First Impressions: SM sets the stage for Red Velvet

SM debuts are always a big deal because they themselves make it a big deal, but also because there is a certain prestige and status to "big 3" debuts. They don't happen often, so when they do the assumption is that they must be good. SM in particular is a delicate topic for me though -- sometimes they get it right and balance a strong marketing front with good music and well-executed performances, but sometimes they fail to bring out the strengths of the debuting group and depend more on hype than the actual product. You can only debut once, and I believe that it has to be with guns blazing.

Compared to SM's last debut, Red Velvet didn't get much lead time before their major release -- SM Rookies promotions aside, they had just enough time for several teaser photos, a "Be Natural" cover by Seulgi and Irene, and one music video teaser. But I think this approach worked because it allows the finished product to speak for itself.

And speak it has. We get two very important pieces of information from the "Happiness" music video alone, information that can and will define Red Velvet as a group.

First, this is an SM release through and through. The SM brand a very important quality to posses because it establishes Red Velvet's place in the industry -- they are one of SM's many, usually strong, facets. The complicated politics of industry power aside, this clout is what has allowed them to use the name despite an appeal from an indie band and also gave them quite a publicity push. But more so, this is what gave people their expectations towards not only their debut, but for most of their career as a group. There aren't an enormous amount of teasers so there's not much to expect of them as an individual group so the expectations are that this will be you standard SM release -- top-tier production, an attention-grabbing performance, and maybe some weird visuals thrown in. For the record, it met those expectations.

From details like the styling, the production quality of the song and video, the bombardment of colorful visuals to major decisions like the song choice, "Happiness" has SM all over it. The song is undeniably pop, and there are also hints of an f(x) influence because of the singing-talk at the verses, which fits it cohesively into the SM catalogue. The hook is ridiculously catchy and extremely easy to sing along to -- it's literally just "la la la"'s. Strong recall is a good quality to have in a debut single because that's step one of getting the group out there -- once people remember the song, more often than not they'll start remembering the group. And SM definitely knows a thing or two about strong hooks.

On the other hand the video also shows that Red Velvet are their own group, and that SM has a specific image for them. "Happiness" is a rather vulnerable song and performance compared to the more recent uptight, slick SM debuts of EXO and f(x) -- but to me that's a good thing because it sets up Red Velvet's individuality. The impression you get from watching the video, listening to the song, and seeing the performance is that Red Velvet are your best friends. They also just happen to sing, dance and sometimes wear weird clothes in a jungle. It's an SM production, yes, but more often than not debuts have been so controlled. SM groups start off untouchable and processed before slowly easing into comfortable. but with Red Velvet they went the opposite way. This "friendly" (for lack of a better term) image that the song and video put across is one that will appeal to the other end of the SM audience -- perfection sells and SM has proven that with the likes of DBSK, SNSD and EXO, but so does the girl-next-door image.

For me, I prefer this approach much more because the relative simplicity of the performance itself shows Red Velvet's capabilities and how comfortable they are on stage and it doesn't overestimate what they can do at the moment. They're not quite your perfectly polished SM performers technique-wise, their movements and stage presence could use some dimension and the choreography itself is loose and awkward. But they show the beginnings of an effortless conviction to their performances -- they're confident with what they're doing, so they're having fun and they know how to show it while still sticking to the set choreography.

While Red Velvet's debut isn't exactly the guns blazing entrance I want, it has both strengths and weaknesses. But it's greatest strength is that it's successful in establishing Red Velvet -- what they can do at the moment, who they are to the industry, to their audience, and their place in the SM roster. I'm not completely wowed by their first impression alone, both personally and objectively. So while I won't go out of my way to listen to "Happiness," I will be keeping an eye on them. And if there's one thing a debut needs to achieve at the very least, it's to make people wait for the next release.


  1. Watching the live performances for this song, I think I really like the group now. To me, they don't look like a rookie group on stage. They look comfortable (as you've already stated) and enjoyable to watch. The fact that they made a potentially generic song somehow enjoyable says something about the group's capabilities. Anyway, nice review! :)


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