[Review] EXO’s Baekhyun adds to the chill r&b pile with “UN Village”

As EXO starts to transition into a military enlistment-driven era that will undoubtedly see less group comebacks, the members have been branching out with solo projects and sub-units. As expected, this music has been tailored to each member’s personal taste and skill set. This meant way too many ballads for Chen. And now, it means pop/r&b for Baekhyun.

More than any other vocalist (even D.O), Baekhyun has always been synonymous with EXO for me. His voice is so representative of the group, and it’s about time he’s allowed the chance to showcase that on a solo album. However, new single “UN Village” left me a little cold. For awhile now, I’ve been wondering if idol music as we knew it is beginning to wane, and a song like “UN Village” only supports those fears. Whether SM Entertainment meant it or not, this feels like an attempt to seek “credibility” in a digital landscape filled with easygoing “chill” r&b of this nature.

This isn’t to take anything away from Baekhyun’s performance, which is slick and impressive as always. And it’s not to suggest that he needs to seek out some sort of artistic authenticity, either. But it does seem like an effort with a “seriousness” about it that craves validation, and as a result “UN Village” lacks the kind of musical ambition I’ve always associated with EXO-related material.

Over a strong, stomping beat, the track is mostly a delivery method for Baekhyun’s malleable vocals. The composition has a captivating fluidity to it, circling back to a simple, subdued hook guaranteed to elicit head nods. I like the use of guitar in the second verse and the klaxon-like distortion that opens the track, but I wish the song built to something more than the casual vibe it establishes from the beginning.

Take Baekhyun’s undeniable star power out of the equation and I just don’t think “UN Village” amounts to much. K-pop could do with a new solo showman in the vein of Rain or Junsu, whereas the industry has more than enough chill r&b crooners already. But hey, at least “UN Village” isn’t another ballad.

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