Our best-scoring K-pop act of 2016 returns…
Jessica Doyle: So that’s where the red/velvet split went: into the very bones of “Rookie,” with Yeri, Joy, and Irene cheerfully high-kicking their way through the red and Seulgi gliding through her parts to bring the velvet. (Poor Wendy has to switch between the two, sometimes within the same line.) It’s a roller coaster that somehow manages to become more enjoyable every time I listen to it: the more clever descendant of the already terriblmazing “Delicious.”
Maxwell Cavaseno: The Greatest Velvets Alive Since The Greatest Velvet Died (*Wayne vox*), Red Velvet have basically coalesced into a weird theme where their playfulness is the absolute core of their work. Prior songs like “Dum Dum” and “Ice Cream Cake” are purposefully childish and silly; songs like “Automatic” or “Russian Roulette” toy with darkness or anxiety but are still paired with a reflexive adolescence that isn’t peppermint sting but caramel tang. While other groups might similarly work grinding on the pivot-point of turning cartoon histrionics into hysterics (Twice), basking in the swirl of being star-eyed and spaced out (Cosmic Girls), or project themselves as isolated, seeming adrift and ignorant of audience (GFriend), the Red Velvet identity seems to reflect a relentless “up for it” attitude. “Rookie,” like the aforementioned songs, bristles and skips along at a funky pace, while the lyrics document the rapid-fire memorization and observation skills fueled by crush-induced glee, with Red Velvet dangerously close to frying and mentally fizzling out. It’s not the group at their most maximalist, obnoxious, luxurious, or provocative, but it’s definitely them proving they’ve become incredibly comfortable over the last few years, and are becoming expert players of their funny games.
Adaora Ede: To this day, I cringe at the fact that I aided and abetted in Red Velvet’s last high scoring single. I enjoy this ska-influenced mashup far more than I did “Russian Roulette.” And again, I can’t help but mention the difference between this and this. Everything on the “Red” side of RV’s discography since “Dumb Dumb” (and dare I say, “Ice Cream Cake” with its Swedish-ass self because the MJ verse on “Dumb Dumb” was really pushing it goddamn) has felt playfully banal. I give them just the tiniest bit of kudos here because while brazen funk is hella tricky in K-pop, it works in Rookie’s favor to create a solid groove. Nonetheless, as ~trippy~ as the music video and blaring trumpets would like you to believe it to be, “Rookie” ended up feeling very straight-laced — no middle-eight multiples in the form of awkward Irene/Joy rap verses — in comparison to the stoicism of also vapid but doubly chic “Russian Roulette.” This song outchea looking like Bozo the Clown and I am entertained, but minimally. Meh, if you’re looking for conviviality here, I’d stray no further than the chorus, which is a cool experiment in Konglish phonoaesthetics.
Ryo Miyauchi: Red Velvet are so persistent to share how they’re gaga for this rookie idol of a boy, it’s almost a nuisance. But they seem to be annoyed, too, at just how much they’re crushing on him. They’re well aware of their fangirl foolishness as they get invested in every one of his guest visits and dumb jokes; my favorite is when they groan at themselves for remembering his phone number on the first try. And as they sing their chorus for the super rookie, I roll my eyes at myself knowing how I’ll delightfully eat this up no matter how silly it sounds.
Katherine St Asaph: The first few seconds of song primed me for “Shake It Off,” an expectation that didn’t shake off.
Iain Mew: They come at “Rookie” with personality to spare, and even the cheesy guitar licks end up working, but I still can’t fully absorb myself in its chorus. The way the “Tightrope” resemblence butts in just isn’t something that they can balance and navigate their way across.
Cassy Gress: “Rookie” isn’t fundamentally all that different from, say, “Dumb Dumb”; they’re even both pitched on the high side. And aside from feeling a bit more Kyary-esque, the video doesn’t seem much different either from “Russian Roulette.” Both of those had off-kilter energy to spare, but this pushes the off-kilterness over into mania. “Rookie rookie!! My super rookie rookie rookie!!” grates on me, and none of the rest of the song is memorable enough to give me any better hooks to hold on to.
Alfred Soto: The “ROOKIE ROOKIE” part is frantic in the best way, and I appreciate the way the bass corkscrews through the OK verses. They’re pros, I guess, so I’m supposed to trust their instincts.
Leonel Manzanares: Red Velvet putting out a retro-leaning single is interesting on its own, but let’s not fool ourselves: “Rookie Rookie” is all about that insane bassline. It does carry the whole track, so giving it a lead role in the mix was a no-brainer.
Madeleine Lee: My general feelings about a girl group doing this Seventeen-style light surf rock are positive, but “Pretty U” doesn’t grab me, either, and for Red Velvet this seems like a step backwards. It’s too early for them to be making such a lukewarm single.
Mo Kim: Strange that a song called “Rookie” would come three years into their career: between the gorgeously rendered surf-rock atmospherics and the juvenile lyrics, I’m not quite sure whether to read this as subversion or regression. Either way it feels like a good second draft, charming but clearly the work of, well… let’s say amateurs.