Review

Debut Re-Evaluation: Red Velvet – Happiness

Red Velvet - HappinessK-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

Review:

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.

 Hooks 10
 Production 10
 Longevity 9
 Bias 9
 RATING 9.5


~

28 thoughts on “Debut Re-Evaluation: Red Velvet – Happiness

  1. I basically only listen to this song for Wendy’s “Shine on me” section, it’s such a showstopper! Not that I don’t like the rest of the song, but that part…😍

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve always enjoyed this song up until the very final chorus. You have Wendy absolutely killing it on the bridge with her shining vocals, followed by a buildup to the final chorus which is just…the same energy as it was in each previous chorus. It feels like a bit of a disorienting halt in the energy that they were creating in the song, and it never really sat well with my ears. I’d probably put it in the high 8s.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this song. So many goodies packed into so few minutes, and so well delivered.

    The quasi-rap verse at 1:44 are so spitfire that it is hard to do them right. All those descending staccato notes perfectly enunciated. And do three more in a row.

    The really truly live radio version from back when is quite good too. They are so well rehearsed and relaxed that it is easy and entertaining to listen to. They clearly have practiced singing the song all together, all the way through. (I mean this sounds obvious, but sometimes it doesn’t seem like the groups have sung their own songs all the way through more than twice.) It is also interesting how simply they are styled – the old SM girl next door style like SM did with SNSD debut.

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  4. Wow, I’m surprised to see such a high rating, mostly because I see this song get a lot of flack elsewhere on the internet. It is a deliriously happy song, so i suppose it’s up your alley in that respect. I don’t come back to it a lot these days, but I really liked Happiness a few years ago. I think maybe what I like most about it now is actually the lyrics? They’re just so sweet and positive. “People who only care about money and power will never be truly happy. I don’t give a fuck about any of that. I’m having a great time just hanging out with my friends. Every day I tell my mom I love her.” This is a fantastic ethos for a girl group in my opinion.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. listening to happiness now… weirdly I can feel the same approach of next level? like somehow next level is a 2021 modernised edgy version of the chanty schoolgirl-like melody of happiness. Killer bridge, talk-raps, divisive opinions… I think only SM artists pull off these kinds of songs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Now that I’ve warmed up to Next Level a lot over the days, yeah I can see it. Maybe without a Wendy to really SHINE ON ME… but I don’t think anyone’s getting close to that. The funky breakdown makes up for it.

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  6. I didn’t see Happiness when it came out, but it makes a strong impact as a debut. It carves out a musical identity for RV that I hear echos of in their later releases, which is ideally what a debut song should do.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I also remember this debut coming out of nowhere. Wasn’t there a “scandal” SM was trying to distract from?

    It’s interesting how much f(x) I can hear in this. Seulgi’s rap at the start sounds so much like Amber, and then Irene follows with a Krystal-sounding rap. In the second verse, Seulgi’s vocals sound like Luna’s. Wendy is definitely the stand out for me here.

    Also, bring back harmonies like this! It’s crazy that Kpop groups have so many members but rarely harmonize like this.

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    • This was at the end of Sulli’s time in the group. They were promoting ‘Red Light’ and at first Sulli was just taking a break but then they halted promotions and she officially left. Happiness was released VERY quickly after and seemed like a distraction, with Red Velvet’s next big comeback seeming to distract from a different scandal? Unfair to them

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    • “It’s crazy that Kpop groups have so many members but rarely harmonize like this.”

      They pay too much attention on choreographies and visuals. Too many groups have one or two members who are rather ‘useless’ that will in time become idol actors…..

      Like

  8. I never got why some people don’t like this song. It’s just tons of fun. I’d say Irene and Joy’s rap parts in this are probably the best in any SM girl group song – instantly memorable and not trying too hard.

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  9. Happiness was very jarring the first time I heard it. However, unlike “I got a boy” by SNSD, it made me want to play the song over and over again. My brain just couldn’t figure out the structure. Literally, I thought the pre-chorus chant was the chorus….

    *I like “I got a boy”, but my first impression was “I don’t like this” rather than confusion.

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  10. . For whatever reason, I recall Happiness (행복) dropping without a ton of warning or pre-promotion teasers.

    That’s because it was. f(x)’s ‘Red Light’ had come out less than a month earlier and they were still in the middle of promotions before Sulli would take the hiatus that would eventually lead to her leaving the group. For a week or so the remaining 4 promoted RL on their own before the promo cycle in general was scrapped and RV/Happiness were quickly pushed out to distract.

    But that’s beside the general point of this article lol. I’ve been VERY hard on Aespa and songs like this are why – NL and BM don’t have intention or purpose like Happiness does, nor is it really a showcasing of personalities and charm which is not on the girls but SME. Shortly after this we got the ‘be natural’ cover and we were speeding away to more fun and their first (?) comeback as a group was Ice Cream Cake and the rest is history.

    I want good things for Aespa but I have to wonder if SME does you know? And yes, NL is a chart topper – and a thread about Megan the Stallion with fans joking about her being a hidden member has endeared me to the comeback if not the song – but I still don’t know about them or their abilities because they haven’t been given a song/stage to show them properly. With any luck their next comeback will feature that, as well as multiple songs.

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  11. Adding to everyone else’s comments on how Happiness’s debut was a little odd–like with Aespa, I pretty much just remember people at the time complaining about the song, with the controversy about the music video as the disaster cherry on top. (For Red Velvet it was that originally the music video had something anti-Japanese iirc, and also a visual of planes flying into buildings, if I remember right, both of which were edited out after the initial outcry.) Their initial career trajectory was really similar to Aespa in general: a rushed debut, a remake as their follow-up song, and then a third song that really saw them taking off, although unlike Aespa they actually got their first physical album with said third song whereas I’m still waiting for Aespa to get theirs. Watching Aespa’s first year has definitely felt like deja vu. (And yes, I say that as a fan of not only Red Velvet and aespa, but f(x) as well. Ah, SM Entertainment, you give us great groups but also mess.)

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  12. Happiness did drop out of nowhere. F(x) was promoting Red Light while Sulli’s “dating controversy” with Choiza was blowing up. After a handful of more performances as 4, SM announced Sulli’s hiatus almost simultaneously with RV’s debut, which was about a week before it actually happened. Even non-debut comebacks have better rollouts than Happiness did; two individual and group teaser photos from the same shoot and an MV teaser that was literally just the first 30 seconds of the actual MV. I don’t think SM anticipated RV becoming so popular or that they would ever be their flagship girl group. Particularly in the first year of their career, it seemed like SM meant for them to be more of a holdover until issues with f(x) were resolved and they had debuted their second SNSD type group. At the time, debuting with just a digital single and following up with a cover for their first comeback definitely was more unprecedented. While f(x) also didn’t debut with an EP or album, they did have an extended rollout period and collaborations with both SNSD and SHINee. RV having none of those things kind of made them seem like the odd duck of SM.

    The rush job was even more apparent given that Happiness was originally intended for f(x), the music video had to be taken down and re-edited due to references of the atomic bombs in Japan and 9/11 in the US, Yeri’s inclusion in the MV but not yet the group, and some horrific styling lol (okay, that last one is just me projecting). It’s a good thing f(x) has a great discography, otherwise debuting with an axed B-side for another group might have been a disaster! Let’s not forget the running joke of RV members all looking the same due to their styling and photoshop in the teasers. 😹

    I wouldn’t put Happiness up there with my favorite RV title tracks just due to the quality of their discography (and it would be even lower of B-sides were included), but it would be pretty high on the list of it were included in most other girl group’s title tracks. Even just on the Red side, ICC, Dumb Dumb, Russian Roulette, and Red Flavor slide in ahead of Happiness for me (occasionally Zimzalabim too… that was quite the grower). With Velvet songs taken into account, Happiness is about right smack in the middle.

    Listening to it does make me nostalgic for a few things though, like Seulgi and Wendy using their lower registers on Red tracks, some rap lines for Seulgi, etc. On the plus side, Happiness set a great precedent for RV’s vocal harmonies which still remain among the very best, and who knows if this would have happened if something else was released as their debut track. Their vocal ability and assuredness in their delivery, especially in the recording studio, just keeps getting better too. While the vocal processing isn’t egregious in Happiness, Wendy’s “shine on me” part has always sounded better live than with the vocal effects layered on it in the studio version (at least for me!)

    It’s so strange to realize that this release is almost 7 years old now. I’m hoping the girls renew and that SM continues to actively promote them as a group, but I’m not holding my breath. Aespa is due to have a full album release later this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if SM has another girl group in the pipeline for debut in 2022 or 2023 to target the demographics they lost with SNSD. If they don’t renew and/or mostly shelve their group activities, at least we will always be left with songs like this. It’s pretty amazing how well the vast majority of RV’s title and album tracks have stood the test of time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I’m glad someone mentioned the vocal processing. For me, the “Shine On Me” doesn’t really uh, “Shine” as other people suggest, primarily because the weird vocal layering just kind of bugs me.

      Like

  13. You’ve mentioned your love of “Happiness” on the blog before, so this review didn’t come as a massive surprise!

    Honestly, I feel like everything “Happiness” does, another Red Velvet song does better. For fast-paced, sunny songs, “Hit That Drum” and “Umpah Umpah” have better and more numerous melodies, and are more thickly layered vocally. And if you like quirky vibes, there’s “Dumb Dumb” and “Mr. E” (the latter of which is tropical-sounding like this one!)

    I’ve never been a big fan of the bridge. Wendy’s singing is obviously iconic, but it’s basically just a bunch of power notes floating around the tonic. The transition with the “hoo hah” back to the chorus is also weird.

    I don’t think this would have been nearly as impactful as an f(x) song, either. The rookie glow is part of what gives it its luster. That being said, “meh” for Red Velvet is still pretty great in the grand scheme of things. And it’s certainly nice to hear them all slaying raps—not something we get to hear from them much these days.

    Liked by 1 person

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