After a 2020 spent in rehabilitation after an awful accident during rehearsals for 2019’s SBS Gayo Daejun, Red Velvet’s Wendy makes a triumphant return with her first solo mini album. I feel like SM releases a ballad-heavy album every year around this time, and they rarely elicit anything more than a sigh from this particular K-pop blogger. What can I say? I’m just not a ballad-lover. But, Wendy’s voice is something special, and Like Water is much more satisfying than I expected.
Like Water knows exactly what it wants to be and executes that beautifully. It has a lulling quality, as gentle guitar and tranquil synth touches blend with Wendy’s measured vocal. In places, the instrumental isn’t far from American country music, which isn’t something I expected to hear, let alone enjoy. The melody is simple, memorable and effective. But when push comes to shove, Like Water rides on the strength of Wendy’s performance. Her vocal is warm and rich and never over the top. And even though the song often veers toward adult contemporary territory, her commitment elevates it.
My favorite moment comes during verse two, where the central melody gives way to a lilting instrumental change. A string section lends this segment an open, cinematic feel as Wendy’s voice becomes another wordless part of the symphony. Like Water could have embraced this tone even further and been all the more successful for it. But at its heart, the song is a traditional, sentimental pop ballad. My own bias limits just how high I’d rate this style of music, but Like Water exceeds my perception of what a springtime SM ballad can be.