Born in 1992, the time has come for Exo vocalist and Super M leader Baekhyun’s military enlistment. In a recent Instagram Live, the singer revealed that his enlistment could no longer be delayed; a few days later, Baekhyun announced via Bubble that he would be enlisting on the 6th of May — his 29th birthday.
It is in this climate that we receive Baekhyun’s third Korean EP, the sentimental Bambi. With Korean R&B artists Colde, Junny and more cropping up in the liner notes once more alongside LDN Noise and others, Baekhyun slows it down as he travels lyrically deeper into the lovesick world presented in second EP Delight’s closer, “Love Me Again.”
In fact, Bambi opens with a prequel to this song; “Love Scene” describes the beginning of the meeting with Baekhyun and his lover that will end in the break up of “Love Me Again.” Both tracks are produced by Colde and Stally, with the minimal guitar-led instrumental creating a jazzy tension that signals the events to come.
What follows is a slew of heady romanticism. On the heels of the sensual “Bambi”, slow R&B jams are recalled as Baekhyun professes his devotion in “All I Got,” launching into falsettos with the same amount of gusto.
Yeah, can you give me half of your heart?
I won’t ask you to give me everything
You are the owner of this love
All I need is you and your love
Pre-release single “Amusement Park” is a sugary cafe confection where the same devotion is presented more sweetly — and staidly — through a theme park metaphor. The live performance video is suitably situated in front of a merry-go-round, perfectly highlighting Baekhyun’s vocals and ramping up excitement for the EP, though perhaps not quite preparing us for Bambi itself.
“Privacy” is similarly saccharine, albeit with a bit more pep thanks to an almost jaunty piano. Baekhyun relishes in the consonants, adding to the punchier sound, as he sings about creating a secret world for him and his beloved.
The references to hiding the relationship on his profile reminds me of Baekhyun’s relationship reveal with SNSD leader Taeyeon, with fans angrily smashing oreos over both the Dispatch photos of the couple in his car and the alleged ‘lovestagrams’ that were posted right under entitled fans’ noses. Harmless posts about your significant other should not be cause for controversy, but I completely understand Baekhyun’s wary sentiment here.
Closer “Cry For Love” lives up to its name as Baekhyun mourns a relationship that has ended, his voice soaring over the chorus. It is a marked change of pace, a bitter chaser to the previous trio of sweeter songs. “Cry For Love” avoids feeling out of place, however, thanks to its shared melancholy with “Bambi” and “All I Got.”
Which brings us to the title track itself. “Bambi” sounds gorgeous, there is no doubt about it. Baekhyun gets to flex his instrument a little, giving us a sample of what the rest of the album holds. Two things, however, hold “Bambi” back.
The first is the lyrics. Despite the title, Peter Pan is the Disney-popularised work referenced more frequently. Admittedly, most of Bambi’s pop culture capital comes from the mother’s death and the aesthetics of baby Bambi, so it is understandable that a more mineable property was brought in to continue the Disney imagery. However, it clashes with the rain-based imagery. The only link between the two is the “Bambi/밤 비 (night rain)” wordplay, and the pun is too weak to hang these lyrics on.
Even the idea of the lyrics about children’s cartoons being juxtaposed with a sultry sound is more off-putting than inspiring. There have been darker takes on Peter Pan, but Bambi the movie does not hold the same kind of regard. And this is before we get to the second thing: the MV, with its Michael Jackson-inspired choreography and styling.
Even if nobody had noticed the unfortunate coincidence of referencing Peter Pan and Bambi while emulating MJ, the dancing and outfits still manage to draw some confusion, if not outright criticism. The main complaint appears to be that for such a sensual song, pretty much everything BUT Baekhyun is sexy. The cinematography is sexy. The dancers are sexy. The train is sexy. But Baekhyun? Not as much.
Like any adult, Baekhyun can be sexy. Just look at that scene where he climbs atop the train in the rain like some Bollywood hero. Baekhyun’s sexiness comes more from effortless charm than overtly bold moves. This does appear to go against the desperation that is meant to be showcased, but it is not impossible to show through smaller moments. Toning down the dancing and including more shots of a moody and pensive Baekhyun may have been a better choice.
Baekhyun’s sexiness could have also come from a more defined silhouette. As some have pointed out, Baekhyun’s clothing in “Bambi” threatens to swallow him whole. The oversized jumpers in “Candy” were cute, but here they are a hindrance. Both jackets mask his movements and let the choreography go to waste. Even his glove looks a tad overlarge.
Wearing the three-piece with a more fitted blazer — or even going without — would have showcased Baekhyun’s dancing, and his form, better. A classic leather jacket would have also let Baekhyun lean further into the James Dean-with-a-mullet look that was happening on the train.
Many comparisons to Kai have popped up, including from fellow Exo member Xiumin. And while I felt the same way, it is important to recognise that there isn’t any one idol who owns this style made famous by MJ. Baekhyun has every right to experiment and try out new things, even when they may be similar to what others have done. The trick is to put your own spin on it, like Shinee’s take on hip hop in “Don’t Call Me”. The “Bambi”MV we see does not give Baekhyun the chance to do this, and with no live performances lined up due to his impending enlistment, it is going to be a while before we can see him truly put his stamp on this concept and style.
Though “Amusement Park” feels misplaced (switching places with “Privacy” might work, having it at the end as a bonus track may have been better), Bambi overall manages to convey strong emotion through a slower sound. While the “happier” tracks were sometimes a touch too saccharine for my tastes, Baekhyun’s performance on the heavier tracks make Bambi a worthwhile listen. “All I Got” is still stuck in my head, and the title track “Bambi” performs much better without the ill-fitting, though still sumptuous, styling.