Review

Song Review: Red Velvet – Umpah Umpah

Red Velvet’s past three Korean title tracks have split opinion, each becoming more experimental than the last. It’s a wonder, then, that the group have maintained their popularity with music that has been so polarizing. The girls opened their “ReVe Festival” trilogy only two months ago with the release of the carnival-esque Zimzalabim. Though that track was dismissed by many, I found its quirky charms to be quite addictive. For Umpah Umpah (음파음파) (they love an onomatopoeia, don’t they?), Red Velvet have dialed back the weird in favor of a classic pop sheen. This results in their most instantly palatable single since 2018‘s Bad Boy.

Picking up where Weki Meki left off last week, Umpah tackles an iconic summer sound — breezy and bright and straightforward. In the hands of a lesser group, this could result in a forgettable product, but Red Velvet have one of the tightest set of vocals among K-pop girl groups. They also rarely resort in the kind of chanted aegyo that would have pushed a song like this into saccharine territory. Instead, Umpah is light on its feet and funky. It vibes on a sticky groove, powered by rhythm guitar and bursts of brilliant harmony. I love the “Umpah Umpah” vocal hook that anchors the track, masquerading as a pseudo-bassline rather than over-caffeinated exclamation.

Umpah’s chorus takes advantage of Red Velvet’s airtight blend, and harnesses a fully fleshed out melody rather than the kind of beat drop catchphrases we’re so used to hearing in modern K-pop. In a way, this direct approach kind of throws you off balance, especially as part of a Red Velvet title track. I kept waiting for some odd detour or grating element, but the arrangement remains buoyant and unflinchingly pleasant throughout. This puts me in a hypocritical position because, as much as I always yearn for classic pop melody, I actually think Umpah could stand to be just a little weirder. There’s no doubt that it’s an accomplished piece of polished song craft, but its relative normality makes it feel more like a strong b-side than a momentous title track.

 Hooks 8
 Production 9
 Longevity 8
 Bias 9
 RATING 8.5

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21 thoughts on “Song Review: Red Velvet – Umpah Umpah

  1. The chorus sounds straight out of High School Musical—that is to say, it’s right up my alley.

    About summer girl group music: It pains me to say this (really), but the number of girl group tracks I’ve played more than twice this summer is sitting right around two: ITZY’s Icy and, actually, UHSN’s Popsicle. I’ve always preferred male voices to female voices and deeper voices to higher voices, so in an industry where only the soprano-est sopranos get recognition, girl groups often sit on the back burner in my playlists (it’s interesting, then, that high-pitched Icy takes the crown for summer girl group song. Maybe it’s less the voices and more the style of music? I couldn’t tell you). Weki Meki and Oh My Girl released some great material with genres I love. I have zero interest in listening to them, to the point that I’d probably skip them if they came on shuffle. This is a solid song, but I worry it might suffer the same fate.

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  2. I definitely agree here, I thought this was a b-side at best, especially with some cheesy High School Musical vibes here… lol. The whole mini album sounds a bit too similar to each other imo, except “Eyes Locked, Hands Locked”. This is my buried treasure for sure!

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  3. I fear Red Velvet is starting to lose a bit of their “must listen” factor for the general public, but it does amaze me how deftly the girls handle anything that’s thrown at them. For me, the issue is just what’s been thrown at them lately. The song definitely has that “B-side” feel for me, and not even the “wow this is great” B-sides that have populated Red Velvet’s minis and albums in the past. The girls are what is making their songs right now, and their talent definitely gives them a lot of leeway in the quality of what’s given to them. But I do really miss the days when they struck absolute gold with incredible songs both instrumental and melodically to at least meet them half way. It’s hard to be totally satisfied with a song like this (or their past few title tracks) when you know just how great they can be with something better.

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    • The problem with the comback series is it is kind of too much of a closed ring, that is the combacks doesn’t make sense if you aren’t a die hard follower who knows everything about their song. The content of the series is teased along with “power up”, which locked this one to be a chill song, that kills the possibility for this song to be even slightly over the top. Also generally KR GP don’t care much about winter allegedly velvet releases, so the must listen factor is only half true from the start. Naturally if your world consists of other artists this song will feel normal or low quality or whatnot, but the effort to create song like this is actually deliberate.

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      • I love the nods to their previous releases in this song. It’s definitely a lot of fun, and considering how relevant the songs are that have been mentioned, I don’t think you have to be a diehard fan to pick up on at least some of them. I also wouldn’t say their Velvet releases weren’t “must listen.” They stumbled with their first attempt with OOTN, but PAB and BB actually outsold all of their other releases aside their mega-hits: DD, RR, and RF.

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    • You have nothing to “fear” since they’re charting #1 or 2 on all Korean real time charts except Melon without promotion for the song right now. I swear, international fans love to make these kinds of statements when the facts don’t support them.

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      • But there is, and the facts do support it. Melon is also the main chart by a large margin, even though the song was just released, it’s barely hanging on to the top 20 right now. Power Up, despite debuting very high, was RV’s worst selling song since Happiness (aside from OOTNs), and each song since then has charted progressively worse. Again, aside from OOTN’s, RV never had a song chart out of the top 5 even counting their debut with Happiness, and after that, almost everything hit #1 or #2 (except ICC at #4 and Rookie at #3). After Power Up, they are now charting out of the top 10. That’s a significant drop for a top girl group that was (and still is to a slightly lesser extent) very beloved by the Korean GP and international fans alike. We have a strong core fandom, but RV really needs a bonafide hit again to regain their dominance. Even with international fans, to see a rookie group like Everglow, even with their debut hype, beat RV in MV views is equally unusual. So, yes, the actual numbers and facts do support it if you closely follow the group and look past first day and week results.

        For me personally, I care most about the quality of their music, since they have my favorite discography of the 3rd gen girl groups and one of my all time favorites as well. But I do think there has been a drop in quality of the actual tracks they are receiving. Like I said before, the girls can elevate any material and make it much better than it is just with their vocals and harmonies, since they are amazing recording artists. I just want to see SM meeting their abilities by also giving them songs that are just as great as they are. And it isn’t just the recent title tracks, their B-sides don’t have the same quality as they used to as well. I know it’s a personal opinion, but it feels like SM is letting them coast on name power and status right now, since they still sell well physically regardless and Irene is incredibly relevant in CFs and Joy is really doing well in acting and popularity as well. There just seems to be less effort going into their music right now than there was before Power Up, not on the girls’ part, but on the actual songwriting side and even art direction. With SM most likely debuting another girl group next year and their continued focus on NCT and expansion into the US, I just don’t want to see SM downgrade Red Velvet in their list of priorities.

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        • Everglow MV view comes from ads, that doesn’t count. I really don’t think the drop of quality you stated is real. The lack of new signature idea is not good but the mini contains some really revived ideas from the past, for example “Carpool” and “Jumpin” are retro and somewhat better “Huff and puff” and “ice cream cake” with more hard hitting chorus and a very creative bassline. Honestly I think Power up should be the time a step further one “the red” genre happens so that is a missed opportunity, but Zim no doubt did better than RBB, and it is not fair to argue RBB being low quality. My beef is simply, the composers seems to be only able to improve over existing ideas but I want them to be able to go further. Thing is, other than BTS, nobody is doing that well in KPOP these days and yes, behind Icy is sad but it is not explained by one dimensional “quality”

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          • Interesting point of view. Could you explain further what you mean by producers improving over existing ideas? Do you mean, ideas from other groups’ concepts, or past RV concepts ?
            Regardless of that, I do feel like, it’s not like everyone’s doing bad currently ; this feeling we have may just be the consequences of too much hype around Kpop, with BTS likely to reach the top, other famous groups (RV, BP, TWICE, iKON, GOT7,………..) being in their prime already ; all of this cause competition in production originality/distinctiveness to be fiercer than ever and this has me feel like it’s ‘saturating’ haha. But yeah, for real. Hence, the feeling that things are ‘stagnating’.
            But, we’re also at the dawn of the new hallyu with groups like ITZY for sure. DALLA DALLA was INCREDIBLY well mixed and mastered (literally, the best production I’ve ever heard in Kpop so far in my opinion) ; with great material like this, it’s likely that they’ll reach a broad international audience soon.

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            • Honestly I don’t like the idea that idols literally don’t sing and handing everything musical to the composer. What I mean by ideas being stale is that RV didn’t develop upon “the red” and “ice cream cake” which is distant key change and fierce tempo and instrumental, and the R&B side is not developed in a healthy way either.

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        • Some other points: Joy is actually not doing that great with her drama career despite being given the opportunity to play lead twice, the viewership numbers were not good. And take a look at other groups that are supposed to take the place of RV before 19 none of them are doing great after Q2.

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  4. I’m interested that you see Power Up as polarising. I thought it was pretty fantastic and for me has more plays than some of RV’s older hits. It also did very well in Korea and stuck around on charts for months after its release.
    I also am a big fan of Zimzalabim, I understand it’s not for everyone but the progression and arrangement of it is so unique and well done that I can’t not love it. I’ve nearly blown the bass out of my headphones from cranking it.
    This is probably their most vanilla release since Happiness but I don’t think its bad. The slower BPM is the most odd choice for me.

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  5. Well I like it.
    It is refreshing to hear real sung harmonies. The best part for me is the vocal and harmonies.

    But as Nick says, it would have been better and even more Red Velvet-like to do something weird in the song somewhere, a key change somewhere anywhere. Perhaps the break which just slowed it all down – the break would have been good for a key change a la “Mr Simple” and then drop right back into it.

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  6. I have very confusing feelings about this song! I think I said a few days ago about Weki Meki that I enjoyed “Tiki Tak” so much because it was just a good song with no baggage attached. This is the flip side of that wherein my relationship to the song ruins my enjoyment of it as a song.

    On the one hand it’s perfectly cute and if it were from a group I’d never heard of I’d definitely put them on my watchlist, which must mean it’s a good song that I enjoy. But then in my head I’m comparing it to every other Red Velvet song and all of the other summer comebacks that have come out this year and I find it lacking. I don’t think that this is /unreasonable/, especially since Red Velvet themselves invited the comparisons by positing this song as part of a trilogy (though nothing about these mini albums seems to imply that they’re linked beyond the name/promotion) and “summer song” is basically its own genre at this point, but it is a bit of a buzzkill.

    But as for the song itself, like I said, it’s cute but it feels disposable. It’s accessible and catchy, but there’s nothing about it that keeps me coming back. The mini-album is one of their strongest in a while though, which is great because their B-sides are where they really get to play around.

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    • Honestly, after thinking about it the trilogy concept is a drag to the album series. Almost nobody knows this mini is a retro concept because the graphic design and the album title totally disconnects with it. Had day 1 promoted with a South Asian concept art and styling no one will blink an eye at “Zimzalabim”.

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  7. It looks like some of you guys know well what you’re talking about, but c’mon, y’all are giving yourselves a hard time analysing things so deeply. Yes, RV’s popularity dropping and stuff might be real facts… Yes, I too was expecting a typical RV break in Umpah… But y’all are digging too much into things to realize how great Umpah is. I don’t know if some of you are producers or musicians, but if you are, then you have to admit this track is of great quality, even though it might appear to some of you as a commercial track. I was blown up by how perfect everything sounds in the arrangement and the mix, the composition techniques used that I could figure out/hear are very well and nimbly used ; and it’s no wonder since the swedish guys that composed it are very experienced and renowned artists and producers in the pop field.
    Regardless of that, by contrast with what some of you might have said, I think Zimzalabim was really innovative when it comes to the production, and typical of RV.

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  8. Pingback: Red Velvet (레드벨벳) – Umpah Umpah (음파음파): MV Review – TweetNewscaster

  9. Pingback: Top Three K-Pop Songs of August 2019 | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

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