By Kelly Nguyen
Red Velvet have never been interested in following anyone else’s rules. It’s a heavy thing, to make noise and push the boundaries when the voices of women artists so often get lost in the music-industry shuffle. Though, for Red Velvet, it’s a piece of cake — note by note, line by line on their new mini-album Queendom, they harness the power of the musical empire they’ve ruled for seven years and dictate their clinic on taking charge of your own world. “Watch out! We are makin’ the rules,” the group belts into the stratosphere on the title track, completely incendiary in their dazzling declaration of independence.
Since their 2014 debut, the five-piece girl group have been unconcerned with ensuring their craft is rigidly bound to one lane. Press play on their collection of anthemic earworms and you’re unable to dress down their music to an essence — and that’s entirely on purpose. They elevated the discombobulating complexity of their personas (Wendy, Joy, Yeri, Irene, and Seulgi), flitting through their genre-bending discography and perfecting all of it into a precise art form. Listeners can either be soothed to the sinuous R&B perfection of “Bad Boy” or jolted to the sugar rush of “Ice Cream Cake.” Red Velvet’s range is inimitable in its own ecosystem.
“Over the last seven years since our debut, I feel that our group has created a new genre called ‘Red Velvet,’” lead vocalist Wendy tells MTV News. “We have our own colors that are distinct and unique on their own.”
In 2019, they were a vision of power in the K-pop world, especially with the release of immediate chart-topper “Psycho.” Everything about the release seemed destined to solidify their spot on the South Korean music throne. The song became the group's second No. 1 on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart; their promotional performances and musicality were lauded as their best yet. Yet it’s a difficult subject for both their fans, called ReVeluvs, and the members themselves as they look back on this era. Shortly after promotions began, Wendy was injured in a near-fatal accident rehearsing on an unstable stage’s platform. In the following year and a half period, many wondered: How does a group possibly translate the tragic reality and everything that’s come with it into one comeback? Red Velvet answered, seizing every opportunity to demonstrate that, even in the moments when their crowns threaten to fall, they’re keeping their heads up — all by relying on one another and their ReVeluvs.
“For this particular comeback, it was more about finding empowerment as a team collectively,” Joy says. She notes that the ability to fall back into step with each other comes naturally, no matter how long they were separate forces. Each member stayed booked and busy since their last group release: Joy released her Hello EP, Wendy poured her heart out on “Like Water,” Seulgi and Irene tutted the night away on their “Monster” collab, and Yeri began her first foray into acting on K-drama Blue Birthday. For Joy, though, nothing quite compares to the quintet coming together as one. “I feel more confident than ever being together with the members again.”
Queendom, which was released on August 16, manifested into the most exhilarating evolution of the Red Velvet ethos yet. Ideas and narratives delving deeply into pain, heartbreak, and triumph are intertwined with their characteristically buoyant vocals. The whiplash from lugubrious lyrics like “What’s going on, now? / I'm confused, my mind is complicated” on “Knock On Wood” (youngest member Yeri’s favorite track) amid spellbinding, upbeat voices is completely intentional, according to Red Velvet’s leader, Irene.
They focused on the finer details of everything — from their vocals to live performances — to ensure every single member’s diverse skills can be felt through the mini-album. “Our goal was to come back as a stronger artist and showcase a more mature side of Red Velvet,” Irene explains. All the members’ palpable ambition and enthusiasm gives her the most pride as a leader. She adds the supportive dynamic the group has cultivated throughout the years is the basis for the mini-album’s title song. “The track is about how we are all ‘queens’ of our own lives and that we shine more beautifully when we are all together,” she says.
“Each one of us has a distinct vocal color that’s very different, yet compatible with one another,” Red Velvet’s star dancer Seulgi says. “It’s been a while since we came out with new music with all five of us so I hope our fans will notice our strengths as vocalists.”
Her sureness in Queendom is tangible — and it’s because the entire group put in the work. The time they spent apart never lessened their determination as a group; if anything, it actually strengthened their resolve to show ReVeluvs how much they’ve grown. She, for instance, has been routinely taking vocal and dance lessons so she could “bring [her] A-game” for the comeback. “It was a good opportunity for me to re-discover myself, like what my strengths are as an artist,” Seulgi explains.
While the last few years have seen the group at its most catastrophically vulnerable, the more unguarded version they’ve displayed lately is perhaps the most fascinating. Throughout Red Velvet’s music, showcased on songs like “Pushin’ N Pullin,’” fans are able to see more pieces of their lives that go beyond the artist — in all of the messy, beautiful moments that come with living life. Yeri’s growth and arrival at who she has become is touched by fans’ experiences as well. “Every moment with ReVeluvs makes me proud to be a member of Red Velvet,” she explains.
It’s something that Wendy has recently learned, lives by, and wants to vulnerably share — the glorious act of self-love that has helped guide her through difficult times. “You can’t be the queen of your life without passion, hard work, and faith in yourself!” she says. “By loving and caring for yourself more, you will find the strength to turn difficult situations into opportunities.” Implementing self-care makes anything seem possible, and as Red Velvet has realized that, in being the independent architects of their own queendom, they’re refusing to leave anyone behind. Behind every queen is another one ready to readjust a tilted crown. As Seulgi explains, “I know I can depend on them in any situation. I’m very grateful to have members who are like my sisters.”