With his military enlistment just around the corner (May 6, his birthday, no less), Baekhyun’s latest solo album, “Bambi,” is a farewell and a hello — a farewell for now, as his last release before he departs, and a hello to his new self, aging into a new decade, with a new musical style.
“When I was in my 20s, I created music that conveyed an ambiance like ‘We’re going to break everything!’ So in my 30s, I want to create music that is laid-back, that people can enjoy comfortably,” EXO’s Baekhyun shared at the press conference for his third mini-album, “Bambi.” The album encapsulates that transition well — it’s a listening experience that is both thoughtful and evocative in its meaning that offers a youthful yet mature sound.
The album opens up with the single of the same name and sets the tone for a heady, immersive R&B experience. Composed and produced by singer-songwriter SAAY and prolific composer DEEZ, “Bambi” has the characteristic mellow groove of Korean R&B. Atmospheric guitar chords lead into Baekhyun’s distinctive croon at the start of the single. Slipped in between his soulful confessions of love is his description of his lover as his only “Bambi,” referring both to the idea of the gentle, doe-eyed Disney deer, and to the Korean words that are pronounced similarly: “bam” meaning night, and “bi,” referring to rain.
The repeated utterances of “bam bi” evoke an image of chasing a precious lover through the rain in the night, through dreams and fairytales. This visual is strengthened by Baekhyun’s additional references to his lover as “dreamy” and “I don’t ever want to wake up,” as well as allusions to classic fairy tales such as the eponymous Disney classic and Peter Pan (“Whenever I’m with you, every day is like Neverland” and “I’ve been waiting for you, Tinkerbell”).
With the song “Bambi,” Baekhyun presents a mature love story through innocent charm, although the music video veers toward the darker, sophisticated side. The cinematic music video for “Bambi” features a film-noir aesthetic, with Baekhyun alternating between a dapper suit and a black leather jacket white shirt combo, replete with leather gloves and a fedora, as he travels on an Orient Express-inspired train — a nod to the theme of intrigue, danger and nightly wanderings that’s also present in his lyrics (“you’re so dangerous,” “it’s a perfect night,” “the world I’ve known isn’t real”). Baekhyun delivers just as much emotion in the scenes as he does through the vocals, his sharp and sensuous dance choreography a fitting accompaniment to his passionate musicality.
This new musical sentiment that the album promises is kept throughout all of its songs, especially with “Privacy” and “All I Got,” which also showcase his celebrated vocal range. Across the six tracks in this mini-album, various facets of R&B and chapters of love are explored, from refined melodies (“Bambi”) to charming ballads (“Amusement Park”) and soulful vocals (“Cry For Love”).
In the first listed track, “Love Scene,” Baekhyun gives us the start of a romance, the slow unfurling of a love recently bloomed. Colde, another well-known Korean singer-songwriter, collaborated with Baekhyun on the production of “Love Scene,” and it’s obvious from the soft electric guitar, gentle electric beats and dreamy vocals iconic of Colde songs. The lyrics too, are softer, more directed toward the tender feelings of a slow love that warms “cold hands,” brightens a “jet-black heart” and of “eyes full of love” that stop time. “Love Scene” describes the love that is precious — one that feels fated. “Your eyes and my eyes,” Baekhyun sings softly. “The moment they bump into each other, time stops.” It’s a skillful lead-in to “Bambi,” a slightly more spirited melody, with themes of intrigue and a love to be chased.
The next track, “All I Got,” begins, uncharacteristic of typical songs, with a powerful high note and R&B riffs that crescendo upon each other. The jazzy tunes in this song, accompanied by Baekhyun’s masterful display of his vocal range, portray the bold sentiments of the lyrics sublimely: “I want to love you every day / Girl, I’m giving all I got (Baby, oh).” It’s the logical next stage of a passionate romance, an old-school style R&B song for a confession and possessive appreciation for his love. “Cause you are my world, woah, yeah / Even if you fight and struggle and dislike me / I’m all about you, oh.”
“Amusement Park” is a nice musical and romantic plateau, a feeling of comfort and memories associated with a happy place. The music video was shot at Lotte World, an amusement park in South Korea. It is the longest of all six tracks on “Bambi,” coming in at a little over four minutes. The song embodies the joy of an amusement park and the corresponding feeling of love, with lyrics like “Full of dreams and love / Let’s go to a mysterious world / Colorful fireworks / A wonderful parade for the two / I am your amusement park.”
Things start to go a bit downhill from here, as the end of the record nears.
In “Privacy,” Baekhyun lightly sings of keeping secrets from the world, and only letting his lover see his real self, not the “me that everyone knows.” He drops more subtle, thrilling lines, of being in a private world: “So won’t you come and be my lover? / You’re not the ‘you’ that everyone knows / You’re only my baby, my privacy / A secret that only we know.”
In contrast to the hushed lines of the intro song, Baekhyun’s voice is raised and rich for the outro song, “Cry For Me,” emotion flooding through every single note as he details the start and end of an intense love affair. “You made me feel so high, babe / Then crashed me to the ground, babe,” he howls, before a mournful addendum: “Every time that I cry / My tears don’t ever dry.” Baekhyun leaves the listener in agony for his broken heart, with the last refrain a resigned close on his relationship: “I cry / In love, in love / I used to be so in love.”
Critics of his album might cite the lack of adventurous variation across the album as a detriment — however, it’s exactly this musical and thematic consistency within his album that makes Baekhyun’s music soothing, rather than jarring. His album has a sinuous mood to it that, as a whole, contributes far more dynamism than albums with a standout single like last year’s “Candy” (“Delight” album) or “UN Village” (“City Lights” album). Baekhyun gives a continuous emotive performance, and “Bambi” as an album provides a perfect vessel.
Rather than culminating into a distinct chorus in a specific song or definite pinnacle in the album, his songs have an oblique fluidity, where every measure flows into the other as a kind of R&B run rather than straight delivery, as if each song is simply the next act in an overall production. It’s immensely satisfying to be lulled into this sultry R&B vibe for 22 minutes, rather than methodically jarred into a new song and new mood every 3-4 minutes. For lovers of chill tracks, “Bambi” is an album to be listened to on repeat for hours, immersed fully within this world Baekhyun has painstakingly created for us.
Furthermore, there is plenty of different musical material within the album. It is just closely connected — and that’s what makes it so good. From the clean groove of “Bambi” to the lighter ballad of “Amusement Park” to the piercing vocals of “Cry For Love,” the more you listen to the record, the more you discover the subtle nuances within the vocals and instrumentals.
“Bambi” follows previous solo albums “City Lights” (2019), “Delight” (2020) and Japanese album “BAEKHYUN” (2021), each of which shows Baekhyun’s expertise in the various branches of R&B, from energetic pop-like anthems to groovy danceable tracks and now to more mellowed, emotive verses. In a press conference, Baekhyun explains, “‘Bambi’ is sort of that stage of maturing, and that’s what you’ll be able to see. Compared to ‘Candy,’ ‘Bambi’ is a more mature version of Baekhyun, with a different line of emotion.”
Now is a great time for a transition, just prior to Baekhyun’s mandatory military enlistment — and he’s entering this new stage with a bang. “Bambi” became the most pre-ordered album for a solo artist in Korea, breaking his own record with over 830,000 pre-orders prior to its release on March 30. With “Bambi” now selling over 1 million copies, Baekhyun has now earned the title of “double million-seller” after his previous albums. It has also reached No. 1 on iTunes in 60 regions, No. 1 on China’s QQ Music and Kugou Music’s Best-Selling Digital Albums charts, and No. 1 on various Korean music charts.
Listen to “Bambi” on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/album/5xOx4mWABbTj0qWyZC4q1p