Red Velvet, a five-member K-pop girl group known for their poppy “red” and smooth “velvet” styles, return with their fourth mini album, Rookie. The six-track mini album, their first of 2017, aims to mix their distinctive but often intertwined red and velvet styles.
Title track “Rookie” sounds a bit like an eccentric blend of last year’s sugary “Russian Roulette” and 2015’s gem “Dumb Dumb.” It’s not a song that I took to liking when I first listened to it; it’s the most “red” song on the album and possibly Red Velvet’s most unabashedly cute and poppy song yet. But the more I replayed and replayed it, Rookie’s quirky and clean-cut style began to grow on me. It begins with a raucous of bass and percussion, and then we hear main rapper Irene announce, “yeah, alright, one two,” and suddenly we’re sliding down something funky with a touch of velvet.
Wendy, Seulgi, and Joy impress with their vocals as usual, and the rapping by Irene and Yeri and perfectly clipped and cute, which actually ends up more sassy than childish. Perhaps the most enjoyable part is the chorus, an irresistible earworm that burrows its way into your brain and refuses to leave. “Rookie rookie, my super rookie rookie rookie,” with its distinctive Korean touch paired with the funk and jazz of the horn-filled background, was definitely welcome to make itself so incredibly addicting.
Track number two, “Little Little,” shows that Red Velvet can certainly do velvet as exquisitely as they do red. It opens with a flurry of harps and piano that recall 2015’s velvet mini-album The Velvet. And then, as in “Rookie” before it, we are floating down a tunnel of funk and light R&B, highlighted by Wendy, Seulgi, and Joy’s equally airy vocals. In fact, it’s these very vocals that are on display in “Little Little.” They transport you from verse to bridge to a chorus that feels like laying your head on a soft pillow for a long night’s sleep. There’s something about this one, some phenomenon that makes it feel so heavy and weightless at the same time. It’s a quietly stunning piece that shines.
“Happily Ever After,” another audacious blend of styles leaning towards red, throws a little soul and electronica into the mix. Like “Rookie,” this one doesn’t aim to highlight any of the member’s individual talents, instead, it expertly expresses each of them by combining them into an indescribable three-minute rush. It probably would’ve fit perfectly on 2015’s full-length The Red, but I’m very grateful it was included on Rookie. The best part is the quirky blast of a chorus, one that twists and turns and surprises plenty in a glorious twenty-five-second blitz.
The fourth song, “Talk to Me,” utilizes some of the glittery pop/R&B that Ariana Grande explored in her early years. But enough of the comparisons to American artists. Red Velvet has a knack for taking recycled genres and styling them with their own signature quirk. Although it is a fair effort, “Talk to Me” is probably the weakest track on the album. The production tends to be very in-your-face on a song that would probably benefit from a more laid back, velvety style. I was hoping for a rap break at some point to ease the growing monotony (we haven’t heard much of Irene or Yeri rapping since “Rookie”), but we never really got that. The singing is nice as usual, the chorus is catchy, and the song is easy to follow, but it’s simply average on a collection of standouts.
Fifth on the Rookie tracklist is “Body Talk.” It does something a popular song isn’t supposed to do; it uses thirty seconds of the standard three-and-a-half-minute time for an eerie, Stranger Things-like intro that completely flips the mood of the entire album. No words, just echoing chords that build and float away, light as air but dark as night. When Wendy’s voice suddenly appears from the mist, this intro is not abandoned, instead, it is used as a background for the remainder of the song. It’s from this stellar ambience that the vocals are allowed to flourish in a unique way not yet heard on the record. From there the talented vocalists each get a verse leading up to a chorus full of lilts and valleys, creating a slight sense of urgency emerging from the stillness. It’s a mesmerizing journey of sound that manages to surprise with each listen.
“Last Love,” the aptly titled conclusion to the mini album, perfectly showcases the soaring talents of one of Kpop’s best vocalists, Wendy. Clocking in at almost five minutes, it’s the longest of the bunch. It starts as an understated piano ballad, and even then it is completely captivating. From there it slowly builds into a beautiful retro belter, though without sacrificing the grace and effortlessness of Wendy’s voice. With each chorus comes a more effervescent, powerful expression of her incredible talent. This five-minute showcase flies by, and soon we’re in the last thirty seconds, which transports us back to the piano-rooted beginning of the song to make it a truly satisfying conclusion.
Rookie proves time and time again to be Red Velvet’s most mature and stylistically satisfying achievement. At one moment we were hopping through the bright jubilation of the addictive title track, and the next we were marveling at the beauty and sophistication of Wendy’s stunning solo closer. This feels like the album that Red Velvet was created to make, a near-perfect marriage of their two distinctive styles that doesn’t try to separate them into different tracks, but instead melds them and explores their limits to create something that transcends classification.
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