Exo is a South Korean-Chinese boy group based in Seoul. Formed by S.M. Entertainment in 2011, the group debuted in 2012 with twelve members separated into two subgroups, Exo-K (Suho, Baekhyun, Chanyeol, D.O., Kai, and Sehun) and Exo-M (Xiumin, Lay, Chen and former members Kris, Luhan and Tao), performing music in Korean and Mandarin respectively.
In May 2011, at a Hallyu business seminar held at Stanford University, Lee Soo-man spoke about a strategy of debuting a new boyband, in which they would be divided into two subgroups, 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 their name to Exo, taken from the word exoplanet. They are divided into two subgroups, Exo-K ('K' for Korean) for South Korea and Exo-M ('M' for Mandarin) for China. They debuted their first televised performance at SBS's annual 'Gayo Daejun' event on 29 December 2011.
Exo-K and Exo-M's prologue single "What Is Love" was released on 30 January 2012, in mainland China and South Korea. On 9 March the group released their second prologue single "History", which was written and produced by Thomas Troelsen and Remee.
A concert for the group was held in Seoul's Olympic Stadium on 31 March. Approximately 3,000 fans from 8,000 applicants were selected to attend. A second concert was held in the Great Hall of the Beijing University of International Business and Economics on 1 April.
Exo-K and Exo-M released their debut single, "Mama", on 8 April followed by an EP Mama, on 9 April. The two sub-groups promoted the album separately in two countries. On 8 April Exo-K performed on South Korea's music program The Music Trend, while Exo-M made their debut in China's Top Chinese Music Awards on the same day. The mandarin version of Mama reached number two on China's Sina Album Chart, while the Korean album peaked at number one on the Gaon Album Chart and number eight on the Billboard World Albums Chart.
In November, Exo won Best New Asian Artist Group at the 2012 Mnet Asian Music Awards. Exo-K received three nominations at the 27th Golden Disk Awards, winning the Newcomer Award. Exo-M received the Most Popular Group Award at the 2013 Top Chinese Music Awards.
Exo's first album XOXO (2013), which contained the breakthrough hit "Growl", was a critical and commercial success, winning both Disk Daesang at the 28th Golden Disk Awards and Album of the Year at the 15th Mnet Asian Music Awards. It sold over one million copies, making Exo the best-selling Korean artist in twelve years. Exo ended 2013 with six albums in the Gaon's Yearly Top 10 Best-Selling Albums, including all their 2013 album releases in both the Korean and Chinese version as well as their debut EP Mama.
In May 2014, Kris filed a lawsuit against S.M. Entertainment to be removed from the group. Luhan followed suit in October 2014. In April 2015, Tao suspended his activities and subsequently followed suit in August 2015. Following their departures, Exo carried on with nine members. In July 2016, it was announced that the lawsuit between Luhan, Kris, and S.M. Entertainment had been settled: the two idols will maintain their contract with SM until 2022, S.M. Entertainment will contract out their work outside of Korea and Japan – i.e. to their current Chinese agencies – and they will "share related revenues with S.M. Entertainment".
Subsequent albums and EPs continued with strong sales, and Exo were ranked the most influential celebrity by Forbes Korea Power Celebrity for the year 2014 and 2015. They have been named "the biggest boyband in the world" by media outlets, saying that "EXO are at the forefront of pop domination, with knife-point choreography seamlessly gelled to songs crafted by some of the world's most gifted writers and producers, honed by their myriad of personalities and talents."
Exo's third studio album, Ex'Act, along with its singles "Lucky One" and "Monster", were released on 9 June 2016 in both Korean and Mandarin versions. Domestic pre-sales for the album surpassed 660,000, making it the most pre-ordered K-pop album of all time. The album later broke the record for the highest first week sales of a Korean album, breaking their previous record set by Sing For You, by selling 522,372 copies in one week. The album also went on to top the United World Albums Chart. "Monster" became Exo's first number one on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart, while "Lucky One" debuted at number 3. As part of their Ex'Act promotions, Exo and Korean fashion magazine W Korea collaborated on "Exoclusive", a project to publish a 54-page, nine-cover edition of the magazine. "Exoclusive" ended up recording the highest number of sales as a fashion magazine in Korea after selling nearly a million copies. On 15 July S.M. Entertainment and Putto Entertainment released Exo's official mobile game Exorun.
On 18 August a repackaged edition for Ex'Act, titled Lotto, was released. It contained the original tracks from Ex'Act along with 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 2 on Gaon's Digital Chart. Lotto's Korean and Chinese versions reached number 1 and 2 respectively on Gaon's Album Chart. Within two months of its original release, Ex'Act sold over 1.17 million copies, honouring Exo with the title of "Triple Million Sellers".
On 5 October, S.M. Entertainment announced the first sub-unit of Exo, consisting of three members: Chen, Baekhyun and Xiumin, who had previously released an original soundtrack titled "For You" for the SBS television series Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. On 24 October the sub-unit was announced to be named EXO-CBX, "CBX" being the initials of the members' stage names. EXO-CBX released their debut extended play Hey Mama! and the music video for the single of the same name on 31 October.
Their third winter album and fifth extended play For Life was released on 19 December. They did not engage in promotions for the album or it's single "For Life", and as of 2017 it had sold over 442,000 copies. It was revealed at the end of 2016 that during the year, the group had sold 2.13 million albums including solos and sub-units.
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