One thing you cannot fault Red Velvet for is experimentation. Since their debut, the quintet have become the poster children for concepts that might seem a tad too eccentric for general tastes but have a way of growing on you. It hasn’t always worked for them – hence, the collective amnesia around ‘Zimzalabim’ or the lull that they’ve been experiencing since ‘Queendom’ – but with ‘The ReVe Festival 2022 – Birthday’, it feels Red Velvet are one step closer to nailing their next era.
Conceptually, it isn’t their strongest or most outlandish album – as on ‘Queendom’ and ‘The ReVe Festival 2022 – Feel My Rhythm,’ they seem to be toeing the line of their comfort zone – but ‘The ReVe Festival 2022 – Birthday’ celebrates their strengths while introducing elements of surprise. The group keenly uses their diverse vocal palettes, making ‘Birthday’ better than their other recent work.
‘Bye Bye’ and ‘Zoom’ help Red Velvet defend their crown of the act with the best B-sides. Like ‘Feel My Rhythm’ and ‘Birthday,’ ‘Bye Bye’ samples a classical song, layering cool R&B-pop beats and groovy bass over Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’. The best part, though, is how the group incorporates the recognisable melody into their own vocal harmonies on the chorus, before stripping it all away for a minimal arrangement.
The haughty and proud ‘Bye Bye’ is matched in intensity by the equally dramatic ‘Zoom,’ where the group first discovers a lover’s deception. Their vocals elevate the playful, bassy R&B dance-pop. Wendy extends her clear, crisp voice to deliver satisfying high notes while the group treats catching their lover red-handed like a wicked game, peppering the song with casual ad libs and laid-back confidence. While subtler than previous releases like ‘Bad Boy’ and ‘Peekaboo’, ‘Bye Bye’ and ‘Zoom’ carry traces of that playful but seductive streak that made them so alluring.
Completing this trifecta of wins is ‘Rollercoaster (On A Ride)’. It feels a tad too structured to be labelled hyper-pop, but it’s not hard to spot elements clearly inspired by the genre. Bold instrumentation rests comfortably on a consistent light beat, with twinkling xylophonic sound effects adding texture. Cool, confident and conniving is a colour we love to see on Red Velvet.
The album does fumble in places. ‘Birthday’ opens with a sample of George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, modernising it somewhat with a carnivalesque arrangement punctuated by dance-pop, trap beats and sound effects straight out of a pinball game. Choppy, heavy verses and choruses are balanced out with relatively softer, dreamier pre-choruses. Despite providing that instant rush of dopamine, the synth loops adapting ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ prove overpowering, at times clashing with the group’s rapping and vocals. Closing out the album on ‘Celebrate’ also feels counter-productive: The quasi-balladic R&B sound does show a more vulnerable side to Red Velvet, but it also kills the momentum of an otherwise strong offering, as if bringing this party to an abrupt close.
Eight years into their career, it’s clear that in the ‘The ReVe Festival 2022’ series Red Velvet have been reckoning with how they can evolve with the times and still preserve the best aspects of their artistry. Where their past releases have vacillated between endearing youthfulness and alluring maturity, ‘The ReVe Festival’ albums, on the whole, seek a middle ground where the two combine into a fresher sound. On that front, ‘The ReVe Festival 2022 – Birthday’ certainly is commendable progress – whether that distills into a more confident and cohesive sound on future releases is something we’re more than willing to wait for.
- Release date: November 28
- Record label: SM Entertainment