Exo (Korean: 엑소; stylized as EXO) is a South Korean–Chinese boy band based in Seoul, with nine members: Suho, Baekhyun, Chanyeol, D.O., Kai, Sehun, Xiumin, Lay, and Chen. The band was formed by SM Entertainment in 2011 and debuted in 2012. Their music incorporates genres like pop, hip-hop, and R&B, alongside electronic dance music genres like house, trap, and synth-pop. Exo releases and performs music in Korean, Mandarin, and Japanese. The band ranked as one of the top five most influential celebrities on the Forbes Korea Power Celebrity list each year from 2014 to 2018, and have been named “the biggest boy band in the world” and the “kings of K-pop” by the media.
The band debuted with 12 members separated into two sub-groups: Exo-K (Suho, Baekhyun, Chanyeol, D.O., Kai, and Sehun) and Exo-M (Xiumin, Lay, Chen, and former members Kris, Luhan, and Tao). Exo-K and Exo-M performed music in Korean and Mandarin, respectively, until 2014. Exo has been a single group since then, while continuing to release and perform music in multiple languages. After the departures of Kris, Luhan, and Tao amid legal battles in 2014 and 2015, the band continued with the remaining nine members. Since 2016, Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin have also released music and performed as a sub-unit named Exo-CBX. All of Exo’s members also maintain solo careers in fields including music, film, and television.
Exo’s first album XOXO (2013), which contains the breakthrough hit “Growl”, was a critical and commercial success. It sold over one million copies, making Exo the best-selling Korean artist in 12 years. Subsequent albums and EPs have also had strong sales, with all studio albums each selling more than one million copies. Studio albums XOXO (2013), Exodus (2015) and Ex’Act (2016), along with Exo’s third EP Overdose (2014), won Exo multiple awards including four consecutive wins each of the Disc Daesang at the Golden Disc Awards, of Album of the Year at the Mnet Asian Music Awards and of the Daesang award at the Seoul Music Awards. Their fourth album The War (2017) became the band’s best-selling album upon its release, selling over 1.6 million copies in South Korea and winning Exo a second consecutive Artist of the Year award at the Melon Music Awards, as well as a record fifth consecutive Album of the Year award at the Mnet Asian Music Awards. Exo’s fifth album Don’t Mess Up My Tempo (2018) is their highest-charting album on the US Billboard 200, debuting at number 23. It is also their best selling album with over 1.9 million copies sold in South Korea.
Since Exo’s first headlining tour in 2014, the band has performed over 100 concerts across four tours and has participated in multiple joint tours. Exo is also known for its work beyond music, which includes endorsement deals with brands such as Nature Republic and Samsung, and philanthropic efforts such as Smile For U, a joint SM Entertainment and UNICEF project that began in 2015, and in which Exo continues to participate.
Exo-K’s leader, Suho, was the first member to join SM Entertainment, after a successful audition through the company’s casting system in 2006. The following year, Kai, with encouragement from his father, auditioned at the SM Youth Best Contest; he won and received a contract. Chanyeol, who took second place in a Smart Model Contest, and Sehun, who went through four auditions in two years, were the next members to become trainees in 2008. In 2010, Exo-K’s D.O. sang for his audition and was eventually offered a contract. The last member of Exo-K to become a trainee was Baekhyun, who joined in 2011 through SM Entertainment’s casting system and trained for approximately one year before debut. In Exo-M, Kris auditioned in 2008 at a global SM Entertainment audition in Canada, before moving to South Korea for training. That same year, Lay auditioned in Changsha, China, and subsequently moved to South Korea, while Xiumin attended an audition with his friend and won second place. In 2010, Luhan was scouted by an SM Entertainment representative in Seoul and passed his audition, while Tao was scouted at a talent show. The last member to join Exo-M was Chen, who took part in the casting system in 2011.
Speaking at a Stanford University business seminar in May 2011, SM Entertainment founder Lee Soo-man shared a strategy of debuting a new boy band that would be divided into two sub-groups, promoting the same music simultaneously in South Korea and China by performing songs in both Korean and Mandarin. After several member changes, in December 2011, the group finalized its name as Exo, taken from the word “exoplanet”. They were divided into two sub-groups: Exo-K for South Korea and Exo-M for China. The band’s first televised performance was at the annual SBS Gayo Daejeon event on December 29, 2011.
Exo-K and Exo-M debuted with the single “Mama” on April 8, 2012, followed by the EP Mama on April 9. The two sub-groups promoted the album separately; Exo-K performed on South Korean music program The Music Trend while Exo-M performed on the Top Chinese Music Awards in Shenzhen on the same day. The Korean version of the EP peaked at number one on South Korea’s Gaon Album Chart and at number eight on the Billboard World Albums Chart, while the Mandarin version reached number two on China’s Sina Album Chart and number one on various Chinese streaming platforms. Prior its debut, Exo released two singles, titled “What Is Love” and “History”, which peaked at number 88 on and number 68 respectively on the Gaon Digital Chart and at number six on the Sina Music Chart. Exo was awarded Best New Asian Group at the 2012 Mnet Asian Music Awards and the Newcomer Award at the Golden Disc Awards.
The group’s first studio album, XOXO, was released on June 3, 2013, in two versions: one in Korean and one in Mandarin. Unlike the EP Mama, for which Exo-K and Exo-M had separate promotions, XOXO was jointly promoted, mainly in South Korea. Exo recorded the album’s lead single “Wolf” together, but the rest of the album tracks were recorded separately. A repackaged version of the album, titled Growl, was released on August 5, 2013, with three additional tracks. New single “Growl” peaked at number three on the Billboard K-Pop Hot 100 and at number two on the Gaon Digital Chart. All versions of XOXO collectively sold over one million copies, making Exo the first South Korean artists to reach that milestone in 12 years. That December, Exo released a second EP, Miracles in December, as a special winter album containing the single of the same name. Prior to the release, the group promoted the album through their first reality show, Exo’s Showtime, which premiered on November 28, 2013 on the cable channel MBC Every 1. Following their 2013 releases, Exo won Song of the Year at the Melon Music Awards for “Growl”, Disc Daesang at the Golden Disc Awards and Album of the Year at the Mnet Asian Music Awards for XOXO, and the Daesang at the Seoul Music Awards. In addition, Exo-M received the Most Popular Group Award at the 2013 Top Chinese Music Awards.
Exo’s third EP, Overdose, was released on May 7, 2014. Originally scheduled to be released on April 21, the album was delayed due to the Sewol Ferry accident on April 16. Overdose was promoted similarly to Mama, with Exo-K in South Korea and Exo-M promoting primarily in China. The album had over 660,000 pre-orders, making it the most pre-ordered Korean EP in history. The Korean edition also peaked at number two on Billboard’s World Albums Chart, and at number 129 on the Billboard 200, making Exo the highest-ever charting male Korean group at that time. Overdose became the best selling release of 2014 in South Korea, and was the first EP to top the yearly charts and win the Album of the Year Award at the Mnet Asian Music Awards. On December 22, Exo released their first live album, Exology Chapter 1: The Lost Planet The album’s single, “December, 2014 (The Winter’s Tale)”, peaked at number one on the Gaon Digital Chart, making it Exo’s first number one single. By the end of 2014, Exo was Japan’s best-selling K-pop artist of the year.
On May 15, 2014, SM Entertainment confirmed that Kris had filed a lawsuit to terminate his contract. On May 24, the group began its first headlining tour, “Exo from Exoplanet 1 – The Lost Planet”, at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena. Tickets for the concert sold out in 1.47 seconds, breaking the record for the quickest concert sell-out by a Korean artist. On October 10, Luhan also filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment to terminate his contract.
On March 7, 2015, Exo began their second headlining world tour, “Exoplanet 2 – The Exo’luxion”, with 70,000 attendees across five nights at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul. The group released its second studio album Exodus on March 30, 2015, in both Korean and Mandarin versions. Domestic pre-orders for the album surpassed 500,000 copies within 24 hours, setting a new record for pre-orders. Lead single “Call Me Baby” was released ahead of schedule, on March 27, because versions of the song had been leaked online. The music videos were released four days later; the Korean version later became the most-watched K-pop music video of the first half of 2015. The album spent a record four consecutive weeks at number one on the Gaon Album Chart and sold over a million copies, making it Exo’s second album to do so, after XOXO. Exodus won Album of the Year at the 2015 Mnet Asian Music Awards, giving Exo their third consecutive win. In April 2015, Exodus peaked at number 95 on the US Billboard 200, making the group the highest charting Korean artist. Exo also entered Billboard’s Canadian Hot 100 chart at number 98, making them the first K-pop group and second Korean artist to chart there.
Tao was absent during promotions for Exodus due to injuries and, on August 24, became the third member to file a lawsuit against SM Entertainment to terminate his contract. Exo released a repackaged version of Exodus, titled Love Me Right, on June 3, 2015. This edition added four new songs, including the single “Love Me Right”. Due to Tao’s absence, the group promoted the song as nine members. That October, Exo became the first artists to hold a dome concert in South Korea; it was called “Exo – Love Concert in Dome”, and took place at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul.
On November 4, 2015, Exo released their Japanese debut single Love Me Right ~romantic universe~, which contains the Japanese version of “Love Me Right” and an original Japanese song titled “Drop That”. On the day of its release, the album sold 147,000 copies and reached the top of the Oricon chart, becoming the all-time best-selling debut single in Japan by a Korean artist. Five days later, Exo released a special single titled “Lightsaber” to promote the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens ahead of its release in South Korea, as part of a collaboration between SM Entertainment and Walt Disney. On December 10, Exo released its second winter special release and fourth EP, Sing for You, containing the singles “Sing for You” and “Unfair”. The album sold 267,900 copies in its first week, breaking the record for the highest first-week sales by a Korean artist. “Unfair” also became the first K-pop song to be featured in the “Best of the Week” playlist by Apple Music, and Exo became the first Korean artists to appear on the platform’s homepage. Part of the profits from the album were donated to UNICEF’s Smile For U campaign, to support the music education for children in Asia. In December 2015, South Korean entertainment industry leaders ranked Exo at number seven in the top ten pop culture leaders of 2015, the highest rank held by a K-pop artist.
Exo’s third studio album Ex’Act and its singles, “Lucky One” and “Monster”, were released on June 9, 2016, in both Korean and Mandarin versions. Domestic pre-orders for the album exceeded 660,000 copies, making it the most pre-ordered K-pop album ever at that time. The album broke the record for the highest first-week sales of a Korean album, previously set by the band’s own fourth EP Sing For You. “Monster” became Exo’s first number one on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart, and “Lucky One” debuted at number three. On August 18, 2016, a repackaged edition of the album, titled Lotto, was released; it added four new songs, including the single of the same name. “Lotto” became Exo’s second number one on the Billboard World Digital Songs Chart, and peaked at number two on the Gaon Digital Chart. The repackaged edition’s Korean and Mandarin versions reached number one and two on the Gaon Album Chart, respectively Within two months of its original release, Ex’Act had sold over 1.17 million copies, becoming Exo’s third album to sell over one million copies, earning them the title of “triple million sellers” from the media.
On July 21, Kris and Luhan officially left Exo as their contractual disputes with SM Entertainment were settled. On July 22, Exo embarked on its third headlining tour, “Exoplanet 3 – The Exo’rdium”, with a record six consecutive concerts at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena. On May 28, 2017, the tour ended with the second of two consecutive concerts at the Seoul Olympic Stadium, the largest stadium in South Korea, with an estimated maximum seating capacity of 100,000. Tickets for the first date went on sale on April 12 and were sold out within 20 minutes. In June, Lay announced he would not take part in the band’s next album, and would instead focus on his acting career. Since then, he has been absent from Exo albums and public appearances. On December 7, Exo released their second Japanese single, “Coming Over”. Selling over 158,000 copies, it reached number two on the weekly Oricon Chart and became the band’s second Japanese single to receive a Platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of Japan. Exo’s third winter release and fifth EP For Life was released on December 19. The band did not publicly promote the album, which sold over 442,000 copies in less than two weeks.
Also in 2016, the group’s members spent time advancing their solo careers. On January 7, Baekhyun released “Dream”, a collaboration with popular South Korean singer Suzy. The single proved very popular, and won Best Collaboration at the 18th Mnet Asian Music Awards among other awards. On October 31, Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin debuted as the group’s first sub-unit, Exo-CBX, which is a combination of the first letter from each member’s stage name. As of 2018, they have released two EPs in Korean and two EPs in Japanese. On October 28, Lay released his first of two solo EPs in Mandarin. In 2016 he also acted in The Mystic Nine, a television show in China that drew over 12 billion views online. All of the other members also pursued solo activities in various industries, including music, film, television, and theater.
Exo’s fourth studio album The War was released on July 18, 2017. The album had received 807,235 pre-orders, surpassing the band’s own record of 660,000 for Ex’Act. Lead single “Ko Ko Bop” debuted at number one on the Melon Digital Chart, making Exo the first K-pop group to enter at number one after chart changes were implemented on February 27, 2017. Upon release, the album recorded the highest first week sales of any K-pop album. It debuted at number 87 on the Billboard 200, number one on the Billboard World Albums Chart, and on many other charts around the world – a first for Exo. On August 29, the 2018 edition of the Guinness World Records named Exo as having won the “Most Daesang” (grand prize) awards at the Mnet Asian Music Awards. On September 5, the group released a repackaged edition of The War, titled The War: The Power of Music. It added three new songs to the tracklist, including the single “Power”. On September 14, “Power” recorded the all-time highest score on M Countdown with 11,000 points, which made Exo the first artists to achieve a perfect score after the show’s calculation system changes were implemented in June 2015. The win also marked the group’s 100th win on a music show.
On October 19, Exo announced their third world tour, “Exoplanet#4 – The EℓyXiOn”, which began with three consecutive nights at Seoul’s Gocheok Sky Dome, beginning on November 24. As of November 30, Korean sales of The War had reportedly reached nearly 1.6 million copies, making it Exo’s best selling album at the time and earning the group the title of “quadruple million sellers” from the media. In early December, Exo announced its fourth special winter release and sixth EP, Universe. It was originally due for release on December 21, but was delayed until December 26 because of the death of labelmate Jonghyun.
On January 16, 2018, “Power” became the first K-pop song to play at The Dubai Fountain at Burj Khalifa Lake, Dubai. Seven members of the group traveled to Dubai to view the first showing. The song’s initial run was extended from January to March. It was also brought back from September until November of the same year. On January 31, Exo released its first Japanese studio album Countdown. The album debuted at number one on the weekly Oricon chart, selling approximately 89,000 copies. This achievement made Exo the first non-Japanese band whose debut single and debut studio album both reached number one on the weekly Oricon chart. Ten days after its release, on February 9, Countdown was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of Japan.
In early February, it was announced that Exo would perform at the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang on February 25, serving as representatives of K-pop along with CL. Prior to the announcement, Baekhyun sang the national anthem at the opening ceremony of the International Olympic Committee general assembly on February 5, and Exo performed at the official D-100 Concert in late 2017, which marked 100 days until the start of the Winter Olympics. The band’s performance drew widespread global media attention and praise. In March 2018, the Korean Mint Corporation announced plans to create official commemorative medals for Exo, honoring the group for their contribution to the global spread of Korean culture. The nine medals, each commemorating one of the group’s members, were unveiled on April 18, at a ceremony in Seoul.
Exo’s fifth studio album, Don’t Mess Up My Tempo, was announced in early October for release on November 2, 2018. It was also revealed that Don’t Mess Up My Tempo would feature all nine Exo members – the group’s first release to do so since Lotto in 2016. The album received 1,104,617 pre-orders, surpassing the group’s own previous record. The album was a commercial success, selling 1,179,997 copies by November 30, making Exo “quintuple million sellers” in the media. With the release of Don’t Mess Up My Tempo, Exo became the first artist to surpass 10 million total album sales in South Korea. The album debuted at number 23 on the Billboard 200 with 23,000 equivalent album sales and number one on the Independent Albums and World Albums Billboard charts. The album is Exo’s highest charting album on the Billboard 200 and fourth number one album on the World Albums Chart. Love shot was released on December 13, as a repacked version of Don’t Mess Up My Tempo. The lead single, also titled “Love Shot”, became Exo’s third number one single on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart and held the position for three consecutive weeks. Don’t Mess Up My Tempo sold 1,951,879 copes in South Korea in 2018 and is Exo’s best selling album.
On October 5, 2016, SM Entertainment announced the first sub-unit of Exo, consisting of three members: Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin. On October 24, the name of their sub-unit was announced to be Exo-CBX, formed from the initials of the members’ stage names. Exo-CBX released their debut EP Hey Mama! and the music video for the single of the same name on October 31. The EP was a success, selling over 293,897 copies. The trio debuted in Japan on May 24, 2017, with the release of an EP titled Girls, which followed the release of a short version of the music video for the lead single “Ka-CHING!” in late April. The EP sold over 60,000 copies in Japan within a month of its release.
Prior to Lay’s solo debut, he participated in SM Station in May 2016 with a ballad he wrote called “Monodrama”. The song was a success in China, ranking number one on Billboard China V Chart for five consecutive weeks. That October, Lay became the first member of Exo to make a simultaneous solo debut in Korea and China. He participated in the composition, arrangement, and lyric-writing for his first EP, Lose Control. It was a commercial success, breaking several Guinness World Records and debuted at number one on South Korea’s Gaon Album Chart.
Exo are considered by many to be a vocal powerhouse in the K-pop industry; the group’s three main vocalists D.O., Chen, and Baekhyun have received high praise from key industry figures and the media.
Beginning in 2013, Exo has released special winter-themed EPs in December nearly every year. These EPs feature many classic, emotional ballads, diverging from the dramatic and upbeat singles usually featured on the band’s full-length albums. Billboard applauded the band’s single “Universe” from the 2017 EP of the same name, saying, “With soaring, emotive vocals courtesy of the Exo members, ‘Universe’ is a power ballad that showcases the group’s strengths.”
The group has frequently worked with veteran Korean and international producers, including Kenzie, Dean, LDN Noise, The Underdogs, and MARZ Music. Many of Exo’s songs – especially the singles, which incorporate genres like hip-hop, disco, and funk, with an electronic pop twist – are produced with onstage performance in mind. Producer Harvey Mason Jr. commented: “We listen to their material … and try and go one step further. We try and do things that are fresh and original but yet still sound like Exo. …They can sing, they can dance, they have the energy … It’s like a painter having every color to paint with.”
Early in their career, Exo were described by Billboard as sounding “wholly inspired by the late ’90s/early ’00s sound … with bigger beats, loads more hooks and adding rap and dance breakdowns.” The group explored a more “mature” and “dark” sound in 2016 with the release of their third studio album, Ex’Act, featuring an increased use of electronic dance music styles like house and synth-pop. Their fourth studio album, The War, deepened the group’s experimentation with genre, including the addition of trap music. With the album’s single “Ko Ko Bop”, Exo received praise for unconventionally hybridizing laid-back reggae sounds with heavy electronic breaks.
Exo’s members faced criticism early in their careers because of their lack of involvement in the writing and producing of their songs. In 2015, however, their first song to credit lyrics to one of the group’s members was released on the repackaged version of their second album, Love Me Right. “Promise (Exo 2014)” was written by Chanyeol, Chen, and Lay, and was a “special gift” to the fans, with lyrics thanking them for their support. Since then, Exo has released multiple songs with lyrics by the band’s members, including “Heaven” and “She’s Dreaming” from their third album, the special promotional single “Lightsaber”, and most notably, the hit single “Ko Ko Bop” and several other songs from their 2017 album The War.
In a 2017 interview with Billboard, Chanyeol spoke about his contributions to the lyrics for “Chill”, stating that because he “worked on the lyrics with an empty track without demo lyrics”, the process came more “naturally” to him. In the same interview, Chen explained the process of writing their single “Ko Ko Bop”, saying that he and the other members “wrote the lyrics separately and worked on putting [them] together for the song afterwards. I don’t think I have any regrets [about the song] since it’s the best result produced through all the effort that our members and other writers have put into the process.” Chen is also credited with writing the Korean lyrics for the track “Lights Out”, from Exo’s fourth special winter EP Universe. As of June 2018, Lay has written, composed, and produced 27 songs for both Exo and his solo releases. Chanyeol also participated in writing lyrics for “Gravity” and ‘With You”, both off of Exo’s fifth studio album Don’t Mess Up My Tempo.
Exo have been praised particularly for their synchronized choreography and elaborate stage designs. The band was choreographed early in their career by American hip hop choreographers Tony Testa and Nicholas Bass for songs like “Wolf” and “Growl”, respectively. In recent years, Exo has collaborated with choreographer Kim Tae Woo. Dazed admired the band’s “seamless…knife-point choreography”, saying it has put Exo “at the forefront of pop domination”. A recurring stage element during the group’s world tours has been the use of water in the form of rain and shallow pools. Cleo said Exo’s “winning formula” is the incorporation of water into their choreography, saying “there was water cascading from above during ‘White Noise’ and ‘Lightsaber’, which saw some of the members getting drenched.” Yahoo wrote that “during one segment, the boys stood on an elevated hexagon-shaped stage (modeled after the band’s logo), and danced sensually while water rained down on them from above.”
On their stage design, Music Mind noted Exo’s use of “not only … the stage-lights and the lightsticks, but also multitude of special effects like water, flames, and fireworks, not to mention huge screens positioned both on the substage and across the whole perimeter of the venue”. Rappler journalist Keb Cuevas described Exo’s “multi-LED screen stage fitted with holographic Exo embellishments and choreographed laser lighting”, saying “the stage was literally on fire as pyrotechnic effects were ignited with the electronic beat.” Covering a 2018 concert in Singapore, Bandwagon remarked that after their “fourth headlining tour four years … you might [assume] their setlist and stages would be repetitive and stale. But [that] was not the case at all.”
Exo have been described as “the biggest boy band in the world”. They have gained immense popularity in South Korea, and were named by Forbes on the Korea Power Celebrity list as the most powerful celebrities in South Korea for 2015 and 2016, and within the top five for 2014, 2017, and 2018. Furthermore, they were dubbed the “nation’s pick” by the Korean media. Exo are widely esteemed as a prominent force in the Hallyu Wave, which refers to the rise and spread of Korean pop culture around the world. When discussing the significance of Exo in a global context, Bustle magazine described them as “the ultimate K-pop sensation”, saying “there’s really nothing quite like Exo.” The group has received further attention for releasing almost all of its studio albums simultaneously in both Korean and Mandarin. Vulture described Exo as “leaders of a K-pop generation” when describing the band’s ability to release music in the Korean and Chinese markets while continuing to impress in the United States with Billboard chartings and arena tours. In this regard, Dazed considered Exo’s success to be that of “a continent-straddling pop juggernaut”. In 2016, AsiaOne said “Exo are turning into an omnipresent, unstoppable global force,” citing their popularity in the United States, their critical acclaim, and the size of their global fandom.
With the release of their debut studio album in 2013, Exo became the first South Korean artists in 12 years to sell over one million copies of an album; the previous artist prior to reach this milestone was g.o.d, in 2001. In 2018, Exo became “quintuple million sellers”, meaning the band has sold over one million copies apiece for five different albums. Following the release of their 5th studio album, Don’t Mess Up My Tempo, Exo became the first South Korean artist who debuted in the 21st century to sell 10 million albums cumulatively.
On May 15, 2014, SM Entertainment confirmed that Exo-M’s leader Kris had filed a lawsuit against the agency to terminate his contract for violation of basic human rights, including disregard for his health, unfair profit distribution, restricting his freedom, and treating him like a product rather than a person. On October 10, 2014, Luhan filed a lawsuit against SM to nullify his contract, citing health problems and being treated differently than the band’s Korean members. On April 22, 2015, Tao’s father posted a letter on Chinese social network Weibo, expressing his wish for his son to withdraw from the group and return to China due to health issues and a lack of support for individual career development. Tao had previously sustained several injuries that his father claimed had not been properly treated, causing him to be absent during promotions for the group’s second studio album Exodus. On April 23, SM Entertainment released an official statement saying that it would be “seeking a solution in a developmental direction” by negotiating with Tao and his father. Tao later confirmed he had left SM and, after failed negotiations, he filed an official lawsuit against the company on August 24 for the termination of his exclusive contract. SM responded to his legal action with a statement: “Our company plans to use everything in our power including both Korean and Chinese legal professionals and partners to respond legally both in Korea and China in a multi-faceted manner. We also plan to take legal steps to respond to Tao’s illegal promotions and actions.”
On January 5, 2016, SM Entertainment won one of its countersuits against Tao following the ruling of the Intermediate People’s Court in Qingdao, China. The company sued Tao over his failure to repay the company after his departure; it released an official statement that said: “SM has ongoing lawsuits against Exo members Wu Yifan (Kris), Luhan, and Tao for violating their exclusive contracts and partaking in illegal promotions in China. Among these lawsuits, SM filed a lawsuit against Tao for failing to repay SM on October 13, 2015. An intermediate court in Qingdao, China made the verdict that Tao is to repay SM Entertainment as well as interest for the delayed payment.” In July 2016, it was announced that the lawsuits between Luhan, Kris, and SM had been settled. The two sides settled during their third court-mandated arbitration; the previous two were held in September 2015 and June 2016, when the court settled the case with a recommendation for reconciliation. The singers would maintain their contracts with SM until 2022. SM would contract out their work outside of Korea and Japan; i.e., Kris and Luhan’s Chinese agencies will “share related revenues” with SM for activities anywhere but Korea and Japan (where SM has exclusive rights per their contract) because SM is technically “contract out management” for its non-Korean/Japanese activities until 2022, when their contracts with SM expire.
Exo has maintained numerous endorsement deals throughout the group’s career, and has been named multiple times as having the most powerful brand reputation among K-pop artists by the Korean Business Research Institute. Since 2012, Exo has maintained a partnership with Samsung, the largest public company in South Korea, where the group has endorsed the company’s electronic products. In early February 2013, Exo began promoting the South Korean clothing brand Kolon Sport, for which they filmed a commercial for a new pair of sneakers named for their collaboration: MOVE-XO. Also in 2013, Exo began a two-year endorsement deal with cosmetics brand Nature Republic, which was later extended and remains active to this day. Their partnership grew in 2015 and 2016 to include autograph events, which drew 30,000 and 50,000 fans, respectively. The 2015 autograph event was held in Busan, with crowds such that the municipal police department tweeted: “Currently live from Exo’s fan signing in Gwangbukdong. One, two three! We Are One! Busan Police! Everyone, please be in order.” These events were followed by the Green Nature Exo Fan Festival in 2017 and 2018; both were concert-style events hosted by Nature Republic with thousands of attendees.
In late 2015, Exo officially endorsed Star Wars: The Force Awakens with the release of a collaboration film that featured “the nine Exo members in a Star Wars-inspired world where clubs are ‘Jedi Only’ and they carry lightsabers”, according to Billboard. In 2016, the group became ambassadors for American footwear company Skechers, endorsing the D’Lites 2 Sweet Monster Collection. This partnership has extended to Skechers events such as the 2017 Sweet Monster K-Pop Dance Competition, attended by Exo members Chanyeol and Sehun. Also in 2016, the group became the official faces of international clothing brand SPAO’s spring collection, which included limited-edition postcards and posters for customers.
In 2018, in the lead-up to Exo’s performance at the Closing Ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics, the group became the faces of the Switzerland-based snow-sports company Kessler. In March 2018, Exo were announced to be the new brand ambassadors for Major League Baseball (MLB) in Asia. Following this announcement, Chanyeol, Kai, and Sehun attended the grand opening of the MLB store in Times Square, Hong Kong, on March 23. In July 2018, Exo were appointed as Korean Tourism Ambassadors for 2018 by the Korean Tourism Organization, and appeared in a series of promotional advertisements designed to “promote Korea to the world”. Exo also maintain partnerships with, or have previously endorsed, companies including Coca-Cola, SK Telecom, KFC, MCM, Pepero, Lotte World, Goobne Chicken, and Hats On.
The members of Exo-K became goodwill ambassadors for South Korea’s Red Cross Youth in December 2012. Members of Exo were appointed as official ambassadors for Fashion-KODE 2014, which was hosted by South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korea Active Content Agency Fashion Festival in July 2014. That same month, Samsung announced Exo as its brand ambassadors for the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics.
Since its debut, Exo members have been involved in charity, such as volunteering for and making personal donations to organizations including childcare centers, the Korea Childhood Leukemia Foundation, Siheung Women’s Resources Development Center, and China’s Hunan province medical services.
In 2015, Exo began participating in Smile For U, a joint SM Entertainment and UNICEF project that supports music education for children in Asia. Part of the proceeds from the band’s second special winter release Sing for You and multiple subsequent albums were donated to the campaign.
Exo have won numerous awards in South Korea and internationally. On June 14, 2013, the band earned their first-ever music show win, with the single “Wolf” on Korea’s Music Bank. Music programs are weekly television shows in South Korea and China that award the artist with the most popular song in the country based on digital chart performance, album sales and social media popularity. Exo hold the record for the most music show wins for a single song, with 18 wins for “Call Me Baby”, released in 2015. Exo have gone on to win over 100 music program awards, becoming the second act to do so after their label-mates Girls’ Generation.
Exo have also received 23 Daesang awards, also known as grand prize awards, from various year-end award shows. These include six Daesang awards from the Mnet Asian Music Awards, which was recorded in the 2018 Guinness World Records book as the “Most Daesang” (grand prize) awards won at the Mnet Asian Music Awards.
On November 3, 2017, Exo received a Prime Minister Commendation at the Korean Popular Culture and Arts Awards, an honor bestowed in recognition of public service and/or excellence in a given field. When receiving the award, Suho said: “We have received such a big award alongside brilliant people … It’s such a huge honor. We will become performers who promote not only K-pop, but also Korea.”