It’s been five years since the Korean boy band EXO released their first official single “MAMA” on April 8, 2012. Since then, they've become one of the biggest acts K-pop's ever seen.
Prior to their debut, the group had already won over K-pop fans from around the globe through 23 pre-release videos introducing the 12 members, plus two so-called prologue music videos that preceded the group’s formal beginning. Originally two six-member acts known as EXO-K and EXO-M, with each respectively singing in Korean and Mandarin, the groups became widely popular and joined together in 2013 to become EXO as we now know it.
Half a decade later, EXO’s gone through a lot of ups and downs (three members left the group to pursue solo careers) but has become one of Korea’s most iconic pop acts, selling out concerts around the world and landing two albums on the Billboard 200. Recognized for their high energy dance-pop style and performances, EXO is beloved by millions around the globe.
To celebrate their anniversary on Saturday, take a look at five of their most memorable music videos:
5. “Lucky One” (2016)
More plot-based than the majority of EXO’s videos, last year’s “Lucky One” brought EXO to the madhouse as patients in a psych ward. The red-and-white set provided a comically creepy backdrop to the revelation that these men were being held against their wills because of their supernatural abilities. The otherworldly origins of EXO hadn’t been explored in a music video for some time (see “MAMA”), and it was a nice throwback to the group’s early days. Unlike most EXO videos, there was no true dance performance-- although some of the group members did use the power of dance to break free from their hospital prison in an explosive way.
4. “MAMA” (2012)
Though no longer a mainstay in EXO’s career in 2017, the group’s creation story was the focus of their debut and was laid out succinctly -- with a Morgan Freeman-style voiceover -- in their first official music video “MAMA” back in 2012. (They had previously released “History” and “What Is Love” as the aforementioned pre-debut “prologue” singles.) It was an over-the-top creative introduction to what was then two six-member groups, providing distinct identities for each of the twelve men based on their mystical powers. Gregorian chants delivered by monks, a screamo bridge courtesy of frenzied, tattooed members (Kai for the Korean version, Xiumin and Kris for the Chinese one) and powerful choreography completed “MAMA,” making it one of the most extravagant K-pop debut videos the world has ever seen.
3. “Growl” (2013)
The song that propelled EXO to their greatest heights, "Growl" was a major success in Korea and took the top spot on Billboard’s 2013 best of K-pop list. Its music video was a radical shift from EXO’s previous releases, moving the group away from their mythos-based storylines of "MAMA" and "Wolf" to showcase EXO as a preppy boy band, with the focus on the members rather than any creative additions. The one-shot style video highlighted the group's precise choreography, emphasizing EXO’s performance value and explosive stage presence.
2. “Monster” (2016)
The fierce choreography and bad boy image EXO presented in the day-glo-hued "Monster" matched the dark hip-hop vibe of the song, and was one of the group's most cinematic videos to date. EXO's depiction as martyrs at a Last Supper-style setting, and their following arrest by what appears to be riot police, came months before South Korean political upheaval resulted in hundreds of thousands of protesters filling the streets of Seoul. But it was still EXO’s darkest, and most aggressive, video to date.
1. “Overdose” (2014)
EXO above all rose to the top of the K-pop industry for their performance value, and “Overdose" exemplified that. Their final song with all twelve members, the music video for the single is EXO’s most-viewed video on YouTube, and for good reason.
With few gimmicks, aside from an intro and outro that showed the members trapped in a maze (plus a few references to the group's aforementioned superhuman abilities), “Overdose” delivered hard-hitting dance moves to emphasize the ferociousness of the song’s frenzied rhythm in a simple environment.
Though not a single shot like “Growl,” “Overdose” emulated the earlier video’s style through uninterrupted camera work that gave the clip a sense of dynamic movement. It directed the audience’s vision in a way that allowed for EXO’s members to move on and off screen without any sudden transitions to distract from watching the knife-like execution of the choreography. Later releases, like 2015’s “Call Me Baby,” rehashed the style in an expert fashion, but “Overdose” still outshines all the rest with its precision and impressive cinematography.