Song Review: EXO – Obsession

Despite SM Entertainment’s occasional ambivalence when it comes to promotions, EXO comebacks still feel like events. Even with the group down to six members thanks to military enlistments, the arrival of their new album Obsession marks a much-anticipated bookend to 2019’s K-pop slate. We’ve had solos and sub-units all year long, but the full group hasn’t released Korean music since last December. With this in mind, Obsession is an odd choice for title track. It’s a solid r&b groove, but lacks the kind of impact I’d expect from an event release.

I love the idea of sampling in music. My favorite pop artist of all time, Janet Jackson, pretty much built her whole discography out of expertly-chosen (and woven) scraps of past hits. But, the pitched-up vocal sample that opens Obsession is more grating than galvanizing. The idea of using a repeated vocal hook as percussion is promising. Stray Kids struck gold with a similar approach on their spring hit Miroh. However, Obsession’s sample is dull and irritating, hanging around for way too much of the track. And though it forms a nice contrast with the instrumental’s heavy bass and dark, sinister vocal filters, there’s just not enough meat on the bones to satisfy.

The same could be said about Obsession as a whole. It feels like a solid b-side – the kind of vocal-rich, sensuous r&b that often fills EXO albums. The arrangement is gorgeous, and carries many of the hallmarks expected of co-producer Yoo Young-Jin. He works with a veritable army of composers on the track, which is surprising given how simple Obsession’s melody actually is. The verses pulse with the kind of half-sung, half-rapped structure that has characterized many NCT singles. The chorus is more robustly arranged, but its actual refrain is short, simple and oddly forgettable. Taken apart from the captivating visuals of the music video, Obsession is missing that extra magic that makes EXO title tracks so dynamic.

** Want to know what I think about literally every EXO song recorded? Make sure to follow my ongoing EXO: A-Z feature by clicking here! I’ll also be reviewing the new album, track by track, over the next few days as part of this project.

 Hooks 7
 Production 8
 Longevity 8
 Bias 8
 RATING 7.75

Be sure to add your own rating by participating in the poll below!


21 thoughts on “Song Review: EXO – Obsession

  1. I knew I was gonna disagree with you on Obsession. It’s definitely not as bombastic as I expected it to be, but it grew so much in me after two listens I can’t help but love it. Like many of SM’s releases this year, the track is polarizing. Guess we won’t agree on our top 3 songs of this month.

    The album, however, is pretty solid. Specially the lighter, groovier songs. I would like to know your opinion on it or if you’ll do a Buried Treasure with any b-side. Just endure through the first two moody side tracks and I think you’ll enjoy Nonstop, Butterfly Effect and Baby You Are, which are, for now, my favorites.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Using your format I would’ve given it a crispy 8.25. Just like you, I needed more to chew on but in the end I was won over by the beautiful and tight production touches. Its nowhere as good as their previous releases but its no Lotto and and least they went all out for the concept. Its a little sad, they have an amazing music video that continues their storyline and can easily pull off a chewy performance, but they need a stronger song to center it around. I am by no means disappointed with this comeback as the music video did exactly what it had to do, but for an EXO title track, it feels stripped of their energy.


  3. When I first heard the song this morning my reaction was O_o, but like the comment above me says, it took another two listens to get into it and love it.

    I don’t know what to make of the comparison with Miroh as I still can’t listen to that song all the way through. My initial point of comparison was Cherry Bomb, maybe that’s not a good comparison, but that’s where my mind went to.

    For me, Obsession has a much greater appeal than either of these songs since I’m not really a fan of hip hop, and thank the gods EXO’s strong suit is still vocals. There’s so much for me to dig into with this. The harmonies are, as expected, delicious. And the jazzy bridge trend has yet to overstay it’s welcome (but, maybe it’s pushing it just a little. Perhaps SM should look for a new thing come next year…?)

    I do agree that the song feels somewhat smaller, and is not the larger than life blast of energy we came to expect from the group. Maybe it’s the new configuration, then again EXO is no strangers to that sort of thing…still my brain tried to convince me that this is an EXO sub-unit I’m watching (well when thinking about it, this is EXO-K but with Chen instead of D.O).

    My favorite EXO song still is Love Me Right, but that’s basically a SHINee song performed by EXO, Obsession at least has EXO ingrained into its essence.


  4. I’ve been trying to figure out what I think about this. I’ve been trying to like, I swear I have but the whole “I wantcha” and “I don’t think so” repetition really make it awful for me. The only things that barely made me grab onto it were the sung parts and chanyeol’s rap part. Nothing else. I wanted to like it but I just can’t, there’s barely anything for me to grab onto.

    5/10 for me. Huge disappointment ngl…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel the same way. I had a hard time getting all the way through the song. Chen’s adlibs were a highlight, apart from that I barely remember it. It probably doesn’t help that this kind of concept does not interest me much..


  5. The whole album minus one or two tracks is disappointing. DO is sorely needed on almost every song. SM needs to hire producers who produce songs that work for current EXO.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The producers went experimental on this album, so I can’t blame you if it’s not your cup of tea. I don’t even understand why they produced such songs when they know that Korea’s ears are not open to genres that are under this album. Anyways, thanks for giving it a listen!


      • “I don’t even understand why they produced such songs when they know that Korea’s ears are not open to genres that are under this album.”

        Cause art not charts baby!
        Who cares tbh exo rare at that point of their career where they can afford not to make public pleasing hits. For every Growl and Love me right there is a Kokobop and wolf. Thats just how exo is.


  6. I think I would’ve dismissed this song if it was released by a different, younger group, but exo makes me consider it more. They have real confidence that only comes from years of experience, and that shows up in their delivery of this song. Like, if exo is so confident in this song, I should give it a chance too, right?


  7. Polarizing is the word here! Affer my roommate told me how experimental the song and MV were (didn’t like it), I gave it a listen. My goodness. The “I want you” sample got me hooked immediately! But these days, I’m a sucker for these dark and twisty experimental sounds. I was also a lot more in favor of X-Exo(?) Baekhyun’s clip on ponytail than my roommate was, lol.

    The cherry on top for me was the final chorus with Chen’s adlibs(?) on top. It’s really the finishing touch on SM songs, tight song production, harmonies, and dramatic vocal build up. Anyways, I think this song is insane, and I like it! I even surprised myself with how much I like it by rewatching the song and MV at least four times already.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The song is of course polarising and controversial but i love it. Its bold. its edgy .. its dark and it matches the concept… they went all out!
    The rest of the album is just very good! I for sure love the album more than DMUMT and EXODUS. It sounds very fresh.. very contemprary while playing with elements that exo is known for, The balance between the rap and singing is also well thought out and I feel that the fact they have only 6 members on this album enhances it rather than inhibits it because the vocals feel a bit more spaced out and give the instrumental a chance to breathe (the flute section in Groove and the orchestral elements in Non Stop are gorgeous btw).
    Of course I miss Xiumin and D.O’s voices, but the songs still hold strong with 6 members on their own. I feel like the album is more like a cousin to THE WAR and has the “we are going to do what we want to do” vibe to it and I love it.

    Most people associate EXO with songs like Love me right and Growl- songs that are very poppy and easy to listen to. But just like X EXO, EXO has a counterpart musically- the heavy bassed, gritty MAMA and the disjointed beatdrop in Kokobop….. comebacks which are less for the public but more for their own flavor as a group. Most people outside of the fandom wont even know what the Obsession imagery is about or how the robotic sounds in the title track resemble the “evil clones” of EXO who themselves are aliens. But they still did it! Because Kpop thrives on concept. Not just music, but the overall package. And I applaud them for that. It is also the same reason I like Zimzalabim.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Interesting point about EXO’s two musical sides! Although I love both Mama and the drop in Kokobop, but not this song. Agreed though that this bold concept matches the song well.


  9. I waited to comment until I listened with my best earbuds. The cell phone speaker makes it sound noisy. The earbuds capture that very low bass bumming away. That same bass is the reason why I would never play it in the car. That same bass would be the reason someone does play it in the car, driving slowly through my neighborhood late at night.

    I think it would have been better placed as an NCT song. The construction is so rap and spoken chant heavy that the trademark EXO “layered vocals” are only found in little 5sec and 10sec snippets, and which I miss dearly.

    They spent serious and too much money on the video. I would not have guessed that the theme was “evil clones of EXO”, despite all the dense theming. Fewer visual references, next time please, for us non-stans. The Exol I am sure have already analyzed every single shot for the clues.

    Rating is about right.


    • Yeah, I also couldn’t shake the feeling that this was an NCT song that EXO just happened to do. They perform it well, don’t get me wrong, but I could almost hear Taeyong’s voice in Baekhyun’s first verse.

      At this point, I am so sick of moody trap boy group songs that even a well-done one like this does nothing for me. I’ll pass.


  10. I do have to agree that it took me more than the first two times to actually like the song. I was possibly even disappointed the first time I heard it. And I am talking about EXO who introduced me to the K-world at a time I had very little interest in hearing something with subtitles, let alone without it. Their other songs just clicked with me the first time. But this one strangely grows on you. After the third time, I felt addicted to the song. I can’t stop playing it. There was just so much going on especially with the background vocals to the extent it took my brain a while to actually process the song. Like you, I also hated how that background sound was so overly done but I got used to it after awhile. Maybe not the best song but EXO do justice to it


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