Late Review: Red Velvet plays with conforming on Russian Roulette

Red Velvet return with a new EP titled Russian Roulette, and led by the promptly titled song as well. Having started the year with the somber ballad One Of Those Nights, the group have returned to the fun brighter side of them with this comeback.

I like the song. It’s catchy enough, and fun. On to the important stuff though.

As a group that has been around since 2014, and a few eps and one full album under their belt, it isn’t easy to look at their work as just a standalone. In the greater scheme of who Red Velvet is as a musical group, Russian Roulette toe the line. It does share a few similarities to other Red branded singles, having a slight quirkiness that deviates from the usual brand of cute. But in comparison to some of their other singles, Russian Roulette far more subdued. The vocals are not as big, the music isn’t as thrilling. It’s very low key and pushing toward generic. I like that they (being the producers, SM, whomever had a say in this musical decision) didn’t immediately return with the same thing they have done before. It would have been easy especially after OOTN having a completely somber feel, to return to old ways. Instead they find a sound that is both poppy, but not extravagant. I think playing with what has now been established as Red Velvet is commendable, but at the same time it seems like they found themselves in a positions that sounds like other groups.

I have seen several people say this sounds like something that any other girl group could have done, which is very true. The song isn’t as dynamic as a standard SM release could be, and does follow what one would hear from someone like Laboum and Oh My Girl (who’s brand of cute takes on edges of quirky, and lively). When I listen to this song I found some myself finally hearing that f(x) comparison. I don’t know what song, but this sounds like an early b-side of theirs (normally Red Velvet tend to take on a more SNSD sound with their b-sides). That isn’t a bad thing, but it is something I noticed while listening.

It’s safe to say that Red Velvet were directed with a softer approach this comeback, which ended up producing a very middling song. It’s cute, catchy and fun. But it is neither dynamic or in line with the brand that has been created. Yet…it doesn’t feel off and out of character. It works of course; Red Velvet are not a hardcore group. Instead they play on the idea of being cute with an edgy (can be read as bigger or sassier) pop sound (that can be as big as it want to be, or be electro pop, or even a redeaux of an British Pop singer’s track)…but nothing about the group couldn’t translate over to the subdued 8-Bit pop that is Russian Roulette. At their core Red Velvet can be read as a conceptually cute group which makes it easier for them to play these roles and not look out of place.

I rarely discuss the videos now, because they tend to all blend together and all use the same tropes and cues. Here though Red Velvet have peaked my interest. Their video does two things: kill each other, and play on a lot of standard girl group video tropes.

I think one without the other would have felt strange. The song being titled off a fucked up game gambling your life…of course death would be part of the video. But the song isn’t a dark and depressive plea of insanity. It’s bright and light and breezy. Nothing about the song feels overly dynamic, so why kill each other?

And that’s what makes it fun. The song are firmly planted in the “cute” concept, so one would expect the video to as well. When the video started I was reminded of several other girl group videos. The first part with Seulgi read like a moment from Gfriend (the camera movement), while parts of them interacting felt like one of Oh My Girl’s latest videos. The core of the video is indeed “cute”, but then you have Wendy pushing Yeri off the high dive into an empty pool to her doom…or Yeri pouring choking hazards into the bowls of her members. Or Seulgi igniting a complex trap that would end with Joy having a refrigerator dropped on her head.

All the while this is spliced with scenes of a vague mouse and cat duo also acting out these same violent acts and them happening. They look like Itchy and Scratchy from the Simpsons, but to ignore those two parodying nature of another Cat and Mouse duo would be a mistake (especially since a couple of the acts are very…well Tom and Jerry). Tom and Jerry were notorious for their excessive violence (from plain hurting each other, to actively having tried to kill each other…often for trivial reasons). Many of Red Velvet’s pranks feel like they were out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. It’s a little powder bleach with your sugar.

While I don’t think violence is necessarily a great way to create art…Russian Roulette’s video takes an inherently nonviolent archetype (the cute concept girl group), and adds some very smart murders to them. These girls are killing each other while in pastels, and over blushed cheeks to make them diminutive. The watcher is hit with this shocking idea of a girl group who is playing into the standard girl group motifs are not exactly…innocent.

Red Velvet’s comeback is and isn’t them. The core of the group is there, but they are playing a different role which is familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Still Russian Roulette is a fun and likable track, unexpectedly giving Red Velvet more depth to who they are.

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