SM girl group Red Velvet have been bouncing between their dual concepts, giving us delirious pop hits (red) and low-key slow burns (velvet) for the past couple of years. With Russian Roulette (러시안 룰렛), it seems that they’ve found some middle ground, tempering what is essentially a high energy synthpop track with a more subdued vocal approach.
Luckily, this results in one of their best singles to date. Russian Roulette doesn’t feel like as big a moment as last year’s Dumb Dumb did. Instead, it hedges its bets on its ridiculously catchy chorus, which is one of the most instant pieces of melody that k-pop has given us all year. At its essence, the chorus feels more like a series of blips and bloops than an actual pop refrain, but that’s the key to its charm. The syncopation works wonders, tightly packing the song’s hooks and delivering them with rapid-fire precision. It’s deceptively simple when taken in one spoonful, but delightful complex and weird when pulled apart.
The same could be said for the song as a whole. From the staccato, percussive background harmonies in the middle eight to the irresistibly fun instrumental breakdown before the last chorus, Russian Roulette is set on a course all its own. In this way, it feels like the younger sister to fellow SM group f(x)‘s more experimental tracks. Red Velvet wrap it in a lighter, airier package that falls just shy of slipping into cutesy territory, but it’s driven by the same adventurous musical philosophy. I fear that some of the song’s more offbeat charms may limit its longevity in comparison to tracks like Dumb Dumb or Ice Cream Cake, but it sets the girls back on the right track, reaffirming their place as one of the most interesting groups in k-pop. And it accomplishes that in the best way possible — with catchy pop magic to spare.