EXID are back. Three years after 2019’s ‘Me & You’, the girl group have made a long-awaited return with their four-track single album ‘X’, which also commemorates their 10th anniversary. In this new release, the quintet demonstrate their determination to keep their fire going, breathing new life into their sound for today’s K-pop soundscape while taking great care not to alienate their existing fanbase.
While most of the music coming out of K-pop reunions this year has been on the mellower side (think Girls’ Generation’s ‘Forever 1’ or Big Bang’s ‘Still Life’) EXID have never shied away from making bold choices. Composed by rapper Elly (formerly known as LE), and long-time collaborator Shinsadong Tiger, lead single ‘Fire’ is an ambitious electronic dance track that foregrounds an alluring melody. Like their last title track ‘Me & You’, it also features a dance-heavy instrumental break in place of the pop choruses EXID typically favour.
‘Fire’ has been released in both Korean and English, and as far as English versions of K-pop tracks go, the lyrics to this one remain fairly true to the original. The decision to keep some of Elly’s rap lines in Korean instead of shoehorning in an unnatural translation is one many K-pop fans will appreciate.
The song steadily builds energy through aggressive percussion and chanting refrains of “burning up, burning up”, though this repetition threatens to grow monotonous. Luckily for ‘Fire’, it has an ace up its sleeve that comes into play at its climax. It metamorphoses into a whole new section featuring some sultry vocal fry action – courtesy of Hani – and then pulls out all the stops in an intensely gratifying final segment, with Solji delivering a barrage of explosive vocal runs in tandem with Elly’s rhythmic chants.
It’s a valiant attempt to deliver the hard-hitting bombast of more recent K-pop acts and a tremendous step up from the clumsily executed ‘Me & You’, having a far clearer picture of what to do right off the bat. Still, EXID’s biggest sonic strengths are their soaring, unadulterated pop melodies – as heard in the choruses of past hits like ‘DDD’ and ‘Up & Down’ – and Elly’s smooth flow, both of which take a backseat in ‘Fire’. While the new offering is audacious and catchy, it also gives the girl group little room to show what they’re truly capable of.
If ‘Fire’ was the group’s shot at experimentation, the groovy nu-disco ‘IDK (I Don’t Know)’ is an exercise in all things quintessentially EXID. Sonically, this synth-dominated retro number also fits perfectly with their 2016 studio debut ‘Street’, making it a dazzling throwback to one of their strongest releases to date and a prime candidate for new fan-favourite.
In an era that seems to favour shouty, hard-hitting rap verses, Elly’s effortlessly skilful sing-rap on this laidback break-up tune offers a welcome respite. Sub-vocalist Jeonghwa, whose airy, sugary tone gets swallowed up by the title track’s busy instrumentation, also shines far brighter in this B-side. ‘IDK’ leaves in its wake that hint of sweetness present in so many of EXID’s past releases, no matter how spiteful the lyrics might be.
Next is the uplifting ‘LEGGO’, a dance-pop love letter to their loyal fans. While simple and straightforward in approach, its lyrics are far more meaningful when you consider the quintet’s journey over the last decade. Following their debut in 2012, EXID struggled to gain traction in their first two years until a fan-recorded video of Hani performing their 2014 single ‘Up & Down’ went viral, propelling the song to the top of South Korean music charts months after its release. Most consider this the breakthrough that saved EXID from disbandment. From ‘LEGGO’ it seems the group share this sentiment, singing their hearts out in its chorus: “I wanna be with you / You made me perfect / Thank you for love / It’s too much for me”.
Optimistic and breezy as this song is, it also evokes a sense of melancholy, when you remember that there had been a time where even the idea of lasting 10 years had been inconceivable to EXID. It’s a fitting end to a release that celebrates all they’ve weathered together. And when EXID croon “stand by me, even if another 10 years pass,” you find yourself already looking forward to everything to come in our next decade with them.
EXID’s 10th anniversary single album ‘X’ is out now.