[Review] Red Velvet’s “RBB” is ambitious but all over the map and never really comes together

The first time I heard Red Velvet’s Dumb Dumb back in 2015, I thought it was a complete mess, but the song has since gone on to become one of my favorite tracks in the group’s discography. I mention this because new single “RBB” gave me the exact same impression upon first listen. Red Velvet haven’t released something this all over the place in quite awhile. The optimist in me hopes that the song will replicate “Dumb Dumb”’s trajectory, but a few of its choices give me doubt.

In short, there isn’t really much of song within “RBB”’s cacophonous vocal arrangement. It rarely takes a moment to breathe, but its melody is largely composed of one simple refrain, riffed upon until those riffs grow quite tiresome. Some of this works, especially when the girls’ vocals are layered into a packed, confrontational arrangement. However, too much of the track is shellacked with higher register ad-libs that are downright unpleasant to listen to. It’s a novel production choice, and gives “RBB” a tense energy that may or may not have been intentional. But ultimately, it feels like a swing and a miss.

Things grow even worse each time the track pulls actual shrieks into its sonic brew. Kudos to anyone who can tolerate these jolts of ultra high-pitched agony, you’ve got a stronger aural palette than me. It’s too bad, because there are moments within “RBB” that hearken back to the best Red Velvet has to offer. I appreciate its crazed, throw-it-all-at-you instincts. Its brassy beat deserves a stronger hook, and when it comes to tight harmonies and ambitious arrangements, few groups do it better than Red Velvet. “RBB” is hamstrung by its more polarizing choices, but the girls continue to paint outside predictable K-pop lines. For that alone, it’s hard to label it a complete disappointment.

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