Although there’s no indication that an English-speaking “Exo-E” subgroup is in the works, the possibility of the concept got us thinking. Exo has had such success promoting Korean and Chinese subgroups simultaneously, could they find a way to mirror this success in America?
An Exo Trifecta?
First, why do we even suggest creating a third subgroup for Exo-E? Why wouldn’t Exo-K or Exo-M promote in America? Well, because that would make the whole model of Exo pointless. The model is designed to target specific languages/cultures with specific subgroups. And it has worked brilliantly. Making Exo-K learn English and abandon their Korean audience to promote in America, for example, would cause a minor existential crisis for the group.
Obviously, the cost of adding a third subgroup that focused on a third language would have to be worth it. And that’s why we wouldn’t expect an Exo-J (Japanese) or an Exo-T (Thai). Additional promotion in Asia probably wouldn’t pay dividends because the market is already saturated. That’s where Exo-E fits in.
For us to suggest an Exo-E subgroup, we must have some good reasons. And we do. The biggest of which is that Exo is one of our favorite groups, with fresh music, eye-popping choreography, and plenty of personality. And we’re not alone in loving them. Exo has reached superstar status in only two years time. They scooped Best New Asian Artist in the 2012 Mnet Asian Music Awards, and Album of the Year the year after. And there’s no sign of a slow-down.
Bring on Exo-E
Exo has experience promoting in multiple languages and cultures. They’re one of the truly transnational Kpop groups. SM is already skilled at creating songs that translate across Korean and Mandarin, so adding a third language shouldn’t be too difficult, right? And if anyone has the money and resources to train six new Kpop stars, SM does.
Most importantly, though, Exo-E could unlock the ever-looming American market without disrupting current Exo promotions in Asia. All too often we have seen Kpop groups abandon their main fanbase to pursue the supposedly greener pastures of America. Exo-E would be a relatively low-risk endeavor (or a lower risk than sending one of their established groups). Plus, there’s no reason why Exo-E would have to focus solely on America. Exo-E could appeal to any English-speaking audience.
Finally, we would love to see an Exo-E made up of Asian-American males who were fluent in English (think Jay Park). The Western hemisphere is long overdue for a positive, masculine representation of Asian males in pop culture. We’d also hope that Exo-E were bilingual in either Korean or Chinese, which would help them mesh with Exo-K and Exo-M during group events, and would ingratiate them with Asian and Asian-American audiences. We see this as an idea with great potential.
So What’s Standing in their Way?
One of the main problems Exo-E would need to overcome would be the possible perception of enfranchisement. A third subgroup would make Exo start to feel like a corporation. And corporations don’t sell pop music - originality does. Yes, originality, no matter how synthetic. A third Exo subgroup would have an uphill battle proving it was not simply a corporate clone. Most of us understand that pop stars aren’t acting alone: they have stylists, choreographers, music producers, etc. But we also give our pop stars the benefit of the doubt. We want to believe in them as talented and singularly original artists. Exo-E might accidentally highlight the corporation before the artists, and could even run the risk of engendering that negative perception of enfranchisement within Exo-K and Exo-M.
Exo-E could also create an unintentional hierarchy of languages within the Exo universe. Exo-K and Exo-M are currently using English as a way to keep the chorus of their songs sounding consistent. That works fine so long as English is not the main language of either group. But consider if Exo-M sang all their choruses in Korean. The unstated message would be clear, that there was a hierarchy of languages. The continued creation of music that features English would give the appearance that Exo-E was linguistically superior somehow. Of course, English is not the only way to keep a chorus consistent across languages. But English might be the only language that the majority of a transnational audience could relate to.
We should also note that promoting 18 artists (6 + 6 + 6) as a cohesive group would be a nightmare. Choreography, a third music video for every release, a marketing campaign to explain why there are suddenly six more members... In other words, a lot of extra work. Not impossible though, especially for a big company like SM. Honestly, if Exo-E ever did become a reality, we would probably expect them to be kept somewhat distinct from Exo-K and Exo-M. The exact nature of the relationship would need to be well-planned.
And the Verdict is...
Exo-E could work, but don’t hold your breath. Even though we would love to see it happen, SM is not likely to roll the dice on this one. Because an Exo-E group would still be at the mercy of an American audience that has almost no experience with a positive image of Asian males, and an audience that has a very poor track record of accepting transnational music. For all the benefits it could provide, Exo-E remains a fantasy. SM is not about to risk a foray into America if it has even the slightest chance of damaging the image of cash cows Exo-K and Exo-M.
So what do you think? Should Exo-E be given the green light? Sound off in the comments!