Red Velvet – ‘Queendom’ review: a safe but sometimes spellbinding return from SM’s ruling girl group

After their longest period between comebacks yet, the girl group reannounce themselves carefully and cautiously

It’s been a long time since we heard from Red Velvet as a group – a grand total of 20 months since their ‘The ReVe Festival: Finale’ comeback in December 2019. While the members have kept busy with solo and unit releases (plus Yeri making her acting debut), SM Entertainment’s current ruling girl group have finally returned, breezing past their seventh anniversary to enter a new chapter.

‘Queendom’, the girl group’s sixth mini-album and their big return, isn’t quite the sparkling comeback ReVeluvs will have been hoping for after such a long time. Perhaps its because the ‘ReVe Festival’ series had some seriously outlandish and experimental songs in its catalogue – the polarising ‘Zimzalabim’, for one – but this record feels like the group are playing it safe; cautiously dipping a toe back in the water rather than making a big splash to signal their return.

As title songs go, ‘Queendom’ is perhaps the weakest in Red Velvet’s career so far. It’s neither bad nor bold, finding an innocuous middle ground as Seulgi urges us to “spread your wings and be yourself” and Yeri commands: “Be boss, blow the whistle / The bigger world is noticing you.” Its intention is very clearly to be an empowering anthem – a feminist bop that’s gender inclusive thanks to its “’Cause we are queens and kings” line – but there’s something about it that feels a little hollow. That’s not to mention the incredible awkward “raps” that each member delivers as the verses progress.

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Luckily, the b-sides mostly fare better. The smooth R&B of ‘Better Be’ is not particularly memorable, but that’s the biggest dip in the record other than ‘Queendom’ itself. ‘Hello, Sunset’ does alluring funk-tinged slow jam well – if a little predictably, right down to the fade out ending – while ‘Pose’ skitters on a marching drum beat that at points is reminiscent of Beyoncé’s ‘Run The World (Girls)’. Rather than drift too close to Bey’s smash for too long, though, the song breaks free to carve its own space as a rush of poised, confident dance-pop. “I feel alive / Don’t care about other people’s stares,” the group sings in unison. “Walk with your shoulders straightened.” Maybe it’s because it’s free of girlboss culture terminology, but it ends up feeling far more empowering than the title song.

There are moments where Red Velvet are utterly magical, like the dreamy, soft ‘Knock On Wood’. Amid synths that oscillate between squelchy and glassy, the members cast an incantation that’s both serene and romantic. “After knocking on the tree and chanting a short spell,” they sing together, “You may come to me.” Most enchanting of all, though, are the falsetto “baby, knock on wood” ad-libs they weave into the song’s divine layers – magnetic, subtle moments that draw you in closer.

Red Velvet Queendom
Red Velvet. Credt: SM Entertainment

‘Pushin’ N Pullin’’ – the mini-album’s crowning glory, a triumph of RV’s “velvet” side – is a gentle reminder of the complexities of humans. “Unlike the way you were yesterday / Today you are in a cloudy mood,” Seulgi says of a partner, and the song depicts a person blowing hot and cold as they struggle with an “anxious heart”. “We’ll be alright,” the five-piece reassure their subject, the track’s lightly jaunty piano bounce and the shimmering atmospherics that mask it in the chorus acting as a comforting hand stroking away the blues.

Had Red Velvet not been away for quite so long, ‘Queendom’ would have been a fine palate cleanser after some of the more out-there sonics of the group’s last album series. But given the period of separation we’ve had from them, it feels a little phoned-in in places and lacking cohesiveness. These five stars are capable of far brighter things – hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to be reunited with that side of the group.

Details

queendom red velvet review
  • Release date: August 16
  • Record label: SM Entertainment
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