It is a 90-degree July day in Seoul, and the air is thick with unfallen rain. Still, the concrete steps leading up to the World Cup Stadium are swarming with boys and girls in black baseball jerseys armed with clear plastic ponchos and posters, paper boxes packed with sweet fried chicken and sour pickles. It is the sixth edition of SM Town Live, a summer concert series put on by SM Entertainment to showcase the company’s impressive roster of K-pop stars—icons such as BoA and Yunho of TVXQ, Girls’ Generation and Shinee. Yet the main event is without a doubt EXO, the reigning kings of K-pop, who are there to close one chapter of their career and kick off the next with a new album and look to match.
Calling them kings is controversial. It stirs up rival factions (the band’s new album is titled The War), and internationally, that designation is up for debate. But in Korea, the beating heart of K-pop fandom, the nine-member boy band remains at the top. Last year they won five daesangs (Korea’s biggest music award, roughly equivalent to album or artist of the year), one of which they had won for the fourth consecutive time. The band celebrated its five-year anniversary in April with a live video broadcast that drew 80,000 viewers in less than two minutes. The next month, they played two nights at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium; seating some 70,000, it is the country’s largest venue and only four K-pop groups, including EXO, have ever played there. Both shows sold out in under 30.
For years, their status has remained relatively unchallenged, but it is difficult for anyone at the top to stay there. EXO also struggles with the perception that they are too perfect, a manufactured pop act without much personality. Korean boy groups also have to deal with the country’s mandatory military enlistment policy, which effectively puts a two-year pause on their careers that is hard to bounce back from. It is one reason why this particular comeback is so crucial for EXO, and why they chose to dramatically change course. “Ko Ko Bop,” the lead single and sole video to be released from The War, is the aesthetic opposite of the band’s previous summer single, “Monster.” Musically, it combines EDM and reggae. It is a sun-soaked song with a distinct “tropical” vibe, and that sharp tonal shift is most clearly communicated through the clothes.
The starting point for the video’s style was The Talented Mr. Ripley, specifically the rich, disaffected Dickie Greenleaf, played by a young Jude Law, as he lazes about the Italian coast. “Ko Ko Bop” reimagines the eight singers (Lay, the group’s only remaining Chinese member, was unable to participate in this album due to his “schedule”) as younger, more fashion-forward versions of Dickie. Sehun wears a Saint Laurent Hawaiian shirt from Spring 2017, covered in retro pop surfboards and station wagons; his hair has been dyed and spiked to resemble a Bird of Paradise. Chanyeol has hair the color of tropical punch and has thrown a white Céline blouse with watercolor blooms over a Saint Laurent logo tee; Baekhyun appears in Valentino, a mustard ikat Etro blazer, and a red mullet. A matching pair of palm tree–dotted All Saints shirts make the rounds on almost all members, loosely swapped around to convey the shoot’s trippy, drug-fueled vacation vibe (a bit odd, considering Korea’s anti-drug culture). All said, it continues EXO’s tradition of slowly pushing the boundaries of K-pop men’s fashion.
The band began honing their singular take on style two years ago with the song, “Call Me Baby.” Before that, they were generally clothed in matching suits or tees plucked off the racks of Boon the Shop and other local boutiques, a one-size-fits-all solution that emphasized their uniformity. In 2015, however, they found a way to bring out each member’s personality by tailoring what they wore in each shoot. More importantly, they began to source designers that K-pop stars were not wearing at the time. Back then, when singers wore high-end fashion, they generally went with big name, easily shoppable brands—Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton. EXO reached instead for labels fashion people love: Pieces by Raf Simons, Dries Van Noten, archival Helmut Lang. These were mixed with Korean designers, including custom suits from Heich Es Heich, and eventually, a few items from their personal collections—a surprising move. K-pop bands, EXO included, are known for casting off and slipping on new identities with each album. To let a bit of their personal taste shine through, no matter how small, felt like a change.
It is a sartorial mix that has influenced the rest of the industry and reflects the country’s growing emphasis on individual style, which took centerstage on their Exo’rdium world tour, where the above photos were shot. Below, they reflect on the band’s evolution and their own. Kai prefers simple pieces from A.P.C.; D.O., all-black workwear from American heritage brands. Chanyeol is passionate about streetwear—Vetements, Balenciaga, Supreme, Gosha—and he recently confessed to keeping the tags on his clothes for a month, unable to tear them off. Moments like this are thrilling; they feel intimate and authentic, a real flash of expression through fashion. There’s no better way to begin again.
regarding the Italian entry for Eurovision Song Contest 2017, I’d like to tell you what the song is about. I’ve been reading a looot of comments, people yelling “cultural appropriation” and “racism” which are two very importants problems in our society.
The song is called “Occidentali’s Karma” and it’s by Francesco Gabbani.
“Occidentali” of course is not an English word, it’s Italian and it means “Westeners”. So the title is basically “Westeners’ Karma”. (I might also explain why this anglicism in particular but then the post would be too long)
Because the whole song is a CRITIC to Western misuse (and abuse) of wisdom, religions, concepts that belong to Oriental cultures.
The song mocks all those people that act all spiritual and stuff but don’t go deep enough to understand a culture, or a religion. The words you hear in the song, and that make you angry because you think it’s wrong that he, a white Italian guy, is singing them, are actually quotes. He’s not making fun of a culture when he says Namaste: he’s quoting those who get tattoos of stuff they don’t get and that say random foreign words just to be cool, and yes, he’s making fun of those people.
He’s basically saying; “look at us, we go look for wisdom in Orient and we come back quoting stuff to look cool and enlightened but in the end we’re all “naked apes” dancing (he literally says “La Scimmia Nuda”, ahem https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Naked_Ape)
He’s not an idiot. He knows what he’s singing about. He knows the importance of the many Oriental cultures and religions and he also knows those people who act like “web’s know-it-all” (”i tuttologi del web”, as he says in the song) and pretend to be experts of those cultures, because they had a yoga lesson once or because they eat sushi every Friday. He talks about evolution, he uses scientific and religious terms as someone who’s trying to look cool would use them. (Namaste? Aleeeè!) (ever been to a footbal match? Aleeee alee aleee aleeee) (same thing)
I KNOW that cultural appropriation is a very important problem, but Francesco Gabbani knows too and he’s basically as pissed as you are, and he made a good song about it.
I know that if you don’t speak Italian and look at the lyrics you’d start screaming, but instead of using, idk, google translate (which is terrible when it comes to Italian, go ask my high school professors who still yell at the students who use it for their homework), ask us to translate it. Ask us what the hell is the talking about. what people is he talking about.
And that said, see you at Eurovision, come dance with us