Powerhouse Korean pop girl group Red Velvet gifted us their second full album, “Perfect Velvet,” last November. After a stellar start to 2017 with their mature “Rookie” EP in February and their tropical “The Red Summer” EP in June, “Perfect Velvet” demonstrates that Red Velvet was poised to own K-pop in 2017.
Not only is “Perfect Velvet” Red Velvet’s most mature release yet, it audaciously showcases their smooth “velvet” side, which has not always been well received by netizens locally. Containing nine tracks ranging from candy-striped pop to R&B/disco hybrids to moonlit ballads, “Perfect Velvet” shows that Red Velvet can certainly do velvet just as excitingly and impressively as they do red, and that sometimes venturing into the darkness will reward you with a new kind of light. Shed your K-pop stereotypes and prepare for the descent.
Opening track “Peek-A-Boo” is definitely the darkest the group has gone with a lead single.
Following this year’s bright summer chart-topper “Red Flavor,” “Peek-A-Boo” feels utterly haunting, almost lurid, without the music even suggesting one bit of malice. The five members croon luringly over a relatively sparse backdrop until the bright percussive chorus sets in. From then on, a beat that sounds reminiscent of a heart accompanies the groups’ fairly unchanging vocals. It feels childish at times, with sudden spurts of brass and poppy synths. This only adds to the unsettling feeling it gives you when consumed as a whole, along with its lyrics and ominous music video.
“Look” is the essence of what this album and Red Velvet strive to be – a perfect blend of R&B-inspired beats and bright pop music. Part disco, part R&B, part electro-pop and completely devoid of raps from Irene, Joy, or Yeri, “Look” is quite possibly the best track on the album. It proves that Red Velvet can craft a truly stand-out track on an album full of worthy contenders.
Classifying third track “I Just” into an exact genre is perplexing. That’s what makes it so Red Velvet, even though it might not feel so on first listen. Another standout, the song has a way of being both catchy and hard to grasp, instantly recognizable but full of mystery. Its breathy yet heavy electro-pop chorus compliments Wendy’s gorgeous vocal runs well, giving her enough room to shine while not being totally in the spotlight. “I Just” may be an acquired taste, but that makes it all the more rewarding.
The ominous percussion opening of “Kingdom Come” ushers in a new style to the album, a more traditional, classic R&B style. It’s a territory that’s gone relatively unexplored by popular groups in K-pop, whether girl, boy, or co-ed. Telling a tale of a love that will survive until the end of time (“kingdom come”), the lyrics and vocals feel perfectly placed atop The Stereotypes’ spacey production.
Poppier tracks “My Second Date” and “Attaboy” serve to brighten up the album in the middle. While the former opens with high-pinging notes that accurately represent what’s to come, the latter begins with a dark, trap-soul opening that quickly sinks away to the bottom, covered by bubbly electro-pop; it’s a puzzling switch only K-pop could pull off. From there, they both flourish under expert production and catchy choruses, accompanied by the trademark Red Velvet quirk that makes them so addictive.
The seventh track on the album, “Perfect 10,” is an atmospheric R&B track bolstered to bliss by the vocal magic of Wendy and Seulgi. Fragmented trap beats occasionally escape from its percussively sparse background. Yeri, Joy, and Irene add some airiness to the song with their light and subtle vocals. During the chorus – a dazy trip to the clouds with underlying trap and synth tones – Wendy and Seulgi each use their chance in the spotlight to showcase their expertly crafted vibrato and vocal runs. “Perfect 10” is a blissful track that adds to the value of the album immensely without stealing the show.
Red Velvet gives throwback ’90s R&B a whirl with the Salt-N-Pepa-tinged “About Love.” Its glittering pop chorus is succeeded by bouncing rap verses from Irene and Joy. Another demonstration of how diverse this album is (and how diverse the world of R&B is in general), “About Love” is a glorious tale of young love that seamlessly incorporates all of the things that make Red Velvet so special and unique. It’s another track that fits in perfectly with the others yet still manages to clearly distinguish itself as a great song in its own right.
The last song on the album is the starry-eyed ballad “Moonlight Melody.” It’s another showcase for Seulgi and Wendy, and the latter really displays how she’s got one of the best voices in the industry. It shows how much undeniable talent Red Velvet has, no matter how many might try to discredit them. The guitar strums and orchestral strings add to the emotion and world-building of its fluttering chorus. When the bass and piano die away at the end, what really hits you is how rewarding the experience has been. And we have the five lovely ladies of Red Velvet and the music masters over at SM to thank for every minute of it.
“Perfect Velvet” is a very successful foray into R&B (or “velvet”) for Red Velvet, and it shows that while their poppy side is very fun, sometimes it can be more rewarding to slow down and experience something crafted with real emotion and atmosphere. It’s a diverse and beautiful collection of expertly produced individuals that combine magical storytelling with quality beats and vocals to form something unique and sophisticated. There’s no doubt in my mind that Red Velvet is well on their way to becoming K-pop royalty.