Two music groups, three languages, four million-selling albums, five Album of the Year awards at the Mnet Asian Music Awards and six whole years—no matter which way you cut the numbers, though, one thing remains true about South Korean music group EXO: We are one.
From performing at the 2018 Winter Olympics and becoming Korean Tourism Ambassadors, to being the first celebrities outside of the royal family to have their faces broadcasted on the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, EXO has soared to unprecedented levels of success since making their debut in 2012.
With a comeback rumored to take place in September, PopCrush asked EXO’s dedicated fanbase, EXO-L, to vote for their favorite songs by the group to accurately rank EXO’s music. (In the voting process, we did not include the group’s Japanese releases, remixes, SM Station singles, live performances, solo material or EXO-CBX’s discography.)
Ready to see where your favorite lands on the list? Below, see where EXO’s tracks fall into place, as ranked according to EXO-L.
Full of fiery rapping, “Full Moon” is a sequel to the group’s 2012 track “Two Moons” and was unveiled during the group’s Exo Planet #2 – The Exo’luxion Tour.
“Falling For You” is a cheery, mid-tempo R&B track about the members wishing to be like snow so that they can reach the one they love. And just like a snowflake, their love is one of a kind.
The winter holidays tend to bring out the romantic side of people. The members of EXO definitely feel sentimental in “On The Snow,” a pop track about retracing an ex’s footsteps through the snow to their front door so that the members can confess that they still love them.
The secondary single on 2013’s Miracles in December, “Christmas Day” is about being in a thrilling, joyful new relationship that makes you feel as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning.
Featuring lyrics written by Chanyeol, “Together” is the ultimate hype-up song. The track was originally solely performed on EXO’s third tour, EXO Planet #3 – The EXO’rDIUM, before it was released as part of the live tour album in 2017.
EXO’s vocal line — Chen, Baekhyun, D.O., Lay and Suho — sing a heartfelt, slow-grooving ballad thanking fans for their love and support over the years as they celebrate their fifth Christmas together. What do they want for Christmas? A special moment with EXO-L, of course.
Featured on EXO’s first album XOXO, “Baby” is an youthful, heavily Auto-Tuned track written from the perspective of someone who is anxiously preparing to confess their feelings to their crush.
Just like its title suggests, “Let Out The Beast” is an exciting, high-energy dance track that encourages fans to release all of their inhibitions and sing and dance like no one’s watching.
Featuring a unique blend of dreamy synthesizers, strings and drum machines, “Winter Heat” is about longing for an ex and wishing to spend the freezing winter cuddled up together.
“First Love” was initially a special bonus track played for fans during EXO’s second album promotional period, but it wasn’t released until the group’s repackaged second album Love Me Right. Backed by a simple piano melody, the members’ vocals are just as sweet as the song’s lyrics, which speak about the beauty and innocence of a first love.
This emotional acoustic ballad features some of EXO’s most gorgeous harmonies. It’s an incredibly vulnerable track, bolstered by standout, shiver-inducing vocal performances from Baekhyun, Chen and D.O.
An experimental mixture of synthesizers, drums and deep bass, “They Never Know” is about taking the risk to “cross the line” between friendship and relationship. On the track, a crush is hesitant to commit because of outsiders who cast judgement, but the members are quick to quell those fears. As Chen and Baekhyun croon, “Don’t listen to other voices baby / You’re too beautiful / For us to follow the ending they’ve already thought out.”
Inspired by crunk, “Two Moons” is EXO’s first-ever dedicated rap track from their very first EP, 2012’s MAMA. It features a variety of musical traits commonly found in the hip-hop genre, including heavy use of drum machine, call and response, and synthesizer. The song also features fellow SM artist and SHINee member Key, who raps solely in English.
Ever met a person who just seemed so cold and calculated you could confuse them for a machine? On “Machine,” the members of EXO lose their minds over a robotic love interest. With powerful vocals, an addictive chorus and electronic melody, this dance track has remained one of the group’s biggest crowd pleasers, as well as a staple in the band’s set list since it was released in 2012.
In the same vein as “Machine,” EXO’s “Run” is the another concert favorite known for its explosive drumbeat, synthesizers and easy-to-sing-along-to chorus that compares love to a fairytale.
Written, composed and arranged by Gaeko of Korean hip-hop group Dynamic Duo, “Tender Love” is a unique take on a love song. What makes the track a must-listen is the cheeky ad-libs between members as they sing about their struggle of being in love with their best friend. From Kai teasing Lay to the members shouting”oppa, oppa” during Chanyeol’s rap, “Tender Love” doesn’t take itself too seriously but still gets its message across in a cute way.
Beginning with a beatbox intro and sensual, slow tempo, “Lady Luck” is an R&B track that blossoms into an emotional chorus with members D.O. and Baekhyun’s vocals at the forefront. Plus, the song’s lyrics are incredibly romantic, telling the tale of a man who has fallen in love with a girl who just so happens to be a distant star. Desperate to meet, he prays for a meteor shower to finally allow them to be together.
Full of funky, vintage synths and heavy drums, the track features some of EXO’s most risqué lyrics, with Kris rapping in English: “I’mma take you to a secret place / Drop the shades and crank the bass / Hey girl, you know how to play?”
A soft-hearted ballad track that allows the members’ vocals to float delicately on dreamy synths. Though EXO was still divided into EXO-K and EXO-M at the time “Beautiful” was released, both versions of the track are beautiful and each have a different sweetness to them. (EXO-L may also notice that “Beautiful” was played in the background of Baekhyun, Chen and Lay’s pre-debut teaser video in February 2012, three years before EXODUS was released.)
“Can’t Bring Me Down” sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack of a dark dystopian film. The track blends murky synthesizers with high-lilting harmonies, sirens and a repeating robotic overlord voice. Though the track feels desolate, its lyrics look to find hope in the midst of desperation: “Lift your head to a higher place now / The dawn will shine brighter than the sun.”
An adorable, wintery pop song, “Girl x Friend” rounds out EXO’s 2015 Sing For You EP with a hopeful outlook on love.
Relying on strings and a bouncing backbeat, “Cloud 9” is is a progressive R&B track that allows each member a chance to show off their skill, including the group’s versatile rap line consisting of Chanyeol, Sehun, Kai and Xiumin. Plus, Baekhyun’s effortlessly gorgeous vocal runs are a heart-stopping highlight of the heavenly track.
Originally released as a Christmas gift through SM Entertainment’s mobile game Superstar SMTOWN, “December, 2014 (The Winter’s Tale)” was later released outside of the game on EXO’s first tour album, Exology Chapter 1: The Lost Planet. In true winter EXO fashion, the song recounts a romantic meeting in the snow between EXO and their fans after a full year has passed.
Listening solely to the cheerful, acoustic guitar melody of “The First Snow,” one might assume it‘s just another cutesy Christmas track. That couldn’t be farther from the truth: the song’s lyrics are surprisingly sad. During the first snow of winter, the members of EXO wallow in regret for breakups of years past.
EXO merge soul and pop on “Stay,” a poignant plea to a girlfriend to not let their love die. When it comes to love songs EXO are usually the ones ending the relationship, but “Stay” feels infinitely more heartbreaking because the members’ tones are so vulnerable. Backed by a lonely piano and rhythmic drum, the lyrics are a skewer to the heart of any EXO-L: ”Can’t believe, can’t believe / You’ve stopped like this / I thought we would last forever, but where are we? / In the end, I couldn’t ask you to stay.”
Bolstered by a brass band, thick beat and dominating rap, “Transformer” is an addictive hip-hop track about falling for an unattainable girl who’s not only cool and beautiful, but consistently keeps you on your toes with her ability to “transform” from attentive to disinterested.
A dreamy hit, “Good Night” recounts the bittersweetness of only being able to meet the love of your life in your dreams. Despite the everyday struggle, EXO ow to wait for their loved one until they can meet in real life. Slow and smooth, “Good Night” is full of soft, lilting vocals, including knockout performances from Xiumin and Chanyeol.
EXO’s vocal line transport listeners to a cozy jazz club on “Stronger,” a breathtaking love letter to EXO-L who have stood strong with them through the good times and the bad. “Stronger” is beautiful in its simplicity: dazzling harmonies, flawless vocals and heart-warming lyrics.
Featuring lyrics written by Chen, “Touch It” is a snappy dance track about being so hooked on someone that even watching them perform simple gestures is overwhelming. In the case of “Touch It,” it’s watching a girl run her hand through her hair: “No need to have a great reason / Even with little things like your hand gesture, you squeeze me and shake me up.”
EXO’s fourth winter EP, For Life, features this grooving, coastal trap song, a track participated in only by members of EXO’s rap line. A breath of fresh air from typical winter ballads, “Twenty Four” is about becoming so obsessed with someone that they become all you think about, twenty four hours a day. Sehun and Chanyeol’s powerful rapping steals the spotlight, before Xiumin and Kai reel in the listener with the song’s composed, cool chorus.
Released a month prior to their official debut, “History” offered the first taste of EXO’s cool choreography, vocals and concept. It was also the first glimpse of the twelve member group all together. EXO’s original concept was to be one group separated into two sub-units, EXO-M and EXO-K, which would sing the group’s tracks in Mandarin and Korean respectively. The group had amazing foresight with the lyrics, “EXO-M, EXO-K / The future we are about to start, history.” With Olympic performances, multiple accolades and four albums with over one million copies sold, it’s safe to say EXO continues to make history everyday.
EXO proved they were one with The Force when they dropped “Lightsaber,” a collaboration track with Disney released in 2015 to help promote the film Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Member Chanyeol contributed to the lyrics, which weaves Star Wars lore into a love song: “I wandered here to your outreached hand / Found you to protect you, be your savior / In the darkness I’ll be your light / A lifesaver, lightsaber.”
The EDM track is as action-packed as the film, featuring a bass drop, rhythmic synthesizers and a some killer high notes by Chen and Baekhyun.
With “Love, Love, Love,” EXO take inspiration from Arabic music by incorporating harps, piano and drums and weaving them into a dreamy, slow-grooving R&B track. An acoustic rearrangement of “Love, Love, Love” was later released as a bonus track on Exology Chapter 1: The Lost Planet.
On EXO’s fourth album The War, released in 2017, Chanyeol receives another solo writing credit with “Chill,” a song about liking a girl and trying desperately not to fall in love with her. The sweet R&B track features a unique breakdown and is dominated by incredible rapping by both Sehun and Chanyeol.
An adorable song about supporting EXO-L, “3.6.5” is EXO’s pledge to love and support their fans. The members declare themselves the listeners’ guardians, and even share a secret recipe to help fans cheer up in difficult times: “Laugh out loud three times / And listen to six songs / Sleep five hours / And then it won’t be a big deal anymore.”
On this ballad, Suho and Lay’s voices stand out among the rest of the vocal line, their pure voices carrying an airy vulnerability.
A twinkling R&B track, “One And Only” compares the feeling of being surrounded by one’s love to being in a fish tank that the members never want to swim out of. Toward the end of the song, EXO share that the person they’re so in love with is actually EXO-L, and compliment their fans by making a reference to their official fan color: “You got me girl, I got ya / Just like this, baby / Forever in your arms / My world is filled with silver / I don’t need any other colors.”
From its repeating piano riff to dramatic string section, “Exodus” has a maddening feeling to its melody that is almost reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland.
“Diamond” is produced and arranged by The Underdogs, who worked with EXO on tracks like “Moonlight,” “What If…” and the group’s 2014 comeback single, “Overdose.” The song utilizes blasting horns and sizzling synthesizers, with EXO making a bold declaration that they will no longer let others’ criticisms affect them.
Xiumin and Suho’s vocals are the perfect tone for a track as delicate as this one — those falsettos! “Fall” uses a medley of acoustic guitars, synthesizers and deep bass to create a blissful ballad. The song compares love to a swamp that gets deeper, thicker and all-consuming the more they fight to escape.
“Boomerang” is one of three new tracks on EXO’s 2017 repackaged album, The War: The Power of Music . “Boomerang” brings a little bit of classic ‘70s funk and is about the infinite struggle of trying to leave a relationship, only to snap back like a boomerang into the other person’s arms. This type of fresh take on the disco genre is something more commonly heard in EXO’s sub-unit, EXO-CBX, but works fantastic with the entire group too.
It’s hard to believe that one of EXO’s most boisterous, party anthems is secretly a Christmas track, but the rock- and EDM-tinged “Drop That” actually makes reference to hearing “Jingle Bells,” wishing people Merry Christmas and offering presents. Originally released as a b-side alongside the Japanese version of EXO’s single “Love Me Right,” a live, Korean version of “Drop That” was released in 2017 as part of EXO’s live album, EXO Planet #3: The EXO’rDIUM Live in Seoul. Without a doubt, the highlight of the track is Chen’s insane high note, which is so outrageously good it needs to be heard to be believed.
From the group’s 2017 album The War, EXO’s electro-pop hit “What U Do?” is the perfect summer romance song. The track begins with the rev of an engine and doesn’t stop being an absolute joyride until the end, utilizing light electric guitars and coastal synthesizers to create the ultimate pop dream. Chen and Kai’s harmonies cannot be overlooked, but what would take “What U Do?” to the next level would be Sehun receiving some lines.
EXO began to show a more sensual, seductive side with the release of “My Lady,” off their first album XOXO in 2013. The members declare their affection for a girl: “I’m not a friend / I want to be a man to you / I’m not just some person / I’m the only one person to protect you.”
EXO makes lighthearted use of their name with “XOXO (Hugs & Kisses),” a sweet song depicting the struggle of a boy trying to compose a love letter, only to keep second guessing himself. Embarrassed, he uses XOXO to explain his feelings: “I XOXO you, hold you in my arms XOXO / As much as I was nervous and earnest / My lips almost touch yours / I XOXO you, every day in my dreams XOXO.” In the end, he decides that the best way to express his feelings is through actions instead.
Baekhyun, Chen, D.O. and Suho are out to steal hearts with “Lights Out,” a goosebumps-inducing masterpiece written by Chen. If you’ve had a hard day, then “Lights Out” is the perfect cure-all; it’s essentially a comforting hug in song form.
“Hurt,” much like the emotion, is unpredictable. It begins with an eerie, twinkling carnival music box riff but quickly shifts into a booming dance track with a twisted, fantastical feeling to it. The story of “Hurt” follows a man who searches for a woman who disappeared and abandoned him in an unknown world. Lost and fearful, the man pleads with her to return to him and agonizes over how badly her actions have hurt him.
“Artificial Love” is about the maddening realization that their girlfriend has fallen out of love with them. The members understand that they need to break up with the girl, finally deciding that they don’t want or deserve her fake love anyway. Paired with its thick club backbeat, the choreography to “Artificial Love” shocked fans when it was unveiled on EXO’s third tour. Using canes as the key point of the choreography, “Artificial Love” follows in the footsteps of other infamously sexy performances like “Playboy,” “My Lady” and “Thunder.”
EXO often use fairy tales as the backdrop for their ballads, allowing the group to utilize stunning, romantic imagery in their lyrics, and “Walk On Memories” is no exception. Similar to “Love Me Right,” “Walk On Memories” is about taking a blissful stroll through the night sky on a path made of stars, with EXO and recounting memories shared together. The song uses a fragile, twinkling music box as the base for its melody, further adding to the song’s magical feeling.
In “Thunder,” EXO uses a storm as a unique analogy for a complicated love story. The girl they love is like lightning, a bright flash and then gone, while the members are like thunder, desperately chasing after her, always moments behind. Heartbroken at the constant distance between them, EXO share the pain of knowing that their love is one-sided and that it’s likely their love interest is lighting up someone else’ life instead.
“Wolf” holds a special place in every EXO-L’s heart, not only because of the song’s Beauty and the Beast-inspired concept, but because it secured EXO’s first win on any South Korean music
Off the group’s first album, 2013’s <em>XOXO</em>, “Wolf” is an explosive, dramatic single that unites both sides of EXO. Add in iconic choreography that involves the members becoming wolves, a den and the tree of life, it’s easy to see why “Wolf” became such a sensational hit.
“Playboy” is the pinnacle of EXO’s sexy side. Written, composed and arranged by Jonghyun of SHINee, the sensual lyrics depict a power struggle between new lovers. The “playboy” knows the girl wants him and uses it openly to his advantage, playing a dangerous game with her feelings while slowly developing some of his own. Kai is the star of the show in “Playboy” with his quick one-liners and coy repetition of “boy” after the other members sing “play.”
EXO continued to experiment with different genres throughout their first album, XOXO, including the club dance track “Heart Attack,” which is about the electrifying feeling of reuniting with a loved one.
The title track of EXO’s 2015 winter album, “Sing For You,” is an emotional rollercoaster. In EXO ballad fashion, the group needs little more than an acoustic guitar to tug on the heartstrings of listeners. “Sing For You” is essentially a confession song, and EXO’s softer vocalists, Lay, Suho and Xiumin, really shine. The song also includes Sehun’s first-ever vocal lines.
EXO’s second promotional track, “Unfair,” is one of two tracks written and composed by Korean hip-hop artist DEAN, and is reminiscent in sound and style to Maroon 5.
A special track off EXO’s first EP, MAMA, Suho, Baekhyun and D.O. pledge to be the listener’s guardian angels in this uplifting ballad, which is dedicated to EXO-L.
Released off EXO’s 2016 EX’ACT, “Lucky One” is the light, flirty counterpart to EXO’s dark, sensual “Monster.” Blending ‘80s inspired pop and disco, “Lucky One” shines above the rest with its interesting use of flute and drum machine.
“Miracles in December” is a heart-wrenching ballad about realizing how much you really loved and needed someone now that the relationship is over. The song’s music video showcases all of the members preparing heartfelt gifts to win their ex back, ranging from Kai purchasing a puppy to Suho writing a letter that reads, “I miss you, I love you.”
Released three months prior to EXO’s official debut in April 2012, “What is Love” opens with an electric guitar riff followed by sultry, ear-catching vocals. Add in an 808 bass drum machine and lyrics about falling in love with a girl at first sight, and it makes for a smooth, romantic listen. “What Is Love” was recorded in Mandarin and Korean by two different EXO teams — Baekhyun and D.O. in the Korean version and Chen and Luhan in the Mandarin version — so the track still left a lot of mystery surrounding the other members and their talents. To compensate, the song offers short clips of the other members, as well as hints at their future superpowers throughout the accompanying video.
EXO’s “Black Pearl” is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece; a true treasure hidden within the group’s first album XOXO. The song was featured in the pre-debut teasers for the group and composed by Korean Hip-Hop artist DEAN. Its lyrics are about sailing the treacherous seas to meet a girl as beautiful and elusive as a black pearl. The chorus features synthesizers, drums, and chanting that rock and sway like a boat braving harsh waves — a unique and truly unforgettable addition to EXO’s discography.
This dreamy but heartbreaking ballad harkens back to classic 90’s boy bands. It unfolds through two perspectives to paint a one-sided love story; the protagonist’s eyes are looking at the girl he’s in love with, but her eyes are looking at someone else. Each member receives equal time in the spotlight, with a special emphasis given to Baekhyun and Lay’s vocals for providing a strong background harmonies.
“Moonlight” recounts the story of an angel who visits the EXO members at night, but must return each morning to a world EXO cannot reach. Watching the love of their life disappear each night breaks the members’ hearts, as they sing: “aAplace that cannot be touched / a place that cannot be held / the reflection on the surface is not her / it’s my sad story that cannot be fulfilled / the closer I get the stronger the pain will get.” Interestingly, “Moonlight” is one of few EXO singles that features chair choreography, while the performers of the track — D.O. and Baekhyun — stand on a podium in the center.
“White Noise” is about a love that transcends time, place, and sight. The members are separated from the one they love, so they close their eyes, cut through all of the noise in the world, and search for their loved one’s laughter. It’s only when they hear it, reassured that their loved one is okay, that they’re comforted.
Backed by gentle strings and a piano melody, the lyrics to “For Life” are so devoted and unwavering that they could genuinely be used as wedding vows: “Never gonna let you go / giving you my heart and soul / because you’re my everything in life, for life / even if I’m born again / I can’t be with anyone but you / I only want to look at you forever for life.”
“Heaven” is Chanyeol’s lyrical contribution to EXO’s third album, 2016’s EX’ACT. A bouncing pop effort, “Heaven” weaves piano and rap into a quirky love song. In its lyrics, the members profess that even if all of the city streetlights and moon disappeared, it would still be bright out to them because they’re standing next to a gorgeous fallen star.
EXO’s debut song, “MAMA,” is a bold rock entry that openly criticizes the technologically advanced world we live in, complaining that it has ruined real life communication. “At some point, we have voluntarily / Trapped ourselves in a smart prison / We base our personalities from a digital world made of 0’s and 1’s,” the members sing. The track also utilizes a riff from Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” as well as the ending to Guns N’ Roses “November Rain,” and features members Kai, Xiumin and Kris screaming, chanting, raising their hands to the sky.
Titled “Mermaid’s Tears” in Korean, “Baby Don’t Cry” is inspired by The Little Mermaid. It’s told from the perspective of a man in love with a mermaid who must kill him in order to survive, or else be turned into sea foam. The man asks her to kill him so that she may live, and his only request is for her not to cry and to know that he loved her. Poetic and heartbreaking, “Baby Don’t Cry” is breathtaking in both Korean and Mandarin versions, each offering a different emotional twist to the tragic ballad.
Tucked carefully in between the bombastic comeback track “Lotto” and the eerie, dystopian “Can’t Bring Me Down” is the sleeper-hit “She’s Dreaming.” Penned by Chen, the song’s lyrics take inspiration from Cinderella and tells the fairytale of two lovers who can only meet in each other’s dreams. Like Cinderella at midnight, the girl of Chen’s dreams disappears when morning comes, and cannot remember him upon the pair’s next encounter. The slow, soothing track is filled with gorgeous imagery, complemented by the song’s hauntingly beautiful melody.
Written by Chanyeol, “Sweet Lies” is the first glimpse into Chanyeol as a human being rather than an idol. In the track, Chanyeol opens himself up for a close look at his fears of honesty, disappointment, and getting hurt when it comes to relationships. In order to protect himself and the girl he’s dating, he tells sweet lies that placate the relationship but only makes things worse. “I already told you that I’m an unwieldy blade / and if you want me / You might get cut deep,” Chanyeol confesses. Sehun then takes over, revealing that he’s fearful of the relationship before it can even begin: “Sorry I can’t be that guy / Don’t expect too much, actually I / I’m scared to begin, because / I can taste the bitter scent in my mouth.” With a slow tempo and trap sound, the vocals featured in “Sweet Lies” are low and drawn out like moans, adding a sensual side to the track.
If there’s anything certain in this world, it’s that EXO love EXO-L. And that love is clear in “Lucky,” a song that speaks to EXO’s connection to fans. EXO steals the hearts of all EXO-L in “Lucky” by singing two short sentences: “So lucky to have you / So lucky to be your love, I am.”
EXO’s 2015 repackaged album rode the wave of success from the group’s preceding single, “Call Me Baby.” Here, once again, EXO’s eyes are on the skies as sing a love story about driving a car through the cosmos, passing by the Milky Way on a path of stars. There are truly few lines throughout all of K-Pop history more iconic than “shawty, I’mma party till the sundown.” The track’s video features the nine members assuming the roles of football stars, and dancing to the song’s cute choreography before celebrating in the locker room.
“Lotto” took a lot of fans by surprise upon its release, partially due to the song’s atypical use of auto-tune. Still, the track quickly grows on the listener, and delights with lavish mentions of showering in champagne and insistence that finding love is like winning the lottery. The music video for “Lotto” transforms EXO into wicked, rich bad boys covered in bruises and tattoos.
In 2014, EXO delivered their third EP Overdose and an electronic, addictive title track of the same name. The song compares relationships to addiction only curable by love. “Someone call the doctor / Hold me and tell me / Love is a sickness, an addiction, overdose,” the members sing, “It’s harder to control as time goes by / I’m falling deeper into her.” The track’s use of quick clapping and sirens also creates a feeling of urgency. And the music video follows suit, and finds all twelve members trapped in different sections of a maze, desperately searching for an exit.
Yo, nice skirt. Composed by LDN Noise, who worked on EXO’s past title tracks including “Monster” and “Lucky One,” “Forever” is about a love that is never-ending. Group members understand that a love like this doesn’t come around more than once, and declare: “Don’t disappear, this is the end for me / We’ll never find a love like this again / Don’t break my soul / Your gaze, words, and everything forever.” What makes “Forever” such an enticing, danceable song is its electro-pop style, which features an 808 and mysterious, rhythmic synthesizer.
Typically, English words in K-Pop provide just enough context clues for listeners who can’t understand Korean. In “Going Crazy,” the first English line tells everyone all they need to know: “I hate you.” “Going Crazy” is about the feeling of helplessness and resentment left from a terrible breakup. “All that’s left for me is your deep scars, and they’ll never fade,” the members swear. “I’m going crazy.” Keen-eared listeners of “Going Crazy” will discover that the instrumental version of the track was used in a video shown during EXO’s second tour, EXO Planet #2 – The Exo’luxion.
It’s off to Neverland for EXO-L with “Peter Pan,” EXO’s heartwarming track about discovering a an old diary full of memories that sends members on searches for their loved ones. “I’m your eternal Peter Pan, your man who has stopped in time” the members sing, “I may be clumsy, but I loved you so much, and I will run to you.” The song also makes cute references to other characters as they follow Tinkerbell throughout Neverland.
The most recent EXO title track, 2017’s “Universe,” is about admitting to character faults that can destroy a relationship, but promising to work at its restoration. “I made you struggle / And I’m struggling too / Unlike my determination, nothing’s getting better / I always disappoint you / And I regret it too.” And the video for “Universe” finds the group’s members all wrapped up in their own personal lives, which can literally be seen in the thick ropes that tie Kai onto a chair. Finally, though, they’re able to leave their worries behind.
“Been Through,” another track from 2017’s Universe album, is enveloped in rich piano, guitar, and drums, and though it boasts a rock edge, it’s still fragile. In the midst of extreme hardship and pain, “Been Through” is a beacon of hope, promising better days lie just ahead: “This isn’t the end / Better days will come / At the end of that day / You’ll shine on me like this.”
If “Growl” catapulted EXO into fame, then “Call Me Baby” solidified EXO as unforgettable stars. From its first horn blast, the track strikes with drum beats and leads to addictive hooks that suck listeners into EXO’s world. “Call Me Baby” should be considered the model for a perfect pop song — it’s impossible to not want to dance or sing along. And the music video takes the viewer from room to room by different EXO members before it finally culminates in a dazzling dance performance.
EXO’s second promotional single from 2017’s The War is a forceful battle cry. Transporting fans onto a battlefield, the members rally their troops for an upcoming battle against their oppressors: “We must break it apart and clash against it / So we can see ourselves / We must shout out loud / So it spreads wide and far / The moment soft lights spread out and chases away the darkness / We must wake up again / To the new morning.” The electro-pop tune is known for its sensual vocals, heavy bassline and synthy melody, as well as its choreography, which definitely fits alongside its sultry theme.
Used as a teaser for EXO’s pre-debut, “El Dorado” was later released on 2015’s EXODUS and follows the members on a voyage to find the fabled lost city of gold. Despite the critics who try to drag them down, EXO trusts their intuition will lead them to paradise. The intoxicating dance track uses El Dorado in two different ways: one, as a literal destination, and two, as the uniting force between EXO members, who will face all obstacles together no matter what. Chanyeol’s rap makes reference to the group’s struggles but stitches them back together with EXO’s slogan, we are one: “In this dangerous journey, obstacles keep coming / But we’ve become one and have overcome everything / The light is getting bigger / No pain no gain, this is a world of mystery / Add all ten fingers to the circle above / We are one.”
“Growl” is known as the single that elevated EXO’s career to new heights. The song is EXO’s most popular single to date, selling over two million copies and taking home first place fourteen times on the South Korean music program circuit during its promotional period. It later received the Song of the Year awards at both the 2013 KBS Song Festival and Melon Music Awards. The funky dance-pop banger takes love to a primal level, as the members, who compare themselves to wolves, viciously growl at others who try to get too close to their girl.
“Growl” was so popular it received two music videos, both filmed in the same fashion but in different locations. The first one features the members in school boy outfits performing the dance’s slick choreography in seemingly one take, which is done by splitting the group in two so they can effortlessly pass the camera back and forth during a seamless transition. The second, released a month later, shows the members in an EXO-inspired warehouse performing the choreography, but also includes close up shots of the members’ faces as they sing.
EXO 2017’s album The War took the group’s sound in a new direction with “Ko Ko Bop,” a coastal, reggae-tinged summer track. Co-written by Chen, Baekhyun and Chanyeol, the song’s title and first line makes reference to Little Anthony & the Imperial’s 1960s hit “Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop,” but the similarities end there. The song has a refreshing sound, and its lyrics speak to feeling an instant connection with someone and spending the night dancing together. Musically, “Ko Ko Bop” features a unique, almost drilling sound in its breakdown that is reigned back in with reggae guitar and heavy bass. The song jumps from simple to chaotic at the drop of a hat, keeping the listener on their toes throughout the knockout single.
Performed at the 2018 Winter Olympics and played at the World Cup, EXO’s “Power” is a powerfully inspirational anthem that fits perfectly within large arenas. A thrilling EDM song, “Power” lyrics explain that, through the power of music, EXO and their fans become stronger together and can overcome anything that comes their way. “Power” is meant to be performed at huge stadiums and is a truly exciting, uplifting track. The song also melted the minds of EXO-L when, during an early teaser for “Power,” it was revealed that every single one of EXO’s comebacks was released on the date of an eclipse, harkening back to their MAMA era concept.
The song’s music video then shattered every music video fan theory when it was revealed that each EXO music video takes place in a different reality, meaning none of the videos are necessarily linked together. In this music video reality, EXO battle against a huge robot who has orbs that contain their super powers. Using Nerf guns and ingenuity, they’re able to destroy the robot and retrieve their abilities. Most noticeably missing throughout the video is Baekhyun, but he’s on a special quest: he finds an adorable kitten and holds it close. And look closely: the kitten has a collar featuring the letter L, signifying Baekhyun has come to protect EXO-L.
“Don’t Go” holds a special spot in every EXO-L’s heart. The sweet ballad brings a sense of nostalgia and pride to fans who have watched the band grow throughout the years. “Don’t Go” is one of the first songs EXO released that is specifically about EXO-L, and compares their fans to beautiful butterflies that flutter through their lives. Baekhyun, Suho and D.O’s vocals have grown since “Don’t Go,” but it’s wonderful to hear their youthful tones. “Please take me with you / Oh I’ll follow you even at the end of the world,” the members sing. “Don’t disappear even when the morning comes / The walk I dream of / You are my beautiful butterfly.”
There are few tunes as instantly addicting as EXO’s 2016 track, “Monster.” Composed by LDN Noise, the song’s blend of hip-hop and EDM genres shouldn’t work as well as it does, creating a booming atmosphere full of alarms that gets stuck in the listener’s head. A true master class of talent, “Monster” is a dark track about a monstrous love that completely devours a person’s heart. “I’ll play with you however I want / Play inside my hands,” the members smugly sing. “Don’t run away, you’ll forever linger near / You can call me monster.”
The music video adds an extra dimension to the song’s seductively mysterious theme, beginning with the members in dire straights. Featuring out-of-this-world choreography, devilishly stylish outfits and standout vocal and rap performances, “Monster” is a one of a kind single that illuminates why EXO are considered K-pop royalty.
Break out the tissues, EXO-L, because “Promise” takes first place on this list.
The heartbreaking ballad was penned by Chen and Chanyeol, with Lay composing and arranging the music. The track is a thank you to EXO-L who have stayed by the group’s side throughout the difficulties they faced in 2014 and 2015 after departures from Luhan, Tao and Kris. Chanyeol’s part of the track is especially tear-jerking, as he raps, “At some point, it seemed like you were crying / Even when you were smiling / You couldn’t love me with a peaceful heart / And you longed for me as you remembered the memories / My heart ached for you.”
The members, who felt powerless to take care of their hurting fans, wrote “Promise” as a vow to never leave EXO-L’s side. Each member’s voice sounds close to tears as they sing, with some devastating high notes from Chen and Lay. Though it feels like such a painful listen, “Promise” proves just how much EXO truly love their fans. “I won’t ever forget, I will make you happy,” the members swear. “Just like the saying, we are one.”