We’re not done with this title yet…
Madeleine Lee: Possibly the cheeriest song ever to use Russian roulette as its central metaphor. Albi Albertsson’s production is going for Yasutaka Nakata, but the melodies are pure 2010 Girls’ Generation, especially that prechorus (even if it tries to hide it by throwing an accidental in there); with a full-on nostalgia wave for 2009-2011 K-pop imminent, that’s a point in its favour.
Adaora Ede: The “red” in Red Velvet, as offered as in their dual-sided concept to the public, is a mark of the bold and fun sound of the majority of their standout singles. But their “red” tracks seem like the weaker part of the dichotomy, a futile hack to rise to K-pop popularity with a formula of loudness and mesmerism that never amounts to anything more sonically groundbreaking. “Russian Roulette” is a slightly electro-oriented continuation of their smoke-n-mirrors brand, featuring a lot of bleeps and not one, not TWO, BUT THREE singable hooks that you will love to hate until you realize that Red Velvet’s fringe K-pop is not trying to be f(x) or wipe SNSD off the face of the earth or do anything but give you a pop song to get stuck in your head for the next two weeks.
Leonel Manzanares: “Russian Roulette” wants to represent a middle point in the band’s signature duality — something that’s both the “red” and the “velvet.” Instead, we got a pretty decent SNSD throwback with bouncy hooks and technicolor synths, but not much substance. I’ve marveled at Red Velvet’s previous singles for their delicious messiness (“Ice Cream Cake”) or twisted elegance (“One of These Nights”), so of course it’s a bit disappointing when they search for balance and only find blandness.
Iain Mew: I can’t believe the number of people I’ve seen saying that this sounds like Girls’ Generation as if that’s a disappointment. I mean, it does, but it sounds like their run of giddy weightless brilliance in 2009-10 with added arcade power-up music thrills! Where’s the problem?
Katie Gill: Oh my gosh, this is perfect pop. It’s bright, it’s bubbly, it’s fun. The song’s got a beautiful cartoon aesthetic, reflected wonderfully in the video. The synths aren’t overpowering, a perfect light and happy compliment. And those beautiful kick drums? Those electronic trills in the last thirty seconds? That wonderful stammer on “heart b-b-b-beat”? Urgh, I’m in love.
Thomas Inskeep: Oh god, this is good. Ebullient, even. Totally ’80s-shiny, but also reminiscent of the perfect pop of the TRL glory days, especially the TRL behemoths “Come On Over Baby” and “Ooh It’s Kinda Crazy” (both of which I proudly voted for at the time), only jacked up a bit in tempo.
Alfred Soto: Pleasant and zippier than the competition, but K-pop at its best reconstitutes the beats of its American and British counterparts with what I love about the kinetics of Italo disco and freestyle but with vocals whose devotion to formal restraint results in three or four minutes of chewing-on-nails tension. If “Russian Roulette” sounds sinister, I’m not hearing it.
Ryo Miyauchi: Appropriate for a song based on a game of ultimate gambling, Red Velvet throws a confetti-filled parade of nervous tics: a cross feed of incessant dial tones, countless gasps, and hearts skipping multiple beats. A ticking time bomb shouldn’t sound this fun, but with a feeling teetering on such high risk, what’s really the difference between anxiety and thrill anyway?
Cassy Gress: There’s a chord progression in the prechorus, E♭ add 9 sus 4 – E♭/G, with a movement in the bass that rings “late 80s adult contemporary” bells for me, and those little background jolts of recognition from sampling or genre mimicry are always neat to spot. It’s followed up with A♭m7 – B♭, which adds a glint of ominousness that gets quickly glossed over with 8-bit sparkles. Every new Red Velvet single I hear makes me like them more: they have this great ability to sing and perform parts of energetic, peppy songs with a dead-eyed tone to their voice, and it works especially well when you mix that with an electronic comparison of a crush to a suicide game.
Edward Okulicz: The figurative use of the term “Russian roulette” has definitely surpassed the literal in use to the point where it’s nearly meaningless a term of high stakes. The song “Russian Roulette” might as well be meaningless to me, but it doesn’t feel like that bceause I have an immediate reaction to those ’80s platform game jump and fall noises that add a bit of silliness and retro charm. The entire production is stuffed (not over-stuffed) with detail but produced so slickly that everything bounces out of the speakers.
Mo Kim: Love-as-lethal-game metaphors work best if the arrangement and lyrical execution are up to snuff, both of which are on “Russian Roulette.” Joy wraps menace in a polka-dot handkerchief (“This place is as dark as night / Even the shadows get lost,” she chirps), while Wendy and Seulgi charge through the chorus like they’re flipping through all the chambers of their voices. Pair this with a pastel-eriffic music video that filters this bad romance through the aesthetic of Looney Tunes cartoon violence and you’ve got one of the most thematically intriguing releases from SM Entertainment of the year.