[NEWS] EXO-M's Mini Album "MAMA": Male Idol Groups' New Model!

NetEast Exclusive Music Coverage
As the number of styles of music keep increasing, fans also are starting to listen to more and more different types of music. The music industry is no longer singularly dominated by mainstream music, but controlled by superior marketing strategies. However it seems, that only large, influential companies have the capital to unleash effective marketing, which isn't as bad as it sounds. Ears need music and the shallow* need something to look at. SM Entertainment specializes in the sort of explosive marketing that feeds the ear and the eyes, from the early days of H.O.T. and BoA to Shinhwa, DBSK, SNSD, Super Junior etc. All of them have first captured peoples' attention with their outer image -- physical appearance, clothing style, stage presence -- and then only secondly, with their music. Presently SM Entertainment has unleashed their new boy band EXO upon Asia' music market. EXO-K is oriented towards the Japan-Korea Market and EXO-M is oriented towards the Chinese market. Both have swept across the music scene with lightning speed to become top sellers. How did EXO-M come about? Moreso than their music, perhaps the story behind their production is worth discussing.

Creative Thinking Process:
Perhaps EXO-M's present fame cannot begin to compare with that of their seniors SHINee and Super Junior, but then again they are a newly debuted band only 100 days old. It's safe to say that of SM's thoroughly prepared debut plan is overly ripened, and even a bit pointless.
One cannot help but admire the maturity of Korea's idol-making business. Not only has SM arranged for EXO-M's televised appearances and self-promoted on magazines and many other media source, it has also effectively used social media platforms on the internet to disperse information about each member of EXO-M, such as their personalities, hobbies, movements etc; fans are told things that usually only people close to the idols' would know. In the fans' hearts, on one hand, idols are brightly shining stars on the stage, yet on the other, they are normal people with emotions. They have what it takes to be stars, but not so much as to feel too distant. Instead, they are approachable. Then add 100 days of these sorts of promotions, and it's easy to see that EXO-M's popularity is nothing to be surprised about. In fact, the idol-marking business in China has already lost in preliminary terms of financing and promotion intensity.

Direction of the Market:
When the music business has been split up by many different type of fans, even the most mainstream pop music seems to have less than the ideal share of the market, yet SM Entertainment has targeted exactly this point. They have cast their marketing net with more stability, more accuracy, and more intensity. Band member's physical appearances must please the eyes, even if they don't have much talent they must at least excel at one point (at least, they must dance), they must know how to be cool but even more importantly have "aegyo", exhibit good breeding in the public eye, know how to endure hardships and work diligently, and more or less have some music sense. When a six-member group of this caliber unite, they can make up for each other's more lacking areas.

EXO's China-oriented subunit EXO-M has gained considerable support based on familiarity, since Chinese members take up four of the six places (from Beijing, Guangzhou, Changsha, Qingdao respectively). Thinking back, an only 1/13 "Made in China" Super Junior took over the a considerable amount of Chinese fans' hearts. It's only a matter of time before EXO-M dominates the young idol music industry in China. Target several areas at once and appealing emotionally to fans is a vastly superior marketing strategy than promotion of "perfect" stars.

Music Configuration: 
After saying so much about the outward qualities of EXO-M, it's only appropriate to look at their music as well. Even though music is only a part of SM Entertainment's multifaceted marketing strategy (one could even say it's only a secondary product), the company has invested quite a bit of effort into this facet. The songs' lineup and final editing of the first mini-album "MAMA" can only be described as generous.

With the help of artists such as 刘荣镇 (composer of H.O.T.'s songs), Teddy Riley, Thomas Traulsen, 申赫, six songs have six distinct styles; classical, ballad, electronica, jazz, R&B are all present, making it easy for people to like this boy band with talented vocals and dancing ability. SM Entertainment has outdone itself by releasing the mini album separately, EXO-K with a Korean version and EXO-M with a Chinese version.

*the exact translation is: "people who think outer appearance is the most important", which is a neutral term in Chinese slang

Critic Reviews:
Censta: S.M entertainment’s careful consideration created great ambitions
“S.M entertainment’s strategy and ambitions gradually extended and increased as idols and artistes kept on upgrading themselves as time passes. Traces of S.M‘s efforts could be seen around the world in recent years because of their ambition, “being top of the world”. In 2012, S.M introduced this group of idols born in the 90s who is known as EXO to specialize in two major music entertainment markets, South Korea and China. They are separated into 2 groups, using the same songs but different language to promote themselves, thus it is not difficult to see the main point which is “localization” in the name of this new attempt.”

(Article/Censta) S.M Entertainment, known to everyone as the “Star Producing Factory” is also known as is the top of entertainment companies in South Korea. S.M entertainment’s strategy and ambitions gradually extended and increased as idols and artistes kept on upgrading themselves as time passes. Traces of S.M‘s efforts could be seen around the world in recent years because of their ambition, “being top of the world”. In 2012, S.M introduced this group of idols born in the 90s who are known as EXO to specialize in two major music entertainment industries, naming South Korea and China. They are separated into 2 groups, using the same songs but different language to promote themselves, thus it is not difficult to see the main point of this new attempt, which is “localization”.

Major South Korean entertainment companies have been diligently adding Chinese members into their idol groups, or arranging members of idol groups to learn Chinese in the recent years so as to make conversations and communication more convenient when advancing further into China’s entertainment industry. However, S.M Entertainment seemingly thinks that this (adding of Chinese members and arranging Chinese lessons for idols) is not thorough enough to completely advance into China’s entertainment industry as the idol groups are not completely “localized”. Because of the birth of these new ideas, EXO, which is made up of capable members born in the 90s, debuted earlier this year. Mainly promoting in China, EXO-M brings their debut album <MAMA> to make publicity appearances, and also, they attracted a huge amount of fans in a short span of time. Out of the 6 members in the group, 4 of the members are actually people from different parts of China. In the first place, their own distinctive appearance is already gaining a lot of attention from people.

The production team behind their debut album <MAMA> is even more impeccable if we discuss it. The team includes composer Yoo Young Jin who S.M always hired, top producer Teddy Riley, Thomas Traulsen and etc. Although the album only consists of six songs, different distinctive styles and genre of songs could be heard easily if one listens carefully, thus the layout of the album is perfectly done. Firstly, after all they (EXO) are an idol group formed by a South Korean company, EXO-M’s main title song <MAMA> will of course be the typical Korean pop song with a very strong sense of momentum and catchy lyrics. This type of song is of course, the ideal and perfect song for typical Korean pop fans to become “poisoned” and “fascinated” over. However, to people who are not familiar with Korean pop songs’ culture, they might not be accustomed to this kind of style and genre and might even find the Chinese lyrics awkwardly written because the style and genre are different.

With this in mind, the other songs thus showcase different characteristics and style from the title song. Like the song <Machine> which almost as seemingly has a sense of dynamic level is mainly leaned towards the genre electronic dance music, the climax of the song also has a melody which will let one easily remember when they listen to it. But because it is a dance song, singing speed is also faster, making it a little tad bit harder for the 2 Korean members to follow therefore it is very obvious that the pronunciation for the Chinese words are different from the others. When compared the song <Two Moons> featuring SHINee’s member, Key, which is also followed by the same strong sense of rhythm and melody like <MAMA> and <Machine>, <MAMA> and <Machine> are likely more preferred by people because <Two Moons> showcase an alternative style and not everyone likes this kind of music. Songs which are more relaxed will be <history>; this song has a good mixture of styles and genre of music which audiences from both South Korea and China likes and are more likely to feel accustomed to.

Of course, the album certainly does not lack soothing songs that people loved. Like the song <Into Your orld> which is being recommended by the members is a very simple song, the members not only depicted the tone of the song perfectly, but also showcased a totally different sense of style like the song <Machine>; <Into Your World> is a more comfortable sounding song when compared to <Machine>. Another song which can be counted as a soothing ballad will be <What Is Love>. <What Is Love> mainly showcased each member’s style of singing, the style of the song is also much Europeanized, similar to the songs of SHINee who are their seniors from the same company.

<MAMA> is fairly impressive as the debut album of a newly debuted group, it targets mainly the younger generations which is the mainstream ages of the fans. For older or senior fans of music, they would more or less feel like they are listening to normal pop music. Nevertheless, debuting EXO-M using this new strategy definitely has helped S.M Entertainment really further advanced into China’s entertainment industry.

Music Hero : Elaborate Packaging and Music Arrangement
Of course, we can't expect a Korean-made group to have any authentic and meaningful Chinese lyrics. It's even difficult for this whole mainland to produce any leading group, not even taking into account a global stage. From EXO-M, perhaps what we should learn is the inner workings of star-production and precise packaging. 

With the help of Girl's Generation, Super Junior etc. popular bands' strength, the Hallyu Wave's global reach cannot be ignored any longer. Not only has Kpop broken into the American scene and gained the best results on the Billboard charts ever seen from Asian-based artists, even on Youtube there has been a video titled "Kids React to Kpop", allowing Hallyu to become a global question. From the perspective of global communication, the Korean government uses Kpop as an important weapon in promoting Korean culture. For Korea's largest star-making "Dream Factory" SM Entertainment Company, it's natural to use a variety of different people's talents and resources to take charge of a new wave of opportunity.

EXO is the new weapon that has developed with this kind of background in mind. EXO is short for Exoplanet. Using the image "a planet from outside the solar system", SM has used this precise packaging to produce a different type of young idol. This kind of packaging is precise, taking the present into account, EXO deftly fills in for Super Junior, whose members are leaving for army duty and leaving holes. EXO is targeted towards to the post-90s new consumer generation. From the perspective of target areas, EXO is at the same time split between EXO-K (Korea) and EXO-M (China). Other than capturing Korean fans, they've also extended their influence towards China. Because it was seen that Super Junior having Chinese member Hangeng provoked a large positive response from Chinese fans, EXO-M's Chinese members were increased to four in order to extend Chinese fans' "patriotism" to include the Kpop movement. And because of the Chinese market's lack of leading idol groups, this kind of move only increases SM's chance of success.

But perhaps because of the intense promotion clips of an "new alien star", after the new mini album "MAMA" was finally released, we could not help but feel a tiny bit of disappointment. For all the hype of being "new alien stars", the songs in the album were too conventional and mainstream. Although it still keeps the popular Korean group style of elaborately and carefully tailored songs, it cannot avoid the patterns of strong electronic rhythms that have become so popular in the last two years. In every album released by SNSD, DBSK, Super Junior, Big Bang etc. there has been the same electronic feel. Of course, it's impossible to avoid finding an exceptionally powerful male vocalist as the person who breaks stereotypes and makes types of music possible, from rock to R&B side tracks, to contribute to an album's style. We haven't seen anything particularly unique from EXO, which is the main reason why we're disappointed.

However, this has almost no effect on EXO's attractiveness. In the mainland EXO-M has already gained a good reputation. "MAMA"'s results on every large online music ranking website has been exceptional. EXO-M's "MAMA" and EXO-K's album of the same name are both identical in terms of production and songs, except for the insertion of Chinese lyrics. This completely transforms the album to Chinese and is a testament to SM's determination to dominate the Chinese market. There's nothing to criticize about to song production of the whole mini album. SM's knowledge of popular music trends and precision of its production technique guarantees the easy listening of the whole album. For example, the title song "MAMA" not only brings a sophisticated apocalyptic feel, but also brings a heroic feel, allowing the post-90s generation to construct a hero-image. On the other hand, "What is Love" combines jazz and blues, and has already been featured in the background of teasers. From the start it has been extremely addictive, and has only increased in sophistication from its inclusion in the album. The R&B romance song "Your World", besides showcasing a quieter sound, after digital editing the entire space of the harmonies has increased, giving EXO-M a pure and elegant side. All six members contributed to the album according to their own special voices to produce an album with a variety of sounds and layers, as per expected of a Korean group.

But it's impossible to refute that the album's Chinese lyrics are lacking. If we use the common translating standards of "word, expression, elegance" to measure, then "MAMA"'s "words, expression" are odd and "elegance" is lacking. For example, the main lyrics in the title song "MAMA" "We want to be this way, Not looking at each other's eyes? Not talking to me? Not saying "I love you" anymore? Tell me MAMA MAMA" -- these sorts of lyrics paired with magnificent instrumentals only impedes the grandiosity of the music. And the line in "The Night of Two Moons" "Why is there one more one more moon/ so what if there is one more one more moon/ one more one more even more more more even more even more moons" mirrors the style of "Sorry Sorry", but it's unavoidable that in Chinese so many meaningless repetitions loses intelligence and doesn't reach the expected level of mechanical feeling. These sorts of directly translated lyrics most clearly delineates the difference between Korean and Chinese. There's a small, but clear difference between brainwashing and moving people.

Of course, we can't expect a Korean-made group to have any authentic and meaningful Chinese lyrics. It's even difficult for this whole mainland to produce any leading group, not even taking into account a global stage. From EXO-M, perhaps what we should learn is the inner workings of star-production and precise packaging. And from EXO-M themselves, these boys full of talent and star-power, with the help of the Hallyu Wave and Korean's SM's star-making resources, they will definitely acquire the same level of fame and bright results as that of Super Junior and other seniors to become a new generation idol group. We also hope that after seeing a talented model group like EXO-M, the Mainland's entertainment scene can heighten their idol group making level.

琳距离: Witness South Korean entertainment industry’s 100 days miracle
As reported earlier, SM Entertainment has announced that in the past 3 years, SNSD brought in the highest revenue of $ 21.7 billion 37 million won for SM, clinching the first rank among other groups in SM. "The Boys" has an album sales record of 38 million, the average daily earning of 450,000 yuan. Also, in the past 3 years, Super Junior‘s revenue was in 13.8 billion 31 million won,earning them the second place. From these shocking numbers we saw from SNSD and Super Junior, we can tell that SM Entertainment is determined to create another hot Asia group, placing strong expectations on the newly formed group, EXO.

No doubt that this young boy band, EXO possessed a lot potential on top of the existing Korean groups - all born in 90s, standing about 180cm, looking young and fresh, energetic, playful or cool and handsome, all these met the demands of female fans. Based on experiences with Super Junior, EXO is split into two groups EXO-K and EXO-M, who will then promote in Korea and China respectively. K stands for Korea, M stands for Mandarin, and it serves as a packaging to enter Japan/Korea and China, the two major Asian markets with the aim of going "International". After deciding on this plan, they can now compete with the others on the starting line.
Within EXO, both K and M had undergone some formations, China group M members with LUHAN(鹿晗)、TAO(黄子韬)、CHEN(金钟大)、LAY(张艺兴)、XIU MIN(金珉硕)、KRIS (吴凡). Among the members, XIU MIN and CHEN are Koreans. This mixture is of “Korea-Chinese” grouping is to ensure smooth marketing and most importantly for the benefits of fans.

EXO-M’s The 1st Mini Album has been released on 9th April, which is only 100 days apart from their first appearance. In these 100 days, SM Entertainment has achieved something that the entire Chinese Music Industry has long forgotten – They did not only just release their first album but also transformed a rookie group into a popular group. Remarkably, SM Entertainment’s “Idol-making” strategy has successfully achieved such an effective marketing within such a short time.

Firstly, from end of December to January, EXO has been slowly revealed. EXO was initially a sheet of plain paper. Within this period, SM has rolled our their marketing strategy of “A Bullet A Day” method which slowly revealed EXO’s names, character, appearances and talents to the public one by one. It is worth noticing that media and network plays an important role on “Idol-making”. EXO was introduced on their official website, Youtube, Facebook, Naver and other websites, where their dance practices, daily videos, teasers and music videos are shared. This viral media marketing has successfully gained EXO many fans and attention. Every MV is filmed in two versions – Chinese and Korean. Their prologue single <What Is Love> has already gained 1000 million view counts, proving the effectiveness of their marketing strategy. On the day of official album release, EXO debuted via special appearances on television programmes. EXO-M made their first appearance as special guest on China’s 《音乐风云榜》while EXO-K debuted on SBS INKIGAYO, one of the three largest Korea broadcasting company SBS with the highest influence, and this confirmed the status of Korea Music Industry.The strong targeting on fan bases by Korean music companies target is uncommon in the Chinese music industry. In additional compared to China, Korea’s “Idol-making” is clearly in the forefront.

Back to the music discussion, this new album is relatively similar to all SM idol groups’ music style. For example, dance-oriented, supported by R&B slow beat love songs,with the help of artists such as 刘荣镇, Teddy Riley, Thomas Traulsen, 申赫, and other Korean music producers to make their music temperament more international. EXO-M “Made in South-Korea China Boy group" concept has met with one of the biggest problems of boy bands controversy** in China. No offence, we really had enough of boy groups. However, EXO-M has left a good impression and reflects the professionalism of the Korean Entertainment companies. We can see that great efforts are put into voice selection of electronic music to even the smallest details such as the little sequins on their performance outfits. The whole album reflects a uniform fluidity on the assembly line of the Korean entertainment. The greatest significance of why EXO-M is formed is to allow people to be able to support Korean music within their own country.

As a dance group, the album has become Korean music's "Chinese Version" , which bid farewell to the local temperament. You can hear Usher in the title song, "MAMA", and also BigBeat with dynamic rock drums in "History". By using Asian-style mash-ups of the high-tech dance music, it has helped to bring out the smoothness of the music piece. As the popular starting point is very low, everyone can appreciate it. Also, for the track << Angel>>, although the tunes lack creativity, it is safe and secure. When it comes to album songs selection, EXO has adopted Chinese-Korean style, which also means that EXO-M is a replica Chinese Version of EXO-K . "One to One” promotion has lowered the production costs greatly, but the Chinese lyrics have become EXO-M biggest problem. The stiff and ambiguous pronunciation, superimposed on top of the South Korean tunes have given a sense of inconsistency which could become their biggest stumbling block in having a foothold in the Chinese music industry.

Of course, this is a "humanistic approach” concept album, where the album exists because of the members. Even if the there is no album, fans will still continue to increase. In conclusion, any flaws on the album itself would seem trivial.

**The controversy of Boy Groups in China was due to “Replica” groups who copy Korea boy groups, such as F4 China

Bringing Boy Bands a Unique and Revolutionary Model:
In comparison to the passed Golden Era, where Western boy groups have gradually declined, the Chinese music scene did not change. In comparison, South Korea’s expertise in its industry of boy groups has been impregnable. In December last year, SM’s impressively launched group EXO is also SM’s innovative boy group, introducing new tricks to the game.

Boy groups have been on a significant ascent since the 1980s until today. Take That still has a strong influence, Westlife’s farewell tour, too, was continuously spreading (its influence); from The Little Tigers (小虎队) to F4, to the new generation, Top Combine’s efforts to reach the top; from Japan’s Johnny’s Entertainment to South Korea’s SM, no matter whether it is old or new, surviving or disbanded, boy groups are still a far-reaching supply of entertainment.

First, EXO has a very strong direction, even though they have 12 members, they are divided into two groups, the K group has a focus on the domestic (Korean) market, while M focuses on the Mainland* (China). They can come together as well as work separately; their songs are also split into a Korean version and a Chinese version. In M, there are four Chinese members where you can see SM’s ambition in the Mainland. After all, with the Mainland being such a large piece of cake, EXO-M’s delivery, selection and training is better suited for local conditions. Secondly, from last year, in EXO’s official debut, with step by step exposure and single releases, according to the time, Korean music can be seen as tight and accurate. On the subject of song releases, even Japan cannot escape the issue of leaked/pirated songs. Lastly, we observe the next song’s quality.

Looking at EXO’s newly released mini album, “MAMA” is a typical Kpop song, using a heavy rhythm to promote and further the song. In terms of a boy group, the appearance and temperament are always first, while singing skills can be poor, the same amount of consideration would go for dancing and the song, while this is simple in terms of a singer, an idol group is often more comprehensive. While high, the Korean singer, Chen’s Chinese needs to be strengthened; out of the group, he has a very precious^ sound. Out of six songs, “Angel” was the only ballad and reflected the range of six people well. “Two Moons” was very witty, Kris was in charge of the rap in the middle which was remarkable, although there were some places which were rough and not neat, but as a rookie, the standard is superior. As stated earlier, a boy group’s dancing is always important, so the song must match the promotional MV in order to obtain a stronger visual sense.

If you ignore the musical aspect, EXO’s debut method and development is worth examining, after all, currently, having good music is not enough; music is a commodity, as a commodity, selling, packaging, location, publicity and so on must be considered as they are key steps. While Korean music’s development these past years was still a step behind Japan’s, the packaging and promotions are flashy with surprising promotional methods and there are a lot of fans in Korea and East Asia’s markets; these are SM’s new tasks.

*Chinese people refer to mainland China simply as ‘mainland’ or ‘内地’, thus ‘Mainland’ has a capitalised ‘M’ to prevent confusion
^金属 was used which could refer to something precious or expensive, ‘金’ literally means ‘gold’

Review Conclusion:
Whether it's the beautiful harmonies or repetitive brain-washing that has left a strong influence on the mind, it will always be a memory -- this "memory" persists for a long enough amount of time. When listening to EXO-M's album "MAMA", you'll naturally thinking of many past classic idol groups who were not top notch in terms of music quality, yet have captured the hearts of many people. The previously mentioned "Top Idol Group Training Regimen" can be matched step by step to what was just written. Four music critics have all discussed EXO-M's road to fame as well as the influence their quick rise to popularity will have on China's star-making industry. Of course, their future domination of the Asian music market also includes their music. Looking at SM Entertainment's present dedication to EXO-M, it's only a matter of time before their music fills up the city and streets, and becomes the next "divine melody". EXO-M's next goal, of course, is to become the "divine band" since the number one band's influence will be long lasting, as they become imprinted as indispensable memories to music fans.

Source: NetEase Entertainment (main part: here, expanded cuts: 1234)
Translated by: taozi@CODE:EXO (main part, 2), PearlynC@CODE:EXO (1), destinyx@CODE:EXO (3), meki@CODE:EXO (4)