Despite losing two members and various controversies, EXO is still one of the most popular K-pop boy groups, at least until Big Bang makes its eventual return. Thanks to its immense popularity, just about whatever EXO releases is bound in some way to be quite successful. With this sort of safety net and the fact that they are an SM Entertainment act, a company known to be innovative, I still expect them to go a relatively safe route. This is probably because their safest song, Growl was also their most successful and because SM need some stability during this turbulent time.
Call Me Daddy, sorry, Call Me Baby therefore was surprising to me in its understated yet strangely structured whole. It is in short, a new version of Growl with a few added bells and whistles upon first glance. Yet further inspection offers some more unique aspects to the song.
Also on KultScene: EXO’s ‘Exodus’ Teasers Herald The Group’s Rebirth
Call Me Baby jettisons the genre and crazy structure bending of EXO’s previous songs like MAMA and Wolf, and keeps the simple instrumentation of Growl with a slightly updated song structure. This seems quite fitting given this comeback has been seen as a kind of rebirth for EXO after Luhan and Kris’ departure. The newest title song holds onto EXO’s most successful elements and lets go of now irrelevant parts.
The most notable element from before is the RnB beats that carries the song; it is instantly recognisable and fun to any listener. The horn riff that follows it is equally satisfying and recalls the earlier work of Justin Timberlake. The horns accompanied with the strings, which come in later, are the extent of the aforementioned bells and whistles. Instrumentally and musically, Call Me Baby has little else to offer listeners looking for a new style of music from EXO.
Luckily for EXO and its fans, Call Me Baby is also the group’s most interesting single vocally. As a K-pop fan I can’t really complain that there aren’t enough techniques used in songs, as K-pop is a very diverse genre of music.
Also on KultScene: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Of ‘Tazza: The Hidden Card’
But if I were to ask K-pop acts to focus on certain elements of vocalization, it would be harmonies or vocal rounds. While Call Me Baby doesn’t exactly use these, the song highlights the members vocal talents and matches them to their respective strengths. The song also has varied vocals all at the same time as melding the members vocals together in new ways, ranging from the falsetto chorus “call me baby” to contrasting raps with screams. It adds a great deal of interest to a song that at first listen could have been left alone and seems like a very simplistic choice to be a group’s comeback song.
The chorus, if you can call it that, also takes on a slightly more complex form. Depending on how you see it the chorus either kicks in very early or has a long pre-chorus which contains the “call me baby” parts. It all makes for an interesting structure as there is no discernible chorus or hook whatever way you look at it. This again provides a slightly more challenging listen than first anticipated, something which SM Entertainment specialises in (see all of the songs from f(x)’s Pink Tape).
Call Me Baby has a number of things that warrant more than one listen but does that make it a great song?
Call Me Baby has the elements of a great, traditional SM song and a great weird SM song but comes out on the other end not really shining with either. It exists in a kind of dull middle-ground with nothing but a few interesting features to prop it up. It doesn’t play with the form enough to make a comment on pop music and doesn’t have a good enough hook to be an ear worm. Lyrically it has nothing to offer either, just another guy pining for a girl. That being said I really like the vocal contrasting and some other stuff so it’s not the worst EXO single. But it doesn’t really seem like a title track either.