Song Review: Red Velvet – Zimzalabim

Red Velvet’s 2018 hit Really Bad Boy proved to be one of their most polarizing yet. Given this, it would’ve made sense to return to a more straightforward release this summer. And when it was announced that new single Zimzalabim (짐살라빔) would be co-composed by Red Flavor producers Caesar & Loui, it seemed that we were steering in a big-chorused, populist direction. The song’s oddball title should have been my first clue that the girls weren’t done offending traditional musical sensibilities. Zimzalabim isn’t as cloying as Really Bad Boy’s shrill vocal cacophony, but it’s not a by-the-numbers pop song either.

We have to start at the beginning, as the track opens with Wendy’s unconvincingly sassy declaration: “Are you ready for this? ZimzalaBIIIIM!” This is my new favorite battle cry. It’s so delightfully stupid that I have a hard time believing it exists at all. I imagine using it in any situation, presented without context.

From here, Zimzalabim launches into a percussion-heavy verse with hyper, affected chant-rapping that feels very SM Entertainment circa 2013. We get a glimpse of Red Velvet’s trademark harmonies during the punchy pre-chorus, which is also the song’s strongest moment. This segment seems to be pointing to a mammoth, Red Flavor-style chorus, only to bottom out into a monotone repetition of the “zimzalabim” catchphrase (underlined by clanging bells, no less). I don’t think this hook is quite as bad as some are making it out to be, but its discordant nature is an unfortunate sucker punch — especially after the build-up that precedes it.

Zimzalabim offers a more rousing chorus during its final moments, when the girls repeat the titular hook with added passion and attitude. As the various layers of instrumentation join together for a climactic finish, I’m reminded of SM’s experimental past. In this way, I appreciate Zimzalabim’s colorful verve. However, it’s missing the dynamic centerpiece that would catapult it towards the upper echelon of Red Velvet’s discography.

 Hooks 7
 Production 8
 Longevity 8
 Bias 8
 RATING 7.75


32 thoughts on “Song Review: Red Velvet – Zimzalabim

  1. Listening to it you I can definitely get why they sat on it for 2 years because OOF

    Someone on twitter said ‘it sounds like their outfits look’ and accurate! I do like the bridge onward tho and wish that was the sound the entire song was built around instead of what we got for sure.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I am surprised that you didn’t absolutely bash this track, but kind of anticipated that you will like it more than RBB (because that is the case for me). Although it feels like more like a 3 minute intro to the album, the way it made its major part more interesting is worth looking into. For a group like Red Velvet who uses a lot of minor major clash I am always thinking what can be done to not let the song fall flat once it enters its major part (“Whistle” kind of had the same problem when it enters normal Aeolian from Phrygian dominant). Although different from many songs in “The Red” the major part is the main serve in this track I still find the solution provided is kind of worth the effort. Given that “Rookie” started even lower in your rating I am pretty fine with everything including your review to this lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My first initial reaction to it was that it felt oddly reminiscent of “I Got A Boy” by SNSD: a discord of genre fusion that still has its standout moments (the bridge is their best one since Happiness IMO and the verses are indeed colorful) in the midst of some inexplicable elements (Wendy’s intro and the EDM-inspired dance break), while also maintaining a consistently triumphant energy throughout the entire track. And just like IGAB, I wonder if it’s going to divide early listeners, but cement itself as another memorable (albeit polarizing) title track in their discography regardless.


    • i don’t think it’s just “oddly reminiscent”– once they hit the dance break, i knew that this was Red Velvet’s IGAB!! i think they parallel each other especially well in that IGAB felt like a summation of the genres and trends SM had been playing around with up to its release (i’m talking SNSD’s own The Boys + Super Junior’s Mr. Simple and Sexy, Free & Single + f(x)’s talk-rapping… + TTS’s Twinkle, obviously) while Zimzalabim seems to me like an amalgamation of IGAB, RBB (Really Bad Boy), older RV songs like Happiness and Dumb Dumb, as well as NCT songs (the jangling bells remind me of Wakey Wakey especially), and, well, RV has been the successor of f(x)’s signature talk-rapping since debut.

      i think it’s really interesting, but that it might also show the comparative longevity/quality of musical trends from each groups’ era, once we give it enough time. my bet right now is on IGAB, but that might just be the nostalgia talking!


      • For me, IGAB is vastly superior to Zimzalabim but I get the comparison. Both carry the same off-the-wall energy and have a piecemeal feel to them. IGAB is more deliberately fragmented and works because it leans into that structure.

        Zimzalabim isn’t quite as ambitious and is taken down a notch by its non-chorus of a chorus. BUT, I still enjoy Zimzalabim much more than most seem to, and I agree that it’ll probably win people over with time.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Umm.. ..hmm..

    {edit: there were originally three paragraphs here where I wrote some of my perspectives laced with a little snark, a few fun facts, some comparisons, and a link or two. I’ll save you all from having to wade through that.}

    I’m struggling to like this song; plain and simple. I absolutely love the second track on the album, “Sunny Side Up!” and the third track, “Milkshake”, tickles my feels as well. So much so that I purchased the album for those two tracks, but not for the titular “Zimzalabim”.

    Sunny Side Up!:

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Based on the song title I was afraid this video was going to be an awkward cultural mis-appropriation with flying carpets and I Dream of Jeannie costumes and pressing their hands together. Whew – I’m so happy they didn’t _completely_ go that route.

    Red Velvet is still my favorite Kpop group, but damn, first RBB, and now they’ve let me down again with Zimzalabim. Fortunately the next two songs on this album make up for this misfire.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, they do the hands pressing together thing. It’s actually their group pose for this comeback. Just look up pictures from their showcase. Joy also has some dreads and braids going on in the MV as well.

      On a side note unrelated to this reply, I feel like people in general are more forgiving of Red Velvet’s title tracks than pretty much any other girl group. When the song is a miss, people fall back on the “but at least SM is experimenting!” route. I can’t help but think that if just about any other group, aside from maybe ITZY, released this, they would have been dragged like crazy. It would be yet another song with a lazy chorus. There are parts of the song that I really enjoy, but for me, good parts do not a good song make. Thankfully, the b-sides are great as usual.


        • Also people don’t bash SM for laziness because they clearly aren’t, some producers get bashed for lazy chorus because literally almost every release have uninspired chorus, which is definitely not this album


      • Also people don’t bash SM for laziness because they clearly aren’t, some producers get bashed for lazy chorus because literally almost every release have uninspired chorus, which is definitely not this album


      • “I feel like people in general are more forgiving of Red Velvet’s title tracks than pretty much any other girl group.”

        Yes. They’re a quality group with a decent track record AND they like to experiment more than typical groups. When they do try to color outside the lines, they often succeed in offering up something favorable. I’m not suggesting RV is perfect. I didn’t like this release. Hopefully, it’s a grower, but.. ..umm.. ..nah; it’s not.

        The point is, if Red Velvet are getting a pass that another group isn’t, then it’s probably because they’ve earned that leeway. Getting a pass isn’t the same as blindly fanboi’ing everything they drop. I can’t stand when people gush over garbage because.. ..”We need to support them or they’ll go bye-bye!”

        Being honest if a song stinks is crucial. For example, if Seulgi was standing right in front of me and asked me what I think of “Zimzalabim”, I would look her straight in the eyes, and tell her, directly, that I absolutely love the song. It’s the best song that has ever been recorded and every single K-Pop artist should kiss the hem of her garment. In fact, I would lie on the ground and allow her to step up on me, preferably in stiletto heels, as if I was a human soap box so she could address the unworthy. Yep, I’d do that. In a heartbeat! Cuz that’s how I roll.

        Liked by 3 people

  6. i wont lie, im kind of digging it a few listens later. not sure im ever going to really love the silly chanted chorus (they should have just chanted it twice, not 4 times, that would have kept it from being too grating) but i honestly rly love the rest of it. its like a guilty pleasure song for me, like bingle bangle by aoa or kill this love by blackpink or even power up. its silly and i know im not supposed to like it but i weirdly do. its fun and outlandish and that makes me happy. im not really digging the album yet tho, none of the songs stick out to me yet like sassy me or butterflies did. maybe if i listen a few more times


    • I agree, they should’ve chanted the chorus twice instead of four times and then sing an actual melodic chorus, the “zinzalabim” gets tiring after a few repetitions although I get that they were trying to make the song easier to learn.


  7. I was hoping this comeback to follow more “Red Flavor”’s route but after listening the teaser I started to panick. In the end, I don’t completely hate the track but rather enjoy it but I do see why it’s getting mixed reactions. The song doesn’t deserve all the crap they’re giving it though… The album is a much better release (unsurprising after all Red Velvet’s strength for me has always been their side tracks). The standout tracks of this album for me are Milkshake (which I would expect to be your buried treasure) and Parade. Sunny Side Up is a good track but I can’t get through the scrambled pun, just ruins the it for me.


  8. I had to look up what “zimzalabim” meant, because it didn’t seem like a made up nonsense word. Apparantly it is magician intonation word like “abracadabra”.

    I echo the sentiments on the chorus. I was waiting for something else to happen melodically to build on the monotone zimzalabim. My initial thoughts went to at least a nice harmonic chord build, some crazy minor this major that augmented dissonant something, all sung and not autotuned. But that didn’t happen. Then I was hoping for a rearrangement to be more like Dum Dum with the monotone word salted throughout to make a song structure that was not so linear verse-pre-chorus-post-verse. And yes, shortening the chorus to 2 repeats would also be another way to improve the song.

    That all said, I really appreciate that there is a kpop group willing to so more creative songs. I feel like Red Velvet is one of the few (perhaps only?) left. So I will probably buy the song anyway in a few months’ time.


  9. I want to love this song. I really do. I love the bonkers, anything-goes nature. I love all the different percussion. The verses are immense fun. It is, as people said above, something of the spiritual successor to IGAB, and I love IGAB.

    But the chorus. The monotone chorus ruins it for me. Maybe, just maybe it will grow on me – after all, Power Up, Bad Boy, AND Really Bad Boy eventually got stuck in my head even though I didn’t like any of them at first. But if this one manages to claw its way into my heart, that will purely depend on whether or not my love for the verses is able to overpower my hatred for the chorus.

    Wendy looks great with short hair, though!


  10. I had no idea what to think the first time I listened to it, then I played it on the train, both earbuds in, no music video, and I think I’m starting to get it. Irene chanting zimzalabim is stuck in my head. Still, after I loved the Summer Magic EP so much, more thanks to its b-sides than its title track, I’m glad I’m loving this one too. Will I have it on repeat as much as my Mr.E-Mosquito-BlueLemonade-and so on rotation I had last summer? We’ll see


  11. This is the musical answer to “what if old SNSD did $10 by Hitchhiker?” The trouble here is that f(x) preemptively answered that question with actual good songwriting on Pink Tape/Red Light, and anything below that quality kind of rings hollow.

    On the bright side, I will confirmed be shouting “are you ready for this? Zimzalabiiiim” in any vaguely exciting situation from this day forward. Thanks Red Velvet!


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  13. After a couple listens and a couple days I’ve come to my conclusion about this song, and that is that to me it seems like a better song when it’s stuck in my head as opposed to actually listening to it. Not sure how that works but it does.


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