Up until the eleventh hour, a vague sense of uncertainty loomed over the Kuala Lumpur stop of EXO’s second world tour. One of the members had sustained a back injury recently – and speculations ran rife among fans that the K-pop phenom would perform without a complete line-up.
Although, the term “complete” does take on a rather loose meaning for the South Korean-Chinese act. A spate of personal and professional turmoils – coupled with ongoing legal battles – have reduced the once 12-member outfit to its current ninesome.
In fact, a look at the group’s biography – with its equal measures of splendours and setbacks – might have you mistaking the 20-somethings for gritty scandal-laden seasoned rockers.
Yet EXO, the grandiose transnational project from entertainment conglomerate S.M. Entertainment (its roster includes Girls’ Generation, Super Junior and SHINee), is barely half a decade old.
Public image-wise, the boys are the perfect boyfriend material: Heart-melting smiles, smouldering gazes, cheeky winks and all.
They were supposed to do great things for K-pop (and to a certain extent Mandopop). It’s a prediction that was in part, spurred by the industrious concept of two subgroups – EXO-K and EXO-M – performing in Korean and Mandarin respectively.
What record executives didn’t foresee, of course, were the impending feuds that threatened the ensemble’s stability.
On that note, the Exo Planet #2 – The Exo’luXion show at Stadium Merdeka last Saturday night posed a double entendre of sorts – a lavish artistic showcase and symbolic gesture of solidarity. It was meant to be a testament of EXO’s pop longevity.
For that to happen, EXO-L – as the group’s extremely dedicated fanbase is known – needed all the remaining members on stage.
Their prayers were answered when Suho, Xiumin, Lay, Baekhyun, Chen, Chanyeol, D.O., Kai and Sehun appeared on stage in matching outfits amid loud screams and cheers from the 14,000-strong crowd.
EXO in its entirety made it to the show.
“We are happy to be here with you tonight,” the boys declared in halting English.
But in hindsight – with or without Lay’s presence – the show was jet set on becoming a bombastic spectacle. After all, that’s what the group is all about – fun, unadulterated and audacious K-pop.
A huge chunk of EXO’s musical vibe is derived from call-to-battle choruses and anthemic EDM-infused hooks. They are all traits that are magnified on a live setting.
Openers Overdose, History and El Dorado brought the raves to the scene, complete with explosions of pyrotechnics that accompanied drip drops of glorious electronic beats.
True to K-pop 101, the boys riled up the crowd with slick bootcamp choreography. But for a group that rose to fame with bestial theatrics, stage setting and props were curiously modest.
One could argue that this gave more room for the music to shine. That is, if you could actually hear the music.
Lacklustre stereos, an open air setting and the cacophony of screams caused the sonic elements to be drowned out at times.
Of course, that oversight was secondary next to the larger-than-life presence that EXO exuded throughout its close to three-hour set.
Boyish charms were aplenty – and so was sex appeal.
A drenched Sehun performing a solo contemporary dance over the crystalline piano melodies of R&B-flavoured Baby Don’t Cry definitely raised the temperature further on that warm evening.
The PG-13 antics didn’t stop there. At one point, the boys even changed their clothes on stage while performing the teeny-boppish Lucky.
The few – albeit impression-denting – risqué moments at the show probably had female concert-goers appreciating every single cent they forked out for tickets. But on a larger scale, that ability to effortlessly meander between provocative and pleasant was testimony of the act’s versatility.
EXO further cemented their chameleon status when the members traversed into ballad territory. The softer moments provided perfect canvases for the boys to display their vocal prowess. Contrary to popular belief, K-pop isn’t all synths and no singing.
Suho and Baekhyun delivered heart-rending falsettos on the tender My Answer over smooth harmonies. But D.O. deserves a special mention for that intensely emotional belt he carried towards the end.
After taming the crowd with a slew of ballads, the boys decided it was time to crank up the energy.
“Can you get hotter than this?” Chen asked the crowd before the group launched into Call Me Baby. Performed live, the lead single from sophomore album EXODUS had more teeth. The riffs were sharper and the rap-heavy dance verses more pronounced.
EXO pulled out all the stops later that night for Growl, the career-defining smash that propelled it to the top of the hallyu wave. Nearly three years ago, all the original members performed that track together on stage at the MTV World Stage Malaysia concert here.
It was certainly a bittersweet moment for fans. But if the united chants of “We are one” that reverberated across the stadium were any indication, EXO will certainly keep on roaring.