Though their seemingly unending media coverage may have made it seem like they never left, K-pop’s most controversial boy band, EXO, is back.
The leadoff single from the group’s “Exodus” album, released on March 28, “Call Me Baby” is a hooky track combining elements of retro boy band pop with cutting edge production.
The final result is an exciting single that is steeped in the history of contemporary pop while remaining fully of the now.
Formed by South Korean powerhouse pop label SM Entertainment in 2011, EXO is split into two sub-units, EXO-K, who sing in Korean and EXO-M, who sing in Mandarin.
The group currently holds the record for highest-charting album by a Korean boy band on the Billboard 200 for their EP “Overdose,” which came out last May.
Mixing Korean and English language singing and rapping, “Call Me Baby” rides a melodic swing beat that has the cool hip-hop soul feel of classic urban boy band tracks like the 1991 Boyz II Men hit “Motown Philly.” But the production never feels retro.
In a way not unlike recent American hits like “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson, “Call Me Baby” is able to harken back to a past while incorporating modern production techniques that keep it from feeling too dated.
Examples of this abound throughout the new EXO single.
Staccato strings recall classic turn-of-the-millennium tracks by acts like Destiny’s Child and TLC.
The chicken scratch disco guitar that drives parts of the song recalls a 1970s Nile Rodgers guitar part or, more accurately, the guitarist’s work on Daft Punk’s 2013 album “Random Access Memories.” Beyond all of that, when listening to the verses of “Call Me Baby,” one can’t help but be reminded of the verses on Justin Bieber’s smash hit “Boyfriend.” This mix of reference points and styles creates a slyly atemporal piece of K-pop, at once modern and rooted in the tropes of boy bands past.
But all of this would be for naught if it wasn’t for the absolutely huge chorus in “Call Me Baby.” The catchiness of this section alone reaffirms EXO’s place at the top of the K-pop pantheon.
Add to this an addictive doo wop-inspired breakdown that moves into a section of rapping and you have a track that crams quite a lot into a four-minute song.
At this point EXO aren’t just pushing the boundaries of pop inside South Korean borders, but innovating in a way that should resonate for dance music followers anywhere around the world.
Watch the music video for EXO’s “Call Me Baby” RIGHT HERE John Chiaverina is a musician and journalist living in New York City.
He has performed in over 18 countries, including two tours of South Korea, under the name “Juiceboxxx.”