I’ve been listening to a lot of South Korean pop lately, and as anyone who follows K-pop can tell you, things move pretty quickly in that world. You could say this is the case with pop music in general, but it’s especially true for K-pop because the field is so crowded—to give you an idea, in 2014, 47 new boy groups and 56 new girl groups made their debuts on the K-pop scene. I have absolutely no idea about how many groups or solo acts are currently active in total, but judging by those figures, I’m sure it’s an impressive number. So, if a release doesn’t immediately attract the listening public’s attention, chances aren’t good that it will make much of an impression at all. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule—take EXID, for example.
EXID were formed in 2011 as a six-member girl group, and their debut single, the glossy electropop track “Whoz That Girl,” charted at a respectable position of 36 on Korea’s national Gaon Singles Chart. Following the departure of three original members in 2012 (who would later go on to form BESTie, another solid girl group), two new members were added to create EXID’s final five-member lineup: vocalists Hani, Solji, and Hyerin, and rappers LE and Junghwa (as with many groups, these roles aren’t strict). Two more singles released in 2012, the dancefloor-ready “I Feel Good” and the mellower “Every Night,” charted at numbers 56 and 43, respectively. Again, these are pretty good positions, considering the thick competition in K-pop. And their first mini-album, Hippity Hop, even peaked at a position as high as number 13.
The latest single, “Up & Down,” seemed to be a bit of disappointment upon its initial release in August 2014; it entered the Gaon Chart at number 94 before quietly slipping off it. Such a fate isn’t surprising for many K-pop releases, but as it turns out, the story of “Up & Down” didn’t end there. In October, a fan-recorded video of EXID performing the track went viral in Korea, garnering millions of views. As is usually the case on the internet, no one knows exactly what caused the video’s spike in popularity—it could’ve been the members’ sexy dancing, stylish outfits, or impressive live performance abilities, to name a few reasons that were thrown around. Personally, I think it most has to do with people realizing that “Up & Down” is just a killer song. The rap lines, delivered with attitude by LE, are contrasted by singing lines that resemble schoolyard chants in their simplistic melodies. The addition of a brassy sax intro, a propulsive chorus, and a finale that combines all of this makes “Up & Down” an insanely catchy song. And it finally got its due attention: “Up & Down” climbed back into the charts, eventually hitting number one in the last week of 2014. Not bad for a months-old track, to say the least.
EXID opened 2015 with a victory lap, performing “Up & Down” on Korea’s competitive TV music shows and picking up six #1 awards, their first wins since debuting. To top these successes off, they also won the Hot Trend of the Year Award at the Gaon Chart K-Pop Awards that took place a couple weeks ago. The whirlwind of activity is starting to cool down now, and with no new releases on the horizon, it looks like EXID are going to take a well-deserved break for a while. They probably won’t be away for that long, though—a lengthy hiatus increases a K-pop artist’s chances of falling off the radar, after all. But I don’t think EXID have to worry too much about that, given that “Up & Down” has established them as major players in the K-pop world. In the meantime, you can check out their other music (along with dance practices and interviews, if you know Korean) on YouTube.