Veteran act 2pm has returned for what will likely be their last comeback before their military service, and it looks like they’re going out like honorable gentlemen. Literally, the album is called Gentleman’s Game. The former beast-dols have tried out a smoother image before, with Grown and No. 5, but those albums still retained a bit of edge, one that is noticeably absent from “Promise (I’ll Be).” And honestly, this comeback is all the stronger for it.
Gone are any traces of sleazy playboys, party animals, and charming rakes. Instead, “Promise” oozes with class and maturity, the work of men rather than grown-up boys. This is an R&B ballad played completely straight. 2pm are singing not about love; instead, they are talking about commitment — missing one specific girl when she’s gone and swearing that they’ll be here when their lady love wakes up every morning. It’s a long-term love song, speaking to people ready for a life together rather than a night.
Or is it? “Promise” can easily be interpreted as cooing, sensual groveling by someone who done messed up. The flowery language, grand gesture of roses, and extreme declarations of devotion are equally likely to be over-the-top apologies of someone who got caught cheating than someone already in a happy relationship. The truly damning lyric for the doghouse interpretation is the chorus itself: “I’ll be whatever you want, whatever you wish for. Baby, I’m ready.” It implies that the singer wasn’t ready for that level of relationship before.
Normally, the question of epic love song or “please let me off the couch” would be solved by the MV, but not this time. Rather than a clear-cut answer, or even ambiguity, “Promise” manages to explicitly confirm both theories. When faced with the question of one or the other, JYP apparently decided “why not both?”.
K-pop fans love to joke about how all members of a boy band apparently date the same girl, but “Promise” takes it to a whole different level. While Chansung, Junho, and Nichkhun are in mourning over a lost relationship, Jun.K, Taecyeon, and Wooyoung are smack-dizzy in love with their own ladies — it’s implied that the members in relationships are dating the ex-girlfriends of the ones without.
On a symbolic level, this enhances the meanings of “Promise” and the devotion and commitment shown in the song. By portraying both the past and present relationships with the same mentality about love, “Promise” subtly speaks about the role of conscious commitment in relationships. Rather than coasting along on ‘maybe’ and ‘it’s complicated’, only recognizing real commitment to a person when the relationship sours, “Promise” gives the implication that deciding to commit to someone, to be there for them every day, is what really makes a relationship work. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get someone back or currently in a relationship. If you can’t do that, you’re probably not mature enough for a relationship of that caliber anyway.
There is a second, subtle undercurrent throughout “Promise,” one that arises from the split perspectives but is not truly of it. “Promise” as a comeback is very much a gentlemen concept– again, the album is called Gentlemen’s Game. Yet, only half the members are styled as gentlemen, while the others are definitely not, and the half in suits are not what you’d expect. Junho, Nichkhun, and Chansung are all dressed to the nines as they mourn their relationships.
Meanwhile, Taecyeon is in extremely casual wear, Wooyoung looks more like a gangster, and Jun.K doesn’t even have a shirt. They’re also all engaged in the throes of passion, rather than the distance and chasteness in the name of respect that is so heavily associated with the gentlemen archetype. However, Jun.K, Wooyoung, and Taecyeon are capable of committing to their girlfriends and putting her first without losing them, unlike the others. In “Promise”, there are those who look like gentlemen and those who act like gentlemen, with the latter as the true gentlemen.
The cinematic elements of “Promise” lean heavily towards the theatrical. Nothing here is designed to look natural; the sets are exaggerated and empty, while 2pm’s behavior is intentionally overplayed. Those locations are also gorgeous, for the record– a stunning hotel, a smokey bar, a breathtaking skyline, a very appealing luxury suite. Seriously, whoever did the location scouting for this MV deserves a raise. The cinematography has a very theatrical bent as well, leaning towards dutch angles and dramatic zooms. The most distinctive element, though, are the dance shots. There are no group angles; instead, each member transform into one another in a kaleidoscope of solo shots. That more than anything else sets “Promise” apart as one of the most distinctive MVs of the year.
Unfortunately, the song “Promise” doesn’t quite live up to the MV and lyrics. It’s not bad, but it’s another R&B ballad. Nothing really makes an impression, so it floats in and out of the mind; background music to the more impressive visuals. Still, as a whole, “Promise” is a good note for 2pm to leave on.
(Images via JYP, YouTube)