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.