Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, there was an unknown planet where the tree of life once existed. But when the red forces took hold of the planet, the tree shriveled up and its 12 mystical powers were split in half. Each half created a new world where, in time, it was destined to reunite. From this reunification shall spring a new root, where the tree of life—a new world—shall flourish once more.
Before SM Entertainment dabbled into the concept of the SM Culture Universe, EXO debuted as powerful beings from this so-called exoplanet. And powerful they are, indeed, as one simply cannot talk about K-pop without ever mentioning these extraterrestrial creatures. From 2012 until now, we’ve seen how these boys grew from rookies to kings.
So lest we forget, here’s everything we need to know about EXO:
Once upon a time, there were EXO-K and EXO M.
EXO debuted on April 8, 2012 and were once split into two groups. EXO-K was composed of Suho, D.O., Chanyeol, Baekhyun, Kai, and Sehun. Their other half, EXO-M, was composed of four Chinese members Kris, Luhan, Lay, and Tao, and two Korean members Xiumin and Chen. EXO-K was to promote in South Korea, while EXO-M was in China.
This never-before-seen twin idol concept sparked a lot of curiosity from within and outside South Korea. After a series of pre-debut teasers and performances, EXO held two debut showcases—one in SoKor and one in China. Their debut album, MAMA, released in Korean and Mandarin, was a commercial success, immediately topping both South Korea’s Gaon Chart and China’s Sina Album Chart. This was the beginning of EXO’s domination on planet Earth.
However, it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either for the fast-rising superstar. Kris, Luhan, and Tao eventually decided to leave SM Entertainment due to contract issues sometime between 2014 and 2016. Since then, EXO continues to promote as a nine-member force to be reckoned with.
EXO holds six “Million Seller” titles.
This means that for the sixth time in June 2021, EXO sold about 1,089,681 copies of their special Don’t Fight The Feeling album. Their streak of selling one million copies of their albums began in 2013 with XOXO—and they were the first group ever to do so since 2001! Their other million-seller albums are Exodus (2015), Ex’Act (2016), The War (2017), and Don’t Mess Up My Tempo (2018).
With about 20 albums and 28 singles to date, The Korea Herald regards "Growl" as EXO’s most popular song ever. So popular, in fact, that the song had even gone beyond the DMZ and even tickled the fancy of North Korean teenagers. "Growl" won multiple awards, including the much-coveted triple crowns in Inkigayo and M!Countdown. Their one-shot MV also gained widespread popularity and has 267 million YouTube views—and counting!—as of writing.
EXO has won close to 200 awards and gained a lot more recognition since debut.
With a successful career that’s about to hit the decade mark, it’s no wonder EXO has won many awards and has earned lots of nominations too. One of the boys' earlier awards was the "Rookie of the Year" from the prestigious Golden Disc Awards (GDA) in 2013. The following year, they took home GDA’s biggest honor—the daesang. In 2018, the Guinness Book of World Records listed EXO as the group with the most daesang at the Mnet Asian Music Awards!
Moreover, the boys were also sweeping awards and recognitions outside South Korea. Tower Records recognized EXO as 2014’s biggest selling K-pop artist in Japan. In 2018, EXO's song, "Power," became the first K-pop song ever played in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa Lake. The boys also had the honor of performing "Growl" and "Power" during the closing ceremonies of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
EXO’s sold-out concerts are recognitions in themselves, too! Their first solo concert, The Lost Planet, had sold out tickets in about two seconds since selling began. This led to the addition of a third concert date. For their second concert, Exo’luxion, the group performed in Tokyo Dome in Japan—a dream for many K-pop artists. Not only was EXO able to sell out tickets for their three-day concert at the venue, they were also the fastest non-Japanese group to perform there! A little bit closer to home, EXO’s popularity was also proven when the supposed one-day only ExplOration concert in 2019 became a two-day event.
Annyeong, EXO-K and EXO-M. Annyeong, EXO-CBX and EXO-SC.
While EXO has mostly performed as one unit since XOXO was released, the group has also debuted two new sub-units in the years following their debut. In October 2016, EXO-CBX was formed with members Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin. Their debut song, "Hey Mama!," is described as "an exciting song of the combination of 1970’s funk, disco, and pop genres with funky rhythm and modern sound reflecting the latest trend." EXO-CBX has since released one more Korean EP, Blooming Days. The sub-unit also proved to be quite popular in Japan, following the release of their Japanese EP, Girls, and their studio album, Magic.
EXO-SC, on the other hand, is the sub-unit with a more funky and hip-hop vibe. This sub-unit is top-billed by EXO’s resident rapper Chanyeol and maknae Sehun. Their 2019 debut single, "What a Life," proved to be a commercial hit after it immediately topped the iTunes charts in 46 different countries. The two followed it up with the nine-track studio album, 1 Billion Views, released in July 2020. The album sold like hotcakes, earning sweet spots in various album charts, as well as a double-platinum certification from Gaon.
Solo careers and military enlistments
Aside from having sub-units, different EXO members have also dabbled in their own solo projects.
In 2015, Xiumin began a career in musical theater and played the role of Aquila in School OZ. He also made his big-screen acting debut in 2016 in the film Seondal: The Man Who Sells The River. Xiumin had his solo fan meeting, Xiuweet Time, at the Jamsil Arena just a couple of days before his military service began. He was the first EXO member to enlist but he was still able to release his first solo single, "You" a few days after enlistment.
Aside from his angelic vocals, D.O. is also well-known in the acting field. He made his acting debut in the SBS drama, It’s Okay, That’s Love, where he played the role of Han Kang Woo together with Gong Hyo Jin and BFF Jo In Sung. In July this year, D.O. also released Empathy—his first solo EP after his discharge from military service.
Leader Suho is currently serving in the military, but not before launching his solo career. His debut EP, Self-Portrait, was released in March 2020 and had received wondrous recognitions. His lead single, "Let’s Love," won in the three major music shows, Music Bank, Music Core, and Inkigayo.
As a soloist, Chen is also a recording artist and a theater actor, too. His musical theater debut was in the SM C&C production, In The Heights. He has also recorded a number of soundtracks for various K-Dramas, the most recent of which was "Your Moonlight" for the drama, Do You Like Brahms? in 2020. Chen, whose military service began in October last year, is also the first EXO member to get married and become a father.
Baekhyun’s solo career began in July 2018 with the release of his first EP, City Lights. His first solo concert, Baekhyun: Light, was held in January of this year but was released in digital format due to COVID-19 restrictions. Baekhyun, who owns streetwear brand Privé, released one last EP, Bambi, right before beginning his military service in May 2021.
Kai is the fifth EXO member to launch his solo career. He released his first solo single, "Mmmh," in November of last year. A year later, his sophomore EP, Peaches, was released. When he’s not performing, Kai can be seen in a variety of advertisements. He is currently a brand ambassador for Gucci and a muse for Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. Kai and Sehun, who is currently cast in a supporting role with Song Hye Kyo and Jang Ki Yong in the drama, Now We Are Breaking Up, are the only members who have yet to enlist in the military. Chanyeol, on the other hand, began his services in March this year, too.
Meanwhile, Lay is the only Chinese member left in EXO. Beginning 2014, most of his time is spent in China where he stars in variety shows, television series, and movies on top of his own music career. And when he’s not on stage as a performer, he is an entrepreneur. Lay established Chromosome Entertainment Group, his own agency that aims to recruit and coach China’s future superstars.