Album Review: Red Velvet – The ReVe Festival 2022 – Feel My Rhythm

[SM Entertainment; 2022]

You name it, Red Velvet have pretty much done it – or at least seen it. The stalwart K-pop favorites have been around for what amounts to generations at the speed of their industry: they officially debuted in 2014, but that’s to ignore the years spent perfecting the group in the notoriously tight industry. In truth, their origin story begins so far back as (phew) 2007. Regardless, let’s stick to 2014: that’s a year before now fellow veterans TWICE would get started in earnest. That the five women who comprise Red Velvet have managed to stay relevant – and to even grow in popularity – is nothing short of impressive, if not outright astounding.

They had their work cut out from them from the very beginning, too, with many fans instantly taking an arbitrary (and entirely unfair) dislike to the group, due their label, SM Entertainment, gradually decreasing its support for beloved and groundbreaking girl group f(x). Red Velvet were just the more accessible replacement for f(x)’s weirdness, netizens bellowed. Whatever the label’s intentions, it was an absurd obstacle for a fledgling group to face, and has shaped much of what they’ve done since. You could sense an almost defensive obsession with perfecting the package in their early days, as they smashed out delectable hit after hit, all while proving their ability to be perfectly mature and boundary-pushing in their own right. They embraced an image of pure positivity, for their fans and feminism alike, whatever the occasional ridiculous price.

Before long, they’d won over even their greatest detractors and emerged as arguably the most artful, well-poised girl group in K-pop. However, as TWICE increasingly came into their own as a force both popular and songcraft-focused, Red Velvet fell into a period of difficulty. Key member Wendy was seriously injured in late 2019, leaving the group without an essential element, leading the members to spiral off with solo projects and duo efforts. By the time they had reunited and returned with Queendom in 2021, just under two years after their prior mini (a veritable eon in K-pop time), expectations were high, perhaps even unfairly so.

Nonetheless, the effort felt more akin to treading water rather than the uproarious, dominant celebration of greatness that it should have been. Thankfully – perhaps sensing the apprehension in the air – the group have returned even more swiftly than usually following Queendom, reviving their prior series for The ReVe Festival 2022 – Feel My Rhythm less than a year on.

Without a doubt, there’s still plenty of candy-coated fun to be found here, but maturation and growth are a clear theme of Feel My Rhythm. Heck, the album’s release date was timed to honor the birthdate of Johann Sebastian Bach (from whom the title track samples an arrangement). Where 2017’s The Red Summer was an absolute explosion of ecstasy, Rhythm is more wary of the world they’ve created, willing to shed light on its bruises.

The title track certainly sways with energy as if from some swing suspended from an unimaginable height, but it’s poignantly grounded by Bach’s presence, as elegant as it is euphoric. “Rainbow Halo”, meanwhile, features one of their most gleefully goofy choruses – “rainbow halo dance / rainbow rainbow halo dance!” – but it feels more akin to running through a dewy field in the twilight than kicking back on some sunswept beach.

Elsewhere, the mini-album alternates between desperation and dominance. Closer “In My Dreams” ranks among the group’s most genuinely moving songs to date, getting an incredible amount of mileage out of a simple sentiment: “In my dreams you love me back.” Guided by distant keys and stuttering bass, with thudding drums occasionally adding to the tension, it’s sweet and sad at once, allowing the members to properly belt it out at just the right moments. 

Conversely, “Beg for Me” finds them right atop the pedestal they’ve more than earned, toying with a would-be lover to go ahead and put in that extra effort already. It’s nearly club ready – “dance for me, work for me, beg for me” they urge atop woozy bass and perfectly employed strings. It’s immediately among the group’s more boisterous efforts in recent memory.

In short, The ReVe Festival 2022 – Feel My Rhythm finds Red Velvet showing off just about every side of their artistry, confidently swinging big right in the directions they know serve them best. To be sure, there’s one things fans are truly waiting for since the return of Wendy – and that’s a proper full-length from the fivesome, but Feel My Rhythm will more than tide the masses over, as it finds them supremely more sure of their footing than across their last salvo. It may not open its arms as readily as some of their early smashes, but that’s clearly by design, and its rewards only grow all the more tantalizing with time spent. It’s a course meant to be savored, not some quick snack. Just in time for spring, Red Velvet have invited us along for the picnic. There’s no reason to miss out.