Retro Rewind: Mama – EXO

With the burgeoning growth of K-pop in its current state, many newer fans are unaware of many of the genres past classics. That’s why every week I will be taking a look back at some of K-pop’s most exciting and iconic tracks that were released before the conception of this blog to shed some light on this now bygone time.

Year Released: 2012

If I had to attribute my love for k-pop to one song, it would have to be either EXO’s Mama or B.A.P’s One Shot. Though I was introduced to the genre primarily through tracks such as BTS’s Blood Sweat & Tears, Twice’s Likey and EXO’s own Monster, it was after I discovered these two songs that I completely fell down the inescapable rabbit hole that is k-pop. Though back then I firmly believed One Shot to be the superior track, Mama is the song that has fared much better with time. In fact, I think I love it more now than I did before. Looking back at my old playlists from when I first delved into K-pop, I found that I was (and still am) absolutely hooked to songs that have a bombastic, larger than life sound. Mama fits that description to a tee, fusing so many elements such as rock guitar, thumping drums, hand claps and a haunting organ solo to create an absolutely riveting piece of music.

Opening with haunting Gregorian chants, the song launches into its first verse courtesy of a chill enduing high note from D.O. It’s an epic way to open the track and one that immediately hooks the listener in. This is where the gargantuan beat kicks in, powering the song forward with an immediate sense of urgency and propulsion. It’s a tense brew of strings, rock guitar and militaristic percussion that strongly recalls Queens iconic We Will Rock You. The production here is an excellent distillation of SM entertainments SMP sound, further enhancing the tracks rock opera inspired bombast. The chanted pre-chorus, is also something that we wouldn’t ever see K-pops current musical landscape, but it works as the perfect build towards Mama‘s biggest and best moment. The gargantuan refrain that acts as its chorus. Now I have heard a lot of choruses in my life, but few match the theatrical bombast of Mama. It’s vocals are immaculately layered, creating an absolutely larger than life moment and one of the most ear striking pop moments of the last decade.

From here on, Mama never lets up, powering forward with a dynamic rap verse that maintains the intensity of the preceding chorus, whilst also propelling the song forward. No trap breakdown or lurching tempo drop here, just propulsive songwriting at its best. However, Mama truly shines during its absolute insane bridge, where an exhilarating rock guitar fuelled dance break precedes a segment that takes heavy influence from screamo. It’s a bizarre as hell moment, but works exceptionally. From here, the Gregorian chants are once again reintroduced as the haunting organ inducts the song into its climactic chorus. It’s all exhilarating stuff, and unlike anything else I have ever heard. It’s a song that constantly feels as though it’s going to go off the rails, but never does thanks to EXO’s undeniable charisma and vocal performance.

Though the track was released by sub-units, EXO-M and EXO-K, it sounds just as riveting in both versions; not only proving the strength of the tracks production, but the sheer talent that OT12 EXO possessed. It’s the type of song that barely any group nowadays would opt for, let alone debut with. But 8 years on, Mama is not only one of the best debuts ever, but easily finds its place among the best k-pop tracks of all time.

Verses: 10

Chorus: 10

Production: 10

Performance: 10

Final Rating10 / 10

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