K-Pop debuts can be tricky things. At times, they’re the best song a group delivers. Sometimes, they’re the only song a group delivers!
But, debuts can also be huge wtf moments in an artist’s career. In this feature, I’ll be looking back at debut songs through the prism of time, re-evaluating how well they hold up and how representative they are of an artist’s eventual singles run.
Debut Date: August 1, 2014
Though it had been five years since the formation of SM Entertainment’s last girl group, I don’t think the full importance of Red Velvet’s debut registered with me at the time. For whatever reason, I recall Happiness (행복) dropping without a ton of warning or pre-promotion teasers. Maybe I just wasn’t as plugged in back then as I am now.
Either way, Happiness is a killer debut. It exists on the brighter end of Red Velvet’s output, but its sugary hooks hint at the edgy sounds the girls would pursue later in their career. The song feels like a musical carnival. After a series of filtered chants, the thudding percussion of the verses gives Happiness plenty of drive, previewing many K-pop trends of the next few years. From here, the track is a cavalcade of hooks as it weaves through many distinct segments. Shockingly, this approach never feels piecemeal.
Happiness’s pre-chorus is composed of a seemingly endless supply of catchy refrains, from a faded swirl of vocals to a chant-along build that echoes many classic SM tracks. This culminates in a kaleidoscopic centerpiece, where the girls’ simple “la la la” is layered to create gorgeous texture. It’s not a complex or revelatory melody, but the arrangement is just stunning.
And then, just as you think you’ve heard all of Happiness’s tricks, its musical seas part and the bridge opens to shine spotlight on Wendy’s knockout vocals. This segment is pure bliss, adding an unexpected shot of drama that enhances the track’s appeal without straying from its core energy. What a celebration!
Does the song hold up?
Yes, much more than I would have guessed back in 2014.
Is the song stronger or weaker than most of the artist’s title tracks?
Happiness is among my favorite Red Velvet title tracks. It’s not number one, but definitely in the top five.
Does the song represent the artist’s music going forward?
It’s a great representation of their “red” side. The “velvet” would come several months later.