Mini Album Review: Red Velvet - RBB

Mini Album Review: Red Velvet - RBB | Random J Pop

RBB was Red Velvet’s 5th EP and it’s one that doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me. Well. It does and it doesn’t, which is why RBB makes no sense to me. Halloween themed music video and album cover which doesn’t follow through into the rest of the music is one thing, and not even a big thing (although I feel it woulda helped it). It’s everything else.

RBB kicks off loud and brash, and with this fun music video attached to it. But when the music video cuts to black and the song is over, you’re left not really knowing anything about Red Velvet, and this last part is RBB all over.

RBB is approached almost like Red Velvet are a rookie group, when by the time RBB had released, they were 4 years into their careers; which is forever, given that K-Pop works in dog years. RBB just isn’t the type of release that Red Velvet should have been putting out at this point. Although the title track topping the Billboard World Digital Song Sales chart may cause some of you to disagree, and that’s fair. Maybe that’s all Slave Monger Entertainment cared about trying to achieve with RBB.

I’mma just say it. The title track is garbage. Sure, it topped a Billboard chart. But since when did topping a Billboard chart equate solely to quality? Red Velvet are lucky the music video is so fun and charming. The song sounds like Jessie J, Ariana and Nicki Minaj's "Bang Bang", which is an awful song that even the artists responsible for it don't like. And also, Red Velvet had tread this same sound already with “Dumb Dumb” (which was FAR better than “Bang Bang”, I give it that). Of all the songs on RBB, “RBB” is the worst one. It doesn’t do Red Velvet any justice. But if nothing else, it’s the one song on the EP which had the biggest potential to carry Red Velvet on the hallyu because of its sound and the familiarity of it. SM Entertainment had to have had similar thoughts, hence why there is an English version of the song.

Whilst songs such as “RBB” had become one of Red Velvet’s bread and butter songs by the time this EP came out, it wasn’t their best sound, and neither was it the one I felt Red Velvet truly owned. SM Entertainment were over f(x) as a group, but even they knew f(x) had a great and unique sound and visual aesthetic that they didn’t want to let go, so they pretty much carried it over to Red Velvet. Whilst that worked ‘okay’ for “Happiness” and we had nothing else to go on at that point, it became clear over time that whilst Red Velvet did these f(x) songs just fine, they didn’t have the same ownership of the material as f(x) had. And as SM continued to have almost their entire roster of acts move into R&B, what came out of this is that smooth R&B adjacent songs is where Red Velvet actually shone. But it would seldom be what the group would lead with, even though with every release Red Velvet put out, these strongly R&B tinged songs were always the highlights and the ones that would make me say ‘THIS is Red Velvet’. Even the damn name matches what should be their hero sound, but it’s not the case. And RBB doesn’t go to any length to really capitalise on that. In fact, RBB doesn’t go to any length to really establish Red Velvet’s sound at all.

Mini Album Review: Red Velvet - RBB | Random J Pop

RBB feels like a catch all release. Something which has everything in the hopes that something on this EP will stick with fans of other groups or the general public. You can hear it in the sound, but you can also see it in the liner notes too. RBB features all of the usual suspects who were writing and producing for SM entertainment at the time: Dewain Whitmore Jr., LDN Noise, Harvey Mason Jr. of The Underdogs, Moonshine, Sara Forsberg, Dem Jointz, and of course Kenzie’s penmanship on the title track. The only name missing is The Stereotypes. Trying to really solidify and hammer home a sound for Red Velvet feels secondary here. I understand SM’s approach, but they could have tried for more of a balance here - catching more bees with good honey, instead of trying to catch more bees with every type of honey.

When RBB had released in 2018, there was obviously no f(x) and Girls’ Generation were over, although SM did their damndest to let people know that Girls’ Generation hadn’t disbanded. OKAY THEN. So Red Velvet were their only girl group. This put Red Velvet in an fortunate unfortunate position, because it meant they got more of SM’s focus than they would have otherwise, but Red Velvet were made to be that anybody group for a minute, to fill voids. So “Butterflies” and “Taste” are effectively Girls’ Generation songs, whilst “Sassy Me” is an f(x) song. The only cut on RBB which Red Velvet take claim over is “So Good”, which SURPRISE, SURPRISE is the best song on the EP.

Red Velvet’s sound being a pick ’n’ mix isn’t surprising. It’s what SM have always done with their acts. f(x) and SHINee (to a point) were two of the only SM acts I can think of who debuted with a particular sound and image, and followed through on that for years. Even the K-Pop legend that is BoA only started to carve a sound out for herself after 10 years. The K-Pop approach to training seems to be creating jacks of all trades in groups, even though every member will have a designated role and some members clearly have a penchant for one sound over others. But it’s really unfortunate that SM don’t always hone in on what works and try to build out, and instead choose to throw everything at the wall from the offset. Red Velvet is set up very similar to f(x) in that you have one member who clearly is the best singer in the group (yes, it’s Luna), one whose vocals aren’t that great but can serve looks, and then a couple of others who can hold a song. So switcheroo aside, it’s no wonder SM just gave Red Velvet f(x)’s sound. But in doing so, they underplayed gambits like Wendy and Seulgi. Wendy doesn’t shine on a lot of the more poppy, loud frenetic songs. She shines on shit like “Butterflies” and “So Good”, where she doesn’t have to be so in the pocket and has space to hit big notes, runs and all the good shit Wendy does. Sure, the way Wendy comes in on songs is as formulaic as Taeyeon on Girls’ Generation songs. But, hey. It works. And Wendy does have a REALLY good voice. Seulgi’s smooth tone also isn’t done a justice on songs like “RBB”. SM not caring about trying to carve a sound out for their acts or trying to really zone in on what so very clearly works has hurt a lot of Red Velvet’s releases in my opinion, and RBB is no different. I get why SM do it, but it doesn’t make me feel any better towards the Red Velvet releases such as this one where the focus is for there to be no focus.

Mini Album Review: Red Velvet - RBB | Random J Pop

I also think it’s a shame that RBB wasn’t made a concept mini album given the lead song. But we know how K-Pop do. Title songs are seldom indicative of how a mini album or LP will sound. But Red Velvet’s title songs are usually such tone setters and their covers always have such clear concepts, that it’d be nice to have the music follow through on them too. All of the promotion for RBB was centred on Halloween, but there’s NONE of that in the music. In fact, there’s barely any of it in the song “RBB”. It’s all visual. Which is fine. But with how SM were setting up Red Velvet and the mini albums and EP’s they’d released prior, having them do something a little conceptual would’ve worked a treat and helped give the group some form of character, which is also something which gets lost in the music when they’re just doing everything in between just doing what f(x) have done and would’ve done.

RBB is not a terrible release. The music is fine. But it’s not so chock full of great songs that you’ll become a fan and want to check out more of Red Velvet’s stuff. It’s cool for a playthrough and some background music, but that’s about all. “Butterflies” is nice. “So Good” hits. But when played amongst other K-Pop songs, they become wallpaper. It was strange for this to be the case when Red Velvet had released a bunch of mini albums and two full lengths by the time RBB came around, by which point it had become very evident what sounds really worked for Red Velvet and they’d put out some great, defining songs to showcase this - and yet there’s none of that here.


■ Butterflies
■ So Good 🏆