EXO is a 9-member male group based formed by SM Entertainment in 2011. Known as a South Korean-Chinese group, EXO officially debuted in 2012 with 12 members (8 South Korean, 4 Chinese), but currently consists of 9 members (8 South Korean, 1 Chinese).
The present members include Suho, Xiumin, Lay, Baekhyun, Chanyeol, Chen, D.O., Kai, and Sehun, while the former members are Kris, Luhan, and Tao. The group has three sub-units – EXO-K, EXO-M, and EX-CBX – but only EXO-CBX is active at the moment.
EXO is arguably the most popular idol group in South Korea having amassed critical success beginning with their first album, XOXO, in 2013. They are the first Korean artists to have sold over one million album copies in 12 years.
In 2014 and 2015, EXO was named the most influential celebrity by Forbes Korea Power Celebrity and have been called “the biggest boyband in the world” by several media outlets.
In 2017, the group made it to The Guinness World Records 2018 Edition for the most number of Daesang awards won at the Mnet Asian Music Awards.
Lee Soo Man, SM Entertainment’s founder, first talked about his plans of debuting a new boy band at a Hallyu business seminar at Stanford University in May 2011. The group was to be divided into two subgroups that will promote the same music simultaneously in South Korea and China through with songs in Korean and Mandarin.
In December 2011, plans were finalized and it was announced that the group will be named “EXO” from the word “exoplanet”. EXO is formed by two subunits, EXO-K (for Korean) and EXO-M (for Mandarin). They debuted on television with a performance at SBS’ annual year-end festival, Gayo Daejun, on December 29, 2011.
2012: Official Debut and Mama
On January 30, 2012, EXO-K and EXO-M’s prologue single titled “What Is Love” was released in South Korea and mainland China. It peaked at number 88 on South Korea’s gaon Single Chart.
On March 9, they released their second prologue single “History,” written and produced by Danish artists Thomas Troelsen and Remee. The single peaked at number 68 on the Gaon Single Chart and number 6 on China’s Sina Music Chart.
By March 31, a concert was immediately held for EXO in Seoul’s Olympic Stadium where approximately 3,000 fans from a total of 8,000 applicants were selected to attend. On April 1, a second concert was held in the Great Hall of the Beijing University of International Business and Economics.
Their debut single, “Mama”, was released on April 8 followed by the launch of their first extended play of the same name on April 9. Both sub-groups conducted their promotions for the same album separately. EXO-K performed on the music program, The Music Trend on April 8, while EXO-M debuted in China’s Top Chinese Music Awards on the same day.
Mama’s Mandarin version reached number two on the Sina Album Chart, while the Korean version peaked at number one on the Gaon Album Chart and number eight on the Billboard World Albums Chart. Upon the release of the official music video of Mama’s Mandarin version, it 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 then-labelmate Super Junior’s Super Show 4 concert tour in Jakarta, Indonesia.
By November 2012, 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 and Miracles in December
On June 3, 2013, EXO released their first studio album, XOXO, in two versions – Korean and Mandarin. This time, the two subunits promoted the album together unlike their Mama EP. The promotions were made mostly in South Korea.
All members recorded their lead single, Wolf, together. But other tracks from the album were recorded separately. Both versions peaked at number one on the Billboard World Album Chart a week after its release.
On August 5, 2013, the group released Growl, a repackaged version of their hit album XOXO, which included three additional tracks. The lead single of the same title was released four days prior to the release of the album on August 1. “Growl” peaked at number 3 on Billboard’s Korea K-Pop Hot 100 and number 2 on Gaon’s Singles chart.
By December 2013, all versions of XOXO have collectively sold over one million copies, making EXO the first Korean artist to sell over one million copies of one album in 12 years, subsequently breaking the record for being the fastest-selling K-pop act.
XOXO became the best selling album in South Korea for 2013, giving EXO numerous awards at various year-end award ceremonies including the Disk Daesang Award at the 2013 Golden Disc Awards and the Album of the Year Award at Mnet Asian Music Awards.
EXO then released their second EP and first winter album on December 9, 2013 titled Miracles in December. The group started promotions for the new EP through their reality show, Exo’s Showtime, which premiered on MBC Every 1 on November 28 of the same year.
At the close of 2013, six EXO albums are in Gaon’s Yearly Top 10 Best-selling Albums, including all their album releases in both Korean and Mandarin versions, as well as their debut EP Mama.
2014: Overdose, member departures, and first solo concert
EXO released their third EP, Overdose, on May 7, 2014. It was initially scheduled for release on April 21, but was delayed for a few weeks in respect of the Sewol Ferry Accident on April 16. Like their first EP, Mama, EXO promoted Overdose by sub-units. EXO-K did the promotions in South Korea, while EXO-M worked on the promotions in China. Before its release, over 660,000 copies were sold from pre-orders alone, making Overdose the most pre-ordered Korean mini album in history.
Overdose’s Korean edition peaked at number 2 on Billboard’s World Albums Chart and number 129 on the Billboard 200, making EXO the highest charting Korean male group on the Billboard at the time. It became the best selling album in South Korea on 2014, was the first mini album to top the yearly charts, and won EXO another Album of the Year Award at the Mnet Asian Music Awards. By the end of 2014, they were hailed the bestselling K-pop artist of the year in Japan.
However, 2014 was not without a hitch for the relatively new group. On May 15, 2014, a week after the official release of Overdose, EXO-M leader, Kris, filed a lawsuit against S.M. Entertainment to terminate his contract, claiming violation of human rights.
Amid Kris’ lawsuit, EXO held their first solo concert “EXO from Exoplanet #1 – The Lost Planet” on May 24 and 25 at the Seoul Olympic Gymnasium. Tickets to the concert were sold out in 1.47 seconds, setting a new record for the fastest sold out concert by a Korean artist.
Despite the concert’s success, another EXO-M member, Luhan, filed a lawsuit against the agency on October 10 to nullify his contract. The Chinese member stated health issues and claimed he was being treated differently than the Korean members, resulting in him having no promotions. This prompted S.M. Entertainment to announce that EXO will be continuing their promotions as a 10-member group.
2015: Exodus, The Exo’luxion, and more lawsuits
On January 2015, SM Entertainment announced EXO’s second solo concert called “Exo Planet #2 – The Exo’luxion”. The group held 5 concerts at the Olympic Park Stadium in Seoul beginning March 7, with approximately 1.2 million fans attempting to buy tickets online.
On February 4, 2015, the agency has decided to file a counter-suit against former members Kris and Luhan for illegally continuing their promotions in China. The lawsuit was to prevent their acting and advertisement projects as they were still allegedly using the S.M. trademark in their activities.
Meanwhile, the remaining members continued with their promotions and released a second studio album, Exodus, on March 30, 2015. Once again, the album had both Korean and Mandarin versions. Domestic pre-sales for the album once more reached a record number of 500,000 orders within 24 hours.”
“Call Me Baby,” the title track for Exodus was released earlier than expected on March 27 because of leaked versions of the song. Both versions of the music video released 4 days later, with the Korean version becoming the most-watched K-pop video in the first half of 2015.
In May 2015, the group broke the record on Billboard as the highest ranking Korean artist at 90th place. They also entered the Canadian Billboard Hot 100 chart at the 98th position, making them the first K-pop group and second Korean artist to do so.
During their promotions for the album, “Call Me Baby” won 18 times on music shows, making it the second most awarded song of all time next to Psy’s Gangnam Style which won 20 times. The Korean version of Exodus broke more records for remaining at the number one spot on the album chart for 4 consecutive weeks. Exodus collectively sold over 1.2 million copies, making EXO a two-time million album seller after they first achieved the feat with XOXO. The album was eventually named Album of the Year at the 2015 Mnet Asian Music Awards, which is the third consecutive year that EXO won the category.
EXO also ventured into acting and starred in their own mini drama series, EXO Next Door in 2015. It became the most-watched Korean web drama of the year before member Xiumin’s web drama, Falling for Challenge, took the crown.
On April 22, Tao’s father posted a letter through the Chinese social networking site Weibo, expressing his feelings on wanting his son to withdraw from the group and return to China. He cited lack of support on Tao’s individual career developments and health issues as the main reasons. Tao apparently sustained injuries that were not properly treated, causing him to be unable to join the group for the promotions of Exodus.
The following day, S.M. Entertainment released an official statement saying they will be negotiating with Tao and his father, and would be “seeking a solution in a developmental direction”. However, Tao later confirmed that he has left the company due to failed negotiations.
On June 3, EXO released a repackaged version of Exodus, titled Love Me Right. It contains the original tracks that were originally part of Exodus, plus 4 new songs including the title track “Love Me Right”.
On August 24, Tao officially filed a lawsuit against S.M. Entertainment for the termination of his exclusive contract. The main cause of the lawsuit was apparently the aggravation of an ankle injury he sustained at the Idol Star Athletic Championship.
With Tao’s absence and amid another lawsuit saga, EXO continued their promotions as a 9-member group. On October 10, they held “Exo – Love Concert in Dome” at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, making EXO the first artist to hold a dome concert in South Korea. The official selling of tickets for the event opened on September 21, with a very high demand causing the server to crash for almost an hour.
In preparation for the event, S.M. Entertainment released EXO’s first official light stick – a black wand with EXO’s logo displaying white light as a topper. The concert drew around 20,000 fans in attendance.
On November 4, EXO made their Japanese debut with the release of the Japanese single “Love Me Right ~romantic universe~”, containing the Japanese version of the song “Love Me Right” and the original Japanese song, “Drop That”. The single sold 147,000 copies and made it to the top of the Oricon chart on the day of its release, becoming the best-selling debut single in Japan by a Korean artist of all time.
To celebrate the new record set with the help of their Japanese fans, EXO performed at the Tokyo Dome on November 6-8 in front of 145,000 fans. The three-day show also broke the record for the shortest amount of time since debut to hold a concert at the venue.
On November 9, the group released “Lightsaber”, a special single to promote the release of the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens in South Korea, as part of a collaboration project between S.M. Entertainment and Walt Disney.
December 10 marked the release of EXO’s second winter album and fourth extended play, Sing for You, along with the title tracks “Sing for You” and “Unfair”. The album broke another record for EXO with the highest first week sales for a Korean artist after selling 267,900 copies. “Unfair” then became the K-pop song to be featured in Apple Music’s “best of the week” playlist, while EXO became the first Korean artist to appear on the Apple Music homepage. A portion of the profits from the Sing for You album was reportedly donated to UNICEF’s “Smile For U” campaign, which funds the musical education of children in Asia. Towards the end of the year, EXO was ranked at number 7 by prominent leaders of the South Korean entertainment industry in the top ten pop culture leaders of 2015, the highest among all K-pop artists in the list.
2016: Ex’Act, The Exo’rdium
EXO opened the year 2016 with a continuation of The Exo’luxion tour in North America. The group performed in front of over 41,000 fans in Dallas, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New Jersey on February 2016. In the same month, Forbes Korea Power Celebrity ranked EXO as the most powerful celebrity for the year 2015. The following month, they completed their Exo’luxion tour with 3 shows in Seoul in front of more than 42,000 people. The entire tour sold a total of over 740,000 tickets across 44 concerts in 12 countries, the group’s largest tour to date.
On June, 2016, EXO simultaneously released their third studio album, Ex’Act, and the singles “Lucky One” and “Monster” in both Korean and Mandarin versions. The album recorded more than 660,000 domestic sales from pre-orders alone, making it the most pre-orders K-pop album at the time. Ex’Act then broke EXO’s previous record for the highest first week sales set by Sing For You, with 522,732 copies sold in one week.
“Monster” heralded EXO’s worldwide presence when it peaked at number one on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart, while “Lucky One” debuted at number in the same chart.
The group collaborated with fashion magazine W Korea for the project “Exoclusive” as part of their Ex’Act promotions. With “Exoclusive”, the publication released a 54-page, nine-cover edition of the magazine, selling nearly a million copies.
On July 15, S.M. Entertainment and Putto Entertainment released EXO’s official mobile game, Exorun.
On July 21, S.M. Entertainment officially parted ways with Kris and Luhan as their contractual disputes came to a close. The following day, EXO opened their third solo concert, “EXO Planet #3 – The Exo’rdium”. It was also during this tour that their label announced the release of the group’s second official light stick – a white wand with the official EXO logo on top displaying multi-colored light.
The group held concerts from July 22 to 24 and July 29 to 31 in front of an audience of 84,000. With this series of performances, they set a record as the first artist to hold 6 consecutive concerts at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena.
On August 18, they released a repackaged version of Ex’Act, titled Lotto. The new edition still included all the original songs from Ex’Act plus 4 new songs including the title track, “Lotto”. Upon its release, the track became EXO’s second number one song on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart and peaked at number 2 on Gaon’s Album Chart. Just within two months after its release, Ex’Act sold over 1.17 million copies, making EXO “Triple Million Sellers”.
In September of the same year, the group appeared on the long-running variety show Infinite Challenge where they worked with veteran host Yoo Jae Suk on a song titled “Dancing King”. The song was released as part of the S.M. Station, a music project launched by the entertainment label. It peaked at number 2 on the Gaon Digital Chart and number 3 on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart.
On December 7, EXO released their second Japanese album Coming Over which contained three original tracks. It reached number 2 on the weekly Oricon Chart after selling more than 158,000 copies, eventually becoming their second Platinum Japanesed album certified by the Recording Industry Association of Japan.
On December 19, they released their third winter album and fifth extended play, For Life. The group did not have any promotions for the said album nor its single of the same title. But as of 2017, For Life has sold over 442,000 copies. At the end of 2016, EXO collectively (including solos and sub-units) sold a total of 2.13 million albums.
2017: The War, The EℓyXiOn
EXO continued the Exo’rdium tour until the beginning of 2017 with two concluding concerts held on May 27 and 28 at the Seoul Olympic Stadium. The group is recognized as the fifth and youngest K-pop act to hold a concert at the 72-000-seater stadium after JYJ, H.O.T., g.o.d., and YG Entertainment. Tickets for the first concert day went on sale on April 12 and were sold out within 20 minutes.
On July 18, EXO released their fourth studio album, The War. A new record was then set when pre-orders for the album reached 807,235, breaking the record that they previously set with Ex’Act (660,000 copies). The lead single “Ko Ko Bop” debuted at number 1 on the Melon Digital Chart, making EXO the first K-pop group to enter at #1 after chart changes were implemented on February 27 of the same year.
Upon its release, The War recorded the highest first week sales of any K-pop album with 602,094 copies sold. It debuted at #87 on the Billboard 200 chart and #1 on the Billboard World Albums Chart, while “Ko Ko Bop” debuted at #2 and another track, “The Eve”, debuted at #8 on the Billboard World Digital Songs Chart.
Success continued for EXO and their latest album with “Ko Ko Bop” topping the Gaon Digital Chart for four consecutive weeks, making them the first artist to achieve the feat in 2017. They also became the only 3rd generation and male idol group to chart at #1 on Gaon for four weeks. “Ko Ko Bop” ranked number 1 on the Gaon Monthly Chart for the months of August, making EXO the first group in 2017 and the fifth boy group since 2012 to top the chart.
On August 29, EXO was included in “The Guinness World Records – 2018 Edition” book for having won the most daesang (grand prize) awards at the Mnet Asian Music Awards.
A repackaged edition for The War, titled The War: The Power of Music was released on September 5, containing the original tracks from The War plus three new songs, including the lead single “Power”. On September 14, “’Power” set the highest score of all time on the music show M Countdown with 11,000 points. EXO is the first artist to achieve a perfect score after system changes were implemented in June 2015. It also marked the group’s 100th win on music shows since their debut.
On October 19, S.M. Entertainment announced EXO’s third world tour, “Exo Planet #4 – The EℓyXiOn”. The tour opened with three concert dates in Seoul’s Gocheok Sky Dome on November 24 to 26, 2017.
On November 4, it was announced that EXO will be releasing their first full-length Japanese album titled Countdown on January 24, 2018. The album will feature a total of 10 tracks with a combination of new songs and previously released tracks.
By November 30, EXO official became “Quadruple Million Sellers” when sales for The War reached 1,592,792, making it their highest selling album to date.
On December 5, Twitter named EXO as “the most popular celebrities who joined Twitter in 2017” brought upon by the group’s official entry onto the platform in July before the official release The War, which was reported to have generated 11 million tweets a day. Their lead single from the same album, “Ko Ko Bop”, was also the most mentioned song of the year worldwide with the hashtag “’#kokobop”.
On December 6, S.M. Entertainment released on their official YouTube channel a short version of the music video for Countdown’s lead single, “Electric Kiss”. And on December 12, the music video for the Korean version of “Ko Ko Bop” surpassed 100 million views, the groups sixth music video to do so.
EXO-CBX, a subunit composed of main vocals Xiumin, Baekhyun, and Chen, attended the Korea-China Economic and Trade Partnership Event held in Beijing on December 12, 2017. The trio joined South Korean president Moon Jae-in and actress Song Hye-kyo as their country’s representatives.
Also in December, it was announced that EXO’s song “Power” will be added to the list of songs that will be played at The Dubai Fountain, the world’s largest choreographed fountain system located at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. EXO is the first K-pop group to have their song played at the fountain, joining the likes of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Adele among many others.
On December 26, EXO released their fourth winter album and sixth extended play, Universe. It was originally slated for release on December 21, but was delayed due to the sudden death of their labelmate Jonghyun from the group SHINee. The album earned praise from critics and netizens for its gender-neutral lyrics. All tracks included on the album used non-gender specific pronouns like “me” and “you” instead of “he” or “she”.
2018: First Japanese album, Dubai Fountain Show
On January 16, 2016, EXO traveled to Dubai for the first time to personally witness the debut of their song “Power” at the Dubai Fountain show. The song was originally scheduled to be played until the end of January, but was extended until March 31.
At the 27th Seoul Music Awards, the group won a Bonsang (main prize) Award for The War and the Hallyu Special Award, bringing their total wins at the Seoul Music Awards to 16, the most for any group or artist.
EXO is set to release their first Japanese album, Countdown, on January 31. Prior to its date of release, EXO held a special event in Japan on January 25 and performed the album’s title track, “Electric Kiss” on Sukkiri TV on January 26.
EXO’s Chen confirmed to make solo debut
Chen is debuting as a solo artist!
On March 8, SM Entertainment confirmed reports that the EXO main vocalist is working on releasing a solo album in April. He is currently in the middle of scheduling preparations for the album and music video filming.
Chen debuted with EXO in 2012 and has since made an impression as one of the best vocalists of his generation. He also debuted as one-third of the group’s subunit, EXO-CBX, in 2016. He has done various collaborations in the past with other artists such as Dynamic Duo and 10cm. He is also known for his OSTs for dramas such as Descendants of the Sun, 100 Days My Prince, and It’s Okay That’s Love.
Fun Fact: The Maknae is the youngest member of the band.