Red Velvet rose to prominence just as girl groups like Miss A, Sistar, and 2NE1 were disbanding, with a string of projects that showcased K-pop at its virtual best: consistent and cohesive, eclectic and eccentric, and packed with bright, bold hooks. There was a time when even their “summer comeback,” traditionally a throwaway release, could rank with the best singles of the year (in particular the relentlessly catchy “Red Flavor”). But those standards have diminished lately: Recent summer comeback “Power Up” has the energy of their best stuff, but lacks the passion and the wit (the chorus is, of course, punctuated by that ‘one-up’ sound effect from Super Mario). Thankfully, Red Velvet have learned an important lesson from their forebears: When the well of great singles starts to run dry, sneak gems further down the tracklist. That’s the saving grace of RBB, which leads with almost-title track “RBB (Really Bad Boy),” a blatant call-back to January’s (much better) “Bad Boy.” The song’s breakbeat production and Mariah Carey-simulation whistle falsetto are indelible, but 4Minute wore these faux-jazzy horn bleats better, and the English-sung chorus (“reallyreallyreally bad boy”) just comes off as cloying. Better is the pulsating trance-pop of “Butterflies” (its oscillating rhythm resonating with romantic anticipation) and the swaggering electro funk of “Sassy Me,” which Jason Derulo would love. It may be unfair to expect another Russian Roulette or Rookie from a group working at this pace (this is their third or fourth release so far this year, depending on whether you count the ‘repackage’ of Perfect Velvet). But as Red Velvet continue to switch-up their formula, trying out different styles, they still usually find enough that sticks.
Published as part of Foreign Correspondent | Issue 2.