Exo (Korean: 엑소; stylized as EXO) is a South Korean-Chinese boy group based in Seoul. Formed by S.M. Entertainment in 2011, the group debuted in 2012 with twelve members separated into two subgroups, Exo-K (Suho, Baekhyun, Chanyeol, D.O., Kai, and Sehun) and Exo-M (Xiumin, Lay, Chen and former members Kris, Luhan and Tao [fn 1] ), performing music in Korean and Mandarin respectively. Exo’s first album XOXO (2013), which contained the breakthrough hit “Growl”, was a critical and commercial success, winning both Disk Daesang at the 28th Golden Disk Awards and Album of the Year at the 15th Mnet Asian Music Awards. It sold over one million copies, making Exo the best-selling Korean artist in twelve years. Subsequent albums and EPs continued with strong sales, and Exo were ranked the most influential celebrity by Forbes Korea Power Celebrity for the year 2014 and 2015. They have been named “the biggest boyband in the world” by media outlets, saying that “EXO are at the forefront of pop domination, with knife-point choreography seamlessly gelled to songs crafted by some of the world’s most gifted writers and producers, honed by their myriad of personalities and talents.”
In May 2014, Kris filed a lawsuit against S.M. Entertainment to be removed from the group. Luhan followed suit in October 2014. In April 2015, Tao suspended his activities and subsequently followed suit in August 2015. Following their departures, Exo carried on with nine members. In July 2016, it was announced that the lawsuit between Luhan, Kris, and S.M. Entertainment had been settled: the two idols will maintain their contract with SM until 2022, S.M. Entertainment will contract out their work outside of Korea and Japan—i.e. to their current Chinese agencies—and they will “share related revenues with S.M. Entertainment”.
In May 2011, at a Hallyu business seminar held at Stanford University, Lee Soo-man spoke about a strategy of debuting a new boyband, in which they would be divided into 2 subgroups, promoting the same music simultaneously in South Korea and China by performing songs in both Korean and Mandarin. After several member changes, in December 2011, the group finalized their name to Exo, taken from the word exoplanet. They are divided into two subgroups, Exo-K (‘K’ for Korean) for South Korea and Exo-M (‘M’ for Mandarin) for China. They debuted their first televised performance at SBS‘s annual Gayo Daejun event on December 29, 2011.
2012: Debut and Mama
Exo-K and Exo-M’s prologue single “What Is Love” was released on January 30, 2012, in mainland China and South Korea. The single peaked at number 88 on South Korea’s Gaon Single Chart. On March 9, the group released their second prologue single “History“, which was written and produced by Thomas Troelsen and Remee. The single peaked at number 68 on the Gaon Single Chart and number six on China’s Sina Music Chart.
A concert for the group was held in Seoul’s Olympic Stadium on March 31. Approximately 3,000 fans from 8,000 applicants were selected to attend. A second concert was held in the Great Hall of the Beijing University of International Business and Economics on April 1.
Exo-K and Exo-M released their debut single, “Mama“, on April 8 followed by an EP Mama, on April 9. The two sub-groups would be promoting the album separately in two countries. On April 8, Exo-K performed on South Korea’s music program The Music Trend, while Exo-M made their debut in China’s Top Chinese Music Awards on the same day. The mandarin version of Mama reached number two on China’s Sina Album Chart, while the Korean album peaked at number one on the Gaon Album Chart and number eight on the Billboard World Albums Chart. The mandarin version of “Mama” music video reached number one on Chinese streaming websites, while the Korean version reached number seven on YouTube’s Global Chart. In late April, Exo-M performed as a guest act for Super Junior‘s Super Show 4 concert tour in Jakarta, Indonesia.
In November, Exo won Best New Asian Artist Group at the 2012 Mnet Asian Music Awards. Exo-K received three nominations at the 27th Golden Disk Awards, winning the Newcomer Award. Exo-M received the Most Popular Group Award at the 2013 Top Chinese Music Awards.
2013: XOXO, commercial success, and Miracles in December
The group’s first studio album, XOXO was released on June 2013 with two versions, a Korean-language “Kiss” edition and a Mandarin-language “Hug” edition. Unlike Mama era when Exo-K and Exo-M had separate promotions, XOXO was jointly promoted; mainly in South Korea. Exo recorded together for the album’s lead single, “Wolf“, but the rest of the album tracks were recorded separately. The two versions collectively peaked at number one on the Billboard World Album Chart a week after release.
A repackaged version of XOXO, titled Growl, was released on August 5, 2013 with three additional tracks. The reissue’s lead single, “Growl“, was released on August 1, 2013. “Growl” achieved 10,554 points on The Music Trend charts, setting a new number one record on the show. “Growl” reached number one on all four of Korea’s major music programs, winning a total of ten trophies in three consecutive weeks. The single peaked at number three on Billboard‘s Korea K-Pop Hot 100 and number two on the Gaon‘s Singles chart. As of December 2013, all versions of XOXO have collectively sold over 1,000,000 copies, making Exo the first Korean artist to sell over a million copies of one album in twelve years and breaking the record for being the fastest-selling K-pop act. XOXO was named Album of the Year at the 2013 Mnet Asian Music Awards, making Exo the youngest ever boy band to win the award. XOXO is the best selling album in South Korea of 2013, winning the Disk Daesang Award at various award ceremonies like the Golden Disk Awards and Seoul Music Awards.
Exo’s second EP Miracles in December was officially released December 9, 2013 as a special winter album through South Korean commercial outlets and online music stores. Exo jump-started album promotions through their reality show Exo’s Showtime, which premiered on November 28, 2013 on the cable channel MBC Every 1. Baekhyun, Chen, and D.O. performed the EP’s lead single, “Miracles in December”, at M! Countdown on December 5. Luhan also joined the trio on stage for the lead single’s promotions on other music broadcast programs.
Exo ended 2013 with six albums in the Gaon’s Yearly Top 10 Best-Selling Albums, including all their 2013 album releases in both the Korean and Chinese version as well as their debut EP Mama.
2014: Overdose, Kris’ and Luhan’s lawsuits, and first solo concert
Exo’s third EP, Overdose, was released on May 7, 2014. Originally scheduled to be released on April 21, the album was delayed due to the Sewol Ferry Accident on April 16. Overdose was promoted similarly to Mama, with Exo-M promoting primarily in China and Exo-K in South Korea. The album reached 660,000+ preorders before its release, making it the most pre-ordered mini-album in history. The Korean edition also peaked at No. 2 on Billboard‘s World Albums Chart, and No. 129 on the “Billboard 200“, making Exo the highest charting Korean male group act on the Billboard 200. Overdose became the best selling album in South Korea of 2014 and was the first mini album to top the yearly charts and win the Album of the Year Award at Mnet Asian Music Awards. By the end of the calendar year, Exo was Japan’s biggest-selling K-pop artist of the year.
On May 15, 2014, S.M. Entertainment confirmed that Exo-M’s leader, Kris, had filed a lawsuit against the agency to terminate his contract, stating violation of human rights as the main reason. On October 10, Exo-M’s Luhan also filed a lawsuit against S.M. Entertainment to nullify his contract, because of health issues and being treated differently than the Korean members, therefore having no promotions.
S.M. Entertainment announced that Exo would continue to promote with 10 members. The group held their first solo concert “Exo from Exoplanet ＃1 – The Lost Planet” starting May 24 at the Seoul Olympic Gymnasium. Tickets for the concert sold out in 1.47 seconds, breaking the record for the fastest sold out concert by a Korean artist.
2015: Exodus, Tao’s lawsuit, Japanese debut and Sing For You
Exo’s second solo concert was announced in January 2015 entitled Exo Planet ＃2 – The Exo’luxion. Five concerts were held in Seoul at the Olympic Park Stadium starting March 7. 1.2 million fans had attempted to buy tickets online. On February 4, 2015, S.M Entertainment filed a counter-suit against Kris and Luhan for illegally continuing their promotions in China. The lawsuit was to stop their acting and advertisement under the use of the S.M trademark.
Exo’s second studio album, Exodus, was released on March 30, 2015 in both Korean and Mandarin versions. Domestic pre-sales for the album surpassed 500,000 within 24 hours, setting a new record for pre-sales. The title track “Call Me Baby” was released early on March 27, due to leaked versions of the song. The music videos were released 4 days later, with the Korean version later becoming the most wached K-pop music video in the first half of 2015. Exo also starred in their own mini drama series titled Exo Next Door, which became the most watched Korean web drama in 2015 until later being surpassed by member Xiumin‘s web drama, Falling for Challenge. “Call Me Baby” proved to be successful, winning eighteen times on music shows, making it the second most awarded song of all times. The album’s Korean version also broke records after staying at number one on the album chart for four consecutive weeks. Exodus eventually went on to sell over a million copies, and is the group’s second album after XOXO to do so. It was named Album of the Year at the 2015 Mnet Asian Music Awards, making this the third consecutive win in this category for the group since 2013. In May, Exo broke the record on U.S. Billboard 200 as the highest ranking Korean artist, topping at 90th place. Exo also entered the Canadian Billboard Hot 100 chart at number 98, making them the first K-pop group and second Korean artist to enter the Canadian chart.
On April 22, member Tao’s father posted a letter through Weibo expressing his sentiments for his son to withdraw from the group and return to China; due to lack of support concerning individual career developments and health issues. Tao had previously sustained several injuries which had not been properly treated that worsened and caused him to be absent during promotions for the group’s second studio album Exodus. On April 23, S.M. Entertainment released an official statement saying that they would be “seeking a solution in a developmental direction” by negotiating with Tao and his father. Tao later confirmed that he had left S.M. Entertainment and after failed negotiations, Tao filed an official lawsuit against S.M. Entertainment on August 24 for the termination of his exclusive contract.
On June 3, a repackaged version of Exodus, titled Love Me Right, was released. This edition contains the original tracks from Exodus and four new songs, including the title track “Love Me Right“. Due to Tao’s absence, the group promoted the song as 9 members. On October 10, Exo became the first artist to hold a dome concert in South Korea with “Exo – Love Concert in Dome” at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. Tickets for the event went on sale on September 21, causing the server to crash for over 50 minutes from high demand. In preparation for the concert, S.M. Entertainment also released Exo’s first official light stick, which features a black wand topped with Exo’s logo which displays a white light. 20,000 fans attended the concert.
On November 4, Exo released their debut Japanese single “Love Me Right ~romantic universe~”, which contains the Japanese version of “Love Me Right” and an original Japanese song titled “Drop That”. On the day of its release, the single sold a total of 147,000 copies and reached the top of the Oricon chart, becoming the best selling debut single in Japan by a Korean artist of all time. As part of the Exo’luxion tour, Exo performed for 145,000 fans at the Tokyo Dome from November 6–8, breaking the record for the shortest amount of time since debut to hold a concert at this venue. On November 9, Exo released a special single titled “Lightsaber” to promote the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens ahead of its release in South Korea, as part of the collaboration between S.M. Entertainment and Walt Disney.
On December 10, Exo released their second winter special album and forth extended play Sing for You along with double title tracks “Sing for You” and “Unfair”. The album broke the record for the highest first week sales for a Korean artist by selling 267,900 copies in its first week. “Unfair” also became the first K-pop song to be featured in the “best of the week” playlist by Apple Music, while Exo became the first Korean artist to be appear on the Apple Music homepage. Part of the profits from the album was reportedly donated to UNICEF‘s “Smile For U” campaign to support the musical education of children in Asia. Near the end of 2015, prominent South Korean entertainment industry leaders ranked Exo at number 7, the highest of any K-pop artist, in the top ten pop culture leaders of 2015.
2016: North American tour, Ex’Act, Kris’ and Luhan’s departures, For Life
In February 2016, Exo held the North American leg of The Exo’luxion tour in Dallas, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New Jersey, playing to over 41,000 people. The same month, Exo were again ranked as the most powerful celebrity by Forbes Korea Power Celebrity for the year 2015.
In March, they completed their second solo concert tour Exo Planet 2 – The Exo’luxion with 3 performances in Seoul to over 42,000 people. With a total of over 740,000 tickets sold across 44 concerts in 12 countries, it was their largest tour to date.
Exo’s third studio album, Ex’Act, along with its singles “Lucky One” and “Monster”, were released on June 9, 2016 in both Korean and Mandarin versions. Domestic pre-sales for the album surpassed 660,000, making it the most pre-ordered K-pop album of all time. The album later broke the record for the highest first week sales of a Korean album, breaking their previous record set by Sing For You, by selling 522,372 copies in one week. The album also went on to top the United World Albums Chart. “Monster” became Exo’s first number one on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart, while “Lucky One” debuted at number 3. As part of their Ex’Act promotions, Exo and Korean fashion magazine W Korea collaborated on “Exoclusive”, a project to publish a 54-page, nine-cover edition of the magazine. “Exoclusive” ended up recording the highest number of sales as a fashion magazine in Korea after selling nearly a million copies. On July 15, S.M. Entertainment and Putto Entertainment released Exo’s official mobile game Exorun.
On July 21, Kris and Luhan officially parted ways with Exo as their contractual disputes with S.M. Entertainment drew to a close. On July 22, Exo embarked on their third solo concert tour, Exo Planet ＃3 – The Exo’rdium. In preparation for the tour, S.M. Entertainment announced the release of Exo’s second official light stick. The new light stick featured a white wand with Exo’s official logo on top that displays a multi-color changing light. After holding concerts from July 22 until July 24 and July 29 until July 31 with over 84,000 attendees, Exo established a record as the first artist to hold as many as six consecutive concerts at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena. On August 18, a repackaged edition for Ex’Act, titled Lotto, was released. It contained the original tracks from Ex’Act along with four new songs including the single of the same name. “Lotto” became Exo’s second number one on the Billboard World Digital Songs Chart and peaked at number 2 on Gaon’s Digital Chart. Lotto’s Korean and Chinese versions reached number 1 and 2 respectively on Gaon’s Album Chart. Within two months of its original release, Ex’Act sold over 1.17 million copies, honoring Exo with the title of “Triple Million Sellers”.
In September, Exo appeared on Infinite Challenge and collaborated with Yoo Jae-suk on a dance song titled “Dancing King”, which was released as part of S.M. Entertainment’s music project Station. The song reached number 2 on South Korea’s Gaon Digital Chart and number 3 on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart.
On December 7, Exo’s second Japanese single “Coming Over“, containing three original tracks, was released. It reached number 2 on the weekly Oricon Chart, selling over 158,000 copies and became their second Japanese single album to receive a Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of Japan. Their third winter album and fifth extended play For Life was released on December 19. They did not engage in promotions for the album or it’s single “For Life”, and as of 2017 it had sold over 442,000 copies. It was revealed at the end of 2016 that during the year, the group had sold 2.13 million albums including solos and sub-units.
2017: Olympic Stadium
On March 30, it was announced that Exo would conclude their third solo concert tour, Exo Planet ＃3 – The Exo’rdium, with 2 encore concerts on May 27 and 28 at Seoul Olympic Stadium, the largest stadium in South Korea. They will be just the 5th and youngest kpop artist to hold a concert in the 72,000 seat stadium, following JYJ, H.O.T., G.o.d and YG Entertainment. The tickets for the first date went onsale on April 12 and were sold out within 20 minutes. Tickets for the second date were available on April 18 and were reportedly sold out in less than 30 minutes. On April 20, it was announced by ticketing company Yes24 that due to “immense demand” more seats would be made available for both dates. The extra tickets were made available on April 25. It was also announced that a special edition of Exo’s second official light stick would be released specifically for the enfore concerts at the Olympic Stadium.
Sub-unit and solo endeavors
On October 5, 2016, S.M. Entertainment announced the first sub-unit of Exo, consisting of three members: Chen, Baekhyun and Xiumin, who had previously released an original soundtrack titled “For You” for the SBS television series Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. On October 24, the sub-unit was announced to be named EXO-CBX, “CBX” being the initials of the members’ stage names. EXO-CBX released their debut extended play Hey Mama! and the music video for the single of the same name on October 31.
On October 28, 2016, Lay released his debut extended play, titled Lose Control. Upon release, the album topped the Yinyuetai Daily, Weekly, Monthly and Yearly Album chart and both the 1st and 2nd singles “What U Need?” and “Lose Control” reached number 1 on the Alibaba Music Chart for a combined total of 15 weeks. As of 2017, Lose Control has sold 1.05 million copies in China and 276,000 copies in South Korea and holds 9 Guinness World Records.