Exo’s “Overdose”

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I expected worse.

I really like the concept, styling, and how it goes with the song. Everyone’s griping about the white blouses, but I like how they look like highly stylized straitjackets, which goes with a song that’s about addiction and trying to find a cure. (“Someone call the doctor, I need that girl.”)

Putting aside whether or not the listener should be romanticizing this kind of love, I like that the song is dark(er) and that there’s this unhinged quality to the singer, who has a dramatic and urgent obsession. He’s a flawed hero, if that, with his shades of megalomania and narcissism. (“Oh she wants me, oh she’s got me, oh hurts me.”)

But I dig it, I dig everything from the song to the presentation. The song beckons you to come in at the beginning … into the mental asylum where its reigning overlord is your song’s protagonist/antagonist. I love the way the verses build up before going into the chorus — the “Oh she wants me” verses are so striking — then the chorus actually tries to say something and doesn’t rely at all on one word/two words/three syllable hooks.

I love the visuals, it’s one of the more subtle but complementary concepts that SM’s come up with. Kai’s teaser photo makes a lot more sense in retrospect — a loner gazing at his own reflection — and all the photos of the other members are drenched with dark but saturated colors, which feel more sinister and creepy after the song’s reveal. And Kyungsoo’s stern, deeply-lined eyes.

I do wish the song didn’t suffer a huge drop in quality right before the climax at around the 2 minute mark, where the rap begins. The rap climax of this song only exists to service the weaker singing members of the groups because they would otherwise have no lines, and that’s apparent. Say what you want about Chanyeol being able to sing, but for a song like this he wouldn’t have been able to deliver. It doesn’t take away from him as a rapper to say that this group doesn’t need rappers and rap breaks in Exo’s songs (all of SM’s songs) exist to give the less talented vocalists something to do. But a song like this really suffers from an unnecessary rap break because the song is building up to something more — maybe something more meaningful? — and it falls flat when a bunch of under-qualified rappers break the flow.

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Now onto the technical stuff.

First, K and M’s separation. I have to say, I’m not crazy about separate K and M promotions again, not so much because I still care enough to be staunchly OT12 but I like this song and separate promotions means I have to go around looking for everything two times over and I’m lazy. And them promoting together meant doing all those Korean shows together, and those are easy to find and watch. M doing promotions in China means they’ll lag behind a lot in performance opportunities because of the way you don’t really … promote as a pop group in China the way you do in Korea. And I’m not at that point in my life where I have enough time to devote to hunting down all their performances unless it’s served to me on a platter :(

And it’s also be because I find half of both groups extremely annoying/uninteresting and that shit will only be amplified with separate promotions when given all that extra camera time that would’ve gone to accommodating six other members.

It’s pretty clear from the choreography that they never meant to promote the two groups together for this. I got too used to OT12 promoting together and how it made for interesting interplay between the two groups during the routines. Like, I really liked when Baekhyun and Luhan formed their branches of the tree together in “Wolf,” and how Kris pulled Kyungsoo’s hat off during “Growl.” Stuff like that.

Watching the “Overdose” routine feels like a throwback to the “Mama”/”History” era when the teams just traded off during the verses and then came together during the climax and ending. And even then, the choreography for those two songs were less lazy than “Overdose” — the 12 coming together for the ending of “Overdose” is nothing but two groups mirroring each other on different sides of the stage. What a wasted opportunity to show off that while crowded, 12 people in two teams dancing together can still project teamwork and finesse. How disappointing.

It’s also a throwback to the debut era in that it brings back my tendency to compare the two groups when they’re apart by themselves, something I haven’t done in a while since they haven’t promoted apart in more than a year. I mean, I’m sure I’m not the only one doing the comparing either, since the separation just begs of it.

I think in general they all don’t have this choreography down as tightly as they should (or maybe it’s just problems built into the choreography, but more on that later). And the routine shows again that M is the more disciplined group. They’ve always been a little neater on stage, and I had mostly forgotten about this because, again, it’s been so long since they promoted separately. It’s just little things like being in sync with each other, and then a lot of little off-syncs adding up. (And if you don’t already feel this disparity to begin with, you won’t think it now either, so … don’t get worked up about it.)

Finally, the choreography. When I first watched the routine I didn’t hate it, which is huge, because I hate Tony Testa’s work for SM. But after watching it a couple more times, there are a thousand little things I don’t like, and there’s nothing for me to say about Tony Testa anymore, other than that I think he’s a really weak choreographer. Maybe he’s a better dancer. Whatever. Doesn’t matter, he doesn’t get hired by SM to dance, he gets paid to create routines and he fucking sucks at it.

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A problem that I often have with Testa is his love for monumentalism. When I went to cover an event for work, one of the economists on a discussion panel was talking about China’s urbanization efforts, and how one of the things that hampers the country’s urbanization efficiencies is its tendency towards monumentalism, which is building and erecting things for the sake of building them, with no consideration for how useful it’ll be for the common people.

And monumentalism is the perfect word to describe Testa’s choreographic affinities. He builds all these really outlandish moves and structures that serve no purpose other than for the ‘wow’ factor. The perfect example of this is the opening sequence. Why are Kyungsoo and Baekhyun structured like that? I can see kind of what they were going for — Exo’s logo — except they’re forming diamond, and they physically can’t build an X, so they probably went for this instead. I’m all for choreographers making idols try challenging things, but there has to be a payoff and there is no payoff to this opening sequence. The way the cameras have been panning over to Sehun doing the opening solo — both in the practice video and in the Samsung performance — means that the camera is never meant to pay attention to the diamond structure, which is frustrating. So you’re making Kyungsoo lay on his back to support Baekhyun for nothing? And Baekhyun has to get up there and stay upright for nothing? You mean after you DON’T EVEN LINGER THE CAMERA ON THEM, Baekhyun just lightly hops off? So you mean he couldn’t have hopped on the ground instead? What the actual fuck? I really hate extraneous grandiosity and Testa is always guilty of this.

The second thing is that Testa can be an incredibly literal choreographer, which sometimes works, but mostly doesn’t. When the lyrics in “Overdose” refer to time, the members swing their arms to mimic the hands of a clock ticking, and that’s cool because it’s dynamic, dramatic and fitting too. Or when Baekhyun/Jongdae mimics pulling someone in during “Oh she wants me/Oh she’s got me”. That’s interpretation done correctly. But remember that one time when he made all of them scratch themselves like they were actual animals in “Wolf”? Thanks for the game of charades, Testa, I would have had no idea they were wolves otherwise.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think all big, dramatic movements are bad. I actually really like the jump rope move, because in that moment in the song, it matches with the dramatic, stark feeling of aloneness. Can’t you just imagine an unhinged love interest who’s jumping rope in solitary confinement, wearing his straitjacket, working off excess energy, thinking obsessively about his object of affection? I fucking love the image and it just works with the song.

Things don’t always have to “make sense” in dancing, as long as it matches the feel of the moment, but Testa isn’t good at conceptualizing those feelings. He’s not a master of subtlety and I sometimes feel like he doesn’t have the softer instincts of a choreographer in tune with his body. I have no idea what the fuck anybody is doing in the last chorus, and I have no idea why when the 12 take the stage together to do the chorus they all wiggle and thrust their pelvises together. I don’t know why they all clap so much to those extraneous clapping noises in the background.

He’s also beginning to recycle a lot of his moves, which is never a good sign. The very end when the two groups form these snake-like structures and swirl around looks a lot like stuff that DBSK did in “Catch Me”, which Testa also choreographed. Plus, I find it incredibly lazy that he wasn’t able to come up with more when the two groups come together. It reflects poorly on his choreographing skills when both his predecessors worked with songs that were meant to be promoted separately, but still had new moves for an integrated group should an integrated version be needed (“Mama” by Lyle Beniga, “History” by the S**t Kingz). OT12 coming together for “Overdose” is just the same thing, but all 12 lined up together … or M on one side and K on the other side doing the same exact thing.

Finally, I want to give a special shout-out to the dumb move Baek/Luhan do at the very beginning of their first lines of the song where it looks they tilt sideways, leg jiggle and pelvic thrust their way out of a crotch wedgie. Always sexy, never awkward.

Thankyouhaveagoodday.

  • Ramenismylife

    First time commenting :) I really love your blog and all the critiques and reviews you have written so far. They are all really insightful and perceptive. I realize you also have a knack for picking up tiny details, and it really shows how meticulous and passionate you are about the topics you write about.

    Hope you continue to write about EXO! :D Honestly a big part of why I am so drawn to them is because dedicated and mature fans like you keep things genuine and relatable. Thank you!!!!!

  • starevangeline

    It’s a shame that the formation in the beginning isn’t captured properly. I like the idea of the jump rope move but it looks kind of ridiculous. But maybe that’s the point? lol

  • Gaya_SB

    idk Amy, when I think of jump rope I think of primary school not mental asylums :P

    But seriously, yes yes yes to everything you’ve said about Testa here: monumentalism is the perfect word to describe what he does.

  • IM YOON AH

    smart dan handsome lah diorang

  • Chuvuvee

    Just curious, would you tell me why you think M is the more disciplined group?

  • Fleur

    I love your interpretation. Though I have to say that I think exo K’s dancing have feeling/substance . I feel that members like Baekhyun and Kai have interpreted the overdose theme really well. Especially when baekhyun goes “Pineun tteugeowojyeossji Machimnae modi jibaehae”, I just love the look he gives, as if his passionately enjoying the intoxication. Kai just looks like his been overdosed throughout :D. D.O is a power house (I love the head drum part. I feel like D.O nailed that part the best). Just my two cents :))

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  • Thania Ellaine Tanlo

    EXO