(A promotional teaser for Red Velvet’s album “Perfect Velvet.” Courtesy of allkpop.com.)
Kpop is a mysterious but also straightforward genre. On one hand, it’s heavily manufactured pop so it’s made to be digestible. On the other hand, there are culture and language barriers that make it strange to American listeners and there is a constant question of artist agency and label control that muddies things.
For example, I present Red Velvet. Red Velvet has a default state I call “fruit hell” that it fluctuates in and out of. It’s not clear why Red Velvet escapes from or returns to fruit hell. It could be a label decision, an artist decision, or the whim of a dark eldritch god. We can only guess.
Why the term fruit hell? Red Velvet has an unexplained fixation with fruit but they also have weird, vaguely culty pieces to their artistic style. Hence, fruit hell.
Red Velvet’s previous album, “Perfect Velvet,” stuck with hell and dropped fruit, positioning Red Velvet as a deadly cult in most music videos. With their newest EP, “Summer Magic,” they triumphantly return to fruit hell.
Their lead single, “Power Up,” is a nonsense song with dark undertones and fruit overtones. The band opens by chanting “ba-banana ba-ba-banana-nana” before diving into a summertime pop song full of video game noises and romantic lyrics that are vaguely threatening.
“I’ll throw you in the waves and you’ll scream,” may be a cute, summer flirtation or a grim foretelling of how the members of Red Velvet will actually drown us as sacrifices to some kind of ancient, eldritch fruit god. “yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah,” they chant afterwards, having completed the deed. “Let’s power up!” they yell, having come closer to a unity state with the dark fruit entity. “I’m gonna burn it black tonight,” they foretell the devastation they will bring.
Then they go back to chanting about fruit. Ba-banana, ba-ba-banana-nana! Do you see? This is fruit hell.
Fruit hell far predates “Summer Magic,” going back to their early single “Happiness.” “Happiness” puts all the band members in front of backgrounds made of swirling, hypnotic fruit patterns. This is probably the least bizarre thing about the “Happiness” music video. The girl group performs inside a jungle made of collaged pictures, sometimes standing totally static, gently spinning, other times dancing, other times picking up toy vehicles and crashing them into each other.
Like “Power Up,” “Happiness” lyrically has nothing to do with fruit. It’s about finding “Happiness” outside of normal worldly concerns. This would not be sinister except that during the chorus they overlay the performer’s voices with this super deep modulation that sounds like a monster calling from underneath waves or across dimensions.
“That money, that power,” the deep voice of the fruit god churns, “we stopped caring about those a long time ago.” “I’m a little different,” it continues, “I just do what I want to do.” Sure, this could be a simple call to stop chasing paper and start chasing dreams, or it could be a call to exalt the lord of a thousand fruits from beyond the abyss.
“Shine on me, let it shine on me, yeah. In my arms, let it shine,” Wendy sings, voice full of rapture. She may be talking about happiness or about an unseen power that girds her immense vocal strength, or both.
“Red Flavor,” the music video in which this girl group actually interviews giant fruit, has more insipid lyrics. While mostly romantic and sexual, “Red Flavor” still has its strangeness. Wendy invites you to “open the seven color, rainbow door,” which could be a metaphor for the color a healthy relationship adds to one’s life, or a literal invitation to open the seven color rainbow door which plunges into the ecstatic citrus infinity of the fruit deity.
They sing regularly about being “curious about the red flavor.” Again, this could be a thinly veiled sexual euphemism, or it could be the natural curiosity we all feel when faced with eldritch entities and the true depth of the dark universe. “Electricity in your ears, numbness in your nose,” Irene raps, “feeling better than you can imagine, up and bang – RED!” This could be very over the top romantic packaging or fairly mild cult preachings.
By now, you have your counterarguments. This is just the strangeness that comes from looking at fan-translated lyrics. This is all just cherry-picking and putting weird lines out of context. Red Velvet picked fruit and cults as their aesthetic, just like Twice picked being generic as theirs.
Yes, this is all true and fair. Yet, don’t you wonder? Don’t you wonder what is truly beyond the seven color rainbow door? Is it really a great summer relationship with the curated images of female pop stars? Or is it an endless trust established with a fruit-based eldritch entity? Do the higher-ups at SM see the popularity of the summer fruit aesthetic and force it on Red Velvet? Or does Irene hold the SM executive board down with a dark hex while Wendy sings about the death of the old world in a blistering alien tongue until the executives relent and let Red Velvet do what they want?
To me, the answers remain unclear.