Reflecting on Red Velvet recently celebrating their 7th anniversary, it has grown difficult to narrow down their musicality in just a few words. Or their ever-growing palette that pretty much embodies the rainbow. From “Power Up” to “Bad Boy,” “Zimzalabim” to “Psycho,” each return unveiled a new color of the group that further defined their potential. With every delightful, eye-popping “red” comeback, there followed a smooth, oh so stylish “velvet” side to surprise us once again. While some may think their concepts were questionable, their weird yet mysterious aesthetic became a trademark for the group as something only they can achieve — an identity milestone every group dreams to attain.
Throughout these seven years, they grew and sustained a signature sound identifiable in not only the title tracks, but also their B-sides. Both The Red Summer and Perfect Velvet, for example, are full of gems from start to finish, and it is easy to hum along with any one of their catchy choruses. As years of experience stacked up, we approached 2021, where Red Velvet returned with their sixth mini album Queendom: a sophisticated blend of both their “red” and “velvet” sides. If previous releases leaned heavily towards one or the other, this summer release seemed to wrap it up into one decadent, public-friendly production.
Although by opting for a public-friendly approach, they may have compromised their wild, vivid colors that stood as a trademark for the group thus far. The selection of tracks was the most surprising for this EP, as their title track “Queendom” seemed more like an opening introduction for the album. Given that most of their releases start off with their title tracks, this was the first time where — at least on first listen — it sounded like an intro track. The impact of each song steadily grew until the finale, “Hello Sunset,” which left behind the strongest impression of a “Red Velvet song.” Meaning, it does the best job in embodying the trademark smooth, yet charming R&B colors the group has so far manifested.
Nonetheless, this review will cover the EP in its given order, as it naturally flows from “red” to “velvet” vibes from start to finish.
Despite what I said about the song potentially sounding like an intro track, it is fittingly the first track for the album as it brings sweet comfort to fans distraught with the group’s long hiatus.
To celebrate their return, the song reflects on their strength to keep going strong from here on out. It is a reassuring, empowering track that turns the page from one season to the next, moving onwards into a new era. True to season, they also keep things bright and airy to make “Queendom” a comfortable summer listen, adding subtle elements here and there to keep the signature Red Velvet touches. The highlight is found in the latter half of the chorus, where the group belts out their signature onomatopoeia hook with “La di da doo ba di da!”
Despite it being a pop and fluff genre, it is worth noting that the instrumental does not drown out the members’ vocals, but rather works with their voices to enhance them. Every one of their voices can be heard clearly above them, as they harmonize together and sweetly pull it off from start to finish.
Personally, the song comes off as a bit placid, especially compared to previous powerhouse tracks that propelled the group previously. Not to say that any one direction is particularly bad or good; it’s simply a new approach for them, as they come in with seven years of experience under their belts. From the feedback available online, this is a song that proposes very opposite reactions, based on whatever the priority for the respective listener is. So, while it may be public-friendly, it is also quite debate-friendly.
While this might be a debatable opinion, “Pose” is a strong contender for a “red” title track role. It is fun, witty, and plays around with unexpected twists and turns throughout the song.
Though it can subtly bring back old f(x) vibes, it still largely comes across as a peak RV song: meaning there are more odd experimentation and quirkiness reminiscent of their previous hits. It is a laid-back rollercoaster ride, going up and down from high to low tones, each part connected by an empowering reminder to “pose” however you’d like. The vocalists’ beautiful harmonizing is interjected with a fun “sing-talk” style that poses a unique delivery of the song’s message and lyrics.
Overall, it is an uplifting pop song to listen to in front of any mirror — a perfect song to boost your mood while getting ready for something special. The lyrics encourage the listener to embrace who they are and free themselves to enjoy the moment. For these reasons, “Pose” is another memorable b-side to line-up next to their long array of hidden gems.
On that note, “Knock on Wood” doesn’t fare too far from that line-up either, as it taps into Red Velvet’s dreamier sound. The second B-side offers a magical surprise, with a spellbinding cast of a song reminiscent of a modern day fairy tale. The members sing of a love story that they will cast into fruition, awaiting their lover to arrive with the help of some luck and beautiful ad-libs. The lyrics flesh out a story we have all experienced before, where we feel something for a special someone, and hope that it is returned in full force. While everything seemed normal at first, slowly but surely they come to recognize what is different — and seek for that change to come true.
What truly helps this song glow is the members’ harmony throughout the song: their voices flow in and out from one to the other interchangeably, and it truly feels like a whimsical storytelling experience. Even Yeri and Irene lean more towards vocals for this track, striking the perfect chord between blending in and staying distinct. Joy, Wendy, and Seulgi’s voices also weave in and out as smooth as cotton candy, making this song such a dreamy experience.
Meanwhile, the fourth track of this album is a bolder version of “Knock on Wood,” as it sings on solidifying the initial attraction that they know is there. Within the lyrics, the members are unafraid to approach their respective crush in order to start their story. Rather, they simply desire for the other person to accept them and stay on the same wavelengths as them. If the previous song was about detecting the first spark and dreaming for a chance, “Better Be” is about being ready to grab that chance and solidify the spark before it’s too late.
In terms of storyline and transition, it is the perfect song to place in the EP timeline. However, it does fall a bit flat towards the end, without a substantial climax or end development. Throughout the song, the mood is suave and energetic, but altogether until the end it lacks cohesiveness. Not to mention that, as much as it is placed in as a transition track, it borders on becoming a filler track for the EP — especially since the remaining two tracks better flesh out the darker “velvet” side of the group.
If “Pose” was a strong “red” title track contender, then this song would be the ideal runner-up with its silky “velvet” side. Here is where the transition from their brighter to darker genres takes place. While the lyrics present a partner swinging from anxious to avoidant tendencies, the melody and voices present a different, more hopeful story.
Instead of showing disappointment, they choose to approach their partners with a warm, reassuring hand, vouching for the relationship in place of his doubts. As the story unfolds from pushing to pulling, a playful piano tune keeps things light and airy — perhaps signaling a happy ending.
With this approach, the song could have easily leaned towards pop or fluff. Instead, the members keep things laid-back, their voices stylish and oh so sultry. It is a perfect R&B song to turn on while daydreaming of a crush or any imagined love story, with well-placed falsettos and sound effects adding to the element of storytelling. While I am curious how the EP would’ve been heard differently if “Pose” and “Pushin’ N Pullin'” were promoted more, I’m nonetheless satisfied with their inclusion here.
Last but not least, “Hello, Sunset” is a perfect way to wrap up a day of musings or a loving date with an S.O., particularly in the context of a summer love. This last track fittingly muses on a fading summer love, as a story comes and goes with the heat of the season. The lyrics also seem like a poetic love story brimming with untold secrets, an exclusive tale just for the two characters involved:
Will my face swell?
Even the shadows resemble you
I feel us becoming one
But sometimes I get scared of it, yeah
I remember the deepening night sky
Leaving our hearts behind like afterimages
Promise me you won’t forget this summer
There are a lot of emotions dwelling underneath these lyrics, which the members touch on with delicate desire. It is another sobering reminder of how complex love — and the people we love — can be, not to mention temporary. Just like a sunset, love can prosper but fade, signaling the start and end of a scene. To incorporate this dichotomy, Red Velvet’s singing style is more muted and slow, matching the overall slow jam vibes of the track. Overall, this song is a gem of a finale that wraps up the EP on a fuzzy, bittersweet note.
Altogether, Queendom is a classic package of Red Velvet’s charming points, beautiful harmony, and duality in their “red” and “velvet” colors. Considering the context of their hiatus, the album is a hit-or-miss in that yes, it is a safe re-introduction to the group following the long gap since “Psycho.”
However, regarding the high anticipation that was inevitably built up, it falls flat in bringing the group back full-force. The latter wouldn’t have been a bad option at all — it may have been necessary to leave behind a stronger impression for a long-grieved summer comeback. Perhaps it’s just SM Entertainment’s way to keep their discography in balance amidst their previous powerhouse projects (which is understandable). But if anything, here’s hoping that as the group continues to be active from here, we’ll get to see their brighter, weirder, more experimental colors that we know can shine bright.