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Exo (band)

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Exo monster 160618 suwon.png
Exo in June 2016
From left to right, standing: Baekhyun, Chen, Lay, Sehun, Chanyeol, D.O., Kai
From left to right, kneeling: Suho, Xiumin
Background information
Origin Seoul, South Korea
Years active 2012–present
Associated acts
Past members

Exo (Korean: 엑소; stylized as EXO) is a South Korean–Chinese boy band based in Seoul with nine members: Suho, Baekhyun, Chanyeol, D.O., Kai, Sehun, Xiumin, Lay and Chen.[1] The band was formed by SM Entertainment in 2011 and debuted in 2012. Their music utilizes genres including pop, hip hop and R&B, alongside electronic dance music genres including house, trap and synth-pop.[1][2] Exo releases and performs music in Korean, Mandarin and Japanese.[1] The band ranked as one of the top-five most influential celebrities on the Forbes Korea Power Celebrity list from 2014 to 2018 and have been named "the biggest boyband in the world" and the "Kings of K-pop" by the media.[1][3]

The band initially debuted with twelve members separated into two subgroups; Exo-K (Suho, Baekhyun, Chanyeol, D.O., Kai, and Sehun) and Exo-M (Xiumin, Lay, Chen and former members Kris, Luhan and Tao[fn 1]), performing music in Korean and Mandarin respectively, which continued until 2014.[4] Exo has been active as a single group since then, while continuing to release and perform music in multiple languages. After the departures of Kris, Luhan and Tao amid legal battles in 2014 and 2015, the band continued with the remaining nine members.[5] Since 2016, Chen, Baekhyun and Xiumin, have also been active as a sub-unit named Exo-CBX, incorporating the initials of each member's stage name.[6] All of the band's members also maintain solo careers in music, film and television.

Exo's first album XOXO (2013), which contains the breakthrough hit "Growl", was a critical and commercial success. It sold over one million copies, making Exo the best-selling Korean artist in twelve years.[7] Subsequent albums and EPs also had strong sales; its second album Exodus (2015) and third album Ex'Act (2016) both sold over one million copies each.[8] From 2013 to 2017, these albums, along with Exo's third EP Overdose (2014), won Exo multiple awards including four consecutive wins each of the Disc Daesang at the Golden Disc Awards,[9] Album of the Year at the Mnet Asian Music Awards[10] and the Daesang award at the Seoul Music Awards.[11] Their fourth album The War (2017) became the band's best-selling album to date, selling over 1.6 million copies in South Korea[12] and winning Exo a second consecutive Artist of the Year award at the 9th Melon Music Awards[13] and record fifth consecutive Album of the Year award at the 19th Mnet Asian Music Awards.[10] The War also became their highest charting album on the US Billboard 200.[14]

Since Exo's first headlining tour in 2014, titled Exo from Exoplanet #1 – The Lost Planet, the band has performed over 100 concerts during four tours and has participated in multiple joint tours.[15] Exo is also known for its work outside music, which includes endorsement deals with brands such as Nature Republic and Samsung, and philanthropic efforts such as "Smile for U", a joint SM Entertainment and UNICEF project that began in 2015, which Exo continues to participate in.[16][17][18]


2006–2012: Formation and debut

Exo at SM Town Live World Tour III in Singapore in November 2012

Exo-K's leader, Suho, was the first member to join SM Entertainment after a successful audition through its casting system in 2006. A year later, Kai, with encouragement from his father, auditioned at the SM Youth Best Contest; he won and received a contract.[19] Chanyeol, who took second place in a Smart Model Contest and Sehun, who went through four auditions in two years,[20] were the next members to become trainees in 2008. In 2010, Exo-K's D.O. sang for his audition and was eventually offered a contract.[21] The last member of Exo-K to become a trainee was Baekhyun, who joined in 2011 through the SM Entertainment casting system and trained for approximately one year before debut. For Exo-M, Kris auditioned at an SM Entertainment global audition in Canada in 2008 before moving to South Korea for training. That year, Lay auditioned in Changsha, China, and subsequently moved to South Korea, while Xiumin attended an audition with his friend and won second place.[22] In 2010, Luhan was scouted by a company's representative in Myeong-dong and passed the audition, while Tao was scouted at a talent show. The last member to join Exo-M was Chen, who took part in the casting system in 2011 at the age of 19.

In May 2011 at a Hallyu business seminar at Stanford University, Lee Soo-man spoke about a strategy of debuting a new boy band that would be divided into two subgroups, promoting the same music simultaneously in South Korea and China by performing songs in both Korean and Mandarin.[23] After several member changes,[24] in December 2011, the group finalized its name as Exo, taken from the word "exoplanet". They were divided into two subgroups, Exo-K ('K' for Korean) for South Korea and Exo-M ('M' for Mandarin) for China. The band's first televised performance was at Seoul Broadcasting System's annual Gayo Daejun event on December 29, 2011.[25]

Exo-K and Exo-M made their debut with the single, "Mama", on April 8;[26] this was followed by an EP Mama that was released on April 9. The two sub-groups promoted the album separately; Exo-K performed on South Korea's music program The Music Trend while Exo-M performed on China's Top Chinese Music Awards on the same day.[27] The Korean album peaked at number one on the Gaon Album Chart[28] and at number eight on the Billboard World Albums Chart.[29] The Mandarin version of Mama reached number two on China's Sina Album Chart and at number one on Chinese streaming websites. Prior to its debut, Exo released two prologue singles titled "What Is Love" and "History"; the former peaked at number 88 on South Korea's Gaon Digital Chart while the latter peaked at number 68 on the Gaon Digital Chart and at number six on China's Sina Music Chart.[30] Exo was awarded Best New Asian Group at the 2012 Mnet Asian Music Awards and the Newcomer Award at the Golden Disc Awards. In addition, Exo-M received the Most Popular Group Award at the 2013 Top Chinese Music Awards.[31]

2013–2014: Commercial success, first headlining tour, Kris' and Luhan's lawsuits

Exo with South Korean President, Park Geun-hye in China on June 28, 2013

The group's first studio album, XOXO was released on June 3, 2013, in two versions; one in Korean and one in Mandarin.[32] Unlike the EP Mama, for which Exo-K and Exo-M had separate promotions, XOXO was jointly promoted, mainly in South Korea.[33] Exo recorded the album's lead single "Wolf" together but the rest of the album tracks were recorded separately.[34] A repackaged version of XOXO, titled Growl, was released on August 5, 2013, with three additional tracks. "Growl" peaked at number three on Billboard's Korea K-Pop Hot 100[35] and at number two on the Gaon Digital chart. All versions of XOXO have collectively sold over one million copies, which made Exo the first South Korean artists to sell over one million copies of an album in twelve years.[36] In December 2013, Exo released a second EP, Miracles in December as a special winter album containing the single of the same name.[37] Prior to the release, the group promoted the album through their first reality show Exo's Showtime, which premiered on November 28, 2013 on the cable channel MBC Every 1.[38] Following their 2013 releases, Exo won Song of the Year at the Melon Music Awards for "Growl",[39] Disc Daesang at the Golden Disc Awards[40] and Album of the Year at the Mnet Asian Music Awards[41] for XOXO and Daesang at the Seoul Music Awards.[42]

Exo at the 16th Mnet Asian Music Awards in December 2014

Exo's third EP, Overdose, was released on May 7, 2014.[43] Originally scheduled to be released on April 21, the album was delayed due to the Sewol Ferry Accident on April 16. Overdose was promoted similarly to Mama, with Exo-K in South Korea and Exo-M promoting primarily in China. The album had over 660,000 pre-orders before its release, making it the most pre-ordered Korean EP in history.[44] The Korean edition also peaked at number two on Billboard's World Albums Chart, and number 129 on the Billboard 200, making Exo the highest charting Korean male group act on the Billboard 200 at that time.[45][46] Overdose became the best selling album in South Korea of 2014 and was the first EP to top the yearly charts and win the Album of the Year Award at Mnet Asian Music Awards.[47] On December 22, Exo released their first live album, Exology Chapter 1: The Lost Planet.[48] The lead single on the album, "December, 2014" peaked at number one on the Gaon Digital Chart, making it Exo's first number one single.[49] By the end of 2014, Exo was Japan's best-selling K-pop artist of the year.[50]

On May 15, 2014, SM Entertainment confirmed that Kris had filed a lawsuit to terminate his contract.[51] The group began its first headlining tour "Exo from Exoplanet 1 – The Lost Planet" on May 24 at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena.[52] Tickets for the concert sold out in 1.47 seconds, breaking the record for the quickest-selling-out concert by a Korean artist.[52] On October 10, Luhan also filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment to nullify his contract.[53][54]

2015: Critical acclaim, Tao's lawsuit and Japanese debut

From left to right: D.O, Lay, and Kai at the 24th Seoul Music Awards in January 2015

On March 7, 2015, Exo began their second headlining world tour, titled "Exo Planet 2 – The Exo'luxion", with 70,000 attendees across 5 concerts at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul.[55] Exo released its second studio album Exodus on March 30, 2015, in both Korean and Mandarin versions.[56] Domestic pre-orders for the album surpassed 500,000 copies within 24 hours, setting a new record for pre-orders.[57] The single "Call Me Baby" was released early on March 27 because versions of the song had been leaked online.[58] The music videos were released four days later; the Korean version later became the most-watched K-pop music video in the first half of 2015.[59] The album spent a record four consecutive weeks at number one on the Gaon Album Chart[60] and sold over a million copies, making it Exo's second album to do so, after XOXO.[61] Exodus won Album of the Year at the 2015 Mnet Asian Music Awards, giving Exo their third consecutive win. In April, 2015, Exodus peaked at number 95 on the US Billboard 200, making them the highest charting Korean artist.[62][63] Exo also entered the Canadian Billboard Hot 100 chart at number 98, making them the first K-pop group and second Korean artist to chart there.[64]

Tao was absent during promotions for the group's second studio album Exodus due to injuries and on August 24, became the third member to file a lawsuit against SM Entertainment to terminate his contract.[65][66] Exo released a repackaged version of Exodus, titled Love Me Right, on June 3, 2015. This edition contains the original tracks from Exodus and four new songs, including the single "Love Me Right".[67] Due to Tao's absence, the group promoted the song as nine members. The group became the first artist to hold a dome concert in South Korea; it was called "Exo - Love Concert in Dome" and occurred at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul.[68]

On November 4, 2015, Exo released their debut Japanese single album "Love Me Right ~romantic universe~", which contains the Japanese version of "Love Me Right" and an original Japanese song titled "Drop That". On the day of its release, the album sold 147,000 copies and reached the top of the Oricon chart, becoming the best-selling debut single album in Japan by a Korean artist of all time.[69] Five days later, Exo released a special single titled "Lightsaber" to promote the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens ahead of its release in South Korea as part of the collaboration between SM Entertainment and Walt Disney. On December 10, Exo released its second winter special album and fourth EP Sing for You, containing the two singles "Sing for You" and "Unfair". The album broke the record for the highest first-week sales for a Korean artist by selling 267,900 copies in its first week. "Unfair" also became the first K-pop song to be featured in the "best of the week" playlist by Apple Music, while Exo became the first Korean artist to appear on the Apple Music homepage.[70] Part of the profits from the album were donated to UNICEF's "Smile For U" campaign, to support the musical education of children in Asia.[71] In December, 2015, South Korean entertainment industry leaders ranked Exo at number seven in the top ten pop culture leaders of 2015, the highest of any K-pop artist.[72]

2016–2017: Solo endeavors and worldwide success

Exo at Ex'act release press conference in June 2016

Exo's third studio album Ex'Act, along with its singles "Lucky One" and "Monster", were released on June 9, 2016, in both Korean and Mandarin.[73] Domestic pre-orders for the album exceeded 660,000, making it the most pre-ordered K-pop album ever at that time.[74] The album later broke the record for the highest first-week sales of a Korean album, set by the band's fourth EP Sing For You, by selling 522,372 copies.[75] "Monster" became Exo's first number one on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart and "Lucky One" debuted at number three.[76] On August 18, 2016, a repackaged edition of Ex'Act titled Lotto was released; it contained the original tracks from Ex'Act and four new songs including the single of the same name.[77] "Lotto" became Exo's second number one on the Billboard World Digital Songs Chart and peaked at number two on the Gaon Digital Chart.[78] Lotto's Korean and Mandarin versions reached number one and two respectively on the Gaon Album Chart.[79][80] Within two months of its original release, Ex'Act had sold over 1.17 million copies, becoming Exo's third album to sell over one million copies and earning them the title of "triple million sellers" from the media.[81]

On July 21, Kris and Luhan officially left Exo as their contractual disputes with SM Entertainment were settled.[82] On July 22, Exo embarked on its third headlining tour, "Exo Planet 3 – The Exo'rdium" with a record six consecutive concerts at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena.[83] On May 27 and 28, 2017, the Exo'rdium tour ended with two concerts at the Seoul Olympic Stadium, the largest stadium in South Korea with an estimated maximum seating capacity of 100,000.[84] Tickets for the first date went on sale on April 12 and were sold out within 20 minutes.[85] In June, Lay announced he would not take part in the band's next album, and would instead focus on his acting career. Since then, he has been absent from Exo albums and public appearances.[86] On December 7, Exo's second Japanese single "Coming Over", containing three original tracks, was released.[87] It reached number two on the weekly Oricon Chart, selling over 158,000 copies and becoming the band's second Japanese single album to receive a Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of Japan.[88] Exo's third winter album and fifth extended play For Life was released on December 19.[89] The band did not publicly promote the album or its single "For Life" which sold over 442,000 copies by 2017.[90]

Also in 2016, the groups' members began or advanced their personal careers with solo activities. On January 7, Baekhyun released a single titled "Dream", a collaboration with popular South Korean singer Suzy. The single proved very popular and won Best Collaboration at the 18th Mnet Asian Music Awards and other awards.[91] On October 31, Chen, Baekhyun and Xiumin debuted as the first official sub-unit of Exo, known as Exo-CBX.[6] The name is a combination of the first letter from each member's stage name and as of 2018, they have released two EPs in Korean and two EPs in Japanese.[6] On October 28, Lay debuted his first of two solo EP in Mandarin following his work in Chinese television, which included The Mystic Nine, which has drawn over 12 billion views online.[92] All of the other members also pursued solo activities in music, film, television and theater.

Exo at the Dream Concert in June 2017

Exo's fourth studio album The War was released on July 18, 2017.[93] The album had received 807,235 pre-orders, surpassing the band's own record of 660,000 for Ex'Act.[94] "Ko Ko Bop" debuted at number one on the Melon Digital Chart, making Exo the first K-pop group to enter at number one after chart changes were implemented on February 27, 2017.[95] Upon release, the album recorded the highest first week sales of any K-pop album, selling 602,094 copies.[96] It debuted at number 87 on the Billboard 200 chart, number one on the Billboard World Albums Chart and on many other charts around the world; a first for Exo.[14][97][98] On August 29, the 2018 edition of the Guinness World Records named Exo as having won the "Most Daesang" ("Grand Prize") awards at the Mnet Asian Music Awards".[99] On September 5, a repackaged edition for The War, titled The War: The Power of Music, was released; it contains the original tracks from The War and three new songs, including the single "Power".[100] On September 14, "Power" recorded the highest score of all time on M Countdown with 11,000 points, making Exo the first artist to achieve a perfect score after the system changes were implemented in June 2015. The win also marked their 100th win on a music show.[101]

On October 19, Exo announced its third world tour, "Exo Planet #4 – The EℓyXiOn", which started with three concerts in Seoul's Gocheok Sky Dome on November 24–26, 2017.[102] It was announced on November 4 via Exo's Japanese website that Exo would release their first full-length Japanese studio album titled Countdown on January 24, 2018.[103] A short version of the music video for the lead single "Electric Kiss" was released on December 6.[104] It was also announced that Countdown would feature 10 songs, including previously released and new songs.[105] As of November 30, Korean sales of The War reportedly reached 1,592,792, making it Exo's best selling album to date and earning them the title of "Quadruple Million Seller".[106] In early December, Exo announced its fourth winter album and sixth extended play, titled Universe. It was originally due for release on December 21 but was delayed until December 26 because of the death of label-mate, Jonghyun.[107]

2018: Winter Olympics and international recognition

Exo with the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, Ivanka Trump and CL at the 2018 Winter Olympics in February 2018

On January 16, 2018, "Power" became the first K-pop song to play at The Dubai Fountain at Burj Khalifa Lake, Dubai. Seven members of the group (excluding D.O and Lay) traveled to Dubai to view the first showing.[108] "Power" was initially scheduled to play until the end of January but its run was extended until March 31.[109] On January 31, Exo released its first full-length Japanese album Countdown; its release was originally planned for January 24 but was delayed for a week.[103] The album debuted at number one on the weekly Oricon chart, selling approximately 89,000 copies. This made Exo the first non-Japanese band whose debut single album and studio album both reached number one on the weekly Oricon chart.[110] Ten days after its release, on February 9, Countdown was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of Japan.[111]

In early February, it was announced that Exo would perform at the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang on February 25 as representatives of K-pop, along with CL.[112] The announcement came after Baekhyun sang the national anthem at the opening ceremony of the International Olympic Committee general assembly on February 5 and Exo performed at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics D-100 Concert in 2017, marking 100 days until the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics.[112][113] The band's appearance drew widespread global media attention; many praised Exo's performance.[114] In March 2018, the Korean Mint Corporation announced it would create official commemorative medals for Exo, honoring the band for its contribution to the global spread of Korean culture as representatives of K-pop.[115] The nine medals, one commemorating each member, were unveiled on April 18 at a ceremony in Seoul.[116]

Exo's fifth studio album, Don't Mess Up My Tempo, was announced in early October for release on November 2, 2018.[117] It was also revealed that Don't Mess up My Tempo would feature all nine members of the group; the group's first album to do so since Lotto in 2016.[117]

Subunit and solo endeavors

Exo-CBX at their debut showcase in Seoul on October 31, 2016

On October 5, 2016, SM Entertainment announced the first subunit of Exo consisting of three members; Chen, Baekhyun and Xiumin,[118] who had previously released an original soundtrack titled "For You" for the SBS television series Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. On October 24, the name of the subunit was announced as Exo-CBX, formed from the initials of its members' stage names—Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin, (short for ChenBaekXi). Exo-CBX released its debut EP Hey Mama! and the music video for the single of the same name on October 31.[119] The EP was a success, garnering the most sales for a subunit in 2016 with 275,191 copies sold. The subunit debuted in Japan on May 24, 2017, with the release of an EP titled Girls.[120] Prior to Exo-CBX's Japanese debut, a short version of the music video for the lead single "Ka-CHING!" was released on April 30, 2017.[121] The EP has sold over 60,000 copies in Japan after its release.[122]

Prior to Lay's solo debut, he participated in SM Station with "Monodrama", a self-written and self-composed ballad, in May 2016. The song was a success in China, ranking number one on Billboard China's V Chart for five consecutive weeks. In October 2016, Lay became the first member of Exo to make his solo debut simultaneously in Korea and China. He participated in the composition, arrangement and writing of the lyrics of the songs for the EP Lose Control. It was a commercial success, breaking several Guinness World Records[123] and debuted at number one on the South Korean Gaon Album Chart.[124]



Exo are considered by many to be a vocal powerhouse in the K-pop industry; its three main vocalists D.O., Chen and Baekhyun received high praise from key industry figures and the media.[125][126][127][128] Starting in 2013, Exo has released special winter-themed EPs in December nearly every year. These EPs feature many classic, emotional ballads, diverging from the dramatic and upbeat singles usually featured on the band's studio albums.[129][130][131] Billboard applauded the band's single "Universe", from the 2017 seven-track winter EP of the same name, saying, "with soaring, emotive vocals, courtesy of the Exo members, Universe is a power ballad that showcases the group’s strengths".[132]

The group has frequently worked with veteran Korean, American and British producers, including Kenzie, Dean, LDN Noise, The Underdogs and MARZ Music.[136][137] Many of Exo's songs—especially the singles, which feature genres like hip hop, disco and funk, with an electronic, pop twist—are produced with performance in mind.[138] Songwriter and producer for the group, Harvey Mason Jr. commented "We listen to their material... and try and go one step further. We try and do things that are fresh and original but yet still sound like Exo. [...] They can sing, they can dance, they have the energy... it's like a painter having every color to paint with."[138]

Early in its career, Exo was described by Billboard as sounding "wholly inspired by the late '90s/early '00s sound... with bigger beats, loads more hooks and adding rap and dance breakdowns".[133][139] The band created a more "mature" and "dark" sound in 2016 with the release of their third studio album, Ex'Act, featuring an increased use of electronic dance music styles house and synth-pop.[140][134][141][142] Their fourth studio album, The War, continued the band's increased use of electronic dance music genres, with the addition of trap music.[138] The War also featured the single "Ko Ko Bop". Although "Ko Ko Bop" was not K-pop's first reggae-inspired track, Exo was credited with unconventionally, but successfully, hybridizing laid-back reggae sounds with electronic breaks.[143][135]


Exo's members faced criticism early in their careers because of their lack of involvement in the writing and producing of their songs.[144] In 2015, however, their first song to credit lyrics to one of the group's members was released on the repacked version of the second album Love Me Right. The song "Promise (EXO 2014)", was written by Chanyeol, Chen and Lay, and was a "special gift" to the fans with lyrics thanking fans for their support.[145][146] In the following years, Exo has released multiple songs with lyrics by the band's members, including "Heaven" and "She's Dreaming" from of the third album Ex'Act and its repackaged version Lotto, the special promotional single "Lightsaber" and most notably, the award-winning single "Ko Ko Bop" along with "Touch It", "Chill" and "Sweet Lies", which were released in 2017 on the fourth album The War and its repackaged version Power.[147] It was explained that "Ko Ko Bop" invites audiences to enjoy dancing to the music and "Touch it" talks about a man nervously pursuing the object of his affection.[147]

In a 2017 interview with Billboard, Chanyeol spoke about his contribution to lyric writing on "Chill", stating that because he "worked on the lyrics with an empty track without demo lyrics", the process came more "naturally" to him.[138] In the same interview, Chen explained the process of writing their single "Ko Ko Bop", saying "[The members and I] wrote the lyrics separately and worked on putting the lyrics together for the song afterwards. I don't think I have any regrets [about the song] since it's the best result produced through all the effort that our members and other writers have put into the process."[138] Chen is also credited with writing the Korean lyrics for the track "Lights Out", from the fourth winter EP Universe.[107] As of June 2018, Lay has written, composed and produced 27 songs, including the tracks of his two solo albums.[148][149]


Image depicting water raining down onto the stage in a circle.
Exo performance using water on stage in Bangkok during Exo Planet 3 – The Exo'rdium in 2016.

Exo has been praised particularly for its synchronized group choreography and elaborate stage designs. The band was choreographed early in its career by American hip-hop choreographers Tony Testa and Nicholas Bass for songs including "Wolf" and "Growl", respectively.[150] In recent years, Exo has collaborated with choreographer Kim Tae Woo.[151] Dazed admired the band's "seamless ... knife-point choreography", saying it has put Exo "at the forefront of pop domination".[1] A recurring stage element during the world tours has been the use of water in the form of rain and shallow pools. Cleo said Exo's "winning formula" in the incorporation of water into the choreography, saying "there was water cascading from above during 'White Noise' and 'Lightsaber' which saw some of the members getting drenched".[152] Yahoo wrote that "during one segment, the boys stood on an elevated hexagon-shaped stage (modeled after of the band's logo), and danced sensually while water rained down on them from above".[153]

On their stage design, Music Mind noted Exo's use of "not only... the stage-lights and the lightsticks, but also the multitude of special effects like water, flames, and fireworks, not to mention huge screens positioned both on the substage and across the whole perimeter of the venue."[154] Rappler journalist Keb Cuevas described Exo's "multi-LED screen stage fitted with holographic Exo embellishments and choreographed laser lighting", saying "the stage was literally on fire as pyrotechnic effects were ignited with the electronic beat."[155] During their fourth headlining tour Exo Planet #4 – The EℓyXiOn, Bandwagon said it's remarkable after their "fourth headlining tour [in] four years. You might [assume] their setlist and stages would be repetitive and stale. But this was not the case at all".[156]


Exo has been described as "the biggest boyband in the world".[1] They have gained immense popularity in South Korea, and was named by Forbes on the Korea Power Celebrity list as the most powerful celebrities in South Korea for 2015 and 2016, and within the top fives for 2014, 2017 and 2018, and were labeled as the "Nation's Pick" by the media.[3][157] The band is widely regarded as a prominent figure in the Hallyu Wave, the rise and spread of K-pop and wider Korean culture around the world.[3][158][159][160] When discussing the significance of Exo in a global context, Bustle magazine described it as "The Ultimate K-Pop Sensation", saying "there's really nothing quite like Exo".[158] Exo has received further attention by releasing almost all of its studio albums in both Korean and Mandarin simultaneously. magazine described Exo as "leaders of a K-pop generation" when describing the band's ability to release music in Korean and Chinese markets while continuing to impress in the United States on Billboard charts and with arena tours.[161] Dazed considered Exo's success in this regard as having become "a continent-straddling pop juggernaut".[1] In 2016, AsiaOne said "Exo are turning into an omnipresent, unstoppable global force", citing their popularity in the United States, critical acclaim and fans.[162]

With the release of its debut studio album in 2013, Exo became the first South Korean artist in 12 years to sell over one million copies of an album;[36] the most recent artist prior to achieve this was g.o.d in 2001 with the album Chapter 4.[163] In 2017, Exo became a "Quadruple Million Seller", meaning the band has sold over one million copies each of four albums.[164]


On May 15, 2014, SM Entertainment confirmed that Exo-M's leader Kris had filed a lawsuit against the agency to terminate his contract for violation of basic human rights by treating him like a product rather than a person, disregard for his health, unfair profit distribution and restricting his freedom.[165] On October 10, 2014, Luhan filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment to nullify his contract citing health problems and being treated differently than the band's Korean members.[5] On April 22, 2015, Tao's father posted a letter on Chinese social networking website Weibo expressing his wish for his son to withdraw from the group and return to China due to a lack of support for individual career developments and health issues.[65] Tao had previously sustained several injuries that his father claimed had not been properly treated, causing him to be absent during promotions for the group's second studio album Exodus.[65][166] On April 23, SM Entertainment released an official statement saying that it would be "seeking a solution in a developmental direction" by negotiating with Tao and his father.[167] Tao later confirmed he had left S.M. Entertainment and after failed negotiations, he filed an official lawsuit against S.M. Entertainment on August 24 that year for the termination of his exclusive contract.[66][167][168] SM Entertainment responded to his legal actions with a statement: "Our company plans to use everything in our power including both Korean and Chinese legal professionals and partners to respond legally both in Korea and China in a multi-faceted manner. We also plan to take legal steps to respond to Tao's illegal promotions and actions."[169]

On 5 January 2016, SM Entertainment won one of its counter-lawsuits against Tao following the ruling of the Intermediate People's Court in Qingdao, China. The agency sued Tao over his failure to repay the company after his departure; it released an official statement saying, "SM has ongoing lawsuits against Exo members Wu Yifan (Kris), Luhan, and Tao for violating their exclusive contracts and partaking in illegal promotions in China. Among these lawsuits, SM filed a lawsuit against Tao for failing to repay SM on October 13, 2015. An intermediate court in Qingdao, China made the verdict that Tao is to repay SM Entertainment as well as interest for the delayed payment."[170][171] In July 2016, it was announced that the lawsuit between Luhan, Kris and SM Entertainment had been settled.[172] The two sides settled during their third court-mandated arbitration; the previous two were held in September 2015 and June 2016, when the court settled the case with a recommendation for reconciliation.[172][173] The singers would maintain their contracts with SM until 2022.[172] SM Entertainment would contract out their work outside Korea and Japan; i.e., Kris and Luhan's Chinese agencies will "share related revenues" with SM Entertainment for activities anywhere but Korea and Japan (where SM Entertainment has exclusive rights per their contract) because SM Entertainment is technically "contract[ing] out management" for its non-Korean/Japanese activities until 2022, when their contracts with SM Entertainment expire.[172]

Other ventures


Exo has maintained numerous endorsement deals throughout its career and has been named multiple times as having the most powerful brand reputation among K-pop artists by the Korean Business Research Institute.[174][175] Since 2012, Exo has maintained a partnership with Samsung, the largest public company in South Korea, where Exo has endorsed the company's electronic products.[17][176] In early February 2013, Exo began promoting a South Korean clothing brand Kolon Sport, for which the band filmed a commercial for a new pair of sneakers named for it; MOVE-XO.[177] Also in 2013, Exo began a two-year endorsement deal with cosmetics brand Nature Republic, which was later extended and is still currently active.[16][178] Their partnership grew in 2015 and 2016 to include fan-signing events drawing 30,000 and 50,000 fans respectively.[179][180] The 2015 fan-sign event was held in Busan, with crowds such that the Busan police department tweeted out "Currently live from Exo's fan signing in Gwangbukdong. One, two three! We Are One! Busan Police! Everyone, please be in order."[181] This was followed in recent years by the "Green Nature EXO Fan Festival" in 2017 and 2018; both concert-style events hosted by Nature Republic with thousands of attendees.[178][182]

In late 2015, Exo officially endorsed the film Star Wars: The Force Awakens with the release of a "collaboration film" that "[saw] the nine Exo members in a Star Wars-inspired world where clubs are 'Jedi Only' and they carry lightsabers", reported Billboard.[183] In 2016, Exo became an ambassador for American footwear company Skechers, endorsing the D'Lites 2 Sweet Monster Collection. This partnership has extended to events such as the 2017 Sweet Monster K-Pop Dance Competition hosted by Sketchers, which Exo members Chanyeol and Sehun attended.[184] Also in 2016, Exo became the official face of the Spring 2016 collection of international clothing brand SPAO, which included limited-edition postcards and posters for customers.[185]

In 2018, in the lead-up to the band's performance at the Closing Ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics, Exo became the face of the Switzerland-based snow-sports company Kessler.[186] In March 2018, Exo was announced as the new "brand ambassadors" for Major League Baseball (MLB) in Asia.[187] Following this announcement, Chanyeol, Kai and Sehun attended the grand opening of the MLB store in Times Square, Hong Kong, on March 23.[188] In July 2018, Exo were appointed as Korean Tourism Ambassadors for 2018 by the Korean Tourism Organisation; involving Exo appearing in a series of promotional advertisements designed to "promote Korea to the world".[189] Exo also maintains partnerships with, or has previously endorsed, companies including Coca-Cola, SK Telecom, KFC, MCM, Pepero, Lotte World, Goobne Chicken, and Hats On.[190] Exo has shown strong brand power with successful endorsements.[191]


The members of Exo-K became goodwill ambassadors for South Korea's Red Cross Youth in December 2012.[192] Members of Exo and Bae Doona were appointed as official ambassadors for Fashion-KODE 2014, which was hosted by South Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korea Active Content Agency Fashion Festival in July 2014.[193] In July 2014, Samsung announced Exo as its brand ambassador for the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics.[194]

Since its debut, Exo members have been involved in charitable work, such as volunteering for and making personal donations to organizations such as childcare centers, the Korea Childhood Leukemia Foundation, Siheung Women’s Resources Development Center and China's Hunan province medical services.[195][196][197][198]

In 2015, Exo began participating in "Smile for U", a joint SM Entertainment and UNICEF project that aids music education for children in Asia. Part of the proceeds of the band's second winter album Sing for You and subsequent third and fourth albums were donated to the campaign.[18][199][200] Members Kai and Sehun also participated in photograph sessions for the campaign.

Awards and nominations

Exo have won numerous awards in South Korea and the People's Republic of China. On June 14, 2013, the band won for the first time on the South Korean music program Music Bank with the single "Wolf."[201] Exo holds the record for the most wins for a single song with 18 music show wins for "Call Me Baby", released in 2015.[202] Since then, Exo has won over 100 music program awards, becoming the second artist to do so after Girls' Generation.[203][204]

Exo have also received 23 Daesang awards, also known as grand prize awards, from various award shows.[205] These include six daesang awards from the Mnet Asian Music Awards, which was recorded in the 2018 Guinness World Records book as the "Most Daesang" ("Grand Prize") awards won at the Mnet Asian Music Awards".[206] Daesang awards are the most significant awards given in the Korean music industry.

On November 3, 2017, Exo received a Prime Minister Commendation award at the Korean Popular Culture & Arts Awards, which was given in recognition of public service or excellence in their field. When receiving the award, Suho said, “We have received such a big award alongside brilliant people ... it’s such a huge honor. We will become performers who not only promote K-pop but also Korea."[207]


Korean and Mandarin albums

Japanese albums




  1. ^ a b Tao suspended his activities in April 2015 and filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment to terminate his contract on August 24, 2015.


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External links