KPop Review: EXO’s ‘Growl’

Posted on September 11, 2013


So I decided to write about ‘Growl‘ prior to ‘Badman‘ just because it came out first and it was much easier to delve into than the latter. ‘Badman‘ called for intelligent commentaries and careful interpretations of the MV/lyrics, thus necessitated my active brain cells to twerk, while ‘Growl‘ on the other hand was just… pure sexual gratification. (I’m not saying that was a bad thing. At all. =D The whole thing was supposed to be  taken at face value anyway.) ‘Badman‘ stimulated me intellectually while ‘Growl‘ roused me viscerally. Both were awesome comebacks regardless.

I know writing a review of ‘Growl‘ just now is perhaps a little late since the raging hype surrounding it might have worn off already (the MV was released over a month ago and the promotion cycle ended last week), but even so, I still jam to the song and  hyperventilate like no other every time I see these twelve heartthrobs growling sexily on my screen.

When I first saw the MV back on the day it came out, I was on the verge of having a seizure due to the rush of frantic excitement in my blood. This comeback went absolutely beyond my expectations that my body was not ready for all the explosive feels. When the beat started I just knew I was on my way to cloud nine or something. Then halfway into the song I was like: “Now this is more like it, EXO! This is the kind of music you should do from now on!” It was love at first listen let me tell you, which was quite a rare occurrence nowadays seeing how K-Pop this year has churned out a bevy of generic/mediocre songs.

I think almost everyone – fans and non-fans alike – unanimously concurred that this comeback was a hundred times better than ‘Wolf‘. Understandably, as a rookie group EXO is still experimenting with various sounds/styles at such an early stage of their career,  but in the end ‘Wolf‘ was just not what worked best for them.  The composition of the song was honestly all over the place and very jumpy, which made it hard to digest. I’m glad that I gave ‘Wolf’ a second chance, though, thanks to the saving grace that was the choreography. Not everyone, unfortunately, had the same willingness to let the song grow on them. ‘Growl‘, on the contrary, was a surprising turnaround from ‘Wolf‘. I got a kick out of it right from the get-go. The song was mainly R&B with slight hip-hop overtones, which rightfully represented EXO’s best flavor. That’s exactly the genre that brings out the best in EXO. ‘Growl‘ should have been their first comeback song IMO, as opposed to ‘Wolf‘, although if it did then I’d only get my already high expectations crushed by ‘Wolf’

With a  staggering number of 12 talented members, EXO’s certainly got a lavish color palette that’s too good to be left unexplored. Their diverse vocal qualities give them a winning edge as a group, but that can only be acknowledged when they’re given a perfect fit such as this single. ‘Growl‘ was a spot-on realization of EXO’s potential. The song was richly layered with various elements and the parts were thoughtfully distributed among all the members based on their individual strengths and vocal styles. The most tangible one was definitely D.O’s part (the beginning of the second verse in both the K and M versions) which totally suited his natural R&B disposition to a tee. Another case in point was Baek Hyun’s. He got to sing the most commanding lines (in the first verse) with his charismatic vocals, which just felt appropriate. Same goes for Lu Han’s solo turn during the break in the K version. His soothing voice was just perfect for that slow, balladic part of the song. All the rap parts belonged to the rappers deservedly, and Chen was of course the one who got to conquer the highest notes with his inexhaustible vocal cords.

One of the things that placed ‘Growl‘ above ‘Wolf‘ was that even with the interspersed rap parts, the overlapping bits throughout, and the changes of tempo in the middle, ‘Growl‘ still flowed nicely from start to end. I totally loved the plentiful adlibs and harmonization in the arrangement, which just added relish to the song. The best part was during the interlude when three members came on to harmonize right after Lu Han’s solo (or D.O’s in the Chinese version), to then be followed smoothly by Chen’s melismatic adlibs over the chorus. It was such an excellent build-up.

Vocal-wise, D.O. definitely stood out in both versions. (Well this was his genre.) His voice was like butter sizzling and melting in my ears. Totally juicy. Another one who grabbed my attention was Baek Hyun. How can this cute puppy suddenly turn into a hottie who oozes burning charisma whenever he starts belting out notes? Someone tell me! My personal favorite though, was Lay at the 2:24 mark of the K version where he laid his sexy low notes over the high notes in the background. Idk why but I strangely  loved that part. I think my partiality towards Yi Xing might’ve come into play.

Yes, ‘Growl‘ was a very catchy song per se, but what was even better, it came with a complete package: attractive visuals, an impressive choreography, and overall a very neat music video. ‘Growl‘ was one of the few rare cases where the the MV truly enhanced the music to a wholesome audiovisual experience. It elevated the enjoyment of the song to a much higher level. I’m not usually one who cares about the dance or the MV of a song because those things are always secondary to me (yes, music always comes first), but ‘Growl‘ was an exception. It felt rather incomplete to listen to the song without watching the performance because the choreography was just integrated so well into the music. Every dance move was spot-on that my eyes were glued to the screen the entire video duration. I thought it was cool that they took advantage of having a lot of members by executing a complex choreography. (Otherwise having 12 members would be such a waste, wouldn’t it?) I also liked the idea of dividing the boys into 2 dance sub-units for the verses and then unifying them towards the end for the peak and the finale (such was the case with ‘Wolf‘).

Now, moving on to the fun part: the scrumptious eye candy! (Oh here comes the fangirl in me!  You’ve been warned!).

As far as the dance is concerned, it’s just impossible not to talk about the dancers: the twelve boys themselves. ERMAHGEERRD these mega adorable babies got their manly swag on and transformed into uber attractive lady-killers for this comeback. It was just too much sexy! First off, the dance moves were just too much to handle. The hat-passing, crotch-grabbing, the pelvic thrusts, and all those provocative hand gestures just gave me nosebleeds. Secondly, they were in freakin’ SUITS (and ties)! Did they not know that I’ve got a serious thing for men in uniform? Stop it with the hotness, you guys!! I loved how they went for the classy-but-still-casual look by wearing the uniforms in a slightly disheveled manner. I shall give them props for pulling off sexy without revealing much skin. (Though I sure would not mind tiny glimpses of their flat pecs or abs.)

Also, for once I thought SM did a great job styling the boys. They all looked dapper and manly in the MV, although some got the wrong hair color (*cough* Lu Han  *cough* Kris). Yes I know Lu Han is very pretty, but the pink hair was totally unwarranted. (Sorry Lulu, I think SM is against the manly image you’re trying to project.)  Blond Kris looked like an ill wolf, tbh. His face is just too fierce for anything pale. Su Ho and Xiu Min on the other hand looked fabulous with their new black do’s. Sexy bitchface Se Hun was still rocking his platinum mane (I still think he’s the only EXO member who can pull off blond hair) and I was just glad they filmed this before they turned Kai into a godawful blond mess. Generally speaking, the darker their hair is, the better they look. I’ve been reiterating this many times in my other posts in the hopes that SM will stop bleaching these poor kids’ scalp non-stop, ’cause I don’t want to see them go bald before they turn 30.

Now you put these twelve well-groomed men in a grungy vacant basement and let them sing and dance around the camera, and BAM! we get ‘Growl‘ the MV. Sounds very basic, huh? But that’s what I liked about the MV. It’s the simplicity that made it very artistic. (It was even more unadorned than ‘Wolf‘ MV since it was filmed entirely on one set.) Again, the Miesian tenet “Less is more” was applied here. (Wait, whut?! Please pardon the architect in me ;P) The concept of ‘Growl‘ rested in the advanced choreography and that was exactly what they intended to focus on in the MV: just the boys doing the choreo. (A lame analogy to this would be a very conceptual site model where everything is monochrome except your featured building. Sorry that just came to mind.) For that very reason SM’s typical box sets work best for them. You get to appreciate the pretty with minimal distractions.

The camera work was quite something else with all the panning, zooming and rotating techniques involved. I thought it was brilliant how the cameraman and the boys fluidly moved around each other in a very casual, interactive way to get certain members highlighted by turns. The fact that the whole thing was taken in one continuous shot made this MV feel even more seamless and smooth. I also loved how they employed hardly any editing or effects that would otherwise detract from the simplicity and the rawness of the MV. The only thing that I didn’t get was the flickering lights. They gave me a terrible headache and totally got in the way of my fangirling enjoyment.

Speaking of the MV, I liked the K version more than the M version bc the Chinese version was just noticeably sloppier. (They prolly did the Korean first then ran on fumes for the Chinese one). Also, the line distribution in the K version was more preferable for me. I know that there are actually four different MV’s of ‘Growl‘ SM has uploaded by now, but the original one (the one I’ve been referring to this entire post) is still the best to me. The dance practice videos were as enjoyable, though, particularly the M version. (I couldn’t take my eyes off freakin’ Yi Xing in a hoodie and tight pants! Unicorn was in full-on sexy mode! *implodes)

I think I should just end my long-ass incoherent review here. 5/5 for ‘Growl‘.

Below are the K version of the original MV and the M version of the dance practice. They’re addictive, I swear. (I had to watch several times to catch the interesting details like the so-called ghost and the members’ little mistakes.)

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Posted in: EXO, K-Pop