LAMEASS PRE-GAME ► CONCERT ► SETLIST ANALYSIS ► SAPPY THOUGHTS
► SETLIST ANALYSIS
I have always been thoroughly impressed by SM's production values for EXO's activities, whether it be through music videos, promotional photoshoots, or group styling. They don't recycle classically K-pop boyband concepts, but instead, push the envelope and set trends. And the result is always well thought-out and produced. I can always count on a level of sophistication and quality.
I had high expectations going into the concert, but I was completely blown away by how well-made it was. It was very skillfully planned out with both a tremendous amount of artistic and entertainment value. The concert felt alive--not just because of the fans and members present, but because of the masterful way the songs were laid out. The setlist wasn't just a showcase of songs arranged in a mechanical to-do list. The entire three-hour performance was treated as a cohesive piece of work. The concert was pulsing and carried the audience along a journey.
If I were part of the concert directing crew that constructed this list, this entry would be my thought process. (And yes, I already know I'm reading too deeply into this, like wracking your brain for enough bs to pad a 10-page English paper on a four-line poem.)
I've attempted to gauge how they planned the concert to play out in terms of playing with the audience emotions and energy level to create dynamism. My blueprint below is undulating as the concert unfolds. The constant buildup and release keeps the audience going in suspense. Generally, speaking there is always one hit song anchoring each cycle. It is a small treat for the concertgoers' patience, baiting them to repeat the behavior again for the next set of songs. It's really the anticipation that generates the energy that EXO and fans feed off of to create the unforgettable atmosphere.
The concert was a large, overarching musical piece made up of smaller ones in diverse mediums (videos, speaking, and singing/dancing). I view the setlist in a very crude sonata form with an (introduction (Opening),) exposition (Section 1), development (Sections 2-8), recapitulation (Sections 7), and coda (Section 8). It teases you in with the familiar, keeps you there to settle down and appreciate the depth, rewards you with the powerhouse, and sends you off with the new.
Section 1: The concert kicks off with the recognizable, grungy, aggressive, dissonant music and heavy beat that is typical of so many boy bands' repertoire. It's smart that they started with Overdose since it was the next heavily promoted song following Growl, which shot them to fame. I bet most people in the audience started following EXO after Growl, so this song would have been the first one where the fans were there to experience the entire comeback promotions period. The other two songs not only also fit the theme, but also help to remind us of where they've come from.There's not much playing with emotions at this point because they can count on building off the initial tension from the opening and their spectacular reveal.
Section 2: After giving us a taste of the expected, the type of music that every boy band is capable of, they invite us to sample something different and we dive into something softer but there are still some traces of angst that carry through. The tempo slows down through this set and the following, to help us catch our breath and create contrast for the exciting Set 4. Don't Go is an unexpected and interesting choice for a transition song from Set 1 in that it is in a major key compared to the previous minor ones, but I think it's more effective when considering it's off the back of Ment #1. After seeing the boys for the first time, we want to followup with something pretty and harmonious, right? Starting with Playboy, we start going into a deeper, darker mood. And to prevent this entire section from slowing to a halt, I figure My Answer is used as the peak of this set, to relieve some of the accumulated energy.
Honestly, this section's was a bit confusing for me in terms of logical ordering because it felt like a mismash of various types of songs. I could argue that the latter two are individual performances from Kai/Sehun and Baekhyun/DO/Suho, but I'm not sure about the first two--just very handsy dancing?
Section 3: This gets to the darkest section of the concert, not only in the music and choreography, but in the stage set-up with the metal platforms and their black and crimson suits. The concert enters a phase of almost-sexy, but not quite there. You feel it, but there's nothing you can point to exactly to say it's a blatant device used to create that effect. Everything there exudes it, hints at it, and I think it is so much sexier this way.
Because there's no "hit" song within the three, I'm still trying to decide if it's more of a continuation of Section 2 or a lead up to Section 4. It is related to Section 2 musically, but it can also be used to set that contrasting mood for Section 4 to hit with greatest impact. Maybe it's both.
Section 4: Following the near-hibernation state of the previous songs, the upbeat songs in this section were much welcomed and released all the energy mounting since the end of Section 1. The audience is rejuvenated by the tempo and the boys' jumping and smiling faces and throws themselves into playing along with them, creating a carefree, joyous mood. This is a warm-up for what is to come later. For me personally, it is yet another reminder of an era long ago, when they were still babies.
In terms of the sonata form, though still in the development part, there are small rifts of the main "theme" (EXO's trademark songs aka starting with Growl and the ones following), to give a taste of what's to come and help create cohesion when the concert circles back to it again. It doesn't exactly mirror any of those mainstream songs, but contains the same in-containable energy that propels Call Me Baby and Love Me Right. They were also all released in the same album as Growl.
Section 5: People are not Energizer bunnies, so this set of songs allows us to calm down and rest a bit. They want to ensure we are fully recovered so we can let it all out for Section 6. The first two songs are even more draggy than in Section 3, where at least sex was driving some of the energy. Miracles in December swoops in to save the day for this section because otherwise the momentum might have dropped to zero. The audience is also getting bored after two songs of the same slow tempo, so MiD is greeted with especially loud cheers, as it's finally a song that everyone is familiar with and can sing along to. It probably wouldn't have been received as warmly if it had been placed alongside other more upbeat songs, so this slow burn and sudden release was very effective for the piece.
Section 6: The calm, leisurely mood of previous songs collects the energy of the audience and yearning for release and ensures that they are willing to embrace the next set of party songs. All the songs in this series, with the exception of Machine (still questioning the placement of this song...feels like it should've been in Section 3), had been remixed to share and build off of common elements. This helped create and elevate tension and and made the final climax in Run especially effective since there was a familiar pattern everyone could anchor themselves to.
The rap in Full Moon helps set the hip hop, clubby tone of the section and gently eases everyone into the more lively mood. (Skipping Machine, which feels like a buffer to me.) Next, building off the more upbeat tone, Drop That introduces the all-important underlying dubstep bass notes and also incorporates pieces of rap. The tension mounts as the song is performed because the fans recognize the rap from before and know/feel pieces of the two songs accumulating. Let Out the Beast, completely exploits their energy from before by maxing out the dubstep and transforming it into a rave with laser lights that sends everyone to euphoria. However, the songs itself is club music that no one can sing to, so the audience can only perform two basic functions--scream and jump, which are not dependent on this being an EXO song. So as the last step, Run, puts all that together the pieces--the beat and energy first set from rap, the doozy dubstep bass notes, and finally a song that people can sing to. This way, the same kind of energy from before can be projected onto music that is related to EXO so the fans feel a more meaningful connection with the band at the final climax.
In my opinion, this section was most cleverly put together. It was logical and beautifully executed, each one transforming and growing from the previous song.
Section 7: Building off the incredible hype from before, these pieces push the audience one notch higher by finally giving them what they've been waiting for this entire time--their three hit songs. At this point, people are running on highs and it ensures that the songs are received at a booming, otherworldly level. There is no need for a climax to direct and concentrate energy because everyone (including the boys!) is going all out on their own like a racecar without brakes. And through the process, everyone slowly starts to come together as a group of united fans, after having experienced such a beautiful high and release together.
This is the recapitulation, the highlight of the larger concert composition, which are EXO's most famous songs. It's what the entire set list has been leading up to. It's the main event.
Section 8: This is the last section of the concert, the wind-down and send-off. The VCR plays to buy people time to recollect and actually breathe. But the content, centers the fans and reminds them of their bond with EXO. It teases out their emotions and reminds them of their love, which plays perfectly into Sing For You. Now with hearts opened, everyone naturally sings together and the venue comes together as one with EXO. This builds into a cohesive audience now receiving the boys for their final lengthy ment, and it's overflowing with love and support at a level never felt before. The concert ends with a calmer but still upbeat song to help unravel the energy. EXO bids farewell to the fans and brings them down to earth with two of their most recent songs to remind them how their music has evolved and connect them back to present day.
I really appreciated how nicely and evenly spaced out the Ments and VCRs were. Clearly the organizers sat through and reviewed the set list multiple times to decide on the optimal break points, to build up exactly enough energy to work off of. Not too often which would disrupt the flow but not too sparse where the energy would frustrate and dissipate. Overall, they were very clever in toying with our emotions and teasing us with suspense. Apart from the excitement created by the setlist alone, the sets and props were also very effective (ex: paper panel stripping is a no-brainer hit). I especially enjoyed the arrangements in the Opening and Party section. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about production values for the concert!
And just for kicks, since this is an account of MY experience, you can see how far I was from a normal person's experience, measured against this scientific "projected energy level" benchmark that I very arbitrarily made up.