A lot has happened in the 19 months since EXO last released an album. From enlisting into the South Korean military and starting families to joining other groups and embarking on successful solo activities, the group are living the full spectrum of life as grown men. However, they are back to remind people why they are considered juggernauts in K-pop’s ever-growing industry.
Their new special album ‘Don’t Fight The Feeling’ commemorates EXO’s nine-year anniversary with a seven-member comeback that marks the return of Xiumin and D.O. from their mandatory military service, as well as Chinese member Lay, who had been on a hiatus from EXO activities since 2016. The project also features Baekhyun and Chanyeol, both of whom participated in the album’s recording before enlisting in March. Despite having been almost two years since their last album ‘Obsession’, EXO show fans on ‘Don’t Fight The Feeling’ that they have not lost the je ne sais quoi that makes them special.
The five-track project tells a story of love, maturity and the ability to adapt to change, which is something that EXO know all too well. Over the course of their nine-year career, the group have had to adapt to a slew of lineup changes and quickly mature in the process. And while certain Western media outlets will attempt to make some believe that military enlistment is “the kiss of death” for a male group, EXO have proved that it’s possible to successfully adjust to the circumstances life throws at you and still make good music.
The project kicks off with title track ‘Don’t Fight the Feeling’, a groovy song that mixes pop, dance, synth sounds and even gospel chords on the pre-chorus. With lyrics by SM Entertainment’s in-house writer Kenzie (who also co-wrote SHINee’s ‘Don’t Call Me’), the track is about believing in oneself and encourages the listener to look towards the future when faced with difficult decisions in life.
While the song lacks the attention-grabbing, hard-hitting elements that EXO have been known to bring – such as in previous titles tracks like ‘Monster’ and ‘Obsession’ – but in the age of COVID-19, perhaps people just want to feel good. The uplifting vibe and catchy retro dance beats of ‘Don’t Fight The Feeling’ serve to do just that and would definitely not feel out of place on a summer playlist of this year’s best songs.
Over the next two songs, ‘Paradise’ and ‘No Matter,’ EXO delve into different facets of R&B while maintaining a consistent flow of easy listening. On ‘Paradise’, the boyband exude the quiet of confidence of men who aren’t afraid to pursue the person they desire while harmonising to sounds of new jack swing: “I want to get close to you, babe / Hands up on your hips / Damn girl, you got me / You’re the only one to make me do it like this.”
EXO also get a little adventurous and take listeners on a throwback trip with ‘No Matter.’ Written by Seo Ji-eum, who previously worked with EXO on ‘Wait’ from 2018’s ‘Love Shot’, the track leans heavy into ’90s R&B, coupled with soft piano in the background, and comes off as a nostalgic mix between TLC’s classic 1991 single ‘Baby-Baby-Baby’ and the 1998 hit ‘Love Like This’ by Faith Evans.
The group deviate from R&B and slow things down with ‘Runaway’, a moody, soft rock track that combines piano and a hard bass-line, and talks about escaping the hardships of life. The album concludes with ‘Just As Usual’, an uptempo R&B jam that features a mellow, soft beat that nicely mixes piano with an electric guitar. The song leaves the listener feeling somewhat sentimental and hungry for EXO to eventually return with all its members.
While ‘Don’t Fight The Feeling’ might not contain a standout ballad that shows off the full range of EXO’s vocal ability – such as ‘Baby Don’t Cry’ from ‘XOXO’ and ‘Stronger’ from ‘EX’ACT’ – this special new album serves as a reminder of how EXO have earned their spot in the music industry. Despite their ever-changing lineup of active members and an unprecedented year-and-a-half-long hiatus, EXO are still here and still impacting the K-pop world with their inescapably catchy hits.
- Release date: June 7
- Record label: SM Entertainment