“Be formless, shapeless – like water,” the great Bruce Lee once said in a 1971 interview. This immortal quote may not have been the basis or inspiration for the debut mini-album ‘Like Water’ by Red Velvet’s Wendy, but a common thread that they both share is that of adaptability. Just like how water is able to effortlessly take the shape of any vessel it’s poured into, the group’s main vocalist uses the fluidity of her voice to her advantage in her first solo outing.
This is juxtaposed almost immediately from the get-go with the album’s double title tracks. The first, ‘When This Rain Stops’, is a piano-led power ballad that “shows [her] vocal charm”, as Wendy herself shared at a press conference for the mini-album. “It has a special place in my heart because it contains my story,” she said, adding that she “wanted to share the comfort [she] received and thank [her] fans” who had awaited her return after her year-long hiatus due to a serious stage accident in late 2019.
This impactful opening track, one of comfort and assurance to both herself and the listener, skillfully showcases both her vocal strength and control. It starts off with a vulnerable confession (“There are so many days / when I feel alone”), with the conviction in her voice only growing stronger as the song progresses (“I want to tell myself / And everything that I have / That it’s okay to stop for a moment / And rest”).
Then there’s the folksy ‘Like Water’, which represents “how people need one another and how we help to fill each other up… just as a person should not be without water”. It starts as a gentle downstream flow that gains momentum as it reaches rapids – in this case, the chorus. More than any other track on the project, Wendy’s vocal performance on ‘Like Water’ is at times strangely familiar – one can’t help but to think that this song could have also been sung by labelmate and Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon. Besides the similar vocal quality, the song also feels like it follows a more tried-and-tested songwriting formula, especially compared to ‘When This Rain Stops’.
One that refreshingly doesn’t is the bright, cheerful sounding ‘Why Can’t You Love Me?’. Strangely enough, the ’80s soul-influenced vibes of this song bears hints of Scottish singer-songwriter Annie Lennox’s ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’, albeit a more upbeat version. Here, Wendy speak-sings her way through the telling of a coy springtime infatuation (“My cheeks get coloured with a smile / I turn my head away pretending not to”), peppering it with uniquely enunciated words and melismatic riffs, even rounding it off with a vocal run that slightly mirrors the late Whitney Houston’s hit ‘I Will Always Love You’. It’s an unexpected departure from what’s expected from Wendy, but this opportunity to experiment with different sounds and influences certainly works in her favour.
Wendy closes out the mini-album with yet another piano-driven track, this time a sweet, heartfelt duet called ‘Best Friend’, featuring fellow Red Velvet member Seulgi. “You, you’re my best friend / Forever, never end,” the ladies affirm each other on the touching ballad. Wendy’s collaborator of choice couldn’t be more ideal, as she credits Seulgi as one of the people who’d helped her greatly during her trainee days at SM Entertainment. They continue to remain close, even travelling together to Austria to film a travel show in 2019. While both are notable vocalists in their own right, and their vocals are undoubtedly complementary, it’s Wendy’s prowess that resonates much more here.
Overall, Wendy navigates the ebbs and flows of her first album quite admirably. She exudes a genuine warmth through her five-track release, which she’d hoped will comfort her fans. While she keeps most of the songs to her familiar emotional ballad ground, it’s the quirkier tracks that truly enable her to show her versatility. It may take some time for Wendy to really settle into a style of her own as a solo artist, but she’d certainly be able to flow effortlessly into any genre she chooses, especially with a versatile and adaptable voice like hers – just like water.
- Release date: April 5
- Record label: SM Entertainment