EXO Comeback Review: “Power”

EXO is going all in on their superpower idea, and my not-so-inner geek is absolutely loving it. Aside from “Mama,” most references to their debut concept have been pretty subtle. Music videos like “Lucky One” and “Ko Ko Bop” were more on the artsy side, hinting at their elemental abilities through cool visual techniques. So I was surprised – and thrilled – that this latest comeback brings their powers front and center.  “Power” is a clear homage to geek culture: comic books, video games, and pretty much every sci-fi movie and show we grew up with.  It’s flashy and borderline kitschy, but it’s also a lot of fun – especially for EXO-Ls.

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*WARNING!* This review assumes the reader has listened to the song and/or seen the music video!

Song
Lyrics
Line Distribution
Choreography
Center/Formations
Music Video
Styling
Final Tally

MUSIC

SONG:

Synth is definitely the standout element in “Power.”  It starts and ends the song, and it also drives important sections like the chorus and the bridge. There’s a bit too much for my personal tastes, but it really accentuates the beat and turns it into a solid dance track. It also gives the song a distinct sound that manages to be retro and futuristic at the same time. “Power” reminds me of old school arcade games (specifically the ones that make those “pew pew pew” sounds) and sci-fi movies, making it a perfect soundtrack for the outer-spaced themed music video we’ll see later.

I have to admit, “Power” isn’t my favorite EXO track.  I’ve gotten more used to techno and EDM over the years, but it still isn’t really my thing. It gets dangerously close to being too repetitive and one-note.  It’s also the complete opposite of “Ko Ko Bop” both musically and aesthetically, which has the unfortunate effect of highlighting its weaknesses. “Ko Ko Bop” was so laid back and chill that “Power” seems flashy and almost gimmicky in comparison. That being said, it’s definitely an earworm. I was on the fence when I first heard it, but I still ended up singing “We got that power” by the time it finished.  I think EXO-Ls are more open to “Power,” than casual listeners, but I’m willing to bet there are some non-fans out there who enjoy it.

SCORE: 17/20

LYRICS:

“Power” might seem all fun and games, but there’s actually a very significant message behind it. It talks about how music brings people together and makes them stronger, giving them – you guessed it – power:

“We got that power, power
Through this music when we sing with one voice
Power, power
We become stronger, turn the music up now”

This is something I think we can all relate to.  My iPod is constantly playing, whether I’m out and about or working at home.  Listening to music is such a habit that it’s easy to forget just how much it influences us.  It can dictate our emotions – if you’ve ever cried during a movie, I guarantee it’s partially because of the music (thanks, film school).  It brings us comfort when we’re going through hard times, and the lyrics can help us voice feelings we struggle to articulate.  (Flashback to high school when I would sing/cry to Avril Lavigne after my very first breakup). And most importantly for “Power,” music helps us forge connections with others.

I’ve traveled all over Europe, and I literally hear American Top 40 songs everywhere I go. I even heard High School Musical in a store in China once. That and K-Pop’s growing popularity worldwide prove you don’t need to understand the lyrics to enjoy a song.  Music can cross language barriers, and sometimes even cultural ones. EXO isn’t exactly not on a soapbox calling for change here; they’re just trying to cheer us up.  But just because their delivery is light-hearted doesn’t mean we should ignore the importance of their message.  It’s a gentle reminder that people across the globe listen to the same songs to feel better in this dangerous and scary world, and sometimes that’s all we need.

SCORE: 9/10

LINE DISTRIBUTION:

“Power” is fairly easy to sing because there aren’t any high notes, so the line distribution ends up being fairly even. The song is pretty much split between the five vocalists, with D.O. and Chen getting slightly more.  I’m a little surprised that Kai wasn’t included in the mix, seeing as Chanyeol got some singing parts.  But he does get his own special solo dance, so I guess it evens out.  I’m used to my bias Sehun getting the short end of the stick by now, but at least he has a couple more English catchphrases to add to his repertoire.

SCORE: 9/10

***

PERFORMANCE

CHOREOGRAPHY:

Power-Turn-the-Music-UpTo be honest, I’m not that wild about this choreography.  EXO has had some iconic dances over the years, and “Power” seems a little weak in comparison to greats like “Growl” and “Call Me Baby.”  It just doesn’t really have a wow factor.  That being said, there are several things that I like about it.  For one, I think it fits really well with the song. “Power” has a bit of an old school sound to it, so I like that there’s some old school dancing – especially with the footwork and all those kick steps.  I also enjoy the clever visual references to DJ-ing and listening to music.

Power-Point-DanceThese days, K-Pop dances are engineered to be as difficult and jaw-dropping as possible – especially for boy groups.  But they were originally meant to have point choreographies that fans can learn. “Power” is one of those songs that people should be able to dance along to, and it’s nice that the dance caters to that.  While the verses are still hard, the chorus simplifies things. There are clear and distinct point moves that everyone can enjoy, and it’s really easy to pick up. EXO is usually at the forefront of difficult boy group choreographies, so I appreciate that they’re changing things up this time around.

The best part about the “Power” dance isn’t even choreographed: it’s all the interactions between the members. K-Pop idols are more accessible than ever these days, and it’s completely normal for fans to watch dozens of videos of their favorites.  But we don’t have quite the same experience with EXO, and it’s actually quite rare to see them on variety shows.  That fun dorky side to them is there, but you usually have to be really dedicated to find it.  “Power” is the most fun I’ve ever seen them have onstage, and I’m living for it.  It’s those small but authentic touches that make the dance so special.

SCORE: 18/20

CENTER AND FORMATIONS:

EXO’s goal with “Power” is to entertain the audience and show how much fun they’re having, so they keep it pretty simple with the formations. Though we all miss Lay, eight is a nice amount to have when it comes to staging.  There are a lot of members so the stage will be filled, and it’s an even number so the lines will be balanced.  It’s also easy to break into smaller groups, which they do several times throughout the dance. And if you want to put someone in the middle, you just put the eighth member behind him to keep the symmetry.

Like many EXO songs, Kai is the de facto center.  Normally I enjoy watching EXO as a whole, but this dance really shows off Kai’s natural talents. He’s an amazing dancer and a born performer, but we’re so used to seeing him in that middle spot that we forget just how good he is.  But the “Power” dance allows him to have fun and let loose a little, and my eyes just gravitate to him.  He just shines, and I’m glad he got a solo part.

Power-Kai-Dance-Solo

SCORE: 9/10

***

VISUAL ASPECTS

MUSIC VIDEO:

Power-ChanyeolThe music video for “Power” is by far the best part of the entire comeback. The plot is easy to grasp, even if you’re not that familiar with EXO: their superpowers have been stolen by a giant robot, and they’re trying to get them back in an all out battle on a desolate planet. It’s pretty entertaining, and you don’t need to know the group well to enjoy it at surface level. But for dedicated fans of EXO, there are so many goodies and little details to look for.  It’s a veritable gold mine.

Power-D.O.Like the choreography, the music video is filled with fun moments.  Each member of EXO has a distinct character, or is at the very least playing up a certain personality.  Sometimes it’s a bit of a stretch from the image we associate the member with, like the normally serious and reserved D.O. being a clumsy scaredy-cat.  Other times it’s a pretty close match to what we think he’s like, such as Chen being the cool-headed one and saving everyone else.  But whether it’s Suho putting on his glasses and fainting at the sight of the robot or Xiumin messing around and getting himself electrocuted, it’s all hilarious.  We rarely get to see EXO’s goofy side, so this music video is a special treat.

K-Pop fans love to play detective, and EXO-Ls always have plenty of theories about how  EXO’s music videos are connected.  “Power” doesn’t disappoint, throwing in multiple hints to past releases like “Mama,” “Love Me Right,” and even one of their Christmas songs.  There’s also a cat with an L on its collar, a nod to EXO-Ls themselves (I used to think it was supposed to be Lay but that literally makes no sense hahaha) Halfway through the video the cat gets button-happy, cycling the members through different dimensions and turning them into cartoons. It’s not necessarily a direct confirmation of everything the fans have put together, but it’s enough to get everyone excited.

Power-BaekhyunAnd like any good story video, “Power” leaves us wanting a little bit more.  There’s a bit of a side story with Baekhyun, who’s missing for most of the music video and shows up at the end.  The teaser showed the robot didn’t have his light power, but what’s the backstory? Is he coming in to save the others? Was he just hiding out until they got their powers back?  And why is he always separate from the rest of them?  The ending of the music video shows him falling into the ocean, which also raises a bunch of questions.  I’m inclined to think it’s a reference to “Ko Ko Bop,” which saw them all grounded on Earth without their powers.  But part of me hopes it’s a hint of more to come.

Power-Cartoon-StyleHaving a solid story is good, but the aesthetic is what makes the music video.  The effects and CGI are a little cheesy, but the solid color palette really gives it a sci-fi movie feel. There are also so many great pop culture references.  The opening kind of looks like Star Wars, with the shot of the stars and the dramatic narration (it’s also a throwback to their debut with “MAMA”). The battleground gives off some serious Tron vibes with that grid. At one point, the members transform into animated characters you could easily see on Cartoon Network or Disney. Suho even has a single curl in on his forehead like Superman.  There’s just so much to enjoy, fan or not.

Power-Superpowers

SCORE: 19/20

STYLING:

I really like the styling for this comeback. SM is known for giving their artists some pretty outlandish outfits (sorry NCT), but the outfits are pretty low-key here – especially in their performances.  Though there’s a futuristic aesthetic, the production design lets it show more in the effects and the setting. They’re smart enough to keep EXO’s clothes on the subtle side so that they don’t compete. My favorite part is how each member has a personalized ensemble, from a touch in their makeup (Chanyeol’s red eye or Sehun’s eye design) to the type of gun they hold. It’s just enough to give an impression, but it’s not over the top.

Power-EXO-Members

STYLE MVP: Chen.  He doesn’t always get the best styling, but when he does it’s fantastic.

Power-Chen

SCORE: 9/10

***

FINAL TALLY:

Song – 17
Lyrics – 9
Line Distribution – 9
Choreography – 18
Center and Formations – 9
Music Video – 19
Styling – 9

TOTAL: 90

CONCLUSION: While I gave “Power” a high score, I think lot of it is due to EXO being my favorite boy group.  I know that it’s not their greatest hit, and I also know that a different group with the same song wouldn’t have done half as well. But I’m giving them a lot of slack because this isn’t a side that they show us that often. The members of EXO are crazy busy, even for K-Pop idols – they spend at least three quarters of their year touring or promoting.  Not to mention that they have little to no personal life, and that they face a huge amount of backlash if they do.  When they appeared on Party People, the audience literally whined every time they mentioned wanting to settle down or even having hypothetical children.

I mention this because that appearance was a huge eye opener for me. Idol life looks fun and glamorous, and part of it probably is. But it really does come at a cost, especially when you’re the biggest K-Pop group of the moment. I actually almost cried when Suho was singing about how lonely he felt, and when D.O. said that he feels like he can’t do certain things. It’s no surprise that we don’t usually see them acting light and carefree like other groups, even though they’re most likely not that different. So will “Power” largely only appeal to a certain set of people, myself included?  Probably.  But if it shows EXO having fun and goofing off, I’ll take it.

SOURCES: SM Entertainment, Wikipedia, Youtube, KSHOWONLINE, Soompi, Tumblr

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