With “Growl”, EXO finally shows SM Entertainment what a dance-in-a-box music video should look like when properly executed.
Truthfully, here’s what I know about EXO. They are composed of two units, one Korean and the other designed to break through the Chinese market. They are ran by SM Entertainment. Their fans’ level of rabidness rival any other fan group out there (eep). That’s about it. I won’t be able to use names, or single out individual members for praise or derision (luckily, no one stands out enough to deserve either). All that I can say about EXO and “Growl” is that the music video for the song is a wonderful exercise in making the difficult look fluid and easy and it shows that SM Entertainment can still do some good things when motivated.
The song for “Growl” isn’t particularly groundbreaking or special. If there was a song to file under “generic K-Pop beat for dance pop track”, “Growl” could have been the first or second song on the track list. That’s not to say it’s bad. The staccato techno beat that dances above everything throughout is pretty addictive. The bass does some good funky things, which helps alternate the sound of “Growl” between a sparser hip-hop beat and a K-Pop dance beat. The chorus is well written and executed, keeping pace and beat with the techno march. The rap breaks are obligatory, but not necessary. The autotune is emphasized enough to give “Growl” some slick sheen, and EXO doesn’t try to hide from it either. The processing, especially over the hook, adds a nice, well, growl to the overall sound, and it is much appreciated, seeing as how it would be difficult for 12 vocalists and rappers to stand out on their own in good ways.
The video is the real star of the show. The main problem with SM’s dance-in-a-box concept, aside from the fact that it’s usually boring and unoriginal as fuq, is that there’s usually so many cuts and solo shots jammed in them that one can’t even SEE the dance in the box. “Growl” fixes this by using a steady cam and shooting the entire video in one go. That doesn’t make it a choreography video though. EXO thankfully didn’t just film this in their dance practice room and call it a night. Instead the camera moves and pans around EXO, which still allows for some smart filming techniques and interesting visuals. The industrial warehouse set, with timed flickering lights help add a layer of thrill that somehow makes 12 synchronized dancing young Asian men seem dangerous. The choreography is pretty good too. There is energy and nice changes of pace which betray the more steady march of the beat. Also, the suits are a welcomed reprieve from the early 1990’s thrift shop look which has infected K-Pop like a particularly nasty case of herpes. The point is the dance can actually be viewed and appreciated for what it is. The one shot technique leaves EXO no room to hide and they still dance the shit out of the “Growl”. By the time the two units of EXO combine for the end of the song, it is a well earned victory lap.
The long camera pan is a wonderful tool because it is absolutely unforgiving to everyone involved. There is no going back to the editing room afterwards or even restarting from specific points in filming. It’s either done right or not at all. But when it is done right, as it is in “Growl”, the pay off is well worth it. The one shot choreography scenes are why people still gravitate towards martial arts movies of the 1970s and why I’d still say that any Jackie Chan movie of the 1980s has superior action scenes to most anything being made today (Bourne style shakey cam is the worst thing to happen to action movies). One can appreciate every single step and timed move when the camera doesn’t try to distract the viewer from seeing it. And the single camera shot serves EXO well in “Growl”. SM Entertainment is in a transition phase where their hit groups (Girls’ Generation, Super Junior and SHINee) are quickly entering the “elder states-person” status of their careers and the label knows that they can’t just ride Taeyeon’s coattails forever. Efforts like this show that SM isn’t willing to close up shop in a year or two. It doesn’t signal that SM is willing to do much of anything different, but EXO and “Growl” does demonstrate that when properly motivated, SM Entertainment can still release a music video which shows some well thought out ambition.
Rating: 1 well timed strut out of 1 Camera Pan