The red concept returns for Red Velvet‘s latest, “Russian Roulette.” We last heard from Red Velvet with the more sombre “One of These Nights” and, as much as I love the velvet concept, the end of summer is a perfect time for Red Velvet to come back with a bang. SM took that idea quite literally, giving us one of the best and most entertaining Red Velvet concepts to date. The track, however, feels a little lacking in comparison to the comeback’s visual execution.
“Russian Roulette” is a quirky synth track that is very much grounded in retro sounds and playful electronic instrumentals. While a catchy bop, it is not as distinctive or pleasing as the previous releases that cemented the group’s red concept. It’s not quite as heavy as “Ice Cream Cake” or “Dumb Dumb” which came down with a bang of distinctive vocals and hard base lines. “Russian Roulette,” on the other hand, is more airy, more light, and infinitely more robotic. While the vocals were stylized with purpose, they only contribute to the track’s lack of dynamics.
“Russian Roulette” is enjoyable and definitely public friendly, which will most likely bring the release a significant amount of domestic success. Yet, I can’t help but feel that “Russian Roulette” is a little too generic — and repetitive — for a group as colorful as Red Velvet.
Thankfully, I don’t have to love the song to adore the way that SM visualized and executed this concept. Truly, it’s the MV that makes this concept go from generic to something more interesting, breathing character and narrative into something that otherwise could have fallen very flat.
Red Velvet with the intent to kill is more than a little perfect, especially given the group’s dark humored maknaes. The members are emotionless, heartless, and more than a little devious on screen. And strangely, that’s completely endearing to me.
The concept for “Russian Roulette” is approached like a ’90s dark comedy, reminding me of The Heathers or Jawbreaker: beautiful school girls, secretly taking each other out and feeling little to no remorse. It’s a fun game of cat and mouse, as the animations interspersed throughout the MV suggest. Each member meets her own untimely end at the hand of another, and each member sports the same unaffected stare and dead eyes.
The aesthetics of the MV feel entirely appropriate both for the concept and the song itself; cutesy pastels, prep school sets, retro styling, elements of the ominous like crows and cactuses. Everything looks so pristine on the surface, but the MV manages to convey that something is amiss. There’s a lot of really cool framing work that went into making that possible; shots filmed slightly off center, pans ending a split second too soon, the narrowing in of the camera’s focus with loud graphics that overlap some of the field of vision.
All these little filming and graphic elements help take what would be very standard girl group MV scenes — like dancing in gym uniforms and lounging in a tennis court — and subvert them. The filming style creates a subconscious tension in the MV that stirs slight discomfort while watching otherwise innocent images, and it’s all very intentional.
The members too, each teeter unknowingly on the precipice of disaster: Seulgi wields scissors to a string holding a fridge above Joy; Irene and Seulgi push Wendy‘s bed into oncoming traffic; Wendy and Seulgi shove a piano down the stairs into Joy and Irene; Wendy pushes Yeri off a diving board; and the members come together to sabotage Seulgi as she opens her gym locker. All these scenes are cut a split second before the moment of impact, which only heightens the tension throughout the MV. Keeping with the tone of the track, there’s no real climax to the Red Velvet Royale, but it’s certainly a fun ride.
Much like with “Dumb Dumb” there’s an element of the robotic to the members on screen. But unlike “Dumb Dumb,” that robotic-ness is also felt when listening to the track itself. The members look at the screen with dead eyes the same way they sing the stuttered lines of the chorus. So in that sense, the track and MV are well paired, and well executed.
Overall, “Russian Roulette” excels in concept, which more than makes up for a few short comings of the track. Every element of the comeback was stylized with purpose, and I tip my hat to SM for presenting such a cohesive, fun, and unique concept to the ladies of Red Velvet. There’s some promising — if not slightly awkward — choreography to look forward to on music shows, too. This might not be my favorite Red Velvet single, but it’s hands-down my favorite MV.
(YouTube. Images via SM Entertainment.)