It’s finally time for Baekhyun’s solo debut with the mini-album City Lights and its lead single, “UN Village.” Sandwiched between the debut of fellow Exo member Chen in April, and the Chanyeol Sehun sub unit later this month — as well as Lay‘s consistent solo promotions — it’s safe to say that the Exo members are taking off in a variety of directions. As such, the challenge falls to SM to not only carve out a unique musical niche for each member and unit but also create a distinct aesthetic to differentiate the solo and unit work from the larger context of Exo’s discography.
For Baekhyun’s solo debut with “UN Village,” the chosen sound is sensual, while the aesthetics are luxurious and monochrome. Whereas Chen went for nature and catharsis, and Lay went for, well… abs, Baekhyun’s identity as a soloist seems to be cemented in a luxurious kind of untouchability. The MV is just Baekhyun, alone in imposing architecture while he sings of the exclusivity of his secret get-away in the UN Village area of Yongsan district in Seoul.
Known to Seoulites as a neighborhood of wealth, UN Village sets itself apart from the rest of Seoul with an uncharacteristic use of modern architecture and rare open space from which the Han River can be comfortably seen. It’s exclusive, and an aspiration for many Seoulites. However, for Baekhyun in “UN Village” the hills are his personal playground, his secret getaway within the city where he knows he won’t be disturbed.
Navigation set to the Dokseo Children’s Park
Pressing on the accelerator
I used to be the only one who knew that place
Now everyone’s trying to go
Setting the MV in such a sprawling location, with only Baekhyun as the focus against all the cold architecture, presented a unique challenge for the MV. With no clear narrative to follow and so many still shots, the settings had the potential to overpower Baekhyun in each frame. However, by choosing a mainly monochrome palette and crafty lighting techniques, Baekhyun manages to stay in the center of the MV.
First impressions of the MV for “UN Village” might deduce that it’s simply too dark to really tell what’s going on, or even where Baekhyun is — but that’s exactly the point. The streets and sets are never fully lit, with limited spotlights tracing the features of Baekhyun, or a spotlight following his motion down the road. At the same time, while Baekhyun remains mostly still in the close-up shots, the light moves around him, illuminating fragments of his face, or his silhouette from behind. Even in the colored shots, the light pulses with the beat of the track, giving the illusion of more movement on the screen than is actually there.
Rolling rolling rolling hills
Up the rolling hills
Rolling rolling rolling hills
There’s a broken lamp post
If you see it, turn your light
Cuz this place is bright enough with you alone
The limited focus of light keeps the viewer engaged, but also curious as to what exactly is happening in UN Village. Baekhyun seems to know his way around and walks like he owns the streets, but the viewers are not privy to such luxury. We’re left trusting Baekhyun to navigate the area, to show us around much as the lyrics suggest. Keeping with this theme, Baekhyun’s face is projected onto the architecture, filling up the space and showcasing how this neighborhood is his stomping ground even on the darkest of nights. The lighting and relative lack of coloring keep the setting inaccessible — with viewers quite literally in the dark. But, the glimpses we see of UN Village are lavish, just like Baekhyun’s perfectly tailored outfits.
In Hannam-dong UN Village hill
Looking at the moon on the hill
You & me
UN Village hill
Looking at the moon, side by side
You & me relax and chillin’
Moving on to the track, R&B is an understandable direction for Baekhyun’s solo music to take, as it gives him a chance to showcase the fluidity of his vocals without the forced high notes that made him a central feature of Exo title tracks. “UN Village,” allows Baekhyun to relax a bit, and fall into something more comfortable for his range and vocal tone. It’s not a completely new direction for him, given Exo’s more recent B-sides like “Sweet Lies,” and his SM Station track “Young,” but “UN Village” is a nice change of pace from his previous OST and solo releases. The beat is comfortable, certainly warranting of a good head bob, and his vocals flow well against the backdrop of the track and MV. Everything is smooth, almost coaxing the listener into comfort in a strange new environment.
The thing is, while “UN Village” might be a novel venture for Baekhyun and SM, it doesn’t offer a whole lot that’s new to the current landscape of Korean R&B. It’s a pleasant listen, just like the MV is aesthetically pleasing — especially with Baekhyun at the center. Yet, if this is the direction Baekhyun’s solo career is going to take, it’s going to require a bit more than a lavish MV and decent R&B track to really pull in new fans of Baekhyun the solo artist, and not Baekhyun the Exo member. “UN Village” is meant to showcase inaccessibility, but the lack of unique qualities in the music may make it inaccessible to general listeners. It’s a tricky line every debuting soloist has had to encounter, and “UN Village” is only the beginning.