I was a little confused when Junsu (aka XIA) announced plans to release an English-language single for the “world market”. It’s not that the world doesn’t need Junsu; he’s easily the most talented and well-rounded active male pop star on the planet right now. But his initial statement was a little murky, so I’ve come to my own conclusion that Junsu’s new English single “Uncommitted” is primarily for his international fans and to help promote his upcoming world tour, rather than full-blown attempt to crack the States like the Wonder Girls are trying to do.
With that mindset, I can be less critical of the heavily-accented Engrish on this otherwise incredibly-solid song.
Mainstream American R&B is huge in Japan and Korea, so it’s no surprise that “Uncommitted” is an urban-pop ballad. It was composed by Brooklyn-based producer Bruce “Automatic” Vanderveer, who has apparently worked with the likes of Leona Lewis and Christina Aguilera before. To what extent, I don’t know, because I couldn’t find any specific production credits for him online, and I’m a pretty damn good Googler.
Automatic’s production is rich and melodic, as well as extremely radio-friendly, but not in a bad way. It’s the good kind of commercial, not the icky “Starships” kind. A Korean gong called a kkwaenggwari is used in the composition to give the song an oriental twist, but you wouldn’t be able to pick it unless you read about in a press release beforehand like I did.
Whether “Uncommitted” falls into the category of pop or urban depends entirely on who’s singing it. If it was Justin Bieber, it’d chart on the Hot 100, and if it was Usher, it’d be on the R&B chart. In the hands of a K-Pop artist like Junsu, it’s got a foot planted firmly in both worlds.
Where “Uncommitted” really shines is the lyrics. Junsu puts a spin on the typical urban ballad topics of “I love you”, “I miss you” and “You cheated on me”, singing from the perspective of a former player who’s ready to settle down but can’t get the benefit of the doubt from his lady. It echoes Usher’s “Confessions Part II”, which showcased some lyrical creativity and depth while still staying within the safe confines of mainstream R&B.
Junsu can outsing almost any dude in the game, but much like his last single “Tarantallegra”, he opts for a more restrained delivery here. It suits the song, and it’s nice to see that he doesn’t use his powerhouse voice when it’s not necessary. If this was Christina Aguilera or Beyonce, you can bet they’d be wailing all over the place and turning it into a vocal circus. The only obvious problem with Junsu’s singing is his Engrish-language skills. If you’re used to listening to music from across the globe, then you’ll forget all about his heavy Asian accent by the third play, but listeners unfamiliar with anything outside of America and the UK will be turned right off.
Engrish aside, “Uncommitted” is a strong first entry into the international market. It’s a nice nod to old-school Usher (you know, before he discovered David Guetta and turned to shit) and would certainly be a hit if the Confessions superstar recorded it today. It also trumps a lot of the R&B balladry coming from the likes of Chris Brown and Trey Songz, but that’s not a shock — this is Junsu we’re talking about.
Hopefully with some further improvement in his pronunciation, “Uncommitted” will be the start of more English-language releases from Junsu. This is better than what most of the male pop/R&B artists are doing today, and Junsu didn’t even use his voice to its astonishing capacity, didn’t showcase his mind-blowing choreography in the music video, and didn’t even come out with an innovative song like “TARANTALLEGRA”. Imagine if he used his talent to its max potential? Wigs would be snatched.