Music in Motion: A Review of Exo's Overdose

Exo Overdose

Someone call the doctor! This week just became Exo week, and we’re expecting more than a few overdoses! Now that you’ve watched the video a few (hundred) times, let’s talk about it. What did you make of “Overdose”?


Music in Motion

The music video for “Overdose” begins with an extremely long sequence of each member wandering through a labyrinth. Or maybe it just feels long because the real song hasn’t started yet. There’s a dark electronic beat during this period, a different beat than in the leaked videos (what, who watched those, not us!). But the intro is also, mercifully, almost thirty seconds shorter than in the leaked versions. Conspiracy theorists will wonder if SM organized the leaks. Pragmatists will just be glad Exo gets into the song faster.

Because “Overdose” doesn’t need a big buildup. It needs to be inside our ears right away. The song is in a basic 4/4 time, but the snaps and snare drums keep the beat feeling fast and exciting. Without all the eighth notes the song could easily be much darker and a lot less fun. The electronic music from the intro is always there, threatening to take over and spoil that fun (and coming close during the third verse). But Exo keep it light. Their vocals are strong, and they go up and down the scale in a rhythmic and mesmerizing way, especially in the refrain. Overall, there’s a great feeling of motion to the song.

And the dancing makes full use of that. The men of Exo pick themselves up and push themselves around as if moved by the music. And they work the camera into that effect perfectly, pulling the audience into that intense feeling of motion. The choreography is tight and expertly danced (come on, it’s Exo). We love when they drum on their fellow members’ heads. Even more we love the subtle choreography of checking their pulses when they sing “someone call the doctor.” Seriously, what’s not to love?

Exo Overdose

The Exo model is ingenious, but dangerous.

It takes an amazing amount of time and effort (and money) to produce both Exo-K and Exo-M in a consistent and coherent way. Make no mistake, SM has achieved something most of us thought a pipe-dream by bringing these twelve men together to create a transnational pop group. With their third album, it looks like SM has established a pattern for Exo releases, both in terms of music and music video structure.

For fans familiar with Exo, it’s well-known that Exo-K and Exo-M sing the majority of their songs in their respective languages, Korean and Mandarin. For a song writer, this introduces a terrifying degree of difficulty. Even small words can sound wildly different when translated into different languages. Exo-K and Exo-M, however, manage to sound remarkably similar. To keep their mega-hits sounding like the same song, SM drops the linguistic differences for brief seconds during the refrain, typically asking both groups to sing in English. By keeping key words and phrases consistent (regardless of group language), the songs are recognizably the same. Take a look at each of Exo’s singles. We’ve highlighted the phrases that keep the songs sounding similar - “Overdose” sticks to the pattern in place.

  • What is Love - “I lost my mind…get in slow motion”
  • History - “I need you and you want me...every, every, everyday...history”
  • Mama - “Careless, careless. Shoot anonymous, anonymous. Heartless, mindless. No one. Who cares about me?”
  • Wolf - “wolf” and wolf noises
  • Growl - “Na eureurong eureurong eureurong dae” (I’m growling, growling, growling in Korean)
  • Overdose - “Someone call the doctor...overdose…too much...overdose”
A review of Exo’s singles will also show that SM seems to have found a consistent pattern for the structure of their music videos, at least since the XOXO album. In “Wolf,” “Growl,” and “Overdose,” the music video follows six members for roughly one minute before switching to the alternate lingual group. Then around the two-minute mark, all twelve members come together to finish out the song. Exo dance inside the box for four minutes in “Overdose.” Just like they danced inside the box for “Wolf” and “Growl.”

We bring these concepts up partially because we are impressed they can continue to incorporate all twelve members and both languages. And partially because “Overdose” is a very safe music video. “Mama” was something brand new. Two years on, SM have found a pattern that works, and they appear to be hesitant to innovate further. Pop music is constantly evolving, and even though Exo are doing something no one else has been able to do, if they stop moving forward, eventually they will start moving backwards.

Exo Overdose

But

It still works. Exo, trapped in a box, can do more while trapped in that box than any other Kpop group, probably ever. Trapped does not mean they are prisoners. Every movement of their choreography exudes power; when they stomp the very world shakes. What’s interesting here is that the camera isn’t simply following them, Exo pulls it forward, twists it around, punches and shoves it away. The camera isn’t a stationary device, it’s the thirteenth member.

Much like “Growl,” this video gives at least the illusion of a single take, and that’s where Exo shine, in performative spectacle. While their synchronicity is impressive, and breathtaking when all twelve members are on screen, what may be even more impressive are the dramatic close ups that give every single one of them their moment to shine. And shine, they all do. They mercifully grab the song with the same force as they use on the camera, with an unshakable confidence. That confidence comes from undeniable skill.

So why change a model that is flourishing? Why fix what is in no way broken? Maybe we can’t look to Exo for innovation with each passing video. Right now, we don’t need to.

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