[Review] EXO’s “Obsession” is a risk that doesn’t quite pan out

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.

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IATFB says: People always get mad when you don’t like songs like this, apparently believing that the less something sounds like a traditional pop track the more worthy of veneration it is in and of itself. And sure, if it all comes together then they deserve the plaudits for stepping outside the box, but the reason taking a risk is, well, a risk is because if it doesn’t work then you’re left with an ambitious but ultimately unappealing effort and that’s where EXO’s “Obsession” left me. The music video is fucking outstanding, though.

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