With over 2,300 songs on my iPhone’s “K-Pop Singles” playlist, I thought it would be fun to add a bit of unpredictability to my song review posts. So as a result, we have the “Random Shuffle Review” feature.
The rules are simple. I fire up my playlist, press “shuffle,” and whatever song plays first gets the full Bias List treatment!
Year Released: 2013
When it comes to a song like Growl (으르렁), it’s not a matter of debating whether it’s successful or not. Few modern k-pop tracks are as universally loved as this. The song is iconic for a reason. But what makes it such a classic?
Before Growl, EXO were struggling to escape the shadows of their agency seniors. I still consider their debut mini album Mama to be one of k-pop’s absolute best, but in 2012 it was more a continuation of SM Entertainment’s house sound than a left-field statement of intent. Beyond their unique sci-fi concept and sub-unit configuration, EXO hadn’t yet found the style that truly set them apart. Growl, with its addictive hip-hop beat and rhythmic chorus, was the comeback that changed things.
Growl is a song that powers forward without an ounce of unneeded fat on its bones. It’s slick as hell, and made even more so when paired with its nimble choreography. The entire instrumental rests on one indelible synth loop, built upon with blasts of percussion and vocal harmony. This kind of simplicity could easily become boring, but EXO add an engaging, ever-twisting melody line that gives Growl an air of spontaneity. Rather than build to any defining climax, it’s a melody that always seems to be on the advance, one step ahead of the listener. And then there’s that supple chorus, which pulses with the kind of impossibly in-sync energy that makes k-pop such a force. I still remember when Growl was first released, thinking “this is so different for them, but such an undeniable hit.” Sometimes it only takes one listen to know.