January 6th, 2019
SM Entertainment/Avex Trax
Written by MEG.ME
Composed by Maria Marcus, Andreas Öberg, and Emyli
As a Red Velvet connoisseur (the s-word has no place on this site!), “Sappy” is a welcome direct hit to my RV pleasure centers. The girls kinda had a rough 2018; SM was not exactly handing them hits. Like, yeah—The Perfect Red Velvet is great because Perfect Velvet was incredible, not because “Bad Boy” is anything but okay (“All Right” though …!). Then came #Cookie Jar, which has three songs—”Aitai-tai,” which turns the girls into vocaloids, is my fav—that all manage to be better than that title but not much better.
Summer Magic is, again, fine, overcoming the bizarre wide-eyed Girl Scout terror of “Power Up” with highlights like the EXO-esque “Mosquito” (with Terry Riley producing) and the electropop vocal workout “Hit That Drum” (I know the spectre of f(x) continues to haunt Red Velvet in the dark alleys of bitchy comment sections but …. BUT … this song is very Pink Tape! In a good way!).
Then we come to Really Bad Boy. The title track was another dreadful mess of a single that failed to coalesce into anything resembling “a song” (the kind of track that r/kpop is guaranteed to call “experimental”) and four solid album tracks, a tally that admittedly depends on your tolerance for the rubber-chicken hook on “Sassy Me.”
None of this stuff is really the Velvets’ strongest material any way you slice it. The old “red” concept that the group has largely left behind as an organizing principle came with an everything-at-once sugar-rush production ethos and a coy black humor in the MVs; stuff like “Ice Cream Cake,” “Happily Ever After,” “Bad Dracula,” “Lucky Girl,” “Red Flavor” … c’mon. No one can touch Red Velvet’s catalog. Imagine I’m shaking you by the shoulders: “Automatic” was only their third single!! The supercharged, always-modulating cybercity-pop that characterizes RV’s uptempo songs is like catnip to me. Look at a track like “Sunny Afternoon,” which keeps the restless chord structure and careful, jazzy melodies even as it brings down the overall energy to offer a better look at the composition itself.
Thankfully “Sappy,” the group’s second Japanese single, is a blessed return to form. Presumably built according to the esoteric commandments of the SM Entertainment Cultural Technology Obelisk to target the Japanese ear like a sniper’s bullet, “Sappy” is a maximalist banger packed with delightfully bizarre touches. The chugging, Boy Harsher-worthy bass chop; the lilting brass stabs that sound like they’re falling down a flight of stairs; the chilled-out prechorus that allows the girls’ vocal color to take center stage and gives the bass some more melodic lines; and the way the brute force of the chorus hook without warning ascends on an electric piano chord progression without sacrificing momentum. Oh, also, the vocal runs in the second half of this song are wild; Wendy’s elastic “woah-oh-oh-yeah” curlicue during the bridge beats any of the incessant, ostentatious riffing in “Really Bad Boy.”
Reliably cute-sinister Red Velvet MVs like “Peek-a-Boo” and “Russian Roulette” paved the way for “Sappy”‘s video, which depicts the group as bored, bubble-splattered laborers in a pop-surrealist dream world. The MV takes place in an unreal pastel factory, where someone (Seulgi, maybe?) is seen inserting an SNES cart called Foam Truck. Perhaps the concept is playing on the similarity between the words “soapy” and “sappy.” I’m not a genius or anything.
Compared to the aforementioned pair of slyly Grimm videos, “Sappy” is admittedly light on the explicitly morbid visual gags, preferring to intensify the cut-up candy-burst “Dumb Dumb” template. The individual setups are fabulous; little tilt-shift faux-miniature shots that (following the videogame theme) look like nothing so much as stills from Tokyo 42; exterior shots of some Mega City One-esque superstructure; the members arranged like products in a live photo editor; and a car wash scene where the girls sort of just toss bubbles at a truck. Special mention to the all-white outfits that appear during the second verse, which among all the Fendi and Versace make a striking impression—the matching Keds are powerful.
Lyrically, “Sappy” finds Red Velvet chastising a timid lover who writes poems and may or may not be cheating; the hook, “Sappy sappy/too cutie cutie,” rides the bass thud of the instrumental like an android fist into a brick wall. As the girls smear suds over a windshield as dispassionately as if they were making a crush video, one feels some sympathy for the hapless dickhead on the receiving end of their ire.
This is the Red Velvet I love. Spiky, sugary, and potentially practicing black magic. Crossing my fingers that “Sappy” heralds a knockout 2019 for the girls; no matter what, you better be paying attention.