It’s hard to remember the last time a major k-pop release was hit with near across-the-board disappointment moments after its release. I suppose there was a similar feeling last summer when it came to the chorus of Bigbang’s Bang Bang Bang, but that turned out to be one of the biggest hits of the year. I was aware of the general consensus on EXO’s Lotto even before hearing it, and it caused me to expect some glorious failure. What we’re actually getting is not nearly as interesting. It’s not horrifically bad, either — just head-scratchingly flat for a group that has given us an entire singles run of classics.
Much has already been said about Lotto‘s excessive use of autotune. Yes, it was a mistake, and it nearly derails the entire track. K-pop’s reliance on an overly warped production style marred many otherwise great songs back in the 2009-10 era, and it’s surprising to see it pop up again now. EXO don’t need this, and neither does Lotto. The song’s opening refrain sounds like some embarrassing attempt to ape the worst of American hip-hop. Thankfully, things quickly improve from there. The hook, in particular, makes up for Lotto‘s forgettable verses. It has a nimble appeal, riding the track’s slinky beat with a playful sneer. The autotune actually helps here, and should have been relegated solely to elements of the chorus.
The problem is, EXO have set expectations so high. Lotto sounds more like something from a rookie group, desperate to seem cool and international. EXO already knocked us over the head with the excellent Lucky One and Monster this year. They have nothing to prove, and attempting this distinctly dated American sound feels beneath them. But even with all of these concerns, there are elements that work in Lotto, offering thrilling glimpses into the song it could have been. That’s enough to warrant further listens, though it’s through a bittersweet lens that tempers excitement with frustration.