Up until Red Velvet‘s new mini-album Ice Cream Cake, I was unsure if the group was supposed to be a next-gen f(x) or a throwback to turn-of-the-millennium SM stars like S.E.S. and BoA.
It turns out, the answer is both.
Just like how EXO is supposed to be a test tube baby made from the stem cells and hair fibres of Super Junior, TVXQ, and SHINee, Red Velvet is SM’s stab at creating a new female super group using the knowledge they’ve obtained over years of manufacturing genetically modified pop acts.
The quintet’s new single, “Ice Cream Cake,” is like taking f(x) into the local SM dealership and trading in for a younger, prettier model. It’s “Red Light” with sugar and sexual innuendo on top.
“Ice Cream Cake” is a big bonkers SM record in all the best ways possible, with children’s nursery rhymes and confectionery jingles paired against whomping production that fizzles and explodes like Pop Rocks and soda. It’s fun and sometimes unpredictable, with choruses that start a few seconds before your brain is programmed to expect them and some other experimentation that nudges the envelope without ever descending into the channel surfing craziness of “I Got a Boy.”
The lyrics follow classic teen pop clichés with thinly-veiled sexual metaphors à la Christina Aguilera’s “Genie In a Bottle” or Mandy Moore’s “Candy,” but you can also take it as Red Velvet’s promise to get us all hooked on their various musical flavours. (Which they’ve definitely succeeded in doing.)
Speaking of different flavours: “Automatic.”
While “Ice Cream Cake” was Red Velvet’s f(x) side, “Automatic” is their S.E.S. “Be Natural” throwback–and possibly my favourite K-pop single of the year. It’s slinky and soft, with nothing but sensual whispers and a low-key beat of synths and R&B that might just be the most subtle thing an SM girl group has done in aeons.
I wasn’t going to comment on the visuals because it’s a given that SM artists will have spectacular art direction that trumps everything and everyone, but I should give Red Velvet credit for getting beautiful, creative MVs instead instead of the dance-in-a-box fare that so many SM artists are stuck with.
There’s really no flaw to be found with this comeback. Even the Ice Cream Cake mini-album is pretty great, with one perfect track “Somethin’ Kinda Crazy” (which is going to be my new “Airplane” or “Express 999”), and some lovely cutsie filler stuff that you’ll enjoy if you like corny old SNSD b-sides.
My main takeaway from this whole thing though is just how replaceable K-pop artists are. Red Velvet’s obviously the cuter, sweeter answer to the increasingly dark f(x), but in five years time Red Velvet will probably be doing the 2020 equivalent of “Red Light” while the next young rookie group will be performing “Ice Cream Cake” and “Automatic” knock-offs.
It makes me respect SHINee and TVXQ more, who still haven’t been successfully cloned or bettered no matter how hard people have tried. But I digress. This is about Red Velvet, and Red Velvet are amazing and my faith in SM has been completely restored after EXO made me wonder if K-pop’s biggest agency had finally lost its mojo.
P.S. My biases are Joy and Yeri because they’re the prettiest. I originally stanned Wendy but then I found out she’s the best singer which makes her the Luna of Red Velvet so I had to stop.