EXO’s Elusive Debut: A Closer Look at Their Debut

The year was 2012 and SM Entertainment was beginning what seemed to be a promising year. Riding off the success of its already established groups, SM was gearing up to showcase its newest project. A new boy group was in the works and the company was slowly teasing it.

The Journey to EXO Plant

The long journey of EXO began on Dec. 23, 2011, when SM posted the first teaser for the group. A short minute and a half video of member Kai dancing to an R&B song with smooth vocals. This would set the precedent for teasers to come. In total, SM released 23 teasers over the span of 4 months. Introducing and showcasing all 12 members. All the teasers were about the same runtime and featured different songs in them. The songs were sung by the vocal line of the group. Every video ended with the group’s logo and the member’s name as well as a message that read “from Planet EXO.”

The questions on everyone’s mind were: What exactly was Planet EXO? How did it relate to the group? And what was SM doing? All these questions and more would be answered in due time. In the meantime, more promotional images and teasers were churning out. A prerelease music video for “What Is Love” was released in January. The music video showcased all 12 members as well as the unique sound of the group. There were 2 versions of the song, one in Korean and one in Mandarin. The music video pieced together clips from the teasers to create one product. The video ended with a group picture that had an ominous eclipse over them. The video provided zero answers about Planet EXO and what it was. But that would all change soon.

The Debut

On April 8, 2012 EXO released the music video for their debut song “MAMA”. It was a fantastic song that showcased the group’s vocals and performance abilities. But what made this music video stand out was the backstory included at the beginning of the music video. It told a grandiose story about 12 individuals who would come together and create a new world. Cue the start of the song. 12 cloaked figures approached a stage of some sort and chanting began. The video was very impressive for the time filled with a lot of visual effects.

The two videos had some major differences. The Korean version focused on EXO-K and its members while the EXO-M members were just small cameos. The Mandarin version had the roles reversed focusing on EXO-M. Finally, we had some answers as to what they were. Turns out EXO were aliens with each member having a unique superpower. These were showcased in the video. The outfits worn throughout the video gave off a neo-futuristic vibe with a lot of sequins and metallic colors. The boy band from outer space had arrived from Planet EXO and made waves through the Hallyu scene.

Their Impact

Being from SM Entertainment, their success was somewhat guaranteed. At the time, the stigma around being in one of The Big 3 companies was at an all-time high. Everyone expected big things from EXO but sadly their success in Korea was only moderate and in China, things weren’t going well either. However, the fans were loyal and dedicated to supporting EXO no matter what. Everyone was waiting for their next comeback and wanted to see where the story of EXO was going to go.

However, three months turned to 6 months and then the fans got nothing. There was no news coming from EXO. It wouldn’t be until almost a whole year later that we’d get news of a comeback. If EXO had been part of any other company they wouldn’t have survived as they did. Imagine a 4th generation group taking a year-long break after their debut. They would’ve been forgotten and everyone would have moved on.

EXO, a 12-member boy band, hit the scene back in 2012. Sure, having 12 members isn’t something unique. Super Junior, another group under SM, once had 13 members. However, what made this one stand out was what SM had planned for them. Most K-Pop groups tend to eventually promote overseas, mainly in Japan. When this occurs, the entire group goes and promotes new music and Japanese versions of their Korean tracks. SM wanted to take things to the next level and formed two separate groups.

Both groups would promote the same music however one would promote it in Korea and the other in China. SM was trying to do the unimaginable and break into the Chinese market. Nothing like this had been done before. Once again, SM pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be a K-Pop Star. The intricate storyline they had created surrounding Planet EXO and the members’ superpowers was fascinating. It was as if they were trying to create their own universe for them, a precursor to the SMCU.

Sadly these plans fell through for various reasons, mainly the lineup changes after some members left EXO. However, every now and then nods to the members’ powers do show up here and there. I would like to end this article with two questions. Had it not been for the members leaving, where do you think the storyline would have gone? How would it fit into the SMCU? Leave your answers in the comment section below. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this as well as on EXO’s unique debut.

Be sure to check out our EXO Evolution video on our YouTube!

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