A Beginner’s Guide To Provocative K-Pop Girl Group EXID

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It can be hard to get your bearings in K-Pop, so we’re helping out with intros to some of the biggest acts.

K-Pop is full of stories about underrated girl groups who flopped because they never garnered any popularity. In an industry that only cherishes a handful of groups, it’s hard to have a successful career as a female idol. This was almost the case for EXID, who pulled the underdog comeback of a lifetime.

EXID debuted as a six-piece in 2012, including current members Hani, LE, and Jeonghwa. But shortly after their first single “Whoz That Girl,” three members dropped out of the group and were replaced with Solji and Hyelin. Prior to EXID, Solji was a singer and vocal coach, LE was a songwriter and underground rapper, Hyelin had participated in an American Idol-type show called Superstar K, and Hani and Jeonghwa were former JYP Entertainment trainees.

Saying the women were talented is an understatement, and it was reflected in their sexy yet witty concepts and infectiously delicious singles like “I Feel Good” and “Every Night.” While their singles all charted somewhat decently, EXID failed to become popular. The group has even said that they were close to disbanding before their fate changed drastically in 2014.

That year, the girl group released “Up & Down,” a sax laden, chaotically fun jam. It was paired with suggestive choreography and a colorful, innuendo-filled music video done by a trendy South Korean director behind K-Pop hits like A Pink’s “Mr. Chu” and Orange Caramel’s “Catallena.” And while undeniably catchy, “Up & Down” didn’t do well. It wasn’t until four months later when a fan video of Hani dancing to the song went viral that EXID was catapulted to stardom. The song soon reached number one on the charts, every other celebrity danced to the choreography on variety shows, and they even won a few awards on music shows — four months after its initial release.

Because of “Up & Down,” EXID was saved and became one of the top K-Pop girl groups in Korea. And because their fame came after the blatant sexualization of one of their members, EXID followed up with “Ah Yeah,” a song that talked about an’s predatory nature. The music video, for its part, featured them telling men off while smiling and acting coy but also censored their sultry choreography — something Korean broadcast stations did when they performed “Up & Down” on TV.

EXID, on the surface, is a sexy K-Pop girl group. But once you take a closer look to their concepts and lyrics (which are often written by LE), you find the re-appropriation of their objectification by the media and public through a comedic approach. They also don’t shy away from presenting themselves as sexual women. On “Cream,” they sing, “Boy you’re like cream/You ruin my body” and then “I love this cream/You ruin my body.” The music video for “Hot Pink” is most definitely about prostitution, which may or may not be a dig at the pop machine.

EXID are the queens of sexual symbolism, but it’s always done with social commentary and a touch of girl power — something they’ve done since the beginning, which makes their rise to success that more special. Since gaining their newfound fame, the group tops the charts with each new single. And after an almost year-long hiatus and missing out on the promotion cycle for their latest single “Night Rather Than Day” due to hyperthyroidism, Solji rejoined the group recently to gear up for EXID’s imminent comeback in October.

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