It’s not common for a K-pop group to achieve a distinctive sound identity. Because K-pop works with artistic “concepts” and as these concepts change from release to release, the variation in styles and genres may make it difficult for a group to be associated with a particular musical feature. But there are exceptions. One of them is Red Velvet.
Red Velvet’s difference lies in the group’s vocals. When Wendy, Seulgi, Joy, Irene, and Yeri harmonize, they give life to a unit that can carry a track all by itself. It’s more than just the sum of five different vocals – they sound as if they’re forming a new chord. Indeed, Red Velvet’s harmonization is an asset of its own: add it to any song and the song is upgraded. It’s hard to mistake their choir for other K-pop groups’ harmonies.
Another reason behind Red Velvet’s distinct musical mark is found, of course, in their songs. Their discography was built upon two song templates. The first is their “red” side, the “weird but polished” pop influenced by hip-hop. The “red side” is as quirky in melody as it is perfection in its vocal performance. So methodically they sing that it elevates the music’s eccentricity in a way that makes sense, steering clear of the “she’s so crazy I love her” factor.
The other side of Red Velvet’s music is their “velvet side”: fine, smooth R&B instrumentals with pastel melodies. So strongly has Red Velvet owned this sound that you’ll recall them while listening to songs performed by other groups.
Red Velvet’s singles such as “Dumb dumb dumb” (2015) and “Automatic” (2015) were pivotal to building the perception of the “red” and “velvet” brands. They set the scene for singles like their latest, “Feel My Rhythm” (2022), to combine these two sides while radiating that unique Red Velvet feeling.
However, as we said in our review of Queendom (2021), Red Velvet’s albums often have some of the best b-sides in K-pop. Let’s take a look at (and a listen to) the 20 best Red Velvet b-sides.
20. “Don’t u wait no more” (2015)
From Red Velvet’s first studio album, The Red (2015), “Don’t u wait no more” is a cool exhibition of the ladies’ vocal range and breath control. The jingle-like hook repeats itself to near exhaustion. In the pre-chorus, fast, rigidly executed melodies are disturbed by random, scandalous high-pitched ad-libs (“yeaaah”). It could be annoying if it wasn’t so fun. “Don’t u wait no more” is just the right balance of technical perfection and chaos – exactly Red Velvet’s brand.
19. “My Second Date” (2017)
“My second date” relies on a music box hook that plays throughout the entire track along with future R&B synthesizers. Like many other Red Velvet songs, this one has both lullaby vibes and bounce.
18. “Take It Slow” (2015)
This song from Red Velvet’s first mini-album is a tasteful forkful of the group’s “velvet” side. As they sing the chorus with so much delicacy, the words “Take it slow” fill you like comfort food, sweet and heartwarming.
17. “Eyes Locked, Hands Locked” (2019)
R&B is a versatile, ever-evolving genre. Alternative, lo-fi production styles can coexist well with stable melodies, as songs like Red Velvet’s “Eyes locked, hands locked” show. The vocal range of the ladies is displayed throughout a mellow, easy-to-the-ear composition.
16. “Mr. E” (2018)
If any group can make cutesy work well over punchy beats, it’s Red Velvet. In “Mr. E”, they do just that. The track starts minimalistic with its raw drum beats, but with the chorus comes dubstep and an oniric melody led by “Abracadabra” lyrics.
15. “Campfire” (2015)
R&B with Broadway-like melodies fits Red Velvet really well. “Campfire” is one of these moments. The funky guitar lines add just the spicy touch needed and the vocal harmonies are on point as always.
14. “La Rouge” (2019)
You could say “La Rouge” comes from the same branch of “Campfire”, because of its funk and jazz influences. But actually, it comes from a sassier branch. In melody, however, the chorus resembles “Body Talk” (2017).
Regardless of comparisons, “La Rouge” stands out. It’s a sexy, glamorous performance from Red Velvet that channels a burlesque spirit.
13. “Bamboleo” (2022)
A song like “Bamboleo” and a group like Red Velvet are a match made in heaven. We have no confirmation that this track was written and produced specially for Red Velvet; but it was, whether the creators knew it or not.
For those familiar with the iconic Gypsy Kings’ hit of the same name, the word “Bamboleo” might suggest a pompous, energetic performance. But Red Velvet’s “Bamboleo” is silky and dreamy, partially because of its city pop vibe, partially because of how they sing the word so angelically in the chorus.
12. “Sunnyside Up!” (2019)
Who would’ve thought Red Velvet and reggae would be a good combination? “Sunnyside Up!” proves that the ladies can nail the genre without compromising their melodic style. The chorus and verses groove and the pre-chorus is pure vocal perfection.
11. “Better Be” (2021)
The first verse of “Better Be” begins dramatically, setting the tone for the song. “Better be” conveys an urge for love that the ladies of Red Velvet carry in a mature, elegant way. When the chorus comes, the sentiment is not so much of yearning anymore, but of assertiveness, as they sing “You better be in love”.