Less than a week after Exo’s impressive sweep of the MNET Asian Music Awards, SM Entertainment has decided to build upon the positive press by announcing Exo’s imminent return in early 2015. Their choreography may look a bit different next time you see them, however, with the duodecimal member group reverting to a base of ten. That’s right: 12 will become 10. Is this the right move for a group whose motto has always been "we are one"?
It’s difficult to fault SM for capitalizing on the MAMA awards. Exo fans have had precious little to celebrate this year. So winning Artist of the Year, Best Male Group, Album of the Year, and Best Asian Style is honestly the first good news since Exo stepped out of the maze and gave us “Overdose.” Winning the biggest award in Asian music is a reaffirmation that Exo matters, that Exo is still the best group in Kpop. Announcing their comeback in the midst of such positive news is not shrewd, it’s just good sense. Any entertainment company would have done the same.
Bigger than the comeback announcement is the news that Exo will promote as a ten-member group. That means no replacements for Kris and Luhan. This is absolutely the right move from SM Entertainment. Because there are only two options for replacing long-time members: one is to find an unknown trainee, and the other is to hold a competition (Baby Kara style). Both options, however, require campaigns to introduce and gain acceptance for the new member(s). And Exo’s fanbase is too raw at the moment. They’re not ready, we’re not ready, to accept more change. Both options also require extensive training and integration of the new member(s). And these things take time. It makes far more sense to return with ten members than to let these amazingly talented men stagnate and waste their talents.
But promoting without two members is a big deal for Exo. Whereas most groups can reorder their dance lines and easily perform minus one or two, Exo’s entire dynamic must change. Not only has Exo lost two members, but they have lost their paradigm, the unique model that makes Exo who they are. This won’t be six members of Exo-K and four members of Exo-M. Their next comeback will feature a regular group of ten. Is this the end of the K / M distinction?
Maybe, but we doubt it. What is more likely is that all ten members will perform and promote in both Korean and Mandarin. That means more language tutoring, more vocal work, more touring all over Asia, and more promotions. Which won’t help these young artists find rest. SM will need to make sure they do not overschedule the men of Exo. But, come on. This is SM we’re talking about. Expect 2015 to start strong for Exo. But don’t be surprised if more members fall ill, succumb to injury, or burn out after difficult promotional schedules. Unless SM takes things slowly, they may have another Exodus on their hands before long.
Overall, we’re happy to see the return of Exo. But we’re worried about how it will be handled by SM Entertainment. We’re worried that the members of Exo will be pushed too hard to make up for their dwindling numbers, and we’re worried that the group will lose one of their defining characteristics. But still. More Exo can’t possibly be a bad thing, right?
What do you think?