Red Velvet have really come into their own over the past year. While BLACKPINK become more like 2NE1 by the minute, Red Velvet have gradually shaken off their image as f(x) clones and blossomed into SM’s human happy pills. There’s a bright, infectious kind of energy to the group that just feels unique to them.
After February’s risky “Rookie” eventually paid off following a slow start on the charts, Red Velvet have gone more mainstream this time around for their public-friendly summer comeback album, Red Summer.
Lead single “Red Flavor” sounds like a Starburst commercial in the best way possible. It’s vibrant, colorful, and relentlessly upbeat, almost to the point of annoyance, but Red Velvet’s pure joy is infectious, not infuriating. The song peaks on its glorious bridge; the bouncing beat slows down for a moment, before Wendy comes in swinging, wailing as the music builds back up before the chorus explodes one last time.
“Red Flavor” is a perfect K-pop hit; the kind with fresh, interesting production, but without sacrificing any commercial appeal. This balancing act is harder to achieve than it looks, especially over at SM Entertainment where experimentation sometimes trumps everything else.
The rest of Red Summer plays it pretty safe, but not in a bad way. Sometimes I’ll listen to an f(x) album, and while I appreciate the quirky production, the hooks aren’t always catchy enough to keep me coming back for more. Red Summer is the opposite, chocked full of uplifting dance-pop that’s tailor-made for the summer season.
“You Better Know” is a stunning EDM ballad that could probably be a hit in the hands of a more conventional group like BLACKPINK or Girls’ Generation. “Zoo,” produced by LDN Noise, isn’t the British duo’s best bop, but it’s fun for injecting a menagerie of sounds into pulsating tropical house.
Like a lot of girl group albums, Red Summer closes with a ballad. I’ve always been fond of SM girl group ballads, and the Monotree-produced “Hear The Sea” is sublime. It could pass for one of those waltzy, romantic SNSD ballads (my favourite kind!), but what I really like is the drip-drop sound effect that ties the track into the album’s summer concept.
SISTAR have well and truly earned their eternal title as the undisputed Queens of Summer, but Red Velvet could be the next best thing if they stay on this path. This is the ultimate summer comeback, not just musically, but also conceptually. Red Velvet seem more comfortable in their own skin with every comeback, and with “Red Flavor” they’ve found the perfect match in the summer season.