K-pop boyband EXO march on despite recent 'hardship'

K-pop boyband EXO in Singapore on Jan 9, 2015.
K-pop boyband EXO in Singapore on Jan 9, 2015.PHOTO: AC MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT

SINGAPORE - For a tightly managed K-Pop act trained to showcase perfection, boyband EXO made a rare admission in front of fans here of the tough times the group had to endure in recent years.

In a pre-recorded video shown at Saturday's (Jan 9) concert, the English captions mentioned how EXO met with "hardship" that was "confusing, sad and upsetting", a veiled reference to the last two years when the group's future hung in the balance as three of their Chinese members - Kris, Luhan and Tao - left one after another.

The boys reportedly wanted out because of the group's exhausting schedules and what they claimed to be unfair treatment from their agency SM Entertainment.

The video, however, subsequently carried the caption: "Wounds will heal. And we will become stronger."

The behind-the-scene footage, shown in black and white for melancholic effect, was the only time the mood became subdued during the almost three-hour-long concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

For the rest of the show, it was business as usual for the nine members - Chanyeol, Suho, Baekhyun, Kai , Sehun, Xiumin , Lay, Chen and D.O. - who had their first full-length concert in Singapore in 2014.

As expected of SM Entertainment, the idol-churning factory splurged on a elaborate stage set and flashy effects that together cost over $1 million, an expense similar to that forconcerts of SM's other artists' including Girls' Generation and Super Junior. It was a formulaic razzle-dazzle affair, replete with pyrotechnics, strobe lights and bursts of confetti.

EXO performed old hits like Overdose and Growl and treated fans to the new chart-topping ballad Sing For You. Leader Suho, 24, also revealed that they will be releasing an album this year.

The boys, known for their highly synchronised dance moves, were a little off during their fast numbers but the 6,000-strong crowd of mostly of young female fans did not seem to mind.

Instead, they were thrilled when the pretty boys covered all corners of the stage, striking myriad poses that saw them morph from cutie pies to sexy beast in a second.

Another video that played allowed fans to imagine themselves as the romantic date of the boyish members. Adorable Xiumin played chef and and prepared sandwiches. The playful Baekhyun lost a game of Jenga and looked into the camera begging for another chance to redeem himself.

But the wholesome act occasionally veered into naughty territory. The singers teased their fans by changing outfits behind a paper screen as they sang the breezy song Lucky. Their illuminated silhouettes against the screen stirred the imagination of fans and left them screaming for more.

The closest that fans got to a glimpse of their idols' killer abs was when they belted the sensuous tune Baby Don't Cry.

Kai and Sehun, wearing white shirts, got wet dancing in separate pools of water that emerged onstage - a highlight of the fancy stage design.

In between performances, the members did not forgot to express their love for their fans with words.

A sweat-drenched Xiumin, 25, who spoke in Korean, said via a translator: "Is it hot because of the weather or because of the fans' (passion)?"

Lay, the only Chinese member of the group, went beyond hackneyed sweet nothings.

Speaking in Mandarin, Lay, 24, said: "We are willing to be your kites, we hope you can be our kite string, helping us to fly higher."

Top marks for fan service. No wonder EXO have held on to their fans' hearts even during their times of low.

nggwen@sph.com.sg