Song Review: EXO – Tempo

Though members of EXO have kept busy with solo projects and sub-units, it feels like forever since we’ve been treated to a full comeback from the group. Their new album, Don’t Mess Up My Tempo, has a wonderful title, promising a playground of shifting percussion and dynamic energy. This tone contrasts with the subdued Ko Ko Bop, which led the campaign for their last full album. As a huge fan of EXO’s music since debut, I’ve been crossing my fingers for a comeback pitched somewhere between the futuristic drama of their 2012 material and the glossy funk-pop of their 2015 singles. Perhaps I set my expectations a bit too specific.

When it comes down to it, Tempo is an easier song to appreciate than fully lose yourself in. I applaud its willingness to paint outside the lines of common pop song structure. This brazenness pays tribute to SM’s long history of genre-mixing and complexity. My favorite SM song of all time is (probably) TVXQ’s immortal Rising Sun, which owes much of its appeal to a Bohemian Rhapsody-esque web of shifting textures and melodic themes. On a surface level, Tempo utilizes that same technique. The problem is, none of its pieces are quite as gratifying as they should be. Barring the extended acapella bridge – a ballsy move, for sure – the song never finds its footing for more than a few moments.

Tempo’s pre-release roll-out has been centered on a motorcycle theme, and that turns out to be a perfect analogy for the track. Most of Tempo feels like the moments when a motorcycle is revving up. Its instrumental sputters and lurches in preparation for take off. But despite some funk-infused hip-hop verses, the track’s potential is continuously thwarted by a chorus that inhibits the energy with a repetitive hook and chilled out, future bass inspired production.

Not every song has to have a huge, megawatt chorus, but with a title like Tempo I expected something a little more robust. Its verses are stronger, calling back to the group’s Love Me Right days with an added dose of funk bass and sharp percussion that shines welcome spotlight on the group’s rappers. The pitch-shifting vocal effects don’t feel necessary (they were used better in Red Velvet’s Red Flavor), but that aforementioned bridge helps compensate for the belt-it-out vocal firepower that the first two thirds of Tempo lacks. What the track is missing, then, is the kind of instant-classic melody that has characterized EXO’s best work. You can throw all the genre-bashing, momentum-shifting tricks over the surface, but if they’re not enhancing an already-strong song, there’s a limit to how far the final product can go. Then again, Ko Ko Bop proved to be a slow-burn grower last year. I could see this doing the same. There are simply too many fun little production flourishes lurking within all the insanity for Tempo to fade from memory anytime soon.

 Hooks 7
 Production 9
 Longevity 9
 Bias 8
 RATING 8.25



19 thoughts on “Song Review: EXO – Tempo

  1. Pingback: Song Review: EXO – Tempo — The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion | Rockinsamantha's Blog

    • I think it really depends on the producer. SM tends to go through phases where they favor certain producers over others. The ones they’ve latched onto this year haven’t exactly been my cup of tea. It’s no coincidence that both LDN Noise-produced tracks on this new album were instant favorites of mine. I would have loved to hear what they could have done with Tempo.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Update in the comments: Tempo just clicked with me, which confirms my thought that this will definitely be a grower. It usually doesn’t take so many listens for a song like this to hit me, but better late than never.

    It makes me wonder how I would have reviewed a song like Rising Sun only hours after its release…

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Unlike BTS, who never-ever tried to get out of their comfort zone (actually they have a very peculiar style, but it’s always-and-forever the same concept), EXO are much more capable – having much more vocal options – to switch from hip hop to technopop or from funky to soul. This means that they almost never satisfied people’s earlier expectations or became predictable about the sound of a title track (the follow-up concept to Ko Ko Bop was Power, kinda Alpha and Omega), and this means it’s 100% natural to feel a bit unstable after the first listens.

    I guess the main difficult to accept in Tempo is that the chorus doesn’t follow the groove of the rap lines, breaking the flow of that energetic dance pulse with a “Uhm. Ok, time for a drink” beat that goes nowhere. It’s definitely not their best title track and, apart from Gravity, the whole album is sadly nothing remarkable in their discography even after dozens of listens. And now that their main competitors rule the world, I would have pointed on something more – let me say – “cheesy” and less – let me say – “intellectual”.

    But of course to produce something better you need time instead of Tempo, and I fear a couple of weeks are unfortunately not enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ah yes, butterfly is the same as spring day; mic drop is a carbon copy of idol. lmao.

      There are evident shifts on bangtan’s title tracks. Their old ones are more of a throwback sound then hyyh happened where its more contemporary. Even their jump from fake love to idol is large. Their love yourself tear album alone, you can see them hop from one genre to another.

      Not exactly a unique concept too, one aspect of kpop that can be appealing is how some groups like mamamoo, bts and exo never seem to have one distinct sound for all their songs.


      • I’ve never spoken about “carbon copies”. What I meant with “comfort zone” and “same concept” is BTS attitude to follow their path without trying to make any kind of experiment: it’s not necessarily a limit (and actually it’s the key to their success), but with BTS you always know what you can expect – whether it’s a ballad or an hip hop track – while with EXO you don’t.

        To me “concept” is not just a matter of hairstyle, dresscode and photo-shooting, it’s also a matter of mood, sounds, grooves, inspirations and references. EXO proved to have much more variety than BTS (including EXO-CBX as a sub-unit), while BTS proved to have much more chances to become iconic. And I think they’re just good reasons to appreciate them both.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m interested on what particular expectations do you pertain to about bangtan (if you don’t mind, just genuinely curious)

          SM does have that style where a single song sounds like its different songs mash up together, so I can see where the experimentation comes from (correct me if I’m wrong tho lol)


        • I’m interested on what particular expectations do you pertain to about bangtan (if you don’t mind, just genuinely curious)

          SM does have that style where a single song sounds like its different songs mash up together, so I can see where the experimentation comes from (correct me if I’m wrong tho lol)


        • I’m sorry but how aren’t you capable of knowing what EXO will come up with when all of their music revolves around the SM “sound” box?
          I don’t really understand your “concept” definition, as a non-BTS fan, I cant tell where their sound and style shifted and it keepss changing as even though they are a rap oriented group, they went from different genres and concepts. Maybe it’s cause they produce their own stuff that gonna be a certain trademark sound as it happens with every producer, opposite to EXO’s music who’s produced by someone else and they barely have a say in it.

          “it’s also a matter of mood, sounds, grooves, inspirations and references” that’s all seen and heard in BTS discography so I don’t get what point you’re trying to make here.

          Liked by 1 person

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