Red Velvet has had quite the year. They kicked off the year with their Perfect Red Velvet re-issue before making a bid for the title of summer queens with Summer Magic. Now, four months later, their making their third comeback of 2018, one that clearly follows in the steps of their first. How clearly? Well, the EP is entitled RBB, with the title track being named RBB (Really Bad Boy). However, this release is a spiritual successor rather than a repeat, and easily one of Red Velvet’s strongest releases to date.

I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Red Velvet’s velvet releases. They have the vocals for a lusher, more feminine sound, but the tracks lacked any real musical identity beyond “mid-tempo ballad”. If that wasn’t your thing, the tracks tended to blend together in a soup of harmonies and piano. With RBB, though, that most pressing issue has been solved. Simply put, there are so many hooks here.

RBB pulls from a variety of sounds and textures, from blaring horns to nu-disco. Even the more traditional R&B tracks bring in uncommon elements to color the mix, such as funk-inspired synth chords on “So Good”, or the staccato beat loops on “Sassy Me”. “RBB (Really Bad Boy)” takes the crown, though, because that is a track bursting with hooks. From the main horn riff that serves as the backbone to the lead-in to the second chorus to Red Velvet’s delivery of “Oh my god, he’s a really bad boy”, this track is guaranteed to get in your head and stay there.

That said,  the album maintains a very cohesive sound. RBB is a very atmospheric album, forging an identity through evoking settings and emotions rather than a musical identity, but it’s one that Red Velvet does very well. While leaning more towards the femme fatale sound of “Bad Boy”, RBB holds back from going full seductress. The album is dark and sultry, but there’s a sweetness present, particularly in the vocals. It’s most evident on tracks like the poppier “Butterfly” and love-struck “So Good”, but the lighter harmonies on “RBB (Really Bad Boy)” and “Taste” also impart an innocent streak. These more honeyed elements provide a tempering effect; they show Red Velvet wading into the sleazier side of life without being overtaken by it.

That tempering sweetness is also carried through in the lyrics. While there are the more doe-eyed components, such as all of “Butterfly”, the overall tone is one of confident self-awareness. Red Velvet know they’re good girls, but they’re not scared off by darker elements. Instead, they see a player and have decided they want to play. “RBB (Really Bad Boy) just smacks of “he’s a terrible idea and I’m here for it”.  “Sassy Me” and “Taste” also highlight this. The former is framed as Red Velvet proving they have enough bite to handle their current beau, while the latter shows them ruminating on the variety and uncertainty of relationships.

It’s that contrast of Red Velvet’s romantic leanings and the more sexual relationship they’ve entered into that gives RBB its power. It’s a more nuanced look at femininity and relationships. They’re neither innocents dreaming of pecks on the cheek nor full-bore seductresses. Instead, they’re starry-eyed yet realistic. They talk about wanting to tame the object of their affections in “Really Bad Boy”, but they know it’s not likely to happen and fully concede to being won over by how bad he is. “So Good” is full of sly innuendo, but the lyrics show a melding of love and sex, proving that people with differing temperaments can make relationships work.

All in all, RBB is an excellent mini, finally proving that Red Velvet’s softer side can have as much musical punch as their red releases, as well as providing an interesting perspective on the good girls who love bad boys. It’s a worthy successor to “Bad Boy”, and is just a really good listen.

(YouTube. Images via SM Entertainment)