While one could debate incessantly as to what constitutes the ideal time for a debut, it is an undeniable fact that it is not when a group is embroiled in controversies. Against this rationale, the timing for Red Velvet‘s is not simply bad but terrible because they are not the centre of the controversies but rather the centre of the backlashes against the controversies. Mad about f(x)‘s shady business? Unleash your anger at Red Velvet! Mad about the ambiguity surrounding EXO‘s 11-member status? Blame it on Red Velvet! Mad about SM‘s mismanagement and overall pathetic administration? Diss Red Velvet!
It sounds inane undoubtedly, but that has been exactly the treatment meted out to Red Velvet since their debut, and it doesn’t help that their music video is a hodgepodge of random images and a mishmash of jarring notes.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFgv8bKfxEs]
After EXO’s elaborate 23 teasers and two promotional music videos as part of a massive debut, I had expected similar or even more fanfare for SM’s new girl group. The introduction of SM Rookies led to quick rumours about a girl group debut in the pipeline, causing ripples of excitement and anticipation regarding the concept. Will it be cutesy like SNSD or off-beat like f(x)? Or will it be the first ‘sexy’ girl group of SM? With the mention of the word ‘sexy’ came an accompanying fear of hyper-sexualization instigated by Irene and Seulgi‘s preview to what we now know as “Be Natural.”
Red Velvet or, at least, three members of Red Velvet — the third being Wendy — have had a regular buzz surrounding them, but it was not enough to create a massive hype. So when they did drop the teaser pictures, the response was lukewarm. There wasn’t the typical SM debut craze. In fact, there was an air of condescension and mockery as the oddly timed debut came off more as a poor attempt to divert attention from the company’s controversies than as a daring move in the realm of summer singles.
With the debut slated for August 1, one couldn’t help but feel that either this debut was going to be super epic because SM believed that it could garner attention without any strong positive publicity, or it was going to be another addition to “The Anatomy of SM’s Rash Behaviour.” The teaser, over-indulging on colours and dominated by a Scarlet Macau, inclined toward the latter and marked them out as f(x)-esque, a hurried f(x). And that’s very ominous.
The music video of “Happiness” is psychedelic in nature and reminiscent of SHINee‘s “Dream Girl.” This is good and bad — good because “Dream Girl” was SM’s finest box MV, and anything psychedelic creates for interesting experimentation, and bad because it was neither appropriate nor executed properly. “Dream Girl” had certain requirements — collapse of time and space — which was complemented by the peculiarity of the video direction, but “Happiness” does not have such a unique concept; it does not quite have a coherent concept to begin with. Similarly, the use of the psychedelic frames just caused visual nausea. While every member got sufficient individual attention, it still felt as if they had been crammed into a set with way too many props.
Props of course brings us to another controversy this group found itself at the centre of — the irresponsible usage of images relating to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the 9/11 attacks. While SM claimed that this mishap was an oversight, that they had no intention of hurting people’s sentiments having merely accommodated the first stock images they could lay their hands on, and then swiftly released an edited version, it is rather comical and pathetic to see one of the Big Three make such a “mistake.” If I had to buy their argument, then that would only further reveal the shabby production and direction of the video where they okay-ed a horrible mess like that.
This particular controversy got to me more than it should have. Not only did SM degrade to newer levels of mediocrity with its callous attitude, but it also managed to antagonize viewers against a group of girls, who I am pretty sure worked their asses off for their debut, even more than what they already faced. Honestly, SM, these girls were already destined to receive a lot of hate from fans and non-fans alike, thanks to you. You could have done some sort of a disaster management by at least creating the video responsibly.
Musically, too, I am rather indifferent toward the song. At first listen, I definitely did not like it. But after a few listens more, the song kind of grew on me. I loved the pre-chorus and the build up, but I felt that the chorus was a let-down. I mean, sure, the song is happy, chirpy, and upbeat — perfect for summer! — but, as a debut, it’s too ignorable. And noisy.
All the girls seem to have strong vocals — their live performance is evidence — which is why they did not need all that mishmash of different strands of music. The beginning of the verses is especially dull and boring and makes me want to skip it altogether. Since all of them have distinct and strong voices, there are times when they get a bit harsh on the ears. Joy gave me a tough time because I felt that her voice quality was unrefined — she almost literally hits the notes instead of finding her way to them — but, on the flip side, her voice is very unique.
Wendy, on the other hand, was an aural and visual delight, and it has nothing to do with the fact that she reminds me of Luna, both visually and aurally. Nope, not all. Her voice feels anchored to a strong base, and that’s why even during the bridge there is a certain gravity to her singing, tonally.
Lyrically, this song has me left more confused than indifferent — what’s your point exactly, Red Velvet?
The group poses as schoolgirls which is weird because only Joy is 17 — the rest are 20 and above. The song is about, well, happiness, youth, vitality and optimism. Their point is don’t be overburdened and sullen adults running after money and power — that’s you, SM — but realize that happiness is in the little things of life. So far, so good.
But then they start talking about their mothers and boys paying attention to them, and I am back to “dafuq?” Assuming these are the little things in life that bring happiness, this stands in direct contradiction to Red Velvet’s “My journal is filled with adventures to find happiness.” When did telling your mom you love her become “adventurous”?
I really like how they say “I’m a little different” because it’s so much better than the usual “I am better than you,” “I am so different than you peasants” and the “little” is only their “power of optimism.” But this is the only line which makes any sense to me.
“Sometimes, you gotta be bold!
Just rock the world! Boo-yah!”
apart from reminding me strongly of 2NE1, have no connection with the whole song. The song is not about being bold; it’s about doing what you should do as an adult but not forgetting the mundane blessings in everyday life. So, yeah, what’s your point exactly, Red Velvet?
This music video was never supposed to have hard choreography, which is great because SM has a tendency of cramming all possible talents of their artists in one debut MV. There is a minor dance break, but even that looks like SHINee’s “Everybody.” It’s good that they didn’t go all out with this MV and have strategically left some talents in reserve — their future releases can therefore hold an element of surprise and not turn repetitive and predictable.
Song Rating: 2.5/5
MV Rating: 2/5
(YouTube, Lyrics via Kpop Lyrics, Images via SMTown)