Heaven help me, Red Velvet is back on their bullshit and that means I’m back on mine.
Let me do a bit of a primer here. K-pop is a weird, ridiculous genre as a whole. This is because pop is weird, 90’s boy band-era pop is especially weird, and K-pop is like the spiritual successor to pop of that era. Red Velvet is a K-pop girl group that sometimes makes normal songs.
Then sometimes, when the stars align, Red Velvet loses their minds. They make an entire album with really creepy undertones and snippets of cult imagery. They scream at you about fruit while super-imposed over intensely colorful backgrounds. Or they take an old European magic word and design a totally bizarre chorus around it.
The result is often pretty dumb and I absolutely love it. Red Velvet are the queens of the dumb, weird, generally risky K-pop hits, and I love them for it. When I saw their newest track was called “Zimzalabim” I knew without any context that I was in for some beautiful K-pop nonsense. And I was right.
“Zimzalabim” is named after an old European magic word akin to abracadabra. The song feels like what happens if you took one of those computer algorithms that auto-generate scripts and content and had it make a K-pop song.
The computer sort of grasped the basic structure of a K-pop song. It got some general ideas, like that you should have snappy phrases and a nice, upbeat message. Then it realized you need a hook and a bridge and things like that and it started to get lost and made a song that sounded like three songs smashed into one.
Anyway, that’s what “Zimzalabim” sounds like. It’s pretty great – – unironically great. It kind of has an idea of what it’s doing, but kind of doesn’t and so it’s got a lot of character most pop songs don’t have. There’s a weirdly prog nature to it because it just can’t settle down and pick one rhythm and style. It’s interesting. It’s not like a TWICE song, where you can let your eyes glaze over because you know what’s gonna happen before it happens. You have to pay attention to “Zimzalabim” and the more you pay attention, the better it gets.
First, the lyrics sound really culty. I’ve already written about how lowkey culty Red Velvet sounds and this song is just more fuel to the fire. “Throw all your worries over the flat earth / to the incantation blooming out of your lips, / let yourself go.” What the hell are you telling me to do, Red Velvet? Shortly after that, they start chanting, “Zimzalabam” in a hypnotic and kind of threatening way while rhythmic chiming or clapping happens in the background. This seems to be the chorus and it doesn’t fit with the rest song at all. Its contrast is actually so stark that it elevates the song.
The visuals are also insane and kind of culty. Red Velvet are something akin to sexy carnies in the music video. It’s unclear, but the video is decorated all over with hypnotic spirals. You’re taken through a colorful, empty carnival, stopping at various rides so the band can tell you things about spells that make you happy.
However, my favorite part is how the song opens. In a moment of casual insanity, the band asks you, “Are you ready for this?” and then Wendy — a band member – – says, “Zimzalabim” in the same kind of tone you’d say, “Have a good time!” Which is really weird, because no one says abracadabra in that way. If they did, they would sound like a crazy person.
What’s worth stressing in all this mess, is that the entire album this is on, “The ReVe Festival Day 1,”is equally all over the place. You’ve got two songs where the band keeps repeating the names of food. “Bing Bing” is another song that relies on what may be a nonsense sound or may have a Korean meaning. “Parade” is the super upbeat carnival song that probably should have been the leading single. “LP” is a weird doo-wop callback song filled with sonorous saxophones.
The album is honestly good. It’s creative, it’s weird, it’s constantly doing things you don’t fully expect. I’m pretty sure “LP” has a kazoo in it, which is a nuts decision that somehow works in the context of the song. The whole album is just fun – – weird, culty, poppy fun.
It does, however, make a person wonder about Red Velvet. Are they actually a cult? Are they aliens that could sing and dance well that integrated into earth society by making a K-pop band? Do they sometimes eat food, then turn to their producer and say, “What is this delicacy?” Does the produce then awkwardly say, “That’s a milkshake, Irene.” Then, does the whole band say in unison, “Yes, Milkshake. We will sing about Milkshake today.” Are they just five women who love food?
We can only speculate, but I’m here for that. I’m all about a group that makes such weird decisions that I have to wonder if they’re secretly a cult or aliens. In all seriousness, I’m here for a K-pop band that’s taking weird risks.