Mini album review: Red Velvet - Queendom

Mini album review: Red Velvet - Queendom | Random J Pop

I had no real expectation of Red Velvet’s comeback song. Because if there’s one thing SM don’t always give, it’s consistency. Even if they’ve been better with Red Velvet than most of their other acts. But with SM splintering members of the group off with solo and duo releases and pretty much every other act under SM releasing an album in-between Red Velvet’s last release and this one, their comeback song could have gone in more directions than Irene’s hands and feet at a stylist she doesn’t like. But thankfully SM made the right call with “Queendom”, showing that they know where Red Velvet’s sweet spot lies. And thankfully this is carried through the mini album too.

“Queendom” is not only a good song on its own, but it does a stand-up job of setting the expectation and tone for the entire mini album. Queendom is a pretty mid-tempo affair on the whole, which may put some fans off who are all about songs such as “Happiness”, “Ice Cream Cake”, “Bang Bang” “Dumb Dumb” and “Power Up”. These songs are fine, but they don’t feel as unique to Red Velvet as they should. ‘Uniqueness in K-Pop!?’ I hear y’all ask. I know. Maybe that was asking for too much. But even so, it took me a while to warm to Red Velvet, because I felt that so many of their title tracks and singles didn’t do a good enough job of selling them, and I just didn’t think a lot of the songs were all that good.

Mini album review: Red Velvet - Queendom | Random J Pop

Since the start I have always felt that Red Velvet felt like a replacement for f(x). The sound. Some of the looks. The music videos. SM Entertainment literally carried everything of f(x)’s over to Red Velvet, which I get. SM knew there was still gas in the f(x) tank, but they didn’t wanna spend it on THAT group with THOSE members. But Queendom goes to a greater length than any of Red Velvet's other releases to really hone in on the sound and vibe which I feel has always worked best for Red Velvet. Smooth songs with R&B grooves at their core. “Peekaboo” slaps. "Attaboy" goes. But we’ve heard these types of songs from f(x) before, any K-Pop group could do them, and Red Velvet brings nothing new to the table with either of them. Where-as “Be Natural” and “Kingdom Come” is absolutely where it’s at. Both songs tap into vibes which couldn’t be further from f(x), and really show off the charms of the ladies of Red Velvet. And this seems to be the objective with Queendom. To present Red Velvet as women and not young girls. To see if the group can get away with not having a loud ass song with all manner of bells, bangs and whistles. And the answer is, they fucking can.

Queendom feels like SM Entertainment acknowledging that they have carried Red Velvet on f(x)’s sound for a little too long, and finally releasing that the group’s gambit was never these songs. It was their mid-tempos. But from a business perspective, I completely get it. K-Pop loves big bombastic songs. And given the overlap between f(x) and Red Velvet, SM had to go with what they knew had worked for them before and ride that out. But with Red Velvet’s place secured within the K-Pop pantheon, SM can start to show Red Velvet as just Red Velvet, and finally have them take onus of sound, separate from SM’s other groups. Let Aespa (if that group doesn’t have a fork in it by 2022) do all of the big bangers; all the whole Red Velvet serve grown and sexy Pop tinged R&B, as they slow whine their pussy in Gucci and Miu Miu.

BUT. SM are still like ‘Ooo look. There’s still a wee bit o’ gas in the f(x) tank’ and expend it on one song. “Pose”. Now, I’ve had many a fan tell me I’m wrong about the f(x) comparisons and that I’m crazy. As though “Peekaboo” didn’t sound like an f(x) song. As thought the push for harmonies isn’t f(x). Even one of the covers to Queendom looks f(x) as fuck. But “Pose” really is f(x) down to the ground. And if the group were still a thing, this woulda been their lead song. It’s reminiscent of “Red Light”, but it sounds like one song as opposed to two. “Pose” is good, but it feels unnecessary and like a blemish on what would have been an otherwise tight and consistent package which presented Red Velvet in the way that best suits them. “Pose” coulda been put aside for another Irene & Seulgi project or something. I get why SM included it. They probably figured ‘This mini album is too chill, we need a club record’ and that with the mini album title there should probably include a song that necks and fingers can snap to, and that the gays will ‘Yes kween’ and nogue down to. But this album really did not need this song. It stands out in the worst possible way. SM need to get better at really hankering down on the areas and sounds their acts occupy and commit to that. Because just having everyone dip into everything, it’s messy.

Mini album review: Red Velvet - Queendom | Random J Pop

Aside from “Pose” kinda fucking up the flow of Queendom, the one thing I wish this album had pushed more is vocal arrangement. Much like f(x) (yes, I mentioned them again), Red Velvet’s songs often have great harmonies, despite the group not being pushed as a vocal group. But there’s less of a focus on them with Queendom, when they should have been pushed far harder - given the style of the songs here, and that there is more breadth in them to play with arrangements and harmonies. "Hello Sunset" was literally screaming for a slick 5 point harmony and a shit tonne of vocal stacks. But nope.

The approach taken with the songs on Queendom is very Girls’ Generation. Basic. Not utilising every member in the best way. And the member with one of the stronger voices (in this case, Wendy) screaming and ad-libbing for the last 20 seconds of the song. K-Pop tends to be very formulaic when it comes to vocal distribution. Everybody (usually) gets equal shots on a song. But very seldom is vocal distribution done based on who sounds best for certain parts of songs, and sometimes this is what should drive how the vocals are divvied up. Seulgi has a really nice tone, but she’s often put on parts of songs where you barely get to take note of it. Wendy has good power and is also damn good with runs, but she’s always put on the same parts of songs. Irene is good with sharp melodies and riding the beat, but it’s rarely made use of. The songs on Queendom were perfect for SM and the producers involved to really mix things up with Red Velvet’s vocals, to further set them apart.

There’s only so much that can be done with the music, and how far can you push the songs really!? So the next logical step? Push the vocals. SM always seems to push their acts when it comes to dancing, routines, wearing contact lenses and frying out their hair with dye, but never seem to push them vocally, or challenge producers to really get creative with arrangements. This always seems to be more of a personal thing that’s left to artists to want to do, as was the case with BoA saying ‘Bitch, I need to be singing better’ from 2021 onward and going on to sound the best she’s ever sounded. It’s what always got me about Girls’ Generation. Nobody ever made full use of a group that had 9 members who could hold a tune, with 3 members with solid voices. SM’s solution was just to put the 3 members with the good voices in a sub-unit.

Mini album review: Red Velvet - Queendom | Random J Pop

One thing I don’t think there is enough of in K-Pop is sensuality. It seems to be something which is reserved and left for ‘older’ acts. So I really like that Red Velvet’s Queendom offers sensuality in spaces. It feels fresh and new, whilst being true to what I feel has always been Red Velvet’s strength, no matter how much SM tried to downplay it in favour of the f(x)-sound-alikes. I do wonder how much of a stain that a song like BoA’s “Kiss My Lips” left with folk at SM Entertainment, given that it flopped and they then made damn sure BoA didn’t release a title track like it again. It’s a shame that there was more focus on metrics than quality, because “Kiss My Lips” remains as one of BoA’s best songs and was a necessary zag at a time when nobody in K-Pop dared release a song like it as a title track. So it’s nice to see SM circle back to smoother grooves and put a greater focus on them. Speaking of BoA’s, it’d be great to have her write for Red Velvet or executive produce and album of theirs. BoA’s 2020 studio album Better and the story behind its delay really showed that BoA has a great ear and taste level that I think is being wasted on her own material.

Mini album review: Red Velvet - Queendom | Random J Pop

Queendom is a nice package which goes to lengths to ground Red Velvet in a particular sound. The package would have been nicer if this were a full length album though. With a title like Queendom and the head dive Red Velvet do into mid-tempo territory, I feel like this should have been a 12 track album, presenting a real journey into Red Velvet and their Queendom of sensuality. And whilst it’s absolutely possible to deliver a mini album / EP (whatever the fuck you wanna call ‘em) that feels full and delivers - by the time “Hello, Sunset” rolls around on Queendom (perfect album closer) it genuinely feels like you’ve missed and jumped about 5 songs.

For what Queendom is, it’s nice. It's not wholly memorable, but it's nice. Although it doesn’t feel like the complete meal that it should have been. And whilst I like that Red Velvet are being moved into this new old space, I need to see them being pushed too.

Verdict: *Watches Irene throw her flip phone at a bitch*

■ Knock on Wood 🔥
■ Better Be
■ Pushin’ N Pullin’ 🔥
■ Hello, Sunset 🏆