Review: RBB by Red Velvet

RBB by Red VelvetThe night Red Velvet dropped RBB and begun their promotional stretch, I was getting a lot of text messages from Shalla. “Irene is a goddess!” she said. (I agree; this is her in 4K for proof.) I wasn’t keen on the title song; I thought it was too much vocal theatrics and was a really muddled pop track. But then I have to be reminded that, one, Red Velvet operate on two modes, and for this record they’re definitely on their Velvet phase; and two, judging from recent decisions to release English versions of their singles, they’re somewhat being groomed as an answer to the global not-really-dominance of Blackpink. Also, after two years of frustration at the girls seemingly running out of ideas – complete with “RBB” being a callback to their last single “Bad Boy” – I have just… accepted it, I guess? Red Velvet has completed their pivot towards 90s-flavored pop; the “Dumb Dumb” era is clearly a thing of the past. It also helps that, once again, the non-singles are better, synthesizing the concept, the new direction, and the girls’ tested vocal chops. But, again, this is K-pop; you also fight with the visuals, and even if “RBB” is objectively a middling song, you watch the music video – or any live performance, 4K or otherwise – and you get all this impact coming down on you. That’s one metric, and on that front, this is another typically strong comeback. If only that was my metric. [NB]3/5

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Review: Summer Magic by Red Velvet

Summer Magic by Red VelvetYes, I know, I know. If you’ve been following this blog – first off, thank you, and yes, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Red Velvet, which really shouldn’t be the case, but for the past couple of years I have been more frustrated with their output. “Power Up”, their new single, is boring verging on unbearable. Should I still review Summer Magic? I had a really low rank for their last summer record – I did not review it because I couldn’t bother writing a review. But then I also remember that summer records are more hit-and-miss than most K-pop records, with its tendency to be inconsistent. It also helps that Summer Magic thankfully continues, a bit, from the positive direction the group has taken since the release of Perfect Velvet (and its repackage The Perfect Red Velvet, home of cool-kid favorite “Bad Boy”, the English version of which appears here). There’s a better sense of direction, and even the potential tonal misfit that is “Hot the Drum” makes sense later on. It’s a fun record, but man, I really wish they chose a different single instead. Maybe “Mr. E”? I know my feedback means nothing, and the cool kids will still like this group no matter what, but that sounds much better. [NB]3/5

Review: Perfect Velvet by Red Velvet

Perfect Velvet by Red VelvetRed Velvet was supposed to be one of those K-pop groups that this blog will take a keen interest in, alongside Twice, GFriend and Mamamoo (for obvious reasons). But I have been really frustrated with their last few releases, to the point that I skipped their last mini: The Red Summer is their lowest point, a bunch of shit songs that doesn’t even attempt to capture their quirky pop reputation nor make the most of the group’s vocal chops. Perhaps it’s the low expectations that’s making me happy about Perfect Velvet, their third full-length after The Red, the benchmark to which all of their other work will be compared to. But then it’s an unfair comparison: the sound is clearly a callback to The Velvet, the mini designed to prove they’re not just quirky pop with unintentional sexual references on their songs. Shrewdly, this isn’t all weepy piano ballads: Red Velvet (and their cabal of producers) finally, successfully, merged the group’s two faces, resulting in an album that combines 80s sensibilities (“Look”), some good harmonies (“Kingdom Come”) and their trademark quirky pop, albeit not cloyingly so (“Attaboy”). Sure, it flags towards the end, but it’s enjoyable enough. Is this the album Red Velvet were long supposed to have? Why did it take them so many tries? They did seem stretched throughout the year – maybe we all should have been spared this pain for a fleeting glimpse of, well, perfection. [NB]3/5

“널 어떡해야 좋을지 잘 모르겠어 난.”

“Dumb Dumb” by Jang Jae-in, Giantpink and Perc%nt | Before I overplay this song and it loses its mystique, I’ll write about this. Yes, for the eagle-eared out there, this is a cover of Red Velvet’s signature song. Apparently, there’s this web series where two entertainment companies, S.M. and Mystic, do cross-pollinating stuff like this. I bet it’s only the case because the former bought a majority stake on the latter, though. (Red Velvet did this song the same week, which, well… but then I am not familiar with the original.) I haven’t heard of Perc%nt before, but I know Jang Jae-in for her soundtrack work, and Giantpink won the last season of Unpretty Rapstar, a show I of course haven’t watched, but know of because it brought us Kisum. So this one – this one’s sexy. Sure, it might wear off its welcome soon, but considering the original is the distillation of Red Velvet’s quirky pop concept (one they can’t seem to get a grip of now, which is a shame) you would have never thought an approach like this one would work, but it did. So, there. Enjoy. [NB]

Review: Rookie by Red Velvet

Rookie by Red VelvetIt wasn’t a glitch like I feared the last time. Red Velvet is in a rut. My unofficial second favorite K-pop group is in a rut. Rookie is their third mini-album in eleven months, and knowing that, I couldn’t help but wonder: “do we really need this?” The girls are becoming as overworked as Oh My Girl, who pulled off the same feat last year, and the strain is showing. The title track forces the group back to the quirky hole (after Russian Roulette seemingly forced them towards a more generic sound) but it’s a mediocre, unmemorable song, if not terrible, even. You’d expect the group behind “Dumb Dumb” to do better. The other tracks seem to be afterthoughts of weird decisions: “Body Talk” meandered to no resolution, while “Little Little” and “Last Love” attempted to showcase their vocals again, but, again, nothing memorable. Could it be that the songs are terrible, or that the girls have stretched themselves too thin? Well, if Rookie was released a year from now I would still think it’s a passionless mini. But the timing of this release, so soon after Russian Roulette attempted to regain lost ground, just highlights where things are going very wrong. [NB]2/5