change of pace from the rest of the album despite continuing on a similar theme. I love the tone of “Black Pearl”: it’s ambitious and adventurous, but also ruminative and longing.

The song is eery and all the layers of the song work beautifully with each other to enhance that mood. There’s a lot going on in the music, which is why there needs to be a tight reign on all the sounds, and the sound mixing is excellent. I love the pulsating drum beats lying low beneath the violins, dubstep, synth piano, and how that meshes with the echoing vocals.

I want to give props to Lay, Tao, and Chanyeol for doing a bang-up job with their parts. Lay’s singing is freaking beautiful and emotive (“我的心 没有一刻与你分离 将你忘记” [0:29]). Tao and Chanyeol did a really good job with their raps, though for this I do have to give more credit to the song: the rap break is a great use of dubstep and the tightly-timed beat forces Tao and Chanyeol’s rapping to be rhythmic and commanding.


This is my third favorite song after “Baby, Don’t Cry” and “Black Pearl.” I really like songs with quick, snappy beats, and there’s a great bounce all throughout “Heart Attack.” I’m sure it was what they were going for, but I like that quickness of the beat mimics a heart beating under stress.

I like that the song isn’t heavy, despite the very serious health issues Exo is accusing their lovers of causing in their bodies, lol. It’s kind of low-simmering and urgent, but never over-dramatic.

I do have one gripe with “Heart Attack,” and it’s that the lack of a rap break is completely mind-boggling. SM inserts unnecessary raps in 98.5% of their songs, but the one song that could have really used it right after the bridge, they just make Kris/Chanyeol grunt “Give me heart attack, ‘ey, ayo”?! A rap break could have acted as a nice kicker to end the song, but the producers completely missed the boat on this one.


I like that “Let Out the Beast” completely ditches the theme of love that all the other songs on this album touch on. This song isn’t a super sophisticated dance track, but has a good “get that dirt off your shoulders” feel to it. As far as message goes, this one is pretty tame. “Let Out the Beast” is like contained self-congratulation, if you will.

Both “Let Out the Beast” and “Heart Attack” run on very quick, steady beats, and the singing is almost like melodic chanting, so it’s very pleasant to listen to. Unlike in “Heart Attack” though, I’m not crazy about rap break in “Let Out the Beast,” and I think the song flows nicely without the “Right! Left!” line. It’s a bit jarring and I don’t feel Chanyeol or Kris own that line, so it comes out awkwardly.


I’m not going to lie, I think most of the second half of the album is substantially weaker than the first half. All the songs are very listenable to and easy-to-digest, but I do feel that any other SM group could have sang these songs and there would have been no difference.

That’s not to say that these songs are bad, and I think the distinction should be made here, but they are very easy, very safe, and very filler. To be as fair as I could towards this album, I made myself listen to this album endlessly, on loop (don’t cry for me, there are worse things that could happen to a person), and I was fine with listening to all of them, though they were all tonally the same: young, sweet love and longing. They’re sunny day songs, which is fine, but not musically as rich or gripping as the other tracks.


ews20130620exo_myladyI hate to end the album review on a bad note, but it kills me that “My Lady” turned out to be the way it is.

“My Lady” is the musical equivalent of watered down beer. “My Lady” is the musical equivalent of a character “committing suicide” in the last five minutes of the 15th episode of a K-drama, and then you find out it’s a dream in the first five minutes of the final episode. “My Lady,” frankly speaking, is a cop-out, and it’s a damned shame.

The teaser version was one of the first Exo sounds we ever heard, and that teaser alone made the prospect of Exo’s debut thrilling. The teaser cut was taut, suspenseful, and sexy. The final version runs in circles and is what the inability to sneeze must feel like, in song-format.

The first 30 seconds of the song is still perfect, but how are you going to have the music fade out, stop, and then just reloop the verse we just listened to? It completely shatters all anticipation, and that ramp-up (1:02) that the first verse leading up to after the stop — that ramp-up the first verse was training the ear to wait for — never happens, and instead we get a reloop of the verse.

This is not a song that can follow the conventional song structure — verse A, pre-chorus, chorus, verse B, pre-chorus, chorus, etc. By the time that ramp-up does come, we’ve waited too long for it and the momentum has worn off. The rest of the song is thin, aimless, and unappealing, and my disappointment has melted into a puddle.

– – – – –

“XOXO” — barring “Wolf” — is ultra radio-friendly and just a blast to listen to, which honestly, it didn’t need to be. It’s actually a shame and a waste that the album is this good. When you have a title track this polarizing, what you aim to achieve is moot, because anyone who isn’t already even a little bit interested in this group has no reason to give “XOXO” a try. Exo-K shot Exo in the foot when they debuted so poorly with their craptastic first live performance last April, but this go around, SM is shooting Exo so many times they don’t even have bullets left in their gun anymore. This is why Exo’s popularity will not be going beyond the hardcore SM fandom for at least the next couple of years.

This album is also amazingly — amazingly! — C-pop friendly and actually sounds like C-pop. I doubt this was SM’s intention (market research? what the fuck is that??), but if it weren’t for “Wolf” — which will NEVER be accepted as good, mainstream radio music in China, and I don’t care what any fan living-in-China-has-a-penpal-in-China-has-a-third-cousin-in-China tells you — this album could actually make this band known for catchy pop and great performances, without having to rely on Hallyu clout. The rest of the tracks — particularly the sweeter, lower-key ones like “Baby,” “Don’t Go,” “Peter Pan” — will fit right in with the general C-pop landscape, and I do not even have enough arms to throw up in the air to express my exasperation with SM’s “Wolf” selection tactic.

ews20130620exocomebackAs for the actual groups: this album confirms to me SM’s upper management who split 12 boys into two groups of six has poor music management skills. Or, at the very least, their priority wasn’t to make their music as good a fit for the boys as possible.

After listening to them harmonize within each of their respective groups, it’s pretty clear that M could do with some padding that heavier baritone and bass voices could provide, and K could sound more colorful if they had lighter, sharper voices. Overall, though, the songs are a better fit for K’s vocals than they are M’s, and poor arrangement of great voices is a grievance I didn’t know could wound me so much until I got into K-pop.

Chanyeol, Kyungsoo, and Baekhyun all have similar timbres and basically melt into each other when they sing together. Suho has the highest voice in the group but that’s not even saying much because it’s just a smidgen higher than SeKai’s.

Then you have M. Kris is by far the bass, but doesn’t do much as a bass because, hi, rapper. Minseok has the next deepest voice but he isn’t used much as a vocalist. Within the active vocal line you have Yixing, Luhan, Jongdae, three parts of a tenor/countenor sandwich. It’s like listening to one Intense Changmin and two relaxed Changmins singing together. For everything. For ever.

Jongdae very much should have been swapped to K, with either Baekhyun or Kyungsoo put into M, so that both groups can be more balanced. Yixing could’ve even been put into K, with Suho put into M. It’s also apparent that even SM feels like they have to compensate for M’s thinner vocals by constantly lacing M’s tracks with Baekhyun or Kyungsoo’s singing. We could have avoided this altogether had someone given this more thought at the beginning. It’s not rocket science, folks.

With SM…you win a little, but you lose a ton. Because a wolf ate it.

  •!/swheekun swheekun

    Awesome review, really appreciate all the detail in this! Of course as someone just finally beginning to pay attention to Exo some of the discussion of individual vocalists and group dynamic is lost on me, but I can definitely agree with the notion of M and K being imbalanced– throughout both versions overall K seems to handle the heavier songs better while lighter ones sound better in M’s thinner voices (especially Peter Pan, which gets kicked up a notch from the other forgettables), so I often find myself switching between the two for a better listening experience. As a result this leaves me slightly partial to the K version because “their” songs– Baby Don’t Cry, Black Pearl, Let Out the Beast, My Lady– make up most of my favorites. My Lady was originally my reason for trying the album (having seen only a handful of the teasers) and I was really curious how they would structure it, so it was super disappointing to hear so much sacrificed for that conventional song structure. The chorus salvages enough after the bumpy lead-in, but it probably would have done much better living up to its potential if the parts from the teaser had just been used more effectively.

  • eternalfive

    Oh yay, finally a review! Thank you Amy. :D

    Completely agree with you on everything about Baby Don’t Cry – also, I think another similarity it has with Someone Like You imo is the lyrics. They’re both simple, and kinda conversational, and yet so heartbreaking because of that very simplicity. Haha ngl though, I actually really like Peter Pan and Don’t Go. They’re so sweet. And the Peter Pan lyrics are really cute and a little bittersweet and there’s a fairytale metaphor, all of which are things that I love, so. <3 And yup, I love that Let Out The Beast is actually about performing, instead of love. That's refreshing.

    Also, YAY, finally someone else who doesn't like My Lady! =.= The full version was so disappointing. I don't hate it, and I don't think it's actually an outright bad song or anything, but it is so. boring. It ends up as one of my least played tracks on the album, along with 3.6.5 and Wolf. And I had such high hopes for the teaser version too. *sob*

    And yesyesYES about XOXO sounding like Cpop, which was something that made me go all giddy when I first heard the album. I feel like Baby especially reminds me of Cpop lol. And just other the ballads in general, which really work with Luhan's and Lay's voices especially (Luhan's voice works amazingly well with Peter Pan imo). I am actually so frustrated that Wolf is the title track, because I will just never understand why SM always insists on attempting to break into the Chinese market, and yet does it SO half-assedly EVERY TIME, and then when they actually have an amazing album that HAS potential in the Cpop market, they DON'T EVEN PROMOTE IT THERE. AND THEY GIVE IT SOME CRAPTASTIC TITLE TRACK LIKE WOLF. Like what the actual fuck, SM, I will never get you.

    Wow, this was long. But anyway, thanks again for the review, your thoughts on things are always interesting to read. ^^

    • Amy

      “Baby” definitely felt the most C-pop-y to me the first time I heard it, especially due to the instrumentation used. It’s soooooo C-pop.

  • WorthInClay

    I feel quite surprise that you mention that this album sounds like C-pop, because recently Henry’s “Trap” really gave me a lot of C-pop feels. XOXO doesn’t strike me as much in that way, but these sentiments just surprise me as well.
    The boys’ comeback song has been controversial, but guess what, the controversy actually spiked my interest. And recently I decided to take some tutorials from your previous posts on them, so that I finally tell who’s who and who does what in the group now. Thanksya! And I have decided that I will buy that album because the rest of the songs are really worth in. ;)

  • muaffinity

    It scares me how much I agree with your review, lol.


    There’s, like, nothing left to say. My library has six copies of this song and that’s six too many. Hopefully the shitastic response to “Wolf” winning music shows will stop the A&R department from choosing anymore terrible title tracks.

    “Baby Don’t Cry”

    Eek that WSJ article is such a great reference. I agree with every angsty thing that has ever been said about “Baby Don’t Cry”. It’s definitely my favorite song off the album, but it fills me with so. much. woe. that I have to avoid listening to it to spare myself.
    And..if/when Exo nails that song live? [AGGRESSIVELY DOWNLOADS IN 1080HD AND STORES FOREVER]

    “Black Pearl”, “Heart Attack”

    …are also my 2nd and 3rd faves! Vocally, I do think that K’s boyband sound* kind of loses out to the instrumental during the chorus of “Black Pearl” while M’s Chen&Co. style of harmonizing resonates more/has more of an impact. Even so, Baeksoo make me swoon all over their solo parts (a-la-“she’s my beautiful beautiful black puh-uuhrl”).

    “Don’t Go”, “3.6.5”

    “Objectively” speaking, I like both versions of the two songs equally. Really, though, my play count for K’s versions are almost twice as high as M’s…because I’m just so s o partial to Kyungsoo’s voice.

    “Peter Pan”, “Baby”, “Let Out the Beast”

    IA that the sweeter songs in this album work really well as cpop, and I do prefer M’s “Peter Pan” and “Baby” over K’s. It’s also an added bonus that the lyrical delivery for those two songs allow Jongdae and Minseok to enunciate better. The pacing of “Let Out the Beast” and “Heart Attack”, OTOH, has them shooting out syllables so quickly that their ‘zh’s and ‘j’s sound indistinguishable (but this might just be me and my lack of fluency in mandarin).

    “My Lady”

    I didn’t anticipate “My Lady” enough to immediately be heartbroken when I first heard it. I think my only complaint at the time was how Suho’s singing during the chorus totally flatlined the song.
    But then I put it on repeat, repeatedly listened to the parts I really loved (like the perfect first 30 seconds!) and eventually, the song became unsatisfying. It dissolves its own tension and drags near the end, which is so disappointing because this song could have been so sexy and so interesting. Now I’m left perpetually pining for a sexy, superior version of “My Lady” that doesn’t exist :(

    * “they basically melt into each other when they sing together” is what I mean by boyband sound

  • Jesusica.

    Amy, please can you not talk about voice types because none of the members of EXO have heavy enough voices to be basses or high enough voices to be countenor (they legit sound like women). All of EXO – apart from Chanyeol and maybe Kris – are tenors. However, none of the members in the vocal line can have their voice types judged, as of yet, because they’re not properly trained vocalists.

    M & K are probably on the same level vocally. D.O is the best in K (has shown that he can use the correct placement and produce non-nasalized tones), and Lay the best in M (produced healthy vibratos, non-nasalized tones, hardly strains). Chen & Baekhyun simply have larger ranges than the other members, but still strain like there’s no tomorrow. Suho is a stronger vocalist than Luhan. Suho’s voice isn’t “high” it’s just thin because he’s singing through his nose (like most of the members). Overall, I’d safely put Lay as the best vocalist in EXO.

    I just think you should steer clear from talking about vocals because a lot of your analysis’ on vocals are flawed.

    • Amy

      I stand corrected, thank you for your analysis. Though I have to say I’m hard-pressed to respond positively to your comment, seeing as you constantly harass me on social media when you disagree with what I have to say and leave aggressively worded insults about my writing on forums (do you not think I get traffic referral reports?).

      • Jesusica.

        You’re welcome, butI don’t harass you, I tried to get your attention once or twice and you ignored me. I don’t talk about you on forums wtf? There was one period of time where I talked about Junsu stans, but I don’t talk about your blog :/. If I insulted your blog why I would subscribe to it and religiously read your blog posts? Idgi…

        • Jesusica.

          More than one person uses the laptop, so it could be my brother, who also knows about vocals talking about you on online forums, but that’s not me.

  • Lisa

    Woah, “Baby Don’t Cry” is kind of amazing. Sometimes, the ballads from SM artists surprise me.

  • Marian

    It’s great to read your thoughts on the album. Tbh, I never expected an album in which I wanted to listen to over and over again.

    Don’t Go stood out for me first because it reminded me of Angel, and then I found out it was from the same team. Go figure.
    Black Pearl is so much fun to listen to! I love the build up of the song.
    Baby Don’t Cry was my favorite teaser, so I’m quite glad that it turned out so well. Kyungsoo’s “Say no more, more” is soo good~ I don’t know much about music, but I’ll take your word that Adele’s “Someone Like You” is similar to it. ^^

    I still do wonder what the management was thinking when they were forming the units. I had a preference in which language I listened for each song in the album. Maybe that was what they were going for, like how you mentioned that the album is quite a C-Pop friendly album, and I feel that the happier, sweet melody songs are better with M while the stronger songs are for K? I don’t know, I feel like fans just have to go with the flow, even if the flow consists of howling. T_T

    It is unfortunate that the album seems to be masked by such a glaring title track because the album is so much fun to listen to, but hopefully future activities will shine light on their other songs and future ones too. Is thinking to the future too soon? haha. I can’t even think what expectations there will be for their next one or when. :X

    • Marian

      Btw, love your description of a tenor/countenor sandwich. Poor Changmin. haha.

  • Anon

    I’ve recently gotten into the music Exo does, and I’ve been reading reviews on the new album. To be honest, I like your review the best in just the fact that it comes off so much harsher than most I’ve read. At least in the fact that it comes off as a much more partial – not to mention you’re the only blog that I’ve seen that compares the two groups. (Most I’ve seen usually just review the songs in Korean) And I apologize if this just turns into a ramble, but like you, I feel I just need to let out my own opinions as well xD

    I think it probably has to do with the fact that I speak Mandarin that I lean towards liking Exo-M versions of songs much more than I do the K versions. But it is hard to ignore that K definitely has the fuller vocals. In that case, I found that My Lady (a song I’m not particularly fond of) actually worked better with the K member’s voices.

    But anywho… I agreed with most of this post. I actually agreed with most of it to a T. Especially with that this album, for the most part, could meld so well into Cpop world with its moody ballads and dysfunctional-ly poppy tunes (for a lack of a better description). Black Pearl, Heart Attack, Let out the Beast, and My Lady were all tracks that could stand on their own in both M and K versions. You described them well so I won’t go into that. 3.6.5 and Baby, I completely agree are songs, while nice to hear, are easily forgettable and hard to distinguish from any other Asian pop song.

    Don’t Go, Don’t Cry, and Peter Pan however… I don’t know, I feel like there is more to talk about with these songs. Or at least…. they left me with slightly different impressions.

    For me, “Baby, Don’t Cry” was actually not a very special song to listen to. I liked it, but to me, it was a song so blatantly sad that I just pass it over as a normal sad love song. I found it really interesting that you compared it to Adele’s song, because that was a song by Adele that I had never really enjoyed. In Don’t Cry, I felt like K delivered it well with powerful vocals that sold the feeling on the song where I felt M wasn’t too up to par. Overall, I didn’t find “Baby, Don’t Cry” to be a spectacular song. Much better than 3.6.5 and Baby, but I prefer to listen to some of the other tracks more than this one.

    As for Don’t Go and Peter Pan, I personally think that these songs really are perfect in comparing the two groups.
    For Don’t Go, (God, I actually love this song) I thought it really showcased a much more emotive side to the M group as compared to the K group. I don’t speak Korean, but according to my friend who does, I found that the lyrics of Don’t Go in the M version felt much more bittersweet than the ones of the K version. The reason why it pulls my heart strings so much is because the lyrics are sweet, yet they give off a very fragile feeling. In the M version of the song, it executes this well with smooth transitions from verses to chorus to bridge and so on and so forth. Plus, the line Tao sings in the first chorus (我們要一起飛到世界的最中心) and the line that Lay sings in the ending chorus (我們要一起到世界的盡頭, don’t go) kills me every time. For me, it’s what turns the song into something just so bittersweet.
    And Peter Pan…. keeping it short. I think the lyrics in the K and M versions are similar in a sense, but differ in a way that gives them a completely opposite feeling from each other. Once again, I don’t speak Korean, so I can’t be 100% certain. The M version, while longing and kind of pitiful for most of it, has a more optimistic and uplifting feel by the end. The K version though, seems to have much more a whimsical atmosphere to it but takes a turn somewhere in the ending chorus and leaves me with a much more nostalgic in a sad way kind of feel. I don’t want to go more into detail in fear that my incoherent thoughts will make this comment much more confusing that it needs to be.

    Once again, I love the blog! Keep going, all that jazzy stuff. I look forward to all you’re other analysis ^^