Billboard spoke with the producers and songwriters behind EXO‘s latest album, “Love Shot”, revealing what it’s like to make music with the Kings of K-Pop.
1. Love Shot
‘Love Shot’, originally “Love Shop”, was created at an SM Entertainment music camp back in January 2017.
Even when it was created during the music camp, the producers knew it was going to be a big track for EXO.
“We wanted something that was very, very performance-driven, very dance-driven — something that would sound good loud and in an arena. We like the fact that it’s kind of in a different time signature — it’s in 6/8, so that’s not like a generic pop song. With Korea, we like to do things that push the boundaries, not super generic, because they’re very musical. Things like that translate a lot better than they do in America.”
— Mike Woods
‘Tempo’ was also birthed at a writing camp with SM Entertainment, though it was fine-tuned in the U.S. with writers Leven Kali, Tay Jasper, Adrian McKinnon and main producer Digi.
“We didn’t know where the song would end up, but I’m grateful that it ended up with EXO because they always execute the records at a unique and high-quality level. I’m really happy [with] how it turned out and blessed to be a part of their story.”
— Leven Kali
Kali also noted that the song was inspired by several different genres and artists like Teddy Riley, OutKast, and Take 6.
Another fun fact is that “Tempo” is such a fun track because the writers dabbled into the Seoul nightlife and had a “party making the record”, resulting in “Tempo” being the original spelling of the track. Kali shouts out “the blue soju” in particular.
Digi Chammas, who has worked with Mac Miller, CeeLo Green, Khalid, and SHINee — praised EXO for pulling off “Tempo” so well.
It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve produced, and EXO just crushed it. Crushed it! Having a single with them is what I’ve always wanted, and to be a part of such an exciting release is unreal… I wanted to bring a bright energy to their music while still letting it still be serious without being too serious. Also, bed squeaks. They just work.”
— Digi Chammas
‘Trauma’ is one of the new tracks that was introduced to the world with the released of the repackaged “Love Shot”. Turns out the song was inspired by Maroon 5‘s last album.
“Maroon 5’s last album was very [influential] — I have a friend that wrote on it and she’s one of my biggest inspirations. I wanted to keep things simple — I’m still working on really simplifying what we call “pop music,” trying to strip things down enough to where it’s still very much intelligent but easy for a two-year-old to catch onto. Maroon 5, definitely, I feel like I utilized some of their simplicity and took my own take on it from there.”
— Keynon “KC” Moore
The track could have gone to Australia pop band 5 Seconds of Summer or even Joe Jonas’s DNCE — but Ryan Jhun snatched up the track for SM Entertainment and EXO first!
“They loved it but ask[ed] for some changes and edits in additional to the changes Ryan’s team requested, plus a rap verse was requested since it wasn’t in the original pitch. We made numerous adjustments so it could be more energetic so that EXO could showcase their dancing. They’re just a very multi-talented group; we wanted the music and the track to reflect who they were.”
— Cedric “DaBenchwarma” Smith
The song ‘Wait’ was produced in 2014, and was initially intended to be released for one of EXO’s winter albums — making ‘Wait’ an appropriate title for the song.
“Through the years, at different times, they told me, “Yeah, it’s about to come out.” So we didn’t pitch it elsewhere because we thought it was coming out, but it always got pushed. And now, finally, four and a half years later — I think it was autumn of 2014 that we created this song. We were kind of joking about it, “Wait” being an appropriate title, but it ended up where we kinda intended it to end up. We’re really happy with the results, how it sounds with EXO’s vocals.”
— Andreas Öberg
Although the song wasn’t included in a winter album, it did come out during the winter time which is quite interesting as it was intentionally created as a “winter season song”.
“We wanted to create something emotional for the winter season. Not necessarily a plain Christmas song, but this is, I would say, a winter season song. I think in Korea, in my experience, the releases from the labels are very season-based. People and fans are expecting specific colors, chords, styles of music.”
— Andreas Öberg
‘Wait was also completed following a dinner with the producers’ friend, Siwon from Super Junior!
“Andreas and I started creating this song in the evening — I was extremely jet lagged. We ended up taking a break and my friend Siwon Choi from Super Junior came and picked us up and took us to dinner and a night out on the town showing us Seoul. We got back to the studio after midnight and finished writing and recording ‘Wait’.”
— Jimmy Burney
This track was originally called ‘Body Don’t Lie’ but was slightly adjusted to be about someone who can read in their lover’s body language that their relationship is coming to an end.
The writers shared that when it comes to writing music for EXO, one must consider the performance and concert aspect of things.
“If you can’t hear it being sung, if you can’t see it being performed in a stadium, then it’s not the record it needs to be. ”
— Patrick “J.Que” Smith
They also emphasized that writing for EXO is like writing for Superman, and one must take this mindset in when creating music for the group.
“We’ve met them, and they’re all amazingly sweet guys, but seeing them perform was just wild. It’s like watching Clark Kent turn to Superman. They’re so amazing and mild-mannered and good natured and super polite, and then when they step on stage, they just become these superheroes. When we sit down to write, you just understand that you can’t write this song for Clark Kent. We knew that we had to write the song for Superman. If Superman can’t sing this song, we’re not doing our job.”
— Patrick “J.Que” Smith
6. Ooh La La La
‘Ooh La La La’ came out of a request for something a little Latin for EXO.
“‘Ooh La’ is a Latin bop. It has low end and it moves. The inspiration for that was just EXO. When you have them as [the] goal, it’s easy to get inspired because you can almost already see them bodying it. You just know what direction to go.”
— Digi Chammas
There is also a hint of bossa nova meets K-Pop within ‘Ooh La La La’, one of the fan favorites from DMUMT.
” Me and Digi [Chammas] were messing around with the sort of bossa nova-inspired feel on the guitar, and then he sort of flipped that to more of the K-pop feel. We got together and played around with ideas, and while we were there writing, they sent some ideas. They said, “Hey, we’re finishing the track, here’s the bridge chords, can you do the bossa nova-style guitar over this section?” Once we started writing to the initial idea, it [took] about two days and it was done.”
— Justin Lucas
This LDN Noise track is made by a producer that knows EXO’s sound, capabilities, and audience like the back of their hand.
“Whenever we start to work on records for EXO, we usually start by creating tracks freely and try to be as experimental as possible. Being fortunate enough to have worked on past records, we are quite connected to their journey, so therefore [we] have a feeling of what we would like to hear them do next as listeners and fans.”
— Greg Bonnick, LDN NOISE
The song was inspired by Michael Jackson‘s “Billie Jean” and then more futuristic Daft Punk-esque vibes were fusion-ed into the track.
“We visualized the movie Tron and the soundtrack by Daft Punk for the mood of the song and added the lead sound from “Power.” The lyrics added to the theme, and then Chanyeol helped with translation.”
— Greg Bonnick
8. With You
‘With You’ was originally created for English artist Aston Merrygold in May 2016, but after leaving the fate of the track undecided, SM Entertainment ended up taking the song early this year.
The song has an interesting mix of R&B and U.K. garage, helping it stand out to EXO’s A&R team.
“Myself and Mo [Samuels], our whole production is based in fusion, a lot of fusion [from] our background, us being British and Nigerian…I guess that’s kinda one of the reasons why the record must have stood out, because it’s something new, but something they could relate to. We just added a different spin to it with the U.K. element. It’s kinda like cooking, when you make [something] a certain particular way and you [add] extra ingredients, and you go, “Oh, this is new, I didn’t know you could do that!” But you’re not scared to enjoy the meal.”
— Mikey Akin, Sons of Sonix
Chanyeol was also involved with the fine tuning of this track, helping it fit EXO’s vision.
“When we were finishing off the record and doing post-production on the record, he did have his input in terms of if we could try this and move this section of the rhythm there and have a drop out here. It was a collaboration back and forth to get the best out of the record.”
— Mikey Akin
An interesting fact about this song, is that it was originally intended for NCT 127 and had to be re-worked when EXO’s team showed interest.
“Our goal for this song was always to make it sound effortless while still keeping a high, driving energy going throughout. We wanted it to stand out from the other records on the album.”
— The Wavyz
The song engineers helped create the iconic intro for the song, right when the producers needed it.
“We were going back and forth with [SM Entertainment] about different options for the intro of the song. We felt like we hit a wall and were stuck until the engineers we work with — Aaron Berton, Andrew Hey — walked by whistling the melody from the chorus. That’s when we knew it had to be the intro!”
— The Wavyz
10. Bad Dream
‘Bad Dream’ (originally ‘Stranger’) was put together at another SM Entertainment song camp, and Deez was thinking of TVXQ when he first heard it. At the camp, it started off as a guitar and R&B song but evolved into something that suited EXO better.
I think their sound, it can’t be anything regular, down the middle. It’s gotta be a little left of center, just something that’s engaging, because their performances are so crazy. That’s what I’m thinking about with the track, trying to make something that performance-wise will be cool.”
— Mike Daley
Another LDN Noise track, in which the producers searched for a “bouncy hip-hop record” that “the crowd could really engage with”.
It was created during the same camp that “Gravity” was made at, and the product is something that will certainly inspire a spectacular and dramatic performance…hopefully for EXO’s upcoming tour!
“As you can hear, the chord progression, the melody, [and the] harmonies of the background vocals in the bridge part are quite dramatic. Since the initial track was [a] very strong hip-hop track, I wanted to give some turn around through the bridge part, and it was very satisfying, as listeners could have more [of a] spectacle when they get to the final chorus, with the bridge.”
12. Smile On My Face
This song originally started out as an idea for Trey Songz, a famous American R&B and hip-hop artist but eventually turned into an intimate love song that melts the hearts of EXO-L upon every listen.
“The song I did for EXO-CBX was probably a bit more fun and upbeat, so I’m glad we could do something a bit more heartfelt this time for EXO. Something their fans could really connect with, and something that would really show off their vocal abilities.”
— Iain James
‘Oasis’ (originally ‘Running’) was the chosen finale for EXO’s grand comeback album “Don’t Mess Up My Tempo”. The track is another study in how those who produce music for EXO always aim to push the boundaries.
“I think we always try to do something that hasn’t necessarily been done before or the way that we’ve done it. That’s a really big thing for us anytime we work collectively, it’s always about “How can we push the boundaries?”
— Mike Woods