Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

Red Velvet – Zimzalabim

The magic doesn’t work on all of us…


Mo Kim: Think of Red Velvet not just as the concept but as the cake. Equal parts alchemy and art: sugar-rush feelings baked into sinister recipes, measured with baker’s precision. Think of how they’ve experimented over the course of an eclectic discography to hone this approach. The way “Ice Cream Cake” captures heads-over-heels longing in a chorus that explodes like Mentos meeting Coke; the way “Peek-A-Boo”‘s rhythms wax and wane in the same way its subjects consume then dispose of new lovers; the way “Dumb Dumb” ties infatuation and anxiety into an ink-stained typewriter ribbon before shredding it into so much confetti. Some listeners may balk at the funhouse of sounds “Zimzalabim” rushes through, from marching-band reverie to witchy incantations to buzzing EDM banger to flowerbed of lush vocal harmonies, but the song holds together best as a roller coaster ride through the themes that have defined Red Velvet’s work over the last five years: Irene implores us to be bold and rock the world, Seulgi reminds us to have some fun along the way, and Wendy’s voice soars like the dreams that bring out the light within us. And then, before we’ve even gotten our safety belts off, they’re “na-na-na”ing all the way back to their first single, and we’re chanting in Simlish along with them. If that ain’t the magic of a pop song, what is? 

Jessica Doyle: The world was not exactly crying out for “Red Velvet redoes ‘Hollaback Girl’ with a circus theme and a couple more ideas in the lyrics,” but if that had been the result, it would’ve been fine, if underwhelming. But that grinding flat siren in the background, as if someone recorded Big Bertha while she was stuck, is flat-out unpleasant to listen to. How do you recommend a song by saying, “Well, actually, two-thirds of it isn’t actively repulsive to the ear”? As to what the members themselves think of it, who knows, but Wendy’s “Zimzalabim!” at the start sounds to me like it’s in the same tone, and with the same emotion behind it, as I’ve heard my kids’ teachers use when they say, “Let’s get ready for Milestones!”

Will Adams: So much of this reminds me of “Electric Shock” — the cadence in the verses, the LMFAO-esque electro skronk, the general oversaturation of every detail — that I almost can’t believe I’m hearing this in 2019. But a sugar rush is a sugar rush, and damn if that titular hook hasn’t started pinballing around my head without warning for the past few weeks.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Jeez, has it really been six and a half years since “I Got A Boy”?

Alex Clifton: I’m not sure which is worse: the opening thirty seconds, or the implication that Wendy is a flat earther.

Alfred Soto: As usual “Zimzalabim” has more ideas in its first thirty seconds than the average track, and the pre-chorus can’t stop won’t stop. Red Velvet could’ve stopped there. Then the chorus becomes a mantra.

Iris Xie: I like how the song can’t make up its mind about what it wants to be, because it’s so disjointed and frenetic, but it misses the chance to transcend above being a mashup of girl group history. In a just world, “Zimzalabim” would have been a special stage group collaboration song for both f(x) and Red Velvet, where Krystal and Seulgi can finally combine their all-rounder center power, Sulli and Joy pose together as beautiful, tall “fake maknae,” Luna and Wendy would riff their vocal talent off each other, Amber and Yeri would rap and ham it up and show off all of their social media contacts, and Victoria and Irene are the gorgeous visuals. The stage would be called f(ReVe), it would be a 10 member powerhouse that showcases their blend of styles, and then Girls’ Generation would go onto the stage and greet them with matching flower bouquets and it would just be a scene of girl group madness with immense joy. Maybe later, one of the Brown Eyed Girls interviews them on a variety show later and they make comparisons between the similarities of “Zimzalabim” and “Abracadabra” and then do a cute mash-up of their dances and be very supportive, and then go on and perform it as a special stage. But no, we don’t live in that world of second generation special collaborations and variety show hijinks anymore, because that age of K-pop is long gone now. Instead, Red Velvet has to carry the weight of all the SM girl groups before them, by doing a “Happiness” redux that is refreshed with the intro from CSJH the Grace’s “One More Time, Ok?” updated for 2019. The abrupt changes will invite Girls’ Generation’s “I Got a Boy” comparisons, but I find that “Zimzalabim” pulls more from its inversion of the vocal stylings and arrangement of the first half of f(x)’s “Zig Zag.” Overall this is pulled together with the dissonance found in f(x)’s “Love” and using a similar EDM synth from “Red Light.” This results in the entire song sounding like it is designed to be an intro into some kind of show, which makes sense considering that Red Velvet is releasing a three-part album where this song is the first single, and it’s not like SM hasn’t done reworks of debut songs for mid-career victory laps. The monotone, husky chanting of the title contrasts with the peppy verses and works with the chimes to try to hypnotize the listener into a hollow trance. The bridge is pretty much a mashup of the Brown Eyed Girls’ “Abracadabra” bridge together with Luna’s astronomical adlib in “Red Light,” but afterward, “Zimzalabim” dives off the rollercoaster ride and goes up a panicky few notes for its final chorus before launching into a more riotous take on f(x)’s “Electric Shock” nananas and leading to a disruptive end. If “Zimzalabim” represents how Red Velvet is finally taking up the experimental spot that f(x) has long been forced to abdicate, this is not a bad choice, but the song lacks the effortless charm that I expect from them both. It’s actually not strange enough or fresh enough, for either group, and its seams are too broken and getting in the way of the truly weird song it could have been.

Reader average: [8.11] (17 votes)

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2 Responses to “Red Velvet – Zimzalabim”

  1. Your reminder that Gee and Genie are now officially 10 years old…(rip second generation special collaborations and variety show hijinks)

    Amused that Will and Joshua fingered the same approximate era. Electric Shock was mid-2012, IGAB was early 2013. Bookending Mo and Iris both see the song as a run through music history. But meanwhile, the actual f(x) song with nananas was Nu ABO :P.

  2. I deliberately re-listened to “Red Light” this morning to try and figure out why its repeated grinding siren was so much easier on my easier than this one, and I failed. A matter of pitch, maybe?