Top 20 Best Songs by EXO

EXO are one of the few groups who I consider to be foundational in terms of my introduction to the world of K-pop and despite my love for the them, I’ve rarely had the opportunity to talk about their work aside from some solo efforts. As such, in honour of Baekhyun’s discharge from the military and a potential comeback on the horizon, I thought it would be great opportunity to rank my favourite songs from the groups fantastic singles run.

But before we get started, I must stress that EXO have been one of the industries most consistent acts and while I do agree with the general opinion regarding their work, I think you’ll see that my preferred EXO sound and era is quite different from what most current fans may prefer. But keep in mind, I really like almost every single song on this list. In fact, almost every song within the top 10 could have been a top 3 effort or even top 1 effort in many other discographies. So before you all get salty that your favourite song is too low, remember that sometimes it’s hard ranking perfection against perfection.

So without further ado, let’s get on with it!

Honourable Mentions

What is Love (2012)

Lightsaber (2015)

20. Don’t Fight The Feeling (2021)

A fun, placeholder release that served to fill the gap while most of the group were off in the military, Don’t Fight The Feeling‘s catchy chorus and fizzy verses are enjoyable but lack the potency of the groups more essential efforts.

19. Love Shot (2018)

I know, I know, put your pitchforks down I can explain. Wonderfully suave and undoubtedly addictive, Love Shot‘s sheer virality warrants a mention regardless of my own personal biases towards the song. I may not think too highly of the droning hook but those excellent verses do much of the heavy lifting.

18. Obsession (2019)

A dark, demented soundscape that only got more thrilling with time, Obsession‘s unique structure and warped vocal sample initially deterred but eventually developed into something quite exciting. That rubbery baseline is utterly intoxicating.

17. For Life (2016)

EXO have always been an excellent conduit for these more vocally expressive tracks and For Life is no exception. Sure much of it traces expected winter ballad tropes but when you have a collection of vocalists this great and a melody so pure, it’s hard not to fall in love.

16. Lotto (2016)

Often considered the black sheep of the groups stellar singles run, Lotto‘s heavily autotuned vocals and sparse production disappointed many on release. However, it maintains a special place in my heart thanks to some wonderfully iconic lines and an embarrassingly catchy centrepiece. Honestly a high water mark for this sound.

15. Power (2017)

The groups cheesiest single but one that works because of its sheer commitment to the bit. It’s a perfect encapsulation of K-pop’s goofier, more unhinged side, one that we just don’t see enough of these days. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying it’s just a fun time all around.

14. Ko Ko Bop (2017)

Though its noisy, twisted drop initially confused, Ko Ko Bop quickly became one of the groups most iconic efforts, buoyed by some expertly calibrated reggae-ton verses and effortlessly smooth first part chorus. Its various musical diversions may initially come across as jarring but it’s hard to deny just how addictive this track can be.

13. Tempo (2018)

One of the biggest 180’s I’ve ever had on a song, Tempo went from one of my hated singles of the year upon release but within a month, had found a place firmly in the top half of my best of 2018 countdown. It’s one of the groups most experimentally successful singles, incorporating various elements including a genius acapella breakdown to give us a track that unveils its many charms over a number of listens.

12. Universe (2017)

An utterly gorgeous winter single that came oh so close to perfecting its intended sound, Universe‘s soft-rock balladry soars with a real sense of majesty whilst still pulling back at the just the right moments. It doesn’t quite live up to its potential but no doubt remains one of the most resonant tracks in the groups discography. Electric guitars and all.

11. Wolf (2013)

An infamous release often hated unfairly for its utter conceptual insanity and shouty chorus, Wolf is home to some of the most goosebump inducing moments in EXO’s entire discography. It’s utter unrestrained camp, fully embracing the goofy ass concept whilst still pummelling listeners with a sledgehammer of a chorus and a climax for the ages. This is the kind of stuff that we just don’t get anymore.

10. Monster (2016)

Essentially the early prototype for the sound NCT would end up peddling for the next few years to varying results, Monster stands as the perfect example of this layered industrial sound, perfectly building an eerie, almost menacing atmosphere through its rubbery bass-line before exploding into an utterly majestic layered centrepiece that brings all the thrills.

9. Miracles in December (2013)

When considering some of the best K-pop ballads of all time, it would be criminal to not mention the utter majesty of Miracles in December. From the gentle, comforting verses to the soaring, wonderfully emotive chorus that just swells in the most satisfying of ways, the track not only cemented the legendary stature of EXO’s three main vocals but created utter magic in the process.

8. Lucky One (2016)

Laced over a fizzy, undiluted disco beat that remains one of the most groovy the boys have ever tackled, Lucky One is an an utter treat from start to finish, propelled by an all killer no filler arrangement that perfectly balances the hip hop and melodic elements to craft a single that becomes a slave to the rhythm in the best way possible. However, it’s that wonderfully freewheeling post chorus that truly stands as the tracks MVP.

7. Call Me Baby (2015)

Brass kissed new jack swing proved to be a near perfect match for a young EXO with the release of the wonderfully addictive Call Me Baby. It’s an absolute thrill ride of single, riding off the strength of an aggressive and unrelenting arrangement with a performance that expertly matches that ferocity. It opens with a bang and doesn’t look back in the slightest. Just the way I like it. You can’t take your eyes or ears off this one.

6. Overdose (2014)

A towering example of the classic SMP sound of the early 2010’s, Overdose provided an aggressively dense EDM and dubstep brew which though slightly dated still sounds fresh today thanks to a near perfect arrangement and almost otherworldly vocal performance. From clobbering instrumental breakdowns to that standout climactic rap break and of course that heavenly bridge, there isn’t a single moment to breathe in this absolutely masterful and iconic release.

5. Electric Kiss (2018)

While Japanese releases by K-pop acts usually end up quite hit or miss, EXO delivered one of the all time greats in the form of the incredibly dynamic hype track, Electric Kiss. A perfect example of how to channel the best elements of your sound into a digestible yet boundary pushing dance track, Electric Kiss took the SMP nature of the groups earlier dance tracks but updated it with a more modern edge and slightly more Japanese melody. And the results speak for themselves.

4. Love Me Right (2015)

Pure, undiluted pop majesty, Love Me Right is the kind of once in a career highlight that groups crave. It’s one of the most freewheeling and funky singles to ever come out of Korea, careening forward on an irresistible rhythm and utterly infectious groove that’s impossible to break free from. But what makes Love Me Right such joy is that it remains unrestrained in the best way, pulsing forward on a delirious bed of percussion and rhythm guitar that lends wonderfully into the tracks fizzy, lighting in a bottle chorus which hits so good on each and every repetition. It’s just so alive!

3. History (2012)

Often overlooked due to their rather tame commercial reception, EXO’s debut singles remain some of the most musically exciting introductions to any K-pop group ever. Of the two debut tracks, History stood out as the more funky alternative, pulsing forward on an aggressive, jagged beat that took equal parts inspiration from bhangra and the classic SMP sounds peddled by early TVXQ. A unique combination that gave birth to one of K-pop’s most inspired and utterly unique debuts. Powered primarily by the stuttering electronica that frames its influences and a nonstop cavalcade of hooks, History remains one of the groups most effortless tracks, harnessing both their youth and undeniable charisma into a flawless distillation of crisp , uncluttered song craft.

2. Growl (2013)

To put it very simply, there is no EXO without Growl. And there is no Growl without EXO. What more can I say about one of the most influential Korean songs of all time? It was the song that shot the group into superstardom overnight, becoming a cultural phenomenon and one of the purveyors of the Hallyu wave. Few songs, if any, ever experience such cultural significance to the point where they receive equal amounts of critical and commercial success. And Ten years on from its release, Growl remains the definition of iconic.

Musically, Growl is utterly genius, acting as the perfect example for how sometimes simplicity can outdo all forms of excess or experimentation. It’s utterly intoxicating, buoyed by an additive hip hop beat and wonderfully charismatic performance that imbues every part of what could otherwise be a repetitive brew with such a charisma that it never comes close to cloying. That backing track and hook are worth the price of admission alone.

1. Mama (2012) (review)

Arguably the most ambitious debut in K-pop history, Mama stands as an unbelievable piece of work, throwing almost every single possible element into a claustrophobic rock opera brew to create one of the biggest and most grandiose pieces of music ever composed. From the towering, militaristic kick of the percussion to the wall of vocals that surround the listener on every turn, Mama knows not only how to make an immediate impression but how to shatter the very notion of what’s possible within the constraints of a standard pop song.

It’s pure theatrical bombast of the highest order, pushing every possible boundary until the screamo, grunge guitar assisted bridge rolls around to absolutely floor the listener. It zigs when you expect it to zag, adding layer upon layer, element upon element into an arrangement that should theoretically collapse under its own weight but somehow only gets bigger and better the more elements are introduced. It’s a track that’s never quite been replicated or attempted since and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon. An utter masterpiece that not only stands as arguably the greatest debut in K-pop history but one of the industries all time greatest songs period.


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