Knee Jerk Reaction: “Bambi” by Baekhyun

It’s a bittersweet time for EXO fans all over the world: Baekhyun has made an amazing comeback, but his military mandatory service isn’t too far off. (Fellow member Chanyeol also enlisted this week, making things extra emotional.) Thankfully, Bambi is a fantastic mini-album full of gems that serves as a beautiful send-off. Baekhyun can pull off a lot of different musical styles and images – both as a member of EXO/SuperM and as a soloist – but the sultry and mature sound of “Bambi” is perfect timing for a man ending his twenties and approaching a new stage of his life.

“Bambi,” along with everything else on Baekhyun’s new mini-album, is a straight up R&B track reflecting on love. I’m no R&B expert, but there’s something about it that reminds me of songs that were popular when I was growing up in the early and mid-2000s. This post is actually going up later than planned because I spent so much time listening to all of them and trying to figure out exactly which one(s?) I had been thinking of. I STILL haven’t found it – the closest I’ve gotten is “U Got it Bad” by Usher and/or “Sugar Sugar” by Baby Bash and Frankie J, and that’s mostly because of the prominent guitar riffs. But honestly, I’m very impressed that “Bambi” sounds close enough to American R&B that it can bring songs like that to my mind. (Though I saw that Adrian McKinnon worked on this track, so I’m not surprised.)

Musically, I’m often drawn to K-pop for its “anything goes” attitude. Many songs mix all sorts of genres and elements together for a new and unique result you’ve never heard before. Some of EXO’s best songs come from using this approach, and this is one of the reasons I love them. But at the same time, I also really enjoy how Baekhyun has been choosing singles that have a specific genre, are a little more pared down, and truly focus on the melody. While their composition seems more simplistic in nature, that genuinely allows each and every element to shine. With “Bambi,” I can really focus on Baekhyun’s smooth yet soulful vocals and the grooving guitar riffs – and I like what I’m hearing.

While I enjoy both of Baekhyun’s previous singles “UN Village” and “Candy,” I personally felt that neither was the “vocal flex” I was expecting from one of the most talented singers in EXO. They certainly showed off how Baekhyun has a wonderful and rather versatile voice, but not in a “main vocal” type of way for me. So I think “Bambi” definitely lets him show off more of his technique, and it reminds us of everything’s he’s capable of. Actually, this is also true of his new album in general – I’ve been listening to it as I write this, and some of the songs have astounded me. I’ve always known he was a good singer, but I was still blown away when I heard “All I Got.” I’m sincerely impressed.

To be honest, I don’t generally associate Baekhyun with the sexy image he’s showing us here. Before you come after me, I’m not saying that he can’t be sexy. EXO has so many songs that get fans (including me) screaming: “Call Me Baby,” “Artificial Love,” “The Eve,” “Love Shot,” etc. The list goes on and on. Plus, I’ve seen “UN Village” live. So I know there’s no question he can pull it off. But I guess I’ve just seen too many videos of him clowning around and heard him say too many ridiculous things on variety shows, and his sexy side is not the first thing that comes to my mind. I always see him as the easygoing and talkative funny guy of EXO and SuperM. It’s 100% a personal thing. That being said, I’ll concede that “Bambi” has me seeing – and hearing – Baekhyun in a different light. It’s undeniably sensual, and his voice is so rich and inviting. So when I listen to the song, I definitely understand the appeal. It’s not enough to make me switch biases from Sehun, but I still get it.

The music video also does a good job of reinforcing that sexy and mature atmosphere. The film noir style is a perfect fit for “Bambi,” and it’s so delightfully moody. I like how the train setting gives it lots of opportunities for cool and interesting scenes. (Though I do think the one where he’s belting his heart out on top of the train in the pouring rain is just a *little* much, and this is coming from a naturally angsty person.) I also appreciate how the idea of simplicity is also applied visually with the costumes. I’ve seen Baekhyun and other SM artists wear the wildest outfits over the years, but I’m also finding the suits and the basic yet classic combos just as attention-grabbing. The man can definitely rock a white shirt plus black jeans and leather jacket. And despite my general aversion to hats in K-pop, I really do think they complete the look here.

I can’t fully judge the dance because the music video doesn’t show all of it; but from what I can see, I’m HIGHLY anticipating future performances. The movements look very smooth and fluid, which is the kind of choreography I always love. My favorite part so far is in the second chorus when he has two female backup dancers – sometimes showing is better than telling, and I think that one section choreography shows the essence of “Bambi” better than I ever could.


(NOTE: My options for each category are “Love,” “Like,” “Neutral,” “Not My Style,” or “Dislike.” But I rarely dislike anything, so I’ll mostly be using the other four.)

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As impressed as I am by “Bambi,” I’m not quite sure what to make of it in the long run. It’s quite interesting because in terms of sound and genre, I prefer it to Baekhyun’s previous singles; but if we’re talking about the actual melody, it doesn’t stand out to me as much. The choruses for “UN Village” and “Candy” are so catchy that they still easily slip into my head after MONTHS of not listening to them, but “Bambi” is not something I find myself humming over and over… at least so far. I do enjoy it very much, but I personally don’t think I’ll listen to it constantly. It’s more probable that I’ll just put on the whole album if I’m in the mood for that kind of music. But it hasn’t been long since “Bambi” came out, so my feelings could obviously change.

EXO is currently in that “indefinite hiatus” stage as the members enlist one by one, so we’re not as likely to get full-group comebacks. (Side note: I doubt EXO would have a comeback with just four members, but I’m SO curious to know what a song with just Xiumin/D.O./Kai/Sehun would look and sound like.) So during this trying time, we take every solo and sub-unit release we can get and we appreciate the hell out of them. Baekhyun has done a stellar job with “Bambi” – both the song and the album – so it’s sad that we won’t have more music from him for about two years. But this album so good that I think it can tide me over until then.

(“Knee Jerk Reaction” is a column I created to talk about comebacks or debuts when I don’t have a lot of time to write in-depth reviews. A knee jerk reaction is like an automatic response, so it’s a post about my initial thoughts on the song, the music video, and the performance if it’s available. Compared to my reviews, everything is more stream of consciousness and less analytical. And everything is 100% my own opinion!)

SOURCES: Music video and featured image belong to SM Entertainment.

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