Sometime in the year 2015, a k-pop newbie was scrolling through her Tumblr dashboard. It’s all gifs or memes of groups she’s been interested in. It’s a regular Friday evening. And then she stumbles upon a post, a rant about the K-pop group that had recently released their first single. The name of the group? EXP.
“Pfft. Sounds like a bad rip-off of EXO,” says her inner Exo-L. Or maybe that was the rant she had been reading. I don’t even remember. The American K-pop group (now called EXP Edition, I guess…) has recently gotten quite a bit of attention again this 2017, and this time I actually want to talk about it.
Interestingly, this “k-pop” group from New York was born from the thesis project of students from Columbia University. The idea was to make a k-pop group with non-Korean members. Now, I’m not going to say that I’ve completely understood what the project is about. All I got from the article I’ve read is that the project “highlights social issues on a global and personal level”. I assume that they’ve succeeded with that on a global scale (as it has highlighted a bit of double standards in the k-pop community), though I’m not sure about the personal level thing. I won’t pretend that I’ve read their paper–although I should, as it might clarify a few questions I have–nor will I pretend to know what happened after the thesis project. What I will do is just rant. Or vent. Really, just discuss this newfound fame of EXP, or should I call it infamy. Because from the criticism I’ve seen, it seems that they’ve got quite a number of haters. (I would like to point out that they did name the group EXP, similar to EXO, and used the phrase EXP Planet at some point. Obviously, they would have sparked a dislike from Exo-L’s at some point, too.)
Now that they’ve “debuted” in South Korea and appeared on I Can See Your Voice, I’m not surprised that they’ve grabbed the attention of both Korean and non-Koreans, especially the k-pop fans. Koreans, from what I’ve read, are impressed whereas international k-pop fans are… wary? Unimpressed? Cringing? Confused? Angry? I’m on the confused and unimpreessed side (Mostly because I found that their newest song was plain, easy to forget and really just awful. They can sing, though. Can’t deny that. Although, their style isn’t my cup of tea.). Now, this is where it gets interesting: the double standards that may or may not be the actual issue.
You wanna know what I think? I think non-Korean idols or groups can do k-pop. The race shouldn’t matter, really. I mean, obviously. K-pop groups with non-Korean members isn’t really rare nowadays. We have Jackson, Bambam, and Mark from Got7, Lisa from Blackpink, Alex (or is it Alexa?) Reid from BP Rania, and so many more. I should probably also mention Brad from Busker Busker (even though they’re a band, and not really k-pop.) So, what really is the problem here? The absence of a Korean member?
What irks me about the group is not the members (although, I am curious about what happened to the other POC from their first single), but the training process. I could be wrong, as I have not read the researcher’s thesis paper (I’m sure they have one. There has to be a paper somewhere but I haven’t looked for it yet.), but I question how close to the actual K-pop training process did these guys experience. It’s a constant factor in the K-pop industry, one that many k-pop fans are aware of. Did the researchers put these dudes through a genuine k-pop experience? Was there a process in choosing a final line-up rather than just having guys audition and practice? Because the training process is like a standard in k-pop.
I mean, I can’t say it’s only K-pop with this sort of training process, but it heavily defines k-pop. It may have its problems (like, major problems, not to mention the things that go on even after debut) but it definitely adds onto the quality of the idols that we know today. Why do some trainees debut after a few years of training? Because they need time to hone their skills before they’re ready. There’s a difference in quality, if you think about it. Or a difference in expectation. Trainees are under constant pressure from professionals. Non-trainees rely on themselves, which is good but the question is: how do they know they’ve improved? From their audience’s reaction? Sure, but then how would they fare against a group of trainees who were taught special techniques by those with experience? You can learn how to cook for yourself, but to be a real chef, you have to go through a rigorous process. There are special skills that you can’t learn on your own.
Of course, I am aware that the members of EXP can sing. I won’t deny that they might even be better than some idols. I would say they’re about average for singers. They don’t really sound unique.
What I can deny is that they are doing well in terms of the music they’ve released. It’s not the cringe-y lyrics or their ability to speak/sing in Korean. (Their first single… omg… do yourself a favor and don’t listen to it… It’s basically all in English with some Korean sprinkled in. Their second song is an improvement, a big improvement especially as they’ve learned quite a bit more Korean, but kinda meh…) Now, this is just a personal opinion, but their songs are (absolute) trash. It’s even worse than BoybandPH’s Unli (although, I’ve grown to tolerate the cringe-y song lyrics) and has not a lot of impact. (At least Unli had that catchy-ish pre-chorus part.) I can remember the guy singing ‘Feel like this’ but then after that my memory comes up blank. There’s no substance. But, hey, I’m no music critic nor am I a musician with background knowledge of technical terms or theories and whatnot. I just think the song is boring.
Their over-all appeal? I don’t approve of how they have this pretty boy image going on. I find it very stereotypical. I mean, yes there are K-pop group members who do fit the image, but that’s not the point. Visuals have become less and less important. I like to think that it’s just by chance how a group can have all members be attractive in the traditional/conventional sense. (It probably sounds like an insult to some idols, but I’m trying to point out that not all k-pop idols are pretty. Some idols are less attractive than others. Not all idols are conventionally attractive, is what I’m trying to say.) Looking pretty has been pushed aside. Unless, of course, this is the image that the group is going for. Really, though, I don’t find the need for the whole group to look like they’re models or something. I mean, they’re not my type and they look more like they’re from maybe Shinhwa or Super Junior eras. I don’t find them attractive, but I won’t deny that they are good-looking. I guess.
So, to sum this whole thing up in a few words? I’ve come to the conclusion that I just want to ignore this group after I publish this post. I probably won’t because I’m a little nosy like that. I’m interested to see how far they’ll go in the future. Personally, not a fan. I’m staying away from their music, but I wouldn’t mind reading more articles about them.
Disclaimer: Unedited, not outlined, really just a rant/vent sort of thing. I’m just in the mood to talk to someone and discuss these things in depth. I don’t have kpop friends who are as deep into kpop as I am… (In other words, I crave intellectual discussions about k-pop… smh)