EXO Comeback Leaks: Corporate Conspiracy or Sasaeng Sleuths?

A leaked snippet of a song or choreography preceding an EXO comeback is almost taken as a given nowadays. No other group seems to have premature information appear like clockwork before their comeback. In fact, it has gotten to the point where some have grown suspicious of SM themselves and the possibility that the company is releasing these spoilers on the down low, under the pretense of a leak. Today I’m here to ask the question: why is EXO the group with such frequently released comeback spoilers? Is it simply thirsty fans who don’t know the boundaries of privacy? Or is it all just a grand scheme devised by the black-suited employees of the company? Let’s take a look back at the history of EXO’s spoilers and see if we can get to the root of it.

WARNING: If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of leaked information (though some of these are not truly leaks in the technical sense of the word) you may not want to continue on. None of the things I am talking about are particularly sensitive in my opinion, but I recognize that some people may dislike the idea of them being brought up. They are still going to remain out there on the internet, they aren’t personal, and this is all in good fun. But the disclaimer still stands.

A Condensed Timeline of Comeback Leakage

I want to take a moment to first run through a brief timeline of some of EXO’s most notable comeback leaks. One thing to note is just how different the circumstances of these are, and the general reactions from fans and non fans alike. It makes it hard to see a pattern, but in my opinion, easier to see what might be happening behind the scenes.

A Personal Favorite: The “Wolf” Demo

Ah yes, what is the phrase “EXO comeback leaks” without at least an acknowledgement for the notorious “Wolf” demo. Simply put, this is a very poorly recorded version of EXO’s first comeback song “Wolf.” It features the vocal talents of what I expect EXO-K would sound like if they went out for drinks and then headed over to SM at 3 a.m in the morning to record a song they’d only heard minutes before. I think there’s a really twisted part of me that enjoys this demo because every so often I find myself just randomly searching it up. It’s probably related to the part of me that unironically enjoys the final version of “Wolf” as well. Though it also helps that there are some really nice ad-libs thrown into the mix here, sandwiched somewhere between straining high notes and Mickey Mouse singing “Ah Saranghaeyo!” But I digress.

When this demo appeared out of the blue after a year-long hiatus from the then SM rookie boy group, some people claimed it was fake. Fortunately, the final version did end up being much more polished. Unfortunately for those that desperately wanted it to be fake, it obviously wasn’t. One theory I’ve seen behind this spoiler was that SM was testing the waters, so to speak, for this rather unconventional title track. Evidence that might support this is the glaring differences between the final, more polished version OT12 version of Wolf and this leak. Additionally, considering that there was a significant period of time between EXO’s début and first comeback it makes sense that the company would want to build hype and intrigue surrounding their song. And, well, this leak did get people talking. However, I have seen the exact opposite being claimed as well. In fact, the two leaks I’ve most often heard were accidental are this “Wolf” demo and the following “Overdose” dance practice, and of the two, the latter is something I do stand behind.

The Kaneki Dance Practice: “Overdose”

For EXO’s 2014 comeback we come to the leaked EXO-K version of their song “Overdose.” I say Kaneki because of the commenters that flocked to the video to note the similarity between Suho in his face mask and platinum blond hair and Ken Kenaki of the Tokyo Ghoul franchise. Anime lookalikes aside, I think it’s pretty apparent where this video came from and where it was intended to go, given the large MBC watermark running across the entirety of it. If the member’s name tags didn’t give it away, this video was meant for the eyes of the cameraman of a music show, and not rabid fans. It’s one of a number of recorded-for-cameraman dance practices on my list here, and I generally seem to have the same opinion on whether these types of videos constitute as a pre-mediated leak by SM as a company. In this case, I lean on the side of no and acknowledge that things can get hazy in the transit of information between an entertainment company and broadcasting company. I’m not sure which has tighter locks on security, but the fact that information is being exchanged inherently makes it more vulnerable, in my opinion, for fans that are a little too curious for their own good.

The Fake Leak: “Call Me Daddy”

The absolute chaos that was the EXO-L fandom when rumors started flying that the boys would be coming back with a track titled “Call Me Daddy” was something I feel lucky enough to have witnessed firsthand. The video above of the supposed “demo” has over one million views. Just let that sink in for a bit. Of course, it’s been two years since this video was released with claims that it was the demo for EXO’s comeback track, which actually ended up being “Call Me Baby.” Obviously, this is absolutely nothing like what the actual title track sounded like. But the fact of the matter is, people believed it was going to be. The rumor spread so quickly, and so wildly, that only Suho spelling out “Call Me Baby” at a press conference could dissuade fans from believing EXO was about to drop a song about being… called daddy. There’s really no other way to put it.

The reason this “leak” is so important in EXO’s timeline is because of the fact that it was incorrect and still hugely publicized. It demonstrated that fans could essentially create their own stories and at least one person will bite, or in this case, hundreds of thousands. I think fandoms do the most to build hype amongst themselves sometimes, and any sort of bone they get thrown – from a cryptic message on a member’s instagram or a funny song title – will get people talking. On a slightly unrelated topic… I’m lowkey still waiting for EXO to release their own version of this song. Lowkey.

The Double Leak:  “Monster”

I chose a video that purposefully combines the “leaked” demo song with the actual leaked dance practice, but in actuality, the dance practice leak preceded the sudden appearance of the “Monster” demo on the internet and the two were later combined. The strangest thing about this comeback spoiler to me, which I followed very closely to the point of losing sleep over it, was how the dance practice was leaked in snippets. First, there was the opening scene of Baekhyun, then a later part towards the end of the song with the floor choreography, and finally the entire video was out there on the internet. Then the fact that the English song demo leaked shortly after made the whole thing seem very systematic to me, and probably one of the most suspicious instances of noise marketing out of the bunch. And it did the job right because the hype on grew among fans and non fans alike, for those who chose to spoil the surprise.

Alternatively, things were absolutely hush-hush with the other title track, “Lucky One.” And that also seems to support the idea that the “Monster” leak wasn’t dug up by fans and instead purposefully released because why would fans target one title track over the other? Instead, we got videos like this:

Chanyeol has never sounded so good.

The “They’re Going to Cut the Autotune, Right?” Dance practice: “Lotto”

I won’t talk about this leak too much because I still hold a certain bitterness towards this song, but I will mention that Lotto’s entire audio and a dance practice recorded by dancers that were not EXO themselves released shortly before the group’s repack comeback. And by shortly, I mean the day before. It happened so fast and got such mixed reactions that I don’t necessarily get the feeling it was to build hype. Another thing to note is the fact that SM did make the effort to block videos of the leaked choreography that appeared on YouTube, and that this video was clearly made for music shows (note the dancers’ name tags) and not the general public. That doesn’t scream media play to me, but I will entertain the possibility. SM is wily. And this is all speculation after all.

The “Wait Why Did This Leak Now” Dance Practice: “Unfair”

Now we come to the last leak I’ll talk about and it’s a bit of a strange one. This is a video of the choreography for EXO’s song “Unfair” from their winter album Sing For You. This dance practice appeared online in late May of 2016, months after the album’s release in December of 2015. Also important to note, is that this leak found its origin on Weibo, which isn’t unusual for some of these leaks. The terrible quality, floating names over each member, and utter lack of production value make this pretty obviously a video that was only intended for the cameraman at whichever music show EXO was to perform on. Combined with the strange timing, it logically doesn’t make sense that this would be leaked as a way to hype a comeback that already happened. So either someone in the broadcasting companies has slippery fingers, or fans are doing the most to get their hands on these videos.

Funnily enough, the actual audio of “Unfair” leaked before the Sing For You album dropped. Looking back, I do remember listening to a piece of the song that was floating around on Soundcloud. So there was actually two leaks that occurred with this song, one released before the comeback and one released after. If anyone of these is could be attached to a corporate ploy I would put my money on the first, though neither really seem particularly incriminating to me.

Answering the Big Questions

There are three individual reasons I can see behind these leaks, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s due to a combination of all of them. My theories are as follows:

  1. SM is releasing “private” information to build comeback hype.
  2. Overzealous fans are hacking and systematically releasing comeback spoilers.
  3. People are fabricating “leaks” in the chaos of anticipation, fans eat it up without knowing any better.

I don’t think actual intentional leaks occur as often as people think, but SM’s involvement in orchestrating them is entirely plausible. They use media play to their advantage like any other company and especially as one of the Big 3, have the means to make a big splash when they do. But there’s a little too many instances of SM forcefully removing comeback spoilers from video streaming sites for me to really believe they are behind it all, nor do I think adopting a strategy of consistent comeback leaks is something they ever intended to happen to EXO. You may as well just call them teasers at that point.

One of the reasons I’m disinclined to believe fans aren’t actually hacking and leaking these videos is that sasaengs and antis of EXO have already done as much, with significantly more private information. If they’re willing to cross that boundary so that they can barrage the EXO member’s phones with calls during a V-Live I don’t doubt they are just as capable and open to the idea of doing as much for dance practice videos.

With EXO’s “Ko Ko Bop” comeback right around the corner, it begs the question of “What will leak this time?” Or even, “What has already leaked this time?” I have seen a few false leads on some demo tracks already and one song that was a little too similar to the reggae-sounding official teaser that I immediately clicked off the video after a few seconds. I’m not here to spoil their long-awaited comeback for anyone, not even myself, but am mentally bracing myself for something to drop out of the blue. SM did adopt a bit of different marketing strategy this year by holding an event where a group of fans were allowed to listen to “Ko Ko Bop” ahead of time in a supervised environment with headphones. But so far everyone involved has been very hush-hush. It’s somewhat unfamiliar territory for an EXO comeback, but not entirely unwelcome in all honesty.

In the end, I entertain the idea that SM may occasionally drop a snippet of a “leak” here and there. But most of these leaks I attribute to the more tech-savvy members of the EXO-L fandom either making up their own comeback narrative along the way or forcefully hacking to release information themselves. And while I am entertained by the absurdity of the former and do not condone the latter, it seems like this aspect of EXO’s comebacks may be here to stay.

What are your thoughts on EXO’s consistent comeback leaks? Who is really at fault here, and what do you think will happen with their latest comeback on the horizon?

If there's a Baekhyun, there's a way.

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